Getting Started With Basic Sensor Maintenance

Getting Started With Basic Sensor Maintenance - Mastin Labs

Basic sensor maintenance should be a part of your photography equipment care routine. Take note of whether or not your sensor needs attention when cleaning and servicing your camera equipment, because staying on top of it means you won’t be waiting for problems to arise before you start giving your equipment (including your sensor) a little TLC! 

Here we’re sharing a how-to on cleaning your sensor and also why it’s an important part of your camera-care routine.

Why Basic Sensor Maintenance Matters

Taking care of your equipment in general is important, but you may be wondering why your camera sensor needs to be maintained specifically. You might not have realized it, but everytime you change lenses, your camera sensor is exposed to dust. Dust is a problem that every photographer has to deal with. No matter how careful you are, it always seems to 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 below 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.

close up photo of an exposed camera sensor

    How Do I Check If My Camera Sensor Needs Cleaning? 

    There are some telltale signs that your sensor is dirty and needs to be cleaned. If you’re not sure, see if any of the following issues sound familiar:

    • Dark spots appear in your photos. The spots will appear in the same place on each photo, even when you switch out lenses. If spots change location or disappear, it’s a sign that your lens might be dirty.
    • Dark spots vary in size and contrast with aperture. These 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.
    depiction of how to gently clean a camera sensor

    Photo Credit: Andrew Shepherd

    How Do I Clean My Camera Sensor?

    The camera sensor is a fragile part of any camera, and must be handled with extreme care. If you don’t feel comfortable cleaning it yourself, we highly suggest you take your camera to be serviced by a professional camera technician. 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.

    Before you manually clean your sensor, see if your camera has an auto-clean mode. If it does, this may be the only step you need to take. In some cases the dust remains even after auto-cleaning, and you must either take your camera to a technician.

    Here’s a list of materials you’ll want to collect before you clean your sensor:

    • 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 the steps below.

    Steps for Dry Cleaning Your Camera 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 Camera 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.  

    a camera sensor exposed to prepare for maintenance

    Basic Sensor Maintenance for the Best Possible Photos

    Your camera sensor is delicate and should be handled with care. Maintaining your sensor means that your incredible captures won’t be ruined or disrupted by dark spots. By taking the time to care for your sensors, you ensure that your images remain blemish-free. 

    Now you know how to care for your sensor, but did you know your lens needs maintenance too? Learn how to get started with lens maintenance here