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Sooner or later, you will have to clean your lenses and accessory lens filters for photography. Cleaning your lens is simple to do but there are tips for how to clean a camera lens and lens filters that will help newcomers to overcome any nervousness about the process.
Anyone beginning to use more advanced cameras like a mirrorless or DSLR can see at least one thing that is clearly different from what you used before, whether that was a smartphone or a point and shoot style camera, the front lens element is usually much larger than those previous cameras.
That larger element collects dust, fingerprints, smudges, smears, spit, spray, dog hair, you name it. Since you are using an interchangeable lens now, you also need to be aware of the rear lens element. Any filters used with the lens also will need to be cleaned from time to time.
Here are some tips for how to clean a camera lens, front and back, and how to clean lens filters, on or off the camera lens.
Tip 1: Don’t Get It Dirty
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In other words, be careful with your optical glass. The old saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” applies here. So does Red Green’s version “if it ain’t fixed don’t step on it.”
One of the biggest culprits in lenses and filters getting dirty and scratched is our own clumsiness. Once that lens cap is off, consider the front element as vulnerable. This would mean keeping the lens cap attached when you are not using the camera. That applies to a rear lens cap, too, if you changed to another lens.
Avoid touching the glass surface. For some of us, that takes some practice and awareness, but it can be learned behavior.
This is an important tip whether you use an entry-level, cheap filter (which, honestly, you should avoid) or you use a high-quality filter like the Haida NanoPro MC Circular Polarizer that I have on the front of my lens.
Tip 2: Use Lens Hoods
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But even that one has a compromise lens hood that allows about 170 degree coverage while offering a little bit of protection for that protruding front element. Generic hard or rigid lens hoods are available for most lenses if yours doesn’t have one.
Besides keeping me from touching the lens front element, a lens hood also helps guard against bumps and scrapes from the lens impacting with something. A soft or rubber lens hood is a good alternative to rigid versions.
Tip 3: Blow It Off
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Some things, though, simply can’t be helped. You’re outside shooting and the wind picks up junk which finds its way to your lens. Blowing dust or sand or even the seed of a dandelion might be resting on your lens front element.
You’re tempted to rub it off with your t-shirt, scarf, or tie, but don’t. That rub could scratch the element. Sure, it’s not at all noticeable, right now. But after repeated occurrences, the abrasion wears on a lens.
A small blower brush is a great tiny tool to keep handy. Put it in your camera bag side pocket. The blower bulb will gently remove most loose particles from your lens, while the ultra soft bristles of the brush will take care of more stubborn junk.
Some photographers will blow with their mouth and lips but that can add moisture to the equation which causes the dust, sand, or dirt to stick a bit more firmly to the glass surface. Even if you think you’re blowing dry air with your mouth, a blower brush will sidestep that issue completely.
Tip 4: Use a Microfiber Cloth
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This is another item I keep in my camera bag. In fact, I have a variety of microfiber cloths in every bag or case I have, some in my desk, a couple in my car, and one in my front jeans pocket right now.
When cleaning your lens with a microfiber cloth, you should first take the time to use your blower or blower brush to remove any loose or big stuff. The microfiber cloth is great at removing fingerprints and smudges from our lenses. Instead of wiping at it straight, use small circular patterns all across the lens or filter.
A microfiber cloth is also perfect for cleaning your filters. A prime example of a filter that should be checked and possibly cleaned each time you use it is your circular polariser. Filters for photography are an important part of your optical gear, so keeping them clean will ensure the best performance.
You have likely already added to your basic gear an excellent polarizer such as the Haida NanoPro MC Circular Polarizer which gives you control over reflections, haze, and other glare.
If the filter is smudged on front or back surfaces, it won’t transmit the light as well as a clean filter, which would be a waste of the fine capabilities of this filter.
Tip 5: Lens Cleaning Liquid and Tissue
There are times when cleaning your lens or lens flyers that you simply must use a solution of some type. Very oily finger smudges, old fingerprints and smudges, water spots, and other similar things just won’t come clean with blowing and microfiber cloths.
Be sure to use a solution and tissue specifically designed for optical grade glass. Window cleaner is for windows, and the mom trick of licking your thumb and wiping is a bad idea for lenses and filters.
Lens cleaning solution, lens tissues, or pre moistened lens cleaning cloths are what you should use. For really stubborn smudges or spots, such as what I might encounter when picking up a used lens, I will use one tissue for the solution and one or two to wipe dry.
NEVER pour, spray, or apply lens solution directly to the lens. Always put it on the tissue and then wipe the moist tissue on the lens with circular motions. You don’t want any moisture finding its way into the interior of the lens.
Tip 6: Kits Have It All
A good lens cleaning kit that comes in its own small case is a handy thing to keep with or near your main gear bag. They make great gifts for photographers, too, as we always need more good ways to clean our lenses and filters.
Tip 7: Remember To Clean the Lens Barrel
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The lens barrel also gets quite a lot of dust and oily dirt on it. Almost everything listed above can be used on the lens barrels, but I tend to stick with a blower brush and microfiber cloth most of the time. If you do need to use solution, the rule of never applying liquid directly to the lens is in effect here, too.
You can even use all these tools and tricks with regard to the exterior of your camera body as well, but there are special tips and tools for cleaning battery contacts and sensors. We’ll cover that for you in another article.