DIRTY LENS? NOPE, IT’S A DIRTY SENSOR.
Welcome to a beginner’s guide on how to clean the camera sensor. Ever wonder why there are dust particles on the photos no matter how much you much clean the lens? No matter which lens you use? Well, that is probably because the dust spot is stuck on the sensor itself and not the lens.
This calls for some “internal cleaning”, but a search on the Internet will turn out quite a few different methods on cleaning the sensor… Just which one of them is correct? Let us do something a little different here. Rather than adding “yet another cleaning guide” to the Internet, here is a compilation of some of the better cleaning practices, and some bad ones – Read on to find out!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
All right, let us now start with the basics – The tools for cleaning, and how to check for dirty sensors… Dirty camera sensors. This somehow sounds wrong for some reason.
THE CLEANING TOOLS
- An air blower – Too much air pressure that can damage the electronics. Don’t use air spray cans or crazy air compressor dust blowers… Don’t even think about blowing with your own mouth either.
- Cleaning Solution – Don’t use alcohol, oil, nor harsh chemicals. There are “specialized” sensor cleaning solutions, look for those instead.
- Cotton Bud (Q-tip) – Apply the cleaning solution on these, then wipe the sensor.
- Sensor Cleaning Gel Stick – An alternative to the above cleaning solution plus cotton bud. I actually prefer to use these, and they save a lot of time. Click here to get from eBay.
DO WE NEED ALL THE CLEANING TOOLS?
Well, no. Most of the time, the air blower should be good enough to knock the dust out. But sometimes, a periodic gel stick cleaning is necessary for the stubborn stuck pieces.
HOW TO CHECK FOR DIRTY SENSORS
- Use a clean lens! We do not want to mistaken dust inside the lens as dust inside the sensor…
- Take a shot of a bright wall or curtains – One trick is to shine a bright light on a white wall or fabric.
- The camera settings should be:
- ISO as low as possible (something like ISO 100).
- Aperture as small as possible (something like f/22).
- Use the aperture mode, or set the shutter speed just before the photo overexposes.
- In Lightroom, Photoshop, or any editing software –
- Turn the blacks down.
- Push the whites up.
- Play around with the exposure if required.
- That should reveal all the dust spots everywhere.
CLEAN, ONLY IF THE SENSOR IS ACCESSIBLE
Captain Obvious to the rescue! Cameras with a fixed lens, such as a compact and smartphone camera don’t really require sensor cleaning. Since the camera is “sealed” and very little dust can get inside anyway.
Although some fix-lens cameras may still have a mechanical shutter, and dust will be generated over time with wear-and-tear. The only way to clean such systems is to send it to the service center for “repair”… Unless you are willing to risk opening the camera yourself.
HOW TO CLEAN
With the basics out of the way now, here are a couple of ways to clean the camera sensor.
BUILT-IN SENSOR CLEANING
Just-in-case some of you photo ninjas miss this one out in the 9999 pages thick user’s menu – Yes, there is a built-in sensor cleaning function in most of the modern cameras these days.
- Nikon users: Setup menu > Clean image sensor > Clean Now
- Canon users: Menu > Tools > Sensor Cleaning > Clean Now
- Sony users: Menu > Cleaning Mode > Enter
- All the rest: Do your own research, or this guide will never end…
This should be good enough to shake off some minor bits of dust, but don’t expect too much otherwise. Also, take note – The menu layout might change over time, so it’s better to do your own research on your own camera model.
MANUAL SENSOR CLEANING – AIR BLOWER
Personally, I think the built-in sensor cleaning is kind of bad… Even though it shakes off some of the dust, they are still stuck in the same chamber. The dust will still eventually settle and get stuck onto the sensor again. So manual cleaning to remove dust from the sensor and camera makes more sense. Depending on your camera build, the cleaning process is going to be a little different:
- DSLR users: Lock the mirror up before cleaning.
- Mirrorless camera users: The sensor should be accessible once you take off the lens. Some may have a mechanical shutter that needs to be manually opened before cleaning.
Once you have access to the sensor, face the camera downwards and use the air blower upwards. It is important that the camera is facing downwards, so that gravity will take the dust out and not put more dust into the camera.
Are there still stubborn spots stuck on the sensor? This calls for the use of the sensor gel stick… thing. Very easy – Simply repeat the above to gain access to the sensor, then use the gel stick to “absorb” the dust pieces. Very easy to use, just gently press the gel end onto the sensor to stick up all the dust. Don’t move the gel stick around and scratch the sensor.
That’s all for this guide, and here is a small section on some extras and links that may be useful to you.
DON’T DO THESE!
- Use harsh chemicals to clean the sensor.
- Wash the sensor using water.
- Blow on the sensor using mouth and add some spit.
- Blow on the sensor using a turbo air blower.
- Use a toothbrush or steel wool on the sensor.
HOW OFTEN TO CLEAN THE SENSOR?
Well, whenever the sensor gets dirty. The air blower should be good enough in most cases, but over time, you might want to use the sensor gel stick for a thorough cleaning.
Personally, I do a quick air blower once or twice every week – A few small pieces of dust is not going to hurt the image quality, so daily cleaning might be a little bit of overkill unless you shoot in an extreme environment. Sensor gel stick only if dust or grime is stuck on the sensor, a few times per year maybe?
LINKS & REFERENCES
- A Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning Your Camera Sensor – PetaPixel
- The Secret of Effectively and Safely Cleaning Your Digital Camera Sensor Yourself – Adorama
- Cleaning a camera sensor: tips for removing sensor spots and dust – Digital Camera World
- How to Clean Your Camera Sensor in 3 Easy Steps – Digital Photography School
Thank you for reading, and we have come to the end of this guide. If there are somehow still dirt spots after cleaning the sensor cleaning, it could be a different issue – Likely to be a dead cell on the sensor or problems with other electronics.
Do not force clean the sensor anymore, and send it back to the service center instead. I hope this guide has been useful to you, good luck and happy shooting!