Having a dirty lens is a pain. Not only does it ensure frustration when it comes to photographing a scene, it adds extra time during the editing stage. Some problems can be horrific if not dealt with immediately, resulting in you forking out more money for a new lens instead of learning how to clean a camera lens. A stitch in time, guys.
Some problems only arise in certain circumstances. When photographing the streets of Budapest, I use a wide aperture. When I get inside to capture interiors, I find that f/22 shows me spots. These are things I didn’t notice before, and too late to clean before the shoot.
Here, we will give you all the information on what cleaning kits you need. On top of this, we will tell you how to clean a camera lens professionally, making it seem new again.
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How To Clean a Camera Lens
Why Clean It
No matter what field of photography you find yourself in, dust will always find a way into your lens. The longer you own a lens means the chances for (and amount of) dust are higher. Even if you are the most careful photographer, dust will occasionally make its way in there.
It isn’t such a big deal, as it is easily dealt with. Smudges are a different matter. Dust may not even be noticeable on the images you capture, whereas oily fingerprints can strip an image of its sharp focus. It’s like that unwanted Instagram filter that you can’t change.
First things first. Do not clean your lens if it doesn’t need it. Your camera gear has special coatings and chemicals used in the production and maintenance of said piece. Lenses and sensors are at the top of the list.
You can wear these away with excessive cleaning. You also allow for further problems, such as scratches, as your lens is open to the elements again. Store it in a bag with the lens cap on to minimise the problems.
Stay away from acetone. This is a great cleaner, but when used on cameras, it has adverse effects on the plastic and paint elements. Just don’t use it. Same goes for household glass or window cleaning liquid. It isn’t worth saving money, to then spend it on a new lens.
Repeat! Stick to dedicated lens-cleaning solutions, alcohol, or deionized water.
Also, if you introduced your lens to sand (accidentally dropped) then in no way, shape or form should you wipe a cloth over it. This will cause permanent damage. Start with a blower, for example, or pass it on to a professional. There is only so much you can do.
It is also worth noting that different lenses mean different chemicals. Some of the chemicals mentioned in the cleaning kits may not be suitable for your lens or equipment. Check with your brand or representative first.
Keep your microfibre cloths in an airtight and clean container. Check them first for any dirt or dust you may be placing back on your lens. Shake them first, and work with small amounts of pressure, building up if needed.
- Viewfinder – If you notice spots when you look through your viewfinder, clean the viewfinder first. A microfibre cloth may be enough. You could find the marks are there, and not actually on your lens.
- Lens Body + Hood – Start by cleaning the lens body and hood with a damp microfibre cloth. I have used q-tips to remove built-up dirt and dust in hard to reach areas, such as the manual/auto focus switch. Toothbrushes also work, especially for the rubber focus or zoom rings. Just make sure they are clean first.
- Cleaning Solution on Lens – Apply to a cloth, not directly to the lens. This could cause beads of liquid to enter the lens. Wipe in concentric circles, as this reduces streaks. Work from the centre out, as this pushes the debris closer to the edge. Do not apply too much pressure, as this could lead to scratches or smudging, a much worse problem.
- Cleaning the Lens Mount – Rub the lens mount with the same damp cloth. This ensures the electronic information passes along correctly. Keep an eye out for dirt and grease that may be present.
- Rear Optical Element – Start with the air blower, as some debris or dirt could be abrasive. Then, use a dry cloth (unused) to clean smudges and dust away. For the glass elements, try and keep your microfibre cloths in an airtight container. Always check them for dirt first.
Cleaning the Mirror
The dirt may be found on your mirror, not your lens. It will still affect your image regardless. The mirror is more delicate and expensive to replace or fix. It’s the first part our lens is built around. Meaning, professionals would have to take your camera apart fully to get to it.
Obviously, you need to remove the lens to get to the mirror, hidden inside. Don’t use an air blower here, as the dust is unlikely to leave the area. Start with the lens pen, moving from top to bottom to remove the debris. You are aiming to get the dust out. If the dust or marks are still there, use the camera sensor cleaner.
- Grab a sensor swab and using the air blower a few times. This removes any odd pieces of lint that may be stuck.
- Add three drops max of the solution to the tip of the swab. Oversaturating the swab will leave streaks on the sensor.
- With great care place the swab onto one side of the sensor. With not too much force, gently move the swab across the sensor in one smooth motion. When you get to the other side, turn the swab over and repeat the process starting from where you started. Again, in one smooth movement with no great force.
- At this stage, I use a loupe and inspect the sensor to see if I can see if the dust has gone. If you are not sure, turn off the camera, replace the lens and take a test shot to inspect for dust.
- If you see some dust remains, repeat the process. It is important to use another clean new swab.
NB: You may find that by using a colour-filtered light (nighttime headlamps) may not show all of the smudges and dirt present on the lens elements or sensor.
You use this to clean your sensor and/or mirror. Personally, I wouldn’t trust myself to clean the sensor. The mirror, however, is easy enough.
Apply a few drops of the solution to the swab, and apply in one single motion to your mirror. Repeat this as many times as you need to.
These things are a bit more expensive, but each individually packed swab is assembled and placed in a clean room. So, there’s no chance of any dust being on them to scratch the sensor.
The SensorScope system is a handy way to clean on the go. It comes in its own pouch, to take along on your travels far and wide. What is special about this kit, is it gives you a loupe for inspecting your sensor. It also comes with the solution too.
The kit includes:
- A Sensor Scope Inspection Device,
- A SensorBulb Air Blower,
- 1 0.25 oz. Bottle of Sensor Solution,
- 15 16mm Sensor Safe Wands,
- 1 Cleaning Cloth,
- 1 Cleaning Guide
- Travel Bag
The Carson Stuff-It is a magic cleaning cloth, and it comes with its own pouch. This will help it stay clean for its next usage. It also comes with a hook, perfect for attaching to your bag for easy access.
Using a compressed gas Dust-Off is a popular cleaning method among photographers. However, these gas dusters should not be used carelessly, because they can cause a lot of damage. Do not use on your lens mount or glass elements.
You can use it to clean the outside of your lens and camera to keep dust away. Use in short bursts to ensure you do not damage your gear.
Put a drop or two on a pad, and then clean from the center of the lens outward in a circular motion. Throw out the lens tissue after use. This won’t leave any streaks, but it will give your lens a deeper clean than just a micro fibre cloth.
If you find the micro fibre cloth just doesn’t cut it, it’s time to pull out the big guns. A clean microfiber cloth will do a good job, but then you reapply dust you caught previously. You can wash them, and keep them sealed away.
For safety and convenience, you may be better off using a disposable wipe, such as the Zeiss lens cleaning wipes.
The Lenspen SensorKlear is a great choice. The kit includes:
- A dedicated sensor-cleaning brush from LensPen
- An air blower for knocking off loose dust
- A special loupe to help you see and spot the problematic bits of dust. As I said earlier, I’m a bit nervous about having a reusable cleaning tool for the sensor itself, but the other two parts of the kit seem to be worthy investments.
The loupe, in particular, could be extremely useful, and you could probably combine it with other cleaning methods to make sure that you get all the spots and specks.
It’s your first choice for blowing off little particles from your lenses. It is incredibly gentle, so you have no chance of smudging the lens. This tool comes with two sides, a snout for precision and a bigger blower for wider areas.
On one end you have a nice little brush for knocking away loose particles, and on the other, you have a carbon-charged felt tip. The carbon end absorbs oil and other particles that may have settled on your lens.
After finishing, re-cap the little beast, and it recharges the carbon for you. They are simple to use and small enough to carry wherever you go.
The professional pack has it all. This is for basic, yet thorough cleaning of the lens. You may need to purchase sensor cleaners separately, but this kit, in our opinion, gives you exactly what you need at a great price.
The kit includes:
- MagicFiber Microfiber
- Contents: Cleaner Bottle, Lens Cleaning Pen, Lens Brush, Air Blower Cleaner, Cleaning Sheets, Cleaning Cloths
And there you have it. All the necessary tools and info to keep your camera and lenses in top shape, and make sure there’s no dust particles or other annoyances in your photos.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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