sensor cleaning

Wow, cleaning a digital SLR's sensor is a pain in the ass! My pictures had been getting spottier and spottier, but the last straw was actually a hair: somehow a hair got under the shutter and onto the sensor. First I thought it was an eyelash, but when I finally got it out, it was almost an inch long!

So I bought one of these kits, and it's really hard to use. Basically you're trying to squeegie a piece of glass to get the little particles off of it that are literally microscopic. So it goes: take the lens off; squeegie out the camera guts; put the lens back on; take a picture; download that to the computer; note that you've made the specs worse; repeat until you reach something that seems like a local maximum. BLEH! Maybe it'd be easier if I had a really huge magnifying glass.

This process has also made me realize that there's a whole different set of spots on the path that goes lens→mirror→viewfinder than the path that goes lens→sensor.

Getting someone else to do it is a hassle too, as the local shops seem to just send it off to the manufacturer for cleaning, with a 2-3 week turnaround time.

(Did you know that the HTML entity for → is →? Who knew that arrows were so piratey.)

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26 Responses:

  1. phenyx says:

    Yeah, I had that problem with my Nikon. No, I don't know if there's a better way of doing it. Nikon includes one free sensor cleaning (you have to pay shipping, though) with the camera, I think -- they did it for me when I sent my camera in for warranty service. There's still a spot you can see if you stop up to f/20 or so. Blaaaagh.

  2. soema says:

    When I worked for a company that made industrial digital video cameras they would blast the CCDs with compressed air before shipping. I don't know if that's done for consumer DSLRs or not.

    • jwz says:

      Apparently there are very specific kinds of compressed gas that are ok to use on CCDs, and the ones I have access to are not they. Apparently the easy-to-find kind have Bad Stuff in them of some kind.

      • injector says:

        The air in a can is really bad. The CO2 canisters are what is recommended (if you are going the air route). But most of them are designed for guns and things with moving parts that need to be lubricated, so there is oil in the canister. There are some that are labeled "oil free", that's what you want.

        The local Staples office supply store has oil free ones. I only had a few little dust spots. It took care of it just fine. But I think for a bigger mess some sort of swipe or brush would be needed.

        Luminous Landscape has a review of the Sensor Scope. In summary: It is a lighted magnifying glass, but it includes other accessories that don't work so well, and only jack up the price.

  3. bitpuddle says:

    Yea -- those are a pain in the ass to use. I also don't like putting wet things inside my camera body.

    The Visible Dust brushes are somewhat easier, if you can bear paying that much for a little brush. But they really do work well.

    • jesus, I nearly flipped when they spin the dry brush in the demo video. I thought, "they want you to DREMEL YOUR SENSOR?!@?". Then I came to my senses.

    • cetan says:

      Another recommendation for both the wet and dry methods from Visible Dust. Fantastic and easy to use with my XT.

  4. gryazi says:

    The Olympus "eVolt" line includes a little dingus they call the "SSWF," or "Super-Sonic Wave Filter," which is actually a piezo-driven mounting for the sensor that rattles all the dust off onto surrounding sticky crap whenever you turn the camera on.

    I'm pretty sure I've seen both some sort of prior art and the same technique being adopted by other manufacturers, but the E-300 is what I own, so. (Sony has certainly gone one step further by making the whole sensor mobile for image-stabilization; I don't know if they use it to shake off dust though.)

    Despite the stupid acronym, Olympus's implementation works great. Too bad the Kodak sensor in the E-300 sucks for time exposures at night -- not only is it internally noisy, but unevenly noisy. Post E-500 models seem to have improved that, unless they haven't.

    This information is pretty useless *except* that it might be possible to safely buzz the whole camera body with the right equipment. Apparently pretty much every DSLR has 'sticky crap' present so that dust blown off the sensor doesn't just leap back on.

    • gryazi says:

      *Ding* -- Short roundup proves all manufacturers have now implemented something in their latest models:

      Figures Sigma would go with the obvious optical solution rather than a technical gimmick; still, the technical gimmick works damn well.

      • cyflea says:

        ...yeah., but most of those in-camera anti-dust things don't work too well, at least according to these guys:

        way down this end of the world in Melbourne there's a mob (Camera Clinic) who do it with a 24-hour turnaround for AUD$70 though last time they left me a note saying there was more dust that'd need an even more expensive process if i really wanted to get rid of it. or something. gah.

      • wisn says:

        I've got an SD9 and the glass cover effectively seals the sensor. In the worst case, you end up with a dust-scratched piece of optical glass to replace (cost: expensive piece of glass) rather than the sensor (cost: may as well replace the camera). Although now that I think of it, mine's a refurb and may have benefited from a technician disassembling the sensor area, cleaning it, and hand-tightening the shield mount. After several years there's never been any dust between the glass and sensor.

        The mount-end of Sigma's wide-angle lenses make up for it. They're some of the hardest things to clean ever.

  5. cetan says:

    [[Maybe it'd be easier if I had a really huge magnifying glass.]]

    Yes, sort-of...if you don't mind spending $200...

  6. strangehours says:

    You probably know this, but when you're taking your test images, use the highest possible f-stop. I've used a hurricane blower a number of times, and got respectable results. I have this extreme paranoia regarding touching the sensor with anything at all.

    Unfortunately, since getting a second lens (which gets swapped on and off regularly) the rate of accumulation of spots has increased markedly. Next time I think I'll be going down the professional service route - luckily, Melbourne (.au) has a good place which doesn't involve a return to the manufacturer (which, from a backwater like this, would probably take the best part of a year).

  7. lnghnds says:

    It gets a lot easier. The first time I did it, it seemed like I had a 50/50 chance of getting the sensor cleaner or dustier with each wipe. After a bit of practice it's no big deal anymore. When I started out, I found it made things easier to keep the camera on a tripod.

    What's been the most useful is being more careful about how I change lenses to avoid dust on the sensor in the first place.

    BTW, this page is the one I was talking about's got some good tips about sensor cleaning as well as where first saw reference to making your own cleaning kit out of a spatula.

  8. jon says:

    If you're feeling adventurous, you might want to try the Discofilm lens cleaning method.

  9. jace says:

    I've been using a plain nylon paintbrush on my Nikon D70 for the last two years. Works great, and cost me only Rs 90 ($2) at the local bookstore.

    The trick is to ensure the brush is free of any coating (may require washing; test with a plain glass surface), blow some air at it (with a blower) to electrically charge the bristles, and then make two passes over the sensor.

    Takes just two minutes to clean and, far as I can tell, does a close to 100% thorough job.

  10. deemon says:

    In Canon 400d the sensor auto-cleans by vibration on each startup.

  11. killbox says:

    Maybe it'd be easier if I had a really huge magnifying glass.

    i happen to have one.. (sorta) im not sure how it would make it easier?!?


  12. prof_null says:

    Gee, makes me feel sooo much better about my hokey lil' Canon S2IS - it does have two optional addon lenses but most importantly, you can't remove the basic lens barrel: ergo no chance of dusty CCD.
    Down side of this design? well, you can't put a super-duper-telephoto lens on it. . . . . . but then why do you need one?

    Now if they could just make better versions that had big price camera stuff like RAW image output and better low light performance, I'd be happy.
    Technology isn't meant to be causing us troubles, it's supposed to be solving them, right? . . . . . . .

    • cetan says:

      [[you can't remove the basic lens barrel: ergo no chance of dusty CCD. ]]

      One would like to think that, but I had dust on the sensor of my Canon A80.

    • mouseworks says:

      unless the dust is sticky. A guy who shoot semi-pro photography suggested MAC cosmetic brushes -- he used the blusher one -- clean and charged by blowing through it -- for spots that wouldn't blow out.

  13. spo0nman says:

    Where I live you could just goto a nikon service center and get it done for something like $30.

  14. otterley says:

    We need to petition the W3C to add &yarr; as an HTML entity for a yellow arrow (direction TBD).

  15. giantlaser says:

    → displays as an open box (missing character) in Konqueror. This makes me sad. Firefox does the right thing.


    • skyhawk92e says:

      I bought a $2.00 baby booger sucker from Walgreens. Works like a charm for blowing off dust & little hairs. Just be careful not to touch the sensor with it, obviously.