Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sensor-Cleaning Chronicles

First off, I want to thank everyone who provided great advice and suggestions in the comments section regarding my sensor-cleaning paranoia. Much appreciated!

I was at the local mall yesterday on a Christmas shopping mission. While there, I stopped by a photography store, Ritz Cameras. Ritz is a retail chain, mostly serving the photography needs of non-pro/non-serious-hobbyist consumers who are more of the "I just need a camera to take snapshots" consumer. I asked the pretty young thing working the counter (probably seasonal help) if they had any sensor-cleaning products. "No," she said. "But we have stuff to clean lenses."

"You don't stock anything to clean sensors?" I asked.

"Nope," she replied, "But there's a real camera store across the street."

"Thanks," I politely said and decided to head over to the "real" camera store.

The "real" camera store turned out to be a local retailer who stocked a fair amount of pro gear: Everything from medium format cameras to the highest quality glass for Canon and Nikon products. Once again, I asked if they stocked any sensor-cleaning products.

"No," was the reply.

"You don't stock anything to clean sensors?" I again asked, this time a bit more incredulously.

"We have brushes," the middle-aged retailer replied.

"I don't want to just push the dust around, I want to clean it off," I responded.

"Sorry," he said. "But we don't stock any of those products."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because Canon and Nikon don't support any of them," he said.

"Well, what do Canon and Nikon recommend?" I asked.

"They don't," he said. "Basically, they act like the problem is a non-problem. They don't seem to want to endorse any product or process to clean sensors and, until they do, we're not stocking any sensor-cleaning products except brushes." (Note: He wasn't talking about sensor-cleaning brushes, like those from Visible Dust, he was talking about simple brushes and brush/bulb combos like those used in lens cleaning kits.)

"Holy Moly," I thought to myself, my sensor-cleaning paranoia now re-fueled.

"But I'm sure you can find something on-line that will help," he added.

I don't know what all this means. Obviously, the electro-static environment sensors exist in attracts dust and it is a problem. But not enough of a problem, it seems, for the two, premier, manufacturers of dSLRs to take an official stand on... at least, with retailers. Am I missing something here?

The model at the top of this post is Page. She's made-up and wardrobed as sort of a combination Goth-like/Kabuki-like Queen of Hearts for a recent Alice in Wonderland-ish production I worked on. MUA was Zenova.

14 comments:

Dakewl said...

I attended last month to a workshop sponsored by Canon Spain, and the canon representative when asked about cleaning sensors replied that every professional photographer should take his cameras to Canon once a year to be cleaned.

Anonymous said...

I use Sensor swab by Photographic Solutions. http://www.photosol.com
They are sterile swabs and cost about $50 for a box of 12 and about another $10 for the solution.

Use one and only one drop of solution on the swab. Swab the sensor once, turn the swab over and swab it again then throw the swab away.

I've used it on my S1 and D50 but have yet to need it on mt D80.

Rick D.

Anonymous said...

The brushrs like the ones from visable dust are actaully electrically charged using compressed air and pick up the dust....not just push it around. Unless something is actually stuck to the sensor (very unlikely) these brushes are very affective....

jimmyd said...

The brushrs like the ones from visable dust are actaully electrically charged using compressed air and pick up the dust...

yeah. i know. i've been to visible dust's website. the brushes they were selling in the "real" camera store weren't those or anything like those. they were just brushes or combination brush/bulbs like those used in lens cleaning kits.

Keith said...

Hello Jimmy, long time reader, first time poster.

First off, I love your site and the information that you share, thanks a lot.

Now for the bad news, your scaring me! Can't wait to hear how this is resolved. According to the little amount of info I have come across I thought cleaning the sensor wasn't that big a deal, but I've never had to do it, now I'm all paranoid. Hope it all comes out o.k. and keep us updated!

kmduke

Anonymous said...

I have cleaned my sensors several times since most of my shooting is in a rather dusty outdoor environment in the windy Midwest and I have change lenses more often than most people would be comfortable with in that situation. These two web sites are helpful and I have used both of their products.

http://www.cleaningdigitalcameras.com/
http://www.lenspen.com/

Jawara said...

The manufacturers you mentioned recommend themselves as your solution to cleaning your sensor.

Convenient [for them], ain't it?

James said...

Hi Jimmy!

You've probably heard this before but I'll second it anyways. The baby ear/nose syringe. Get a brand new one and don't let anyone use it! :) The bigger the better. Hold the camera with the lens opening pointing down, put it in sensor clean mode and give it a couple of puffs but obviously don't touch the sensor with the syringe. This has worked 3-4 times for me with my Digital Rebel and 20D.
-James

Richard said...

Lots of scare stories abound and I've had a few scary moments while cleaning my 5D and 350D. The 5D is a dust magnet.

Ive tried electostatic brushes at £50 a shot (thats around $100), special microporus wipes, even more expensive, and PecPads with Exclipse cleaning solution.

The only thing I found works reliably is the PecPad and Eclipse. Everything else does tend to push the dust around.

The 350D was easy to clean as the sensor was smaller than the apature inwhich it sits. However, the 5D sensor is a tight fit, so even when I have spent a log time in cleaning there is still some dust at the corners. Its not too much of a problem though as its easy to clone out in a corner.

Canon released the 400D with an anti-dust vibration system. I'm hoping that this year will see an upgrade to the 5D (6D?), which will include the same cleaning system, at which point I will be joining the queue to get one regardless of its other features.

Oh, and the sensors covers are glass and hard to damage. The worst I ever did was to use a cleaning tool that left smears all over the sensor. It took about $60 of PecPads to get it off but it was fine. I would say that you should start by using a puffer bowl to get any harder particles off before using the Pads and you'll be fine.

Bill Giles said...

I cleaned the sensor on my 10D once. I used a foot powered air pump made for inflating air mattresses. I did this after a long on-line search for information. The general recommendations were: don't touch the sensor with anything but air. Don't use compressed or canned air. Don't use solvents. Use a low pressure controllable air source with a nozzle that will allow you to direct the air where you need it.

I used a binocular magnifier to see the dust and to see what I was doing. It worked fairly well. After that I bought an E-1.

If I had a 5D (and I would love to have one), I would be strongly inclined to send it to Canon. It's the only way to get them to be responsible for the results. You might want to talk to John Fisher, I think that he has had experience with Canon Professional Services.

Bill Giles said...

I've got Pec-Pads and Eclipse, but I was scared away from using them. The results that I have had with them on lenses and filters have been less than I expected. Smears are worse than dust. I agree that the lens covers are glass and hard to damage, but the fear of the unknown has compelled me to take a very conservative approach. I can't speculate on why Canon and Nikon haven't taken a more active role in this.

Ernie Rice said...

2 things, first get the brushes from visible dust. Use it for general cleaning. Works great, but don't touch the sides of the sensor box with the brush, the sides of the box have grease on them to lubricate the shutter. And Canons have more of the grease than the Nikon according to an independent camera tech who taught me to clean my sensor. So be careful, because I shoot Nikon and I've gotten the grease on a brush and had to replace it.

The brush works for the loose stuff, but every so often you need something to get the other stuff. Eclipse solution is the best, put it on the sensor swabs and you are set. You don't have to "wet clean" very often, but don't use more than 2 drops and NEVER apply the solution directly to the sensor.

I actually don't use the swabs, I use pec pads cut to fit a square cut plastic knife. Perfect size for a Nikon sensor. Put a fresh pad on there, rubber band in down and 2 drops of solution and across the sensor once in each direction and clean as can be.

:)

David Gregg said...

Hey Jimmy, I love your blog. I find it informative, opinionated and entertaining.

Now regarding the sensor cleaning dilemma, I was in the same boat as you a couple of months ago.

Usually the big squeeze type blower would fix things up for me - or at least move the particles out of the way temporarily. be careful though, I went to town squeezing that bulb like crazy out of frustration only to find that some grease or lubricant from the mirror mechanism actually ended up on the sensor. Boy what a mess!

So I decided to spend $27 plus shipping for Nikon in El Segundo to clean it for me. It did come back a lot cleaner but not *perfect*. I called Nikon and asked if I should expect perfection. They responded yes and offered to clean it again for free. I didn't want to be without the camera for another week or so and they remaining spots are not real obvious, so I now live with them as-is.

By the way, I did try some industrial type q-tips and it did not harm the sensor at all. Even helped it a bit. When I get my new camera, I will definitely try cleaning the old one using a homemade swab and some cleaning solution.

Frederick said...

I use the butterfly by visible dust.