A question on the Pix facebook site on whether you clean your own sensor got some interesting responses ranging from “I will never do it” to “I do it when required” together with many “I am very nervous of even trying.” I thought I would document the process and this is a work in progress. Please feel free to make suggestions or whatever. Do remember that we cannot accept responsibility for any damage you may cause to your camera.
Also nobody on facebook actually pointed out that you won’t be cleaning your sensor but rather the filter that lies above this.
In the first place prevention is better than cure so never leave your camera or lenses lying around without caps on. Change lenses in dust free environments and do it quickly. No I would never want to lose a picture through being scared to change lenses when necessary and I will carry on changing lenses on beaches and wherever so it is therefore inevitable that I get what are called dust bunnies on my sensor. Dust bunnies are the irritating little blobs that appear on your prints. They can easily be removed using photoshop or other programmes but this does become irritating after a while. Incidentally dust or blobs on your mirror, focussing screen or in your viewfinder can be irritating but will not appear on the pictures. I have learnt to ignore them.
If like me you live far from Midrand (where Nikon offers free cleaning!) you have fewer options. You can always courier your camera to the manufacturers’ service agents but this costs money. It is probably the safest option. In all big towns there are private camera repairmen and photographers who offer a sensor cleaning service and the prices range (in Port Elizabeth) from about R450 to R200 (the guy who used to do it for a bottle of wine has upped his price). I would trust a good camera repairman above a photographer.
The remaining option is to do it yourself. It is not rocket science but you have to be careful. The first step is to read the manual and if you don’t have one find one on the web or find a fellow photographer who has the same camera and has a manual. If the camera has a sensor cleaning mechanism read the manual carefully again, on re-reading I found that they recommend the camera lie on a perpendicular angle on a hard surface when you use the “clean now” option. Doing it this way has removed dust bunnies and I did not have to poke around in my camera’s innards. Each camera make has its own peculiarities (like their owners) and another make says you should have your sensor perpendicular to the ground when you do an auto-clean. Ok so rule one is read the manual. If you are lucky you might not have to perform what some see as the photographic equivalent of open heart surgery.
If that does not work you unfortunately have to spend some money. Sensor cleaning implements vary greatly in cost from about R200 up to the thousands of rands. I use a bottom of the range pen-like thing made specially for cleaning sensors. There are similar things for cleaning lenses so don’t use the wrong one. I also have a blower thingy, not the one you get in camera shops with little hairs on to sweep away stuff on a lens (never use this on a sensor!). Mine comes from a pharmacy (I don’t want to know what it is used for) and has a big rubber bulb to squeeze on and a fine nose that delivers a strong blast of air. The long nose is good as you can direct a strong blast of air with accuracy, but also a hazard because if the mirror suddenly flicks back or the shutter closes something will be broken (and it won’t be the blower). I would also steer clear of compressed air that is available in aerosol cans as they often use a chemical to propel the air and this chemical can end up on your sensor – again something which you don’t want.
By the way the process I am describing is called a dry cleaning method. Wet methods include the use of liquids and I am not brave enough to use them. If this dry method does not remove the dust bunnies I would send my camera to a qualified repair person.
Ok, back to the manual. The manual will say that your batteries must be fully charged when you are doing a sensor clean. What the camera basically does when you are doing a manual clean is behave like it is taking a picture. The mirror flicks up out of the way and the shutter opens and reveals the sensor. If the camera ran out of power the mirror would fall back and the shutter would close hitting whatever you are holding in the way. You would damage the mirror and probably the shutter. Not what you want. So go ahead and charge your batteries.
Did I point out that we cannot be held responsible for any damage you cause your camera?
End part 1 (part 2 tomorrow or maybe a day or two later)