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Dirty Digital SLR Sensors

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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Jul 2009, 18:45:22 BST
I use a Canon EOS 20D, does anyone have a good ideas for keeping the sensor clean when changing len's other than buy a second body! It costs £60+ to have it cleaned by an authorisred agent does anyone have any experience with cleaning sensors yourself
Tony H

Posted on 7 Jul 2009, 11:10:32 BST
Last edited by the author on 7 Jul 2009, 11:24:04 BST
Fishman says:
I assume you have tried a Rocket Blower? The next step up is probably the Arctic Butterfly or Sensor Swabs.

Other than that, obviously change lenses in as clean an environment as you can and point the camera body down as you do it. Don't forget the keep mount end of the lens dust free before you attach it :)

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Jul 2009, 13:30:22 BST
Leicanother says:
Fist thing is to obviously minimise dust in the air whilst changing lenses - don't do it on the beach on a blustery day, or whilst hoovering.
Second level of attack it to invest in one of those oversize "rocket blowers" - they can generally dislodge most transitory dust, but often its only blowing it round the compartment - do try to hold the camera (on B - the time setting) looking straight down at a clean dustless surface, and let gravity help.
Be very wary of compressed gas blowers - if they use any solvent, they can mark the sensors - best steer clear unless its specifically advertised as safe with digital equipment. (people still have them from the old film camera days, and think they should work....!)
Swabs - available off eB (and probably here) around £6 for six - one use swabs. I recently bought a pack and did both my D series Nikons with them, without any trouble. Again, stick it on B (the time setting) and be prepared to make "one firm pass" with the swab, whilst holding the shutter button (you can get a special adaptor to hold it open - but you don't need it). I wouldn't recommend this for a brand new Nikon D3, but for ageing D1's it worked very well. I would emphasise they are single use (not dissimilar to a KFC finger wipe on a stick), and again, where digital is concerned, never be tempted to cut corners and re-use them - they'll just grind the original dirt into the new sensor - possibly causing some serious damage. That said, they are very safe on first use, and I've never heard of anyone damaging their sensors whilst using them, but I don't get out much.
Hope this is helpful.

Posted on 9 Jul 2009, 12:34:24 BST
brabason says:
Dirt in a cameras is not new, it happens with film cameras also. At least the film rolls on, it sometimes taking the dirt with it. Digital cameras are different, they are dirt magnets because of the electrical charge on that unmoveable sensor. Before doing any of this cleaning stuff, ask yourself if you can live with the spots. Most spots do not show up at f/8. They start to be visible at f/11 and are most visible at f/22 or smaller. Second, spots only show up on plain background like the sky etc. Any spots in busy parts of the picture are mostly not visible. Finally you can use software to clone out any annoying spots. Only if you are not prepared to try to live with them should you consider sensor cleaning.

There are two types of sensor spots. Big loose bits like fluff, hairs (!) etc. which can be blown away. Then there are the small, dried on, stuck hard on the sensor spots; these are hard to remove.

Agree with Leicanother, use a 'rocket blower' or similar to remove the big bits (the kind of spots that move around from photo to photo). Avoid all compressed gas blowers no matter what it says on the tin. Never ever touch the sensor with these things, the camera will not survive (cheaper to buy a new body than having a sensor replaced). Do not blow directly into the camera, angle the blower to created a wind across the sensor, leaving somewhere for dirt to get out. Use a clean room (avoid carpets, cats, dogs etc.); the blower sucks in the ambient air and fires it onto the sensor; you could end up with more dirt than you started with. Mount the camera on a tripod for all this work, even if you have three arms you wont be steady enough holding the camera.

After blowing, use swabs for the persistent spots. This is not for the faint hearted and should be done in a clean environment. There are several solvents to go with the swabs, pick the one to suit the material of the sensor and used it VERY sparingly. Swab sizes vary also, pick the one to fit your camera. Note, it is not the sensor that is being cleaned (thankfully) but the filter in front of it so you can wipe it with a swab. Only use each swab once, the second use just puts more dirt back onto the sensor (you cannot see this stuff with the naked eye it is so small). Search the internet, there is some specific guidance on this.

Canon dSLRs have a sensor cleaning option in the menu, I'm sure all other good makes have a similar option (read the manual). This lifts the mirror out of the way and allows access for cleaning. It also switches off the sensor so no electromagnetic charge is generated to attract more dirt. I do not recommend using B(ulb) for this. In B mode the camera is working and the sensor is electrically charged, attracting more dirt. Ensure you have a fully charged battery or a mains power supply. If power fails while you are cleaning the sensor, the mirror will close down, trapping anything in the way and leading to a damaged mirror, sensor and wallet (applies to blowing only as well).

Dirt does not just get into the camera, it is attracted there by the electrical charge on the sensor. Therefore, always switch off (and wait if you can) before changing lenses. There are lens changing bags on the market, before buying one of these try changing lenses with your eyes closed.

Some cameras are worse than others. My original Canon EOS 5D was awful. Upgraded to a 5d Mark II which is better but already a few hard spots that the start up sensor cleaning will not budge. I also have an Olympus E-410 also with start up sensor cleaning; absolutely spotless after years of service and three lenses to swap. I have even seen sensor spots on a compact camera. Use a blower to clean the lens before fitting it to the camera. Use a blower to clean all lens end ans body caps before use. Get a good walk about zoom lens and only change the lenses when absolutely necessary.

Posted on 13 Jul 2009, 11:27:39 BST
Thanks very much to you guys for myour feedback, a great help with plenty to think about. Has anyone any experience or comments on the Delkin Sensor Scope?

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Jul 2009, 13:52:41 BST
Fishman says:
Not seen the Delkin before, the scope looks interesting. Here's a review of the full kit, at £40 the scope on its own is tempting.


Posted on 14 Jul 2009, 00:34:36 BST
brabason says:
Fisherman don't waste your money on gadgets like this. It is better to spend money sending the camera to a lab for cleaning (check the guarantee; might be worth doing this before it expires).

The only way to see if the spots have been removed/made worse is to take test photos. There are several ways to do this including photographing a blank screen on your PC. I prefer to take outside shots. Set your zoom at about 50mm f/22 manual focus set to infinity then photograph the sky (I have a neat 50mm prime lens just for this). Does not matter if there is cloud cover, the spots will show up. Take several photos, high flying birds look just like spots! I use a tripod and 100 ISO for maximum resolution. Then download the photos and check them on your PC. Most photo editing software will enable you to zoom to 100% (full size, too big for most screens, you'll need to scroll about). Now look at the spots, the big loose ones that move from one photo to next can be blown away. The smaller unmoveable ones may need to be swabbed away. The picture on your sensor is a mirror image of what is shown on the screen; spots shown on the top right of the screen are on the bottom left of the sensor etc.

Count the spots each time to see if you are making progress. First do the test to see where the spots are and what type. Then rocket blow away the loose spots and test again. It may be good enough with not too many hard spots left. You might live with this; you are unlikely to achieve perfection anyway. Do not be surprised if blowing makes things worse if you are not using a clean room. Most bathrooms do not have fitted carpets, clean it up with a damp cloth (and earn some brownie points), it may be ideal.

Avoid sensor brushes, they will leave lines on the sensor (fine hairs are sharp). Avoid compressed air cans, the propellant sprays onto the sensor and makes things worse. Avoid suction devices, they will not remove the hard spots and suck in ambient air.

You are likely to take several goes to swab a sensor. First few times you won't be very fast, better to find out exactly how the sensor cleaning mode on the camera works and how the swabs fit, how deep inside the sensor is, any edge obstructions etc. As you get more experienced it should be over in a few seconds. Have the camera mounted on the on the tripod, no lens only a body cap and the menu option selected and ready for a click. Prepare the swab, click the camera menu option, remove the cap from the camera, swab one way and back, replace the cap and switch the camera off (closes the mirror and the sensor cleaning mode). Test photos and count the spots to see if it made a positive difference or made matters worse.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jul 2009, 11:55:49 BST
Fishman says:
It is more cost effective to do it yourself. If you have lines on your sensor from sensor brushes then you must be doing something wrong!

I already use a Rocket and have used sensor brushes on the the dSLR at work and it's no big deal to do it, there was no visible dust left on images. That scope looks just the job for spotting dust rather than taking test images. Gets a good review and £40 is a bargain.

Posted on 14 Jul 2009, 15:46:24 BST
The price to get the sensor professionally cleaned is exorbitant considering how quick and easy it is to do. I was extremely nervous the first time I did it but it really is simple. First, I use a rocket blower to get rid of the loose stuff then I use sensor swabs with cleaning fluid. I only do it when the dirt becomes really noticeable. A few specs here and there can be easily cloned out and they only show up using smaller apertures anyway. I can't say I get 100% of the dirt off, but it is a definite improvement. My camera is a few years old now and probably not worth that much (350D), I perhaps wouldn't be as confident with a 1Ds!
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Participants:  5
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Initial post:  6 Jul 2009
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