Cleaning a DSLR Camera’s Sensor

by Peter K. Burian - www.betterphoto.com/photocourses/PBN01.asp

by Peter K. Burian

A blower bulb
A blower bulb
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

The Sensor Cleaning Question

“After a vacation trip, I noticed that my images (made with an EOS 10D) have a lot of dust spots. I tried to clean the sensor with a puff of air from a blower bulb as recommended in the owner’s manual. That did not work too well. I don’t want to spend money sending the camera to the service depot and I don't want to be without it for several weeks.”

A bellows pump can also be useful
A bellows pump can also be useful
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

The Answer - Part 1

Most camera manufacturers warn against any other type of cleaning by the user due to a risk of damage to the the glass cover that protects the actual sensor. Such damage would call for a full sensor module replacement (very expensive!) because the glass cover cannot be removed if it becomes damaged.

However, consider the following options:

If dust specks are obvious in your images, try using an oversized blower bulb such as the largest Giottos Rocket-Air ($12): http://www.adorama.com/GTRAB.html

Or check out the powerful Bellows Foot pump ($10):
www.thesportsauthority.com/sm-sevylor-small-foot-pump--pi-11737.html

Activate the sensor cleaning feature of your digital SLR camera as instructed in the Owner’s Manual. Use several blasts of air, with the camera held downward toward the floor, so the dust can fall out. That process will usually remove all but the smallest dust specks.


A dust-free digital photo
A dust-free digital photo
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

WARNING: Do Not Use Pressurized Air

If that does not solve the problem, you might be tempted to use pressurized “canned air”. I strongly recommend against that approach. Should the liquid propellant reach the sensor, it will dry on the glass cover; in that case, you may need to send the camera to a service depot for professional cleaning.


The Visible Dust brushes are very effective in attracing dust particles
The Visible Dust brushes are very effective in attracing dust particles
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

The Answer, Part 2: Sensor Cleaning Kits

Several companies make products designed for use by the digital SLR camera owner. I have tried the two that were most often recommended in Test Reports on digital camera e-zines.

Visible Dust (www.CleanMySensor.net) markets brushes designed specifically for sensor cleaning. They employ super-charged fiber technology that causes dust to adhere to the bristles for effective removal. ($85.) These brushes work well but the Visible Dust products have not yet been approved by any digital SLR camera manufacturer.

For Reviews of the Visible Dust product, see:

The most highly rated liquid-based kit - designed for a more thorough cleaning - is made by Photographic Solutions Inc. - www.photosol.com Their Sensor Swabs ($48 for 12) with Eclipse fluid ($8.25) are apparently approved by Kodak and Fuji, but not by other digital SLR manufacturers. NOTE: Photographic Solutions guarantees the safety of their products when used according to instructions. For specifics:
www.photosol.com/guarantee.htm


If your images have only a few dust spots, use Cloning to remove them
If your images have only a few dust spots, use Cloning to remove them
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

The Bottom Line

Don't worry too much about a few dust spots in your digital images. Often, they will not be visible, except in sky areas or in other light-toned subjects. Remove a few troublesome spots with the Cloning Brush tool, available in Photoshop or other image editing programs. (Cloning means copying pixels from a clean area to cover pixels in a blemished area.)

And finally, remember that prevention is always preferable to the solution. Try to minimize the amount of dust that gets into your camera. Keep the rear cap on all lenses. Vacuum your camera bag regularly. Avoid changing lenses in dusty locations. Whenever you switch lenses, do so quickly and carefully. Minimize the amount of dust that gets into your digital SLR camera and you won't often need to worry about sensor cleaning.

Caution: If you insist on using a cleaning kit not recommended by your digital SLR camera's manufacturer, use extreme care. Follow the cleaner manufacturer's instructions to the letter. And use the kit infrequently: only when the sensor is very dirty and when the problem cannot be solved with an oversized blower bulb.

For a related article, see:
http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/sensor-cleaning.shtml

Note: Peter Burian teaches an excellent online course - Digital Photography - at BetterPhoto.com.

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Peter K. Burian
Photography Instructor: Peter K. BurianPeter K. Burian, Photo Journal Syndicate (www.peterkburian.com), is a freelance photographer based in Toronto, Canada. His outdoor, travel, nature and active lifestyle photographs are available as stock for editorial and advertising use. He markets his work direct to photo buyers via www.peterkburian.com and is also represented by three stock agencies: Corbis, Alamy and The Stock Connection.

Peter Burian also writes illustrated books about photography and camera equipment, including:

  • Co-author of the National Geographic Photography Field Guide.
  • Author of 15 Magic Lantern Guides to SLR camera systems.
  • Author of Mastering Digital Photography and Imaging (Sybex), covering the technology, equipment and techniques, with 270 pages of practical advice
In his spare time, he is a Contributing Editor with Photo Life, Photo News and Australian photography magazine. Finally, Peter Burian is a BetterPhoto.com course instructor who teaches two online photography courses: Mastering the Digital Camera and Photography and Mastering the Canon EOS Digital Rebels. Sign up today to learn how to make great photos with your digital camera!