Getting Started With Basic Sensor Maintenance

Getting Started With Basic Sensor Maintenance | Mastin Labs

Headaches and sneezing tell you that your body is sick, clunking and service engine lights tell you that your car is sick, and the frozen screen and spider web cracks on your phone tell you that your phone is sick. Oftentimes, we rely on obvious symptoms of dysfunction to indicate that something needs our attention; but for photography equipment, the best line of defense against “sickness” is preventing it through regular gear maintenance. Being diligent with gear maintenance will help you preserve the quality and longevity of your equipment. We’ve compiled some resources to answer your burning questions about gear maintenance and to help you get the most out of your photography equipment for years to come. 

HOW DO I CHECK IF MY CAMERA SENSOR NEEDS CLEANING?

Dust is a problem that every photographer has to live with. No matter how careful you are to protect your camera, dust will always find its way in. Dust can settle on your camera lens, camera body, or on your camera’s sensor or mirror. When dust settles on the camera sensor, it can cause damage to every image you take while the sensor is dirty. Your camera’s sensor is vulnerable to dust every time you change a lens, zoom, or are in a dirty environment. If you notice the following symptoms between routine maintenance services, you need to clean your sensor. A little dust can ruin the perfect image, or force you to take time retouching it; cleaning your sensor is worth the trouble.

Symptoms of a dirty sensor

  • Dark spots appear on your photos. Spots appear in the same place on each photo, even when you switch out lenses. (If spots change location or disappear, your lens may be dirty).
  • Dark spots vary in size and contrast with aperture. Spots should be similar on comparable images.
  • Dark spots are exaggerated on images with small apertures.
  • Dark spots are not visible through the viewfinder. If you see dark spots through your viewfinder, the dust has settled on your mirror, not your sensor.

If you’re unsure whether or not your camera sensor needs to be cleaned, try this quick test. Adjust your camera to the lowest ISO and smallest aperture it can handle. Blur your focus as you take a photo of a white surface. Upload the image to your computer and zoom in to find spots. If you see spots on your image, it’s time to clean your sensor.

By Andrew Shepherd

HOW DO I CLEAN MY SENSOR?

The camera sensor is a fragile part of any camera, and must be handled with extreme care. We highly suggest you take your camera to be serviced by a professional camera technician if you have any doubts about your ability to clean your camera sensor after reading these instructions. Self-cleaning comes with risks and may void your warranty, so if you decide to clean your own sensor, you must be willing to accept the associated risks.

The first step to cleaning your sensor is to try your camera’s auto clean mode if it has one. Sometimes this is the only step you need to take, other times, dust remains and you must either take your camera to a technician for cleaning or clean your own sensor.

First, collect these materials:

  • A fully charged camera battery
  • Camera sensor cleaning swabs
  • Camera sensor cleaning solution
  • Air blower
  • Head lamp
  • Sensor loupe

You can purchase a cleaning kit online that includes everything you need. When you’re ready to clean your sensor, gather your tools and follow these steps.

Steps for Dry Cleaning Your Sensor

  1. Find a controlled, clean work area.
  2. Insert a full battery and remove the lens from your camera.
  3. Select the option on your camera to manually clean your sensor. Consult your manual if you have trouble finding it.
  4. Point the camera down so that the back of the camera faces up toward the ceiling.
  5. Hold the air blower just outside your camera and blow air into your sensor for a few moments.
  6. Turn off the camera and replace the lens.

When you’ve finished your dry clean, take a test shot and see if any spots remain. If the dry clean worked, you are finished! If not, you may need to wet clean your sensor. See directions for wet cleaning below.

Steps for Wet Cleaning Your Sensor

  1. Perform steps 1-4 above
  2. Blast a sensor swab with your air blower to clear the swab of any particles.
  3. Add a couple drops of sensor cleaning solution to the sensor swab.
  4. Very gently, wipe the barely-damp sensor swab across the sensor in one motion from left to right.
  5. Turn the sensor swab over and repeat the action; this time, from right to left.
  6. Inspect the sensor with your loupe.
  7. If dust remains, repeat steps 3-6 with a new sensor swab.

When you’ve finished your wet clean, take a test shot and see if any spots remain. If there are remaining spots, consult a professional. 

Cameras are complex and delicate pieces of equipment and should be treated with care. When a camera is serviced regularly and well taken care of, it can remain in top working condition for a long time, and you can run your business without taking disruptive “sick days”. Don’t learn the value of gear maintenance the hard way, but be diligent about caring for your hand held partner.