Photography Tip—How to Remove DSLR Sensor Dust and Particles, Part 2

sensor_cleaning-002 image The technology of digital photography cameras is complex, and DSLR cameras, in particular, include many delicate and sensitive parts. One of these is the camera’s sensor. Dust and other particles tend to stick to the surface of the low-pass filter, a piece of glass in front of the sensor. This two-part article features a number of tips and techniques for removing sensor dust.

As stated in Part 1, your first and best solution is to have your camera’s sensor cleaned professionally. If you insist on doing it yourself, however, be aware you could damage your camera. Part 2 of this article describes some low-cost alternatives to the more expensive dry and wet methods to clean your sensor.

( Download this cheat sheet: 9 Step lens cleaning checklist. So you don't screw up your lenses. )
  • Isopropyl alcohol: This product has very little water and dries quickly. Barely wet a swab with the alcohol and then touch the sensor surface very lightly, targeting specific dust particles.
  • Common household window cleaners: Since the surface of the low-pass filter is glass, it seems logical to use these products, but be cautious, as the glass in a window is quite different from the glass of the filter.
  • Common cotton swabs: Don’t use these products because tiny cotton fibers may be deposited on the glass.
  • Common tape: Bad idea! You may be able to remove lint from a suit or dress with “Scotch” tape, but if you try to lift dust from your camera’s sensor with it, then you’ll probably leave some of the tape’s adhesive.

Recommended Cleaning Supplies:

Prevention Is the Key

You can limit the need for you, or even the experts, to touch your camera’s sensor surface if you take preventative measures. The good news is that you are unlikely to see any dust or particles transferred to your digital photos unless you are shooting with small apertures (lens openings), such as f/16 or f/22.

Don’t change lens when your camera is powered. That power creates an electrical charge on the sensor, which can then attract dust and particles.
Change lens where the air is not moving and there is no dust. The pros will often use a bag in which they place both the camera body and lens, to change it. The other pro solution is to point the lens mount of the camera body at the ground.
Many pros have more than one camera body. Each is paired with a lens they use most of the time, so they simply don’t have to change lenses.
If you’re a digital photography enthusiast or hobbyist, then this may be cost-prohibitive, which is why it is important to choose as your first lens, a zoom with a wide range of focal lengths.

NIKON Prime Lenses CANON Prime Lenses SIGMA Prime Lenses
Nikon 24mm f/1.4 Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II Sigma 24mm f/1.8 EX DG
Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM
Nikon 35mm f/1.4G Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
Nikon 300mm f/2.8G AF-S ED Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS Sigma 300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF

You’ll be happy to know that the camera manufacturers are working on this problem too. Some new DSLRs include cleaning technology; and there is every reason to believe that more cameras will have this capability, so there will be less or no dust.

A final word of caution: some manufacturers in the industry are obviously motivated to exaggerate the sensor dust problem because they are selling cleaning products. Keep the problem in perspective; after all, there is dust everywhere. Now that you know the information and tips in this two-part article, you’re better prepared to make a seemingly “big” problem much smaller and manageable.


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