How to Clean a Digital Camera's Sensor

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We all paid a lot of money for our DSLR camera bodies. So dust on an image can be a disappointment. Sensor dust, unlike lens dust, necessarily leads to image quality loss, unsightly image spots, and added work in post.

This video presents a process for dry-cleaning your DSLR sensor. Simply searching for sensor cleaning returns a dozen different ways, tips, and theories on what and how to do it. This method presents DSLR owners with low-risk, inexpensive sensor cleaning. Of course, clean your sensor at your own risk.

You'll need:
Charged battery
Rocket-type blower
Static brush
Lint-free cleaning swabs -- single-use
Cotton swabs
New, powder-free latex or nitrile gloves

Optional equipment:
A lighted loupe or flashlight

Avoid:
Compressed air
Vacuums
Liquids and solvents
Dusty or dirty environment

Not all cameras have a dust removal function built into them. If your camera does, make sure you turn it on and if the option exists to make it a start-up feature, you should do that, too.

Take a dust reference photo. The reference photo will help you target dust and help you determine when your sensor is clean. If you have a pinhole lens, use that. This video shows how to make one.

http://youtu.be/eiffSeRYC2A

If you don't have a pinhole, use a 28 to 50mm lens stopped down to f22. Your reference photo should be a clean wall or a cloudless daytime sky. This video how to determine if your sensor has dust using a light bulb.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hb6ljsoYNw0

Cleaning the reflex mirror and focusing screen. Using a dry cotton swab, gently touch the tip of the swab to visible dirt on the mirror and focusing screen. This will help make the image in the viewfinder clearer.

To clean your DSLR's sensor, you'll need a fully charged battery. With your fresh battery inserted, find the sensor cleaning item on your menu. Lock the mirror up.

Hold your DSLR with the sensor facing the ground. Using your rocket blower, first blast the rocket blower into space to remove dust that may have settled in the nozzle. Then blow air onto the sensor.

Turn your camera off to reset the MLU. Make sure that none of your equipment is in the mirror box because the mirror will snap back to its resting position.

Take another reference photo. Compare the photo to the original and see if dust remains. If so, proceed to the next step.

If you have the lighted loupe or a loupe and flashlight, those can help identify dust locations. Remember as you clean that the image on the sensor is upside-down and reversed, so if dust is in the upper right corner of your image then it's actually on the lower left of the sensor.

After re-activating your cameras MLU, start the nest step by using your electrostatic brush. Use the rocket blower to blow air through it to charge it with static. This also helps remove any dust that was stuck in the brush after the previous sensor cleaning. Lightly run the brush's tip over the sensor; the idea here being that static will attract the dust. Forcible contact can risk the brush ferule contacting and scratching the sensor or a brush hair becoming caught in part of the sensor or shutter mechanism. Taking another reference photo at this point is optional.

Using a lint-free cleaning swab, you'll want to clean the sensor. Pass the swab over the sensor once in each direction -- left to right over the whole sensor followed by up and down. Avoid contacting the edges of the sensor housing as this can cause oils to be taken up by the cleaning swab and transferred onto your sensor.

At this point, remove your tools from the shutter box and turn your camera off. Take another reference photo. If the photo looks good to you, then you're done. If the photo still shows an unacceptable number of dust spots, then repeat the process beginning with the air blower.

To make sure that you have the best sensor cleaning experience, avoid using compressed or canned air in lieu of a rocket-type blower. Canned air is actually tetrafluorocyclene and can spray frost.

This will almost certainly damage your sensor. Even without frost, the velocity of gasses escaping from canned air can damage your sensor. Avoid using a vacuum, even the small ones suited for cleaning keyboards. Those can cause the sensor to move in ways it should not or beyond the tolerances of the internal shake reduction system (if your camera has an internal system.)

Also avoid sticking your fingers into the shutter box or touching the sensor. Removing finger grease from the sensor is a difficult proposition.

Don't accidentally bump the off switch while cleaning the sensor. That will cause the shutter to close and reflex mirror to snap back into place, which can cause significant damage to your camera.

A Link to this Video and the Blog Post on Pentax Forums:

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