My Evolving Sensor Cleaning Method

Ever wonder how the camera manufacturers clean sensors? I have. Skip to min 13:20 in this video to take a look at what the Leica folks use.

My method for cleaning my gear has largely been informed by what I was taught by Moose Peterson in his DLWS workshops.

The simple process that I was following until very recently was to:

  • use the camera’s self cleaning system, which sometimes actually works(!)
  • use a blower to get rid biggish loose bits of dust
  • use a brush such as the Arctic butterfly to remove what wasn’t removed by the blower

If I decided that there were just too many dust spots remaining after a couple of passes with the brush I would then go ahead with ‘wet cleaning’. I used to think that wet cleaning was ‘one pass and your done’ but with practice I realize that it’s not unusual to need 3 or 4 passes with the sensor swabs to get the sensor clean. Occasionally, as was the case on a recent trip, during the initial wet cleaning I manage to drag oil from around the sensor on to the sensor itself and then have to do an even more rigorous cleaning. Visible Dust have a couple of different solvents for wet cleaning that I use. I generally start with VDust plus and then go to Smear Away if I need to.

As an aside, Visible Dust products are expensive and with the need for multiple passes for wet cleaning it’s easy to blow $20 or more in a single cleaning session. That can be a real pain in the wallet if you need to clean your sensor at the end of every day or before every shoot. Because of this many people are switching to Copper Hill products which offer a cheaper option for swabs that involves making up the swab yourself. I tried their products way back when and was never satisfied with how the swab went together. In this video from Moose it looks like Copper Hill redesigned the handle and now the swabs are easier to assemble.

So what’s changed with my process? I’m now incorporating the sensor gel stick that you saw in the Leica video above into my ‘dry’ cleaning method. While I could probably skip the arctic butterfly, and probably will, as I get more comfortable with the sticky pad I’m still using the brush prior to using the . Moose mentions that he didn’t get a year out of his sensor gel stick, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Check out the instructional video below for a how-to tutorial with the sticky pad.

Better Packing

I’m on the road this week for the first time in a while. There were a few back to back years where I clocked in excess of 100K miles but I haven’t done that in a while. Those years did teach me something about packing for business trips – pack as little as possible so you can carry your bag on, bring a minipower strip and have back-ups for important data and computer gear. All the obvious stuff. What people can’t teach you, and you won’t find in a book, are the things that are important to you. The small things that will make life on the road tolerable.

I have yet to develop a system that I’m happy with when it comes to packing for a photography trip. This is especially true since most of my photography takes place locally, or at least within a days drive, which means I can just put all and everything into the car without having to think to hard. When faced with a technical question I always start with Moose Peterson. Check out the videos below for comments from Moose on packing for travel.

and John Paul Caponigro on the Art of Packing and in the video below the Art of Travel

One Morning in Maine

Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the eastern seaboard and as such is one of the first places to view sunrise.  This means an earlier start to the day than usual, even earlier in the middle of the summer.  The image above was made last weekend on my third visit to Cadillac mountain.  The first time I barely knew how to turn my camera on.  By my second visit I knew how to turn the camera on but didn’t know where to point it – I was however in great company.  The intro to this Joe McNally video was shot at the Moose Peterson DLWS workshop I attended on the day we visited Cadillac Mountain.  On my third visit to Cadillac Mountain I had learned more or less where to point the camera and I was again in great company.  This time with John Paul Caponigro‘s Maine Islands workshop, a challenging but fun few days.  More about that soon.

Cleaning Your Gear

Oh my goodness, there are few things that irritate me more than realizing that I have huge tracts of sensor dust to deal with when I get back from a shoot.  The less time I have to spend tweaking my images the happier I am. Granted this is very easy now to deal with in lightroom or photoshop but I’d rather not have to deal with the problem at all.  I’ve taken to making shots of clear sky at the end of a shoot in the vain hope that I’ll one day figure out how to automate the removal based on the imperfections on an otherwise clean background.   If I ever figure that trick out I’ll share it here.  Until then I’m going to develop a more rigorous sensor cleaning routing.  I have no excuses really.  I have sensor cleaning products from visible dust, including the sensor loupe, arctic butterfly and sensor swabs to name but a few of the tools of the trade.  I question the utility of the arctic butterfly – I’ve never had this do anything other than make the problem worse.  The sensor swabs however are great and highly recommended.  Cleaning your sensor is not very difficult but it is a bit nerve wracking the first few times.  Visible dust have a number of videos that explain the process nicely.  I would also recommend taking a look at Moose Peterson’s website for his gear cleaning videos.  This is a comprehensive set of demos covering everything from cleaning lenses to sensors.