A minimally invasive way to clean your camera’s DSLR Sensor

Dec 20, 2012

If you are serious about photography, you also have to be serious about your gear. Digital cameras are expensive. Like a car or any other good tool, cameras require proper maintenance if you are planning on getting your money’s worth.

Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras use a mirror behind the lens that directs light toward the viewfinder. The sensor, like film in traditional cameras, captures the light to form an image. As time goes on, and your list of fascinating photography destinations grows, dust and dirt will inevitably find their way onto your DSLR sensor, producing glare, blurriness and lovely little black dots, instead of razor-sharp images.

Why clean your DSLR Sensor?


The inside of your camera has an electrostatic charge. That means that every time you take one lens off to put another on, you are allowing particles of dust and dirt to rush in while there is no lens on the camera. (You can minimize this by holding the camera opening toward the ground so the only material is that drawn in is by static.) Having dust in other areas of your camera’s interior is a problem, but it normally won’t affect the quality of your pictures. But when you have a dirty sensor, you have dirty pictures. The only option, then, is to clean the sensor.

Today most DSLR cameras beng sold come with a built in sensor-cleaning tool. Having one in your camera as another tool in your camera’s “toolbox” will save you time, money and headaches in the long run. I have my camera set to clean every time I turn it on and off, and when in the field, I do so often to make sure the sensor is being regularly cleaned. Nevertheless, this does not prevent dust from attracting itself to my sensor.

So, once a year I send my DSLRs off to the camera spa for a full sensor-cleaning, which also includes other servicing such as dry lubes, where appropriate, and other clean-up, as required. It’s a well spent $80 and they come home happy and clean.

That doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t clean your own sensor, for though the DSLR sensor is delicate, it is not so delicate that you can’t apply some elbow grease.

And here are the tools you should use.

  • Take a picture of a blank white surface. This will show where your sensor is dirty. Use it as a reference.
  • Charge your battery completely
  • Clean the camera exterior
  • Clean your workspace
  • Check if your camera has a “Dust Removal” or “Dust Reduction” setting. If it does, your job is much easier!
  • Lock the mirror and get it out of the way. Look under your camera’s settings for something like “Mirror lock” or “Sensor cleaning”. This will give you instructions to correctly lock your mirror.
  • Remove the lens.
  • Blow dust off sensor with an air blaster. Use a “manual” air blaster, like the one here. DO NOT use an air blaster that is under pressure, as it will have chemicals in it that can damage your sensor and your camera’s interior ($300+ for this repair)
  • Reassemble the camera.
  • Take a picture of the same white surface and compare.


If that doesn’t work…

If this ‘no contact’ method for cleaning your DSLR sensor doesn’t work, you may have to send it in to get cleaned. There are other methods for cleaning the lens manually, but they run a greater risk of getting your camera damaged. Remembering our car metaphor – If you were driving a BMW, you wouldn’t change the oil yourself, so if your shooting with the equivalent keep this in mind.


Learn Landscape Photography with Steinberg Photography

Looking to master the craft of landscape photography or just get into the great outdoors for a wild adventure? Jim and Lori Steinberg of Steinberg Photography are here to help. We run photo tours to exotic locations and conduct photography workshops for photographers of all skill levels. Follow us on Facebook to see where we’ve been and check out our schedule to see where we’re headed next!