Learn Digital Photography. Keep Your Digital Camera Lens Dust Free

Dread of the dusty sensor

If you’re using a digital SLR and begin to notice dark specks in your photos, don’t worry: this is not caused by strange ghosts appearing in your photos. It’s simply dust on your sensor. When you change the lenses on an SLR dust can easily get inside the camera and settle on the sensor, which in turns creates dark little spots in the pictures you take.

You might have a camera that has a built-in sensor-dusting function, but most cameras still require a careful manual cleaning.

1. Purchase a self-cleaning SLR.

Dust specks on the camera sensor can cause dark spots on your photographs. A hint: when looking at the photographs you might need to have them enlarged in order to see the dust specks.

Olympus makes two SLR cameras, the E1 and Evolt E-300, which have a Supersonic Wave Filter built in. Each time you turn on the camera or activate the filter, the Supersonic Wave Filter vibrates the sensor in order to shake dust off. Adhesive strips that run along the sides of the sensor collect the dust. From what I have seen, this system works pretty well. It’s a pity other manufacturers don’t offer something similar.

2. Clean your camera with care. If you don’t have an Olympus SLR (or even if you do but are in a very dusty environment), sooner or later you’ll have to clean the sensor. If you’re nervous about doing it yourself, you can send it to the manufacturer for a professional cleaning. However, that’s not a very practical or affordable way to handle the situation every time a new little spot shows up. Although you should take the utmost care, the best solution is probably to clean the dust out yourself.

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Most sensors have a protective glass covering, and unfortunately if you scratch or damage it, there’s a good chance the manufacturer’s warranty will not cover repairs. Try not to be casual about what you put inside the camera. A note: never blow compressed air into your camera. Compressed air uses propellants that can leave a residue and create a film over your sensor.

Use products that are made specifically for sensor cleaning. A number of companies make them, including Photographic Solutions and Visible Dust. Kinetronics’ Speck Grabber is useful for getting at particular bits of debris, since it has a little light built in. And Kodak sells its own sensor-cleaning kit and provides detailed instructions on how to clean its cameras’ sensors.

When you’re chosen your product and are ready to clean the sensor, put the camera into sensor-cleaning mode so that the sensor is exposed (check the manual about how to do this with your particular model) and remove the lens. Use a bulb blower to blow dust off the sensor; you will want to make sure you hold the camera up so that the dust falls out instead of settling inside again. Follow the instructions of the cleaning product you’ve chosen. Usually this involves carefully swabbing the surface of the protective glass over the sensor.

To make sure you’ve eradicated all debris, you can take a picture of a blank wall or piece of paper. Look at it at full size on a computer monitor and see if you can detect any remaining specks.

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