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How to Keep Your Digital Sensor Clean

Air contains tiny particles of dust that settles on almost everything we see. Although very tiny in size, these particles of dust are responsible for many climatic conditions as well as many medical conditions affecting human beings. Unfortunately, dust may also affect the pictures you take. Have you ever noticed dark specks or translucent spots on your pictures? There is a good chance that there is dust on the digital sensor of your digital camera.

A digital sensor is a device behind your digital camera’s lens that converts the falling light into an electrical signal, giving you a digital image. This sensor is covered with an anti-aliasing glass plate. When dust collects on this thin glass plate, we see it in the form of tiny specks on our pictures. These specks may not be noticeable under normal conditions unless you look at your picture in 100% magnification using applications like Photoshop. But with time they may get more prominent and more visible. Although these spots can be cloned-off using image-editing software, protecting your digital sensor from dust is a better option.

How does dust get in there?

  • Dust gets in there mostly when the lenses are swapped.

  • Sometimes due to the zooming action, air gets sucked into the camera.

  • Even if you do not change lenses, eventually you will have dust collected on your digital sensor.

How can I get rid of this niggling problem?

If dust does happen to sneak in there, don’t worry. The sensor may need some cleaning. Wrong methods or wrong implements used for cleaning can lead to damage or scratches.

How can cleaning be rightly done?

You must first ascertain that the problem is with your sensor and not with your lens. In order to do this, clean your lens on both sides and take a few pictures of a white wall. Now check these pictures out on your PC at 100% magnification. If the spots are gone, probably there was dust on your lens.

If the spots are still there, your digital sensor may require cleaning. Get indoors and put on a bright light. Set your camera to sensor cleaning mode. This locks the mirror out of the way and positions the sensor for cleaning. Now remove the lens and use a hand-held blower to blow away any dust that has settled on your sensor plate. If you are a professional photographer, you may use the ‘Sensor Scope’ from Delkin Devices, which magnifies the sensor area 5 times to make dust visible and avoid unnecessary cleaning. Remove a new swab from its sealed pouch and put a few drops of methanol-based cleaning liquid on it. Now gently wipe across the sensor plate a few times from one end to the other without stopping in the middle. Use the blower again to blow-off the dust that may have settled during the cleaning process. Now take a test picture again and check it out under 100% magnification. There should be a big difference.

Some Tips:

  • Never blow with your mouth. The moisture may make the dust stick to the sensor glass.

  • Gravity makes dust fall on your lens. Turning the camera downwards while changing the lens or while storing may help.

  • Never change the lens in dusty or breezy conditions. Always go indoors or in your car.

  • Keep the camera bag dust-free.

  • Clean the front and back side of the lenses before mounting them on the camera.

  • Carry a hand blower at all times. It does 90% of the job.

It is a well known fact that prevention is better than cure. So if you are particular about how your pictures turn out, get your camera serviced regularly whether there is a problem or not.

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