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.”
The Answer - Part 1Most 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):
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.
WARNING: Do Not Use Pressurized AirIf 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 Answer, Part 2: Sensor Cleaning KitsSeveral 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 Bottom LineDon'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:
Note: Peter Burian teaches an excellent online course - Digital Photography - at BetterPhoto.com.
About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Peter K. Burian
Peter Burian also writes illustrated books about photography and camera equipment, including: