Image Sensor Cleaning

Proper and regular upkeep of your digital camera is important for maintaining the highest quality performance from your camera. Much of routine maintenance is simple, easy to carry out procedures. The most common maintenance target is dust, which on your lens or image sensor will result in flawed photos.


Image Sensor Cleaning

Image Sensor Cleaning Comparison

To determine if your sensor needs cleaning is quite simple. Just put on a long lens, focus to infinity, close off the aperture, set the EV to +1 and photograph a white (or light) wall. By using the long lens you’re able to achieve the most out-of-focus image and you’ll actually be able to see how much dust has settled on the sensor. Place the image into an image-editing program like Photoshop and view the image at 100% magnification to get a full appreciation of the dust level. If the sensor is dirty, you’ll immediately notice tiny dark spots and thin lines, which are often formed from clothing fibers, hair, and pollen granules. If you notice these spots, it indicates that the sensor of your camera or your lens requires cleaning. You can have the camera sensor cleaned by sending it to a manufacturer’s service center or to a trusted repair shop. However, this may prove to be an expensive option. The second option is to clean the sensor yourself. If you want to clean your sensor there are three routes to go: with a blower, with solvents and with brushes. In addition, many cameras have a self-cleaning image sensor, and it’s recommended that you use this each time your fire up your camera for a day’s shooting.


Cleaning with a Rubber Bulb Blower

Cleaning an Image Sensor with a Rubber Bulb Blower

A rubber bulb blower is a hand-operated “touchless” device used to blow away the loose dust particles on the lens or within the camera body. It is considered touchless because only puffs of air touch the camera parts. However, rubber bulb blowers can be the least effective method of cleaning the sensor because dust which has been adhered with moisture will be difficult to remove. Additionally, to ensure that you are cleaning properly you need to make sure that you’re not just blowing the dust around the sensor housing. To use the blower effectively, set the camera on a tripod with the lens opening facing downward and then blow into the opening. The majority of the loose dust (dust that’s not stuck to the image sensor) will blow away and fall to the floor. This simple cleaning will get you by when you’re on location and don’t have time for a more thorough cleaning. Rubber bulb blowers work well for rapid removal of most visible dust.


Cleaning with Brushes

The next method of cleaning your sensor is with brushes, and the best are special static-chargeable brushes. These brushes are great, because the static charge grabs the loose dust as you swab them around the interior of the camera body. In addition, brushes don’t require flammable cleaning solvents and are used dry. A brush is less likely to scratch the sensor, which can happen with solvents and wiping with a cloth. The drawback with brushes is that if you run across a gummy or sticky substance, the brush will smear it around. You’ll then need to use a solvent to clear up that mess.


Cleaning with Solvents

Image Sensor Claning with a Solvent

The third method of cleaning the image sensor is with a liquid solvent. You’ll need a sensor swipe or some other applicator like Pec* Pads and Eclipse or Eclipse E2 solvent (both by Photographic Solutions). These solvents are excellent because they don’t streak or leave a residue. We should note that Pec* Pads aren’t specifically made for cleaning the image sensor. They are designed to clean film emulsions, telescopes and mirrors – which are delicate, so they are safe for cleaning the image sensor. When cleaning with a solvent, wear latex gloves to prevent any oil from your fingers from contaminating the cleaning pad and transferring that oil to the sensor’s surface.

Attila Kun

Attila is the founder and editor-in-chief of Exposure Guide. He is an avid photographer, graphic designer, bedroom DJ and devoted Mac addict. Attila got his first DSLR camera, a Canon 10D, back in 2003 and he has been hooked on photography ever since.