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Old 06-03-2007, 16:55   #1 (permalink)
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Tutorial: Cleaning your DSLR sensor

We have had a lot of people over the last few months who have asked about how to clean their sensor and how scared they need to be about doing it themselves so I thought I would try and help by doing a sensor cleaning tutorial looking at various methods, not just one. It is not definitive of every single method out there but it will give you a good start and deals with the most popular methods.

Clean my sensor? Yikes!

Ok, let's put to bed the first myth: cleaning a sensor is NOT rocket science and does not take a technician with years of experience to do it. It takes a bit of common sense and a bit of care. I can do it so you can do it! Or you can send your camera back to Canon, Nikon etc., pay about £50 (for them to do what you are about to read in this tutorial!) be without your camera for 2 to 3 weeks and hopefully (but not guaranteed) have a lovely clean sensor when you get it back.

Preparing the camera before you start

One thing I highly recommend before you start cleaning the sensor is giving your battery a full charge. It is not going to take long to do the job but you should NEVER use a nearly-drained battery. The shutter is going to be held open while you clean the sensor but if the battery drops below a certain level, the shutter will close without warning. If you have a swap, cleaning nozzle, whatever, in between the shutter curtains when it closes you can do damage that will be costly to repair. A fully charged battery will ensure this is not going to happen so don't get paranoid about it, just do it

When you are ready to start and have got a fresh battery installed, remove the lens and use your camera's menu to select 'Sensor Clean' or whatever your model uses to mean 'Open the shutter and keep it open until I turn the camera off to shut it!'

This will lift the mirror and hold it in the mirror lock-up position. It will also open the shutter and you will see the sensor underneath.


Actually, although we are talking about cleaning the sensor, it is actually not the sensor but the cover over the sensor that we are working on. However, you should still be treating it delicately and with care.

Ok, what do I need to clean the sensor with?

Ok, this isn't such an easy question but I am going to mention several items which are useful. You do NOT need all of these, just some of, I'll explain as we go on.

Can I start by saying what you should NOT use first? That is a can of compressed air that can be bought from any camera or hobby shop. These contain a propellant that can and does come out when spraying the air. It is impossible to be sure nothing will come out and you can't predict when it will come out. If it does and gets on your sensor that is very bad news indeed. It is very cold (that is why your can always feels icy when you are using it) and if it splashes on the sensor it can leave a stain that is very hard to shift.

What exactly am i cleaning off the sensor?

That depends. First of all, there is no way to prevent tiny bits of dirt, dust and other pollutants from entering your camera. You should always be careful and try to avoid changing lenses when in a dusty or sandy environment but even in clean places some dust will eventually find its way in.

Dust is very easily removed as it simply needs a puff of air. You are not going to use a can of air and I don't recommend using your breath as this will be moist. Instead you can use a simple blower of the rubber bulb variety. The smallest ones of these are as much use as a chocolate teapot so ignore those. Go for one that fits into the palm of your hand and has a decent length nozzle. You can buy ones with names like 'hurricane blower' and despite that being a slight exaggeration, they are very effective and will cost you only about £7. It looks like this:


Ok, dry dust and other loose particulate will blow away quite easily and it might well be that is all you need to do. If so, turn the camera off using its power switch and the shgutter will close and the mirror drop back down. Put your lens on and your camera is all ready to go. I would recommend you take a photo of something completely plain at a very narrow aperture and look at it to see if there are any marks still showing. If there are, you need to do a full clean, if not, go and start shooting

Ok, the dust is gone but where to?

When you blow dust around inside the camera, it is important to remember that you have only moved it, not removed it. As it is still inside the camera body it can still resettle back where we moved it from in the first place. There is a very good tool that you can use to completely remove the dust from inside the body BUT I would warn you it is not cheap.

It is called Green Clean and when you look at it you might think I am going against my earlier advice but I shall explain. First of all, here is the kit that you can buy at a cost of just over £50 from Warehouse Express and other places. It is useable many times over so the price isn't quite as extortionate as it might sound.


Basically, the main dust and particulate removal equipment is a can of dry air with a special nozzle attachment that works like a mini vacuum cleaner. There is NO DANGER of propellant coming out of this one as you are not spraying into the camera directly. Using the same principle as an airbrush, the air passes over the top nozzle thus decreasing the air pressure and creating a vacuum at the nozzle tip. This can then be used to vacuum around inside the camera - everywhere, not just the sensor - and all the dust is sucked up in the tube and collects in a special dust chamber. The great thing about that is you can see exactly what has been removed. The first time I tried it I was amazed how much dust and things had been collected up.

I will admit that it is can be a bit fiddly at first but you will soon find a comfortable position and be able to get inside and clear out all the loose bits of dirt that can be find on the mirror, around the mirror mechanism, on the underside of the focusing screen, around the chamber, along the rim of the lens mount and so forth.

So what are the swabs for?

After doing the vacuuming and getting all those dust particles out of there, you might still find some rather more stubborn specks of dust or other particles on the sensor itself. They might look tiny but bear in mind your sensor contains pixels that are so tiny they are individually invisible to the naked eye so what looks like a tiny bit of dust can in fact be a boulder spreading itself over 10 to 20 pixels and will be very noticeable in a plain area of a photograph.

These bits have not responded to blowing or vacuuming so it is time to get heavy with these stubborn beasties and shift them out properly. To do that you can use cleaning swabs.

You might have heard of a method commonly known as the Copperhill method but this is just one of a few generic types that all use a swab and cleansing fluid. In the picture of Green Clean above, you will see that the kit includes packets of swabs in pairs. One of these is pre-soaked in a special cleansing fluid, the other is dry and absorbent.

If you prefer, and would rather spend a few less pennies, you can buy swabs called 'Digipads' which are commonly sold in packs of ten. They come in different sizes depending on the sensor size you are cleaning. Type One (pictures below) is for sensors that have a 1.6x multiplification factor such as the Canon 10/20/30Ds and the 300/350/400Ds. Type two pads are for 1.3x sensors and type three pads are for full frame sensors but if you tell them your camera when ordering, they will send you the correct size for your camera.


Digipads are covered with a non-abrasive tissue-type covering which can also be bought separately. These are called Pec*Pads (See in picture above). However, unlike the Green clean swabs, these digipads are dry so you will need to buy a special cleaning fluid that works with them. The best one is called Eclipse and it is vital that it is highly evaporative. This way it evaporates before it has the chance to leave any 'tide marks' on the sensor.


If using digipads and Eclipse fluid, you will need two digipads. If using Green Clean, you will use the two different swabs they provide. The method for use is the same....

Using Swabs

First make sure you have removed loose particles as detailed above. Now follow these steps:
  1. Take a single Digipad out of its protective wrapping and apply two single drops of Eclipse onto the tip of the swab blade (Skip this step if using Green Clean swabs, just use the wet swab)
  2. Now, holding the camera firmly in one hand, back of camera to your palm and lens opening facing upwards, carefully position the flat tip of the swab at one end of the sensor, square with the edge of the sensor. It doesn't matter whether you start from left or right.
  3. With a steady, smooth motion, wipe the swab blade along the surface of the sensor, keeping it square with the bottom of the sensor. (See picture below)
  4. Lift out the swab, turn it over and repeat, this time working in the other direction.
  5. Now using a new, dry Digipad (or the Green Clean dry swab) repeat the motion as above, not too quickly so that you allow the swab to absorb any remaining fluid, leaving the sensor bright and clean.
  6. IF you are still seeing marks, repeat the process.
When done, turn the power switch off and the camera will close the shutter and drop the mirror into its normal position. Replace the lens and you should be ready for action. I have detailed earlier on how to check the camera by taking a picture and examining it.


Ok, I hope I haven't made it sound ominous as it isn't. It is a very simple job but should be done when you are not in a hurry and preferably in a fairly clean environment. I also recommend being in a well-lit room and having all cleaning equipment prepared and to hand before you start.

I hope you find this tutorial helpful.

Cheers,
Rob Barron
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Last edited by Rob Barron; 06-03-2007 at 17:03.
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Old 14-03-2007, 17:03   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Tutorial: Cleaning your DSLR sensor

Just a little friendly reminder: tutorials are a lot of work (take all the photos, process them accordingly, upload them all, write the tutorial and put in all the pictures) so if you find them helpful, the usual Pixalo way to show your appreciation is to leave a Reputation Point for the writer. Thanks
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Old 25-09-2012, 08:48   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Tutorial: Cleaning your DSLR sensor

This is very useful article. You are doing great job!
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Old 25-09-2012, 09:21   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Tutorial: Cleaning your DSLR sensor

Nice and easy to read and to pick up all the tips, never really had a big dust problem only minor and only got as far as the blower brush which was enough to remove the dust however this tutorial has helped me fully understand how to do the complete job.....Thank You....
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Old 28-09-2012, 02:44   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Tutorial: Cleaning your DSLR sensor

Thanks for this, will come in handy
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Old 28-09-2012, 19:16   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Tutorial: Cleaning your DSLR sensor

Thanks for the very useful tutorial. My method is to attach the camera body face down on my tripod and clean the sensor with the blower, this way any dust is blown out of the throat of the camera. I’ve used this method on my D200 from new and I find it very effective.
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Old 24-06-2014, 08:10   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Tutorial: Cleaning your DSLR sensor

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aspire View Post
Thanks for the very useful tutorial. My method is to attach the camera body face down on my tripod and clean the sensor with the blower, this way any dust is blown out of the throat of the camera. Iíve used this method on my D200 from new and I find it very effective.

mmm Hoping for the same with mine.
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