Soooo Dirty...


TPF Noob!
May 7, 2012
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St. Augustine, Florida
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Well, my sensor, anyway.

One aspect of DSLR ownership which I've never learned is how to clean my sensor. In the past, I've always relied on CPS to do it (Irvine was just an hour up the road from San Diego). I'm in rural northeastern Pennsylvania now, and there simply isn't any place for me to take it to have it cleaned. The closest is a 2-1/2 hour drive. The guy is Canon certified, and has worked on my gear before (he repaired the front control dial on my 40D). He caters to pros, but would still need a minimum of 24 hours to do the job. I simply don't have the time to make that drive twice.

I liken cleaning a sensor to adjusting the truss rod on a guitar. I'd do it to someone else's all day long, but I've never done it to my own. I would just hate to screw it up and end up with a pool toy.

Circumstances what they are, I'm forced to do the unthinkable. I'm forced to clean my own sensor.

I'd always heard that canned air shouldn't be used for sensor cleaning, so I was on the Copperhill site, looking to order a cleaning kit. While perusing the site, I saw a blurb which stated that Canon reps actually use canned air to clean sensors when they do workshops. How horrible an idea is this? Can I expect it to remove the majority of the dust on the sensor? I don't expect to get it crystal clear, but if it can do something noticeable that'll be a big step in the right direction.

So, any thoughts? Can I used canned air for the time being? Anything I should be aware of, assuming I decide to go this route?
Canned air is usually a bad idea as they typically us chemicals as a propellant. A simple Rocket Blower will suffice.

And cleaning a sensor is so stupidly simple you really have to work to screw it up.
Canned air is usually a bad idea as they typically us chemicals as a propellant. A simple Rocket Blower will suffice.

That's what I thought, too. Not that a rocket blower is going to be easier than a cleaning kit to get. There are, literally, no camera stores inside a 90 minute drive...

And cleaning a sensor is so stupidly simple you really have to work to screw it up.

Yeah, well, that's what I've been told. But if it can be screwed up, bet your last dollar that I'll be the guy to do it...
Rocket Blower or other squeeze-type blower removes plain old dust. But eventually, you need to do a wet cleaning. I've never tried canned air...have not bought any since the 1990's.

Eclipse cleaning solution works pretty well to remove stubborn, stuck-on blobs, which are really the reason for wet cleaning. The biggest issue is using too much solution, so that the Sensor Swab just pushes the Eclipse across the AA-filter, and then evaporates and leaves streaks. It's not 'supposed to' leave streaks, but I've used too much, and it did leave streaks.

The second problem many encounter is not pressing firmly enough, flexing the shaft of the swab so that good pressure is applied at the last 25% of the sweeping, cleaning stroke; you've gotta press down on the danged thing!

Use no more than two small drops of Eclipse on a FF-width Sensor Swab, and you will probably be alright.

I bought a Sensor Scope kit a few years back, and the magnifying lens and LED light allows you to see stuff that is utterly invisible to the naked eye...including if you've done a sub-par job cleaning. it is astounding how tiny the crud that leaves big spots can actually be!

Sensor-cleaning. It's easy to do, just be careful!

DON'T be scared of cleaning your camera! All you need are the right tools. I'll repost this just for info:

Contrary to popular belief, cleaning your own sensor is easy, and difficult to screw up. You should have a few tools though. My preference is for the Visible Dust line of products, in particular the Arctic Butterfly; it's a little pricey, but worth it.

Get a Giottos rocket, DO NOT use one of those cheap blower bulbs with a built in brush. They're dust/lint traps. Remove the lens, and holding hte camera at a 45 angle with the lens opening pointing down, thoroughly blow out the mirror chamber. Now, lock up the mirror and clean off the sensor. Once you've blown off the "big chunks" use the Arctic Butterfly to clean off the small stuff following the instructions provided.

If that doesn't work, then you'll need to go to a wet cleaning system, which is a still easy to do. In ten years of digital photography, I've never had to use a wet cleaning system on any sensor.

Remember that you're not actually cleaning the sensor, you're cleaning the low-pass filter in front of the sensor which is usually made of mineral glass or other very tough material. It's actually quite difficult to scratch or damage. It is easy to get streaky if you **** up with a wet-cleaning system, but that's not permanent.​
Just take your time & never panic.

That seemed to work for me.

I always pay to get mine done now though, only because there's a place very close, and most of the time I cannot be bothered.
It turns out you CAN use a can of compressed air IF you know what you're doing. I was going to make a YouTube video about this... but never did. Rather than use the sensor, I grabbed a UV filter and then used the can of compressed air the way you're taught to use any can of spray propellent... shake well before using (but with compressed air cans, this is absolutely WRONG.)

Turns out if you "shake" the can, or just fail to hold it level, it'll spray out the propellent material instead of just the gas.

Grab a UV filter (because they're not good for much else), give the can a nice shake, and then spray the dust off your filter. You'll discover that while the dust probably will blow off ... you'll get this hazy residue on the glass. It looks like it just fogged up. You might be thinking it's condensation -- it is not. It's the propellant residue. It does wipe off easily enough, but if you're using the air to "clean" the sensor then you're making negative progress if the sensor ends up with a haze all over it.

You'll also get that residue if the can is not level. Also... since rapidly decompressing gas causes a cooling effect, you can technically "chill" the filter cold enough that it'll attract condensation if you're in a humid environment. So you'd want to work in short blasts.

It's easier to tell people to use a hand-squeeze blowers like the rocket blower then to explain all the rules for using cans of compressed air. While I have cans of compressed air in the next room... my rocket blower is stored with my camera gear and most of the time I never need anything stronger than the rocket blower to clean whatever stubborn bit of dust landed on the sensor (static cling can make some of them not want to fall off -- and they do make static discharge "brushes" than you connect to a ground so that the brush releases any static charge as it cleans.)

I also have some very soft and extremely clean brushes (I don't use them for anything else and resist the urge to run your fingers over the bristles and cover them with skin oils.) Usually I don't need these.

When things get "desperate" (and I think I have now needed to resort to his a total of 1 (count 'em) times) I use Eclipse brand cleaning solution and "Sensor Swabs" (both made by Photographic Solutions, Inc.). The swabs come in APS-C size and full-frame size and a few other sizes. Read their website to find out which size you need. You put just one or maybe two drops of solution on the swap and then give it a wipe across the sensor. The solution is nearly pure methanol so it quickly breaks down and releases whatever may have been stuck. But methanol evaporates almost immediately and leaves absolutely no detectible residue -- which is GREAT!

When you clean your sensor you're not _really_ cleaning the actual sensor itself. There are TWO filters behind the shutter but in front of the sensor. The first is a low-pass filter and this is the same filter that vibrates with the piezoelectric effect when your camera says it's doing a "dust cleaning"). The second filter is a UV filter... but this is behind the low-pass and in front of the sensor -- so there's no way to touch that filter nor the sensor itself (not without substantial disassembly of the camera). It's not all that fragile.
It turns out you CAN use a can of compressed air IF you know what you're doing...
The other issues are that canned air" can contain trace amounts of oil. This can be an absolute bugger to get off of a "sensor" AND the fact that because of the relatively high pressure, especially when the can is new, it can force dust and particulate matter into places you don't want it. Tim is right, you can use "canned air" if you're careful, but IMO, it's NOT worth the risk and the $20 spent on a Giottos Rocket will be an investment that will outlast many, many cans of air!
If you are desperate for a blower and can't wait for shipping, Best Buy and maybe even Walmart sell them. It's not a Giotto, but a puffer. Anyone tried using the blue balls in a pinch? Oh yeah, by blue balls I mean the blue squeeze things that they use to clean out babies' noses. When dealing with a sick infant, it was always good comic relief to talk about the blue balls.
In the meantime, the Content Aware tool in CS works wonders.
Great replies, thanks for all the info. I bought a bunch of cleaning gear last year and have only had to use the blower. I have not needed to do a wet clean yet but was apprehensive about damaging the sensor, you put my mind at ease.

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