Essential Tips for Cleaning Your Lens
- Give the blower a few squeezes away from your lens, just to dislodge any dust or debris that might be inside the blower tube.
- Grab your lens with one hand, holding it firmly to prevent dropping it. It's a good idea to sit at a table and rest your elbow on the tabletop for support.
- Aim the blower at the lens glass and give it two or three good squeezes.
- Give your lens brush a few shakes in midair to allow any leftover debris to dislodge. It's important that you not try to clean the bristles with your fingers because the oils on your skin will stick to the bristles and will then be wiped all over your lens glass.
- Firmly hold your lens with one hand with the lens glass pointed at a downward angle, as seen in the image above.
- Gently brush the surface of the glass, moving in a circular motion from the middle of the lens outward. Repeat if necessary.
- Hold your lens firmly with one hand, with plenty of support to prevent dropping it.
- Inspect the microfiber cloth and the lens glass to ensure there's no chunks of debris that could cause a scratch. If you find that there is large debris present, give your lens another once-over with a blower or brush. Shake out the microfiber cloth to dislodge any gunk on it as well.
- Working from the inside out, wipe gently around the lens.
- Spray the lens cleaning solution onto a tissue. Never spray the solution directly onto the lens. Better still, use pre-moistened lens tissues.
- Hold your lens firmly in one hand, using the other hand to clean the surface of the lens.
- Working in a circular motion from inside out, clean the lens glass. Again, be gentle as you work your way around the lens.
If you've had your camera and lens for a few months now, the chances are good that you've accumulated some dirt, dust, fingerprints, and grime on the lens glass.
That's to be expected, no matter how careful you are to avoid touching the lens.
Heck, just the act of having your gear out in the open is enough to get the lens dirty - with all the dust and other airborne contaminants floating around, they will find their way onto your lens (and into your camera) one way or another.
Thinking back to when I bought my first camera, I remember being terrified to clean my lens.
The last thing I wanted to do after shelling out all that money was to scratch the lens's delicate glass.
Of course, the flip side of being too afraid to clean my lens is that the quality of the images I took began to degrade.
A speck of dust here, a fingerprint there, and photos that were otherwise not too bad turned out to be not worthy of keeping.
With that in mind, let's review a few simple and effective ways to clean your lens without being overcome with anxiety.
A good first step towards becoming a more confident lens cleaner is to invest in tools that allow you to give your lens a good once over without actually having to touch the lens glass with your hands or fingers.
The primary tool for this is a blower like the one shown above, and it's dead simple to use:
That's not so scary, right?
When using a blower, just keep in mind that whatever it blows off the lens glass will end up someplace else. As a good rule of thumb, hold the lens with the glass facing slightly downward, that way gravity can work in your favor, and the debris will fall harmlessly to the tabletop.
Lens cleaning brushes come in a variety of forms, any of which is great for getting caked-on debris off the lens glass.
One option is a brush with very fine bristles like the one pictured above.
Generally, these bristles are made of something like camel or goat hair, which is soft, so it doesn't scratch the lens glass, but is effective in helping sweep away any debris from the lens.
Again, like a blower, using a lens cleaning brush is an easy and straightforward process that doesn't involve you actually touching the lens glass with your hands or fingers:
Again, this process is dead simple and one that shouldn't cause you too much anxiety.
But be warned - don't press your lens brush too hard into the glass. The goal here is to gently remove any debris, not smash the cleaning tool into the glass!
Microfiber Cleaning Cloths
Microfiber cleaning cloths are the next step up from blowers and lens brushes in terms of their effectiveness in cleaning your lens.
Sure, you have to actually touch the lens glass as you clean it, but it's no more complicated than using a similar cloth to clean the lenses of a pair of glasses.
You can pick up a set of microfiber cloths for next to nothing, making it a sound investment that will help you keep oils, fingerprints, and smudges off your lens glass.
Using a microfiber cloth is simple:
Many photographers will blow on their lens glass to fog it up, just to add a little moisture to help the microfiber cloth do its job. It's up to you if you feel like that's a necessary step or not.
What is definitely a necessary step is to keep your microfiber cloths clean.
Since you have to touch them, the oils from your skin will transfer to the cloth, thus necessitating frequent cleaning.
However, as noted above, these cloths are dirt cheap, so you can buy a handful of them to keep in a rotation in your camera bag, that way you always have a clean cloth handy.
Whatever you do, never throw the cloth into your bag. It will pick up any dust or dirt that's in the bag and transfer it to your lens. Instead, keep the cloth stored in its pouch, or, if it didn't come with a pouch, carry it in a Ziploc bag.
Cleaning Tissues and Cleaning Solution
So far, we've only discussed dry cleaning procedures for your lens.
But the dry methods discussed above don't always work, which means there will be occasions when special lens cleaning solution (not Windex or other glass cleaners) is needed.
To use lens cleaning solution, you need lens tissues. Unlike microfiber cloths, these tissues are made of very thin paper and are intended for one-time usage.
Using these cleaning items is a little more involved, but should still not be an anxiety-inducing process:
By working in a circular motion, you not only help remove any smudges or debris, but you also help to minimize streaking on the lens.
Get a peek at each of these cleaning methods in action in the video below by Tom Photoix:
Prevention is Key
As we've seen, cleaning your lens glass is an easy process, especially once you have a few rounds of cleaning under your belt.
But ultimately, the key to keeping your lenses as clean as possible is to take preventative measures.
Whether that's keeping your lens cap on when the lens isn't in use, adding a UV filter to protect the lens glass, or being purposeful about when you change your lenses (i.e. never in dusty or windy environments), there's plenty of things you can do to minimize how dirty your lenses get in the first place.
And the less dirty your lenses are, the less often you have to clean them!
Do note, though, that while routine cleaning is necessary, cleaning your lens glass too often can be detrimental. If you're constantly cleaning the lens glass, you run the risk of scratching and pitting the glass, so only clean it when it gets dirty.
By using the methods outlined above, that dirty lens glass will be returned to its pristine, clean condition, and you can be shooting again in no time!