Sunday, December 7, 2008

Day 342: Terror in the Northern Plains: aka Cleaning my Camera Sensor

I have a tutor in my photography class at, and he pointed out something important to me the other day. I have dust bunnies! In my house, I knew that. . . they're everywhere! But he pointed out that in one of my photos, at a fairly small aperture (f/8), showing sky, the little specks on my photos were sensor dust and my sensor needed cleaning. Sure enough, as I looked back over many photos, I could see the little specks, especially at small apertures and when zoomed in. I decided to research cleaning my sensor.

Many sites said it was easy to do, but scary, because it's the camera sensor! (It's actually the filter over the sensor, technically.) The other option is to mail it in, and be without the camera for at least a week, and pay around $120. Sites also suggested that this is a routine thing that needs to be done after dusty environments, before major shooting events, and anywhere from every month to every 6 months. I've never cleaned mine.

I ordered the Giotto rocket blower, a Visible Dust sensor brush, and Visible Dust sensor swabs from B&H. But being the impatient person that I am, I then made some Unfortunate Decisions.

I picked up my little lens blower/brush, followed the directions in my Nikon D40 Field Guide by David Busch,went to Setup, Mirror Lock-up, exposed the sensor/filter and blew out the dust from the sensor. Except that's not what I did.

Because this little brush is definitely NOT the Giotto rocket blower, does not have the force of the rocket blower, and is basically blowing air past a dusty brush, I tripled the dust on my sensor. Here's a photo of sensor dust, shooting a sky, at f/18. Notice all the specks, blurs and even fibers. If you look at some of my previous posts, like the one with the guy in the cherry picker putting up Christmas lights, you'll see some of the sensor dust, at a larger aperture.

OK, now I was upset. And still a good week from cleaning supplies coming in. I was driving 350 miles to my daughter's concert, and decided to stop at a camera store in Minnepolis and see what they had to say. National Camera Exchange said they could clean the sensor for about $45, but it would have to be sent elsewhere, and I'd get it in about a week. (About a week, and 350 miles away from me!) They said they really discouraged anyone from cleaning their own sensors, did not sell supplies (although they had the Giotto rocket blower on their shelf) but would sell this sticky tape dust-off stuff. You're suppose to stick the tape to your sensor and lift it off. I opted out of this, because I'd read that goo could be left behind. They did think that the rocket blower on a regular basis was helpful.

So then, on my way home, I stopped at Mall of America, and went into the Ritz Camera store. Here, the employee did say that because of liability issues, they could not recommend that people clean their own sensors, but that many sites and individuals see it as a perfectly practical thing to do, and certainly not as profitable for the stores that would like to clean your camera for you. This person also said, though, never to use anything to blow air into the camera because it would introduce static electricity and make more things stick to the sensor. (I hadn't heard anyone else say this. . . although MOST DEFINITELY NEVER, EVER, BLOW COMPRESSED CANNED AIR into your camera. It'll leave all kinds of residue behind. Think of the liquidy stuff that comes out when you spray off your keyboard!)

But I bought this at the Ritz store. The directions encourage using their little vacuum cleaner product in conjunction with this, but I'd read elsewhere that that wasn't considered particularly effective.

So, then I got home, wanting my camera to be better, still needing to wait 5 days or so, and I, foolishly or not, pulled out my foot pump for filling up my Pilates ball. The air pressure felt about the pressure of the Giotto rocket blower. . . and I followed the directions to access my sensor. With a fully charged battery, lots of light, minimal coffee, I turned on my camera, went to Setup, Mirror lock up, pressed OK, took off my lens. . . I now had access to the sensor/filter. Holding the camera down, I used the air pump to blow loose dust out (or around. . . whatever.) I then put the camera lens back on it, and turned off the camera. Turning it off then lets the mirror fall back in place over the sensor. I'm not sure this was the best thing to do. . . there could have been dust and residue in this pump itself. I'm just stubborn like this and wanted to see. I also know that I have a Nikon D40 camera that is not a top-of-the-line camera, and that if I messed things up, would result in me being so traumatized that I would talk in gibberish for the rest of my life. And besides, then I'd be forced to mail in my camera to see if it could be cleaned professionally.

I went outside and took another photo. It was dramatically improved, but I could still see dust.

Next, I repeated the process, exposing the sensor/filter, opened the Wet portion of the wet-dry swabs, and carefully swabbed from left to right, at about a 45 degree angle, making sure it was perpendicular to the sensor as I reached the right side. You have to make sure you have the right size swab for your camera. This took two passes, so one side of the swab was for one pass; I used the other side for the 2nd pass.

Then I opened the dry swab, basically repeated the same process, sort of sponging up the liquid. I read that you should use pen-like pressure, like you're writing something.

This is a photo of the sky, after I cleaned the sensor, now at aperture f/32. If you click on this, makeing it larger, you'll see there's still dust visible. But much, much, much less. And since I don't often shoot photos of something bright, like the sky, at f/32, and know where to look for dust specks (to clone them out), I finally decided this was good enough for now.
Here are a couple of sites I found helpful in helping me think about what to do. I know that from now on, I'm going to be much more careful in cleaning dust off my lenses BEFORE I put them on the camera, and to blow out the dust periodically.

I would very much like to hear how others have dealt with the whole sensor dust issue! And if this were your sensor, in the last photo at f/32, would you give cleaning it another try, or not be perfectionistic about it and leave well-enough alone?


Chell said...

WOW you are brave to do that yourself. I need to clean mine but it is really not that noticable yet so i am waiting till after the holidays!!

pat said...

I am sending you a virtual blue ribbon and medal of bravery for cleaning that yourself!! I think you did a pretty credible job.

Becky said...

I think you're so brave, and it looks like it turned out well. I'm too scared--with my Rebel I took it to the camera shop to do it. It took a couple of days and about $40. The 40D has a self-cleaning sensor and so far so good.

Barb and Bob said...

Happy Birthday to me. Bob and kids went together and bought me a Nikon D 40. I'm not as brave as you so I talked your brother into doing it when I need it.

Carol said...

You have definitely talked me out of any attempts of trying to clean my own camera. Luckily i have the canon 400D with a self-cleaning sensor, otherwise I will be off to the shops.

Krystle said...

I went through this when I had my D50. I used.... masking tape *gulp*. Amazingly it worked with no scarring LOL. Glad it all worked out okay for you too :)

Jeanne said...

What an ordeal! I'm sorry you had to go through such terror, but the results look good to me. And, I must say, you and I are a lot alike as I probably would do the same thing (eg try to fix it myself).

Congratulations on surviving! LOL

Bobbi said...

Wow, what an ordeal. You have inspired me to get mine sent in ;)

Amy said...

You sure did a good job of getting almost all of the dust gone! I tried this with my old camera and about went batty! I need to get my new one cleaned, but will be taking it in!

PierKiss said...

Wow....I would be way too scared to try and do that myself! Good for you for trying (and most importantly for it working out!).

Kerry said...

I tried a couple of times cleaning my D70S. The last try was a disaster--so off the camera went for a professional cleaning. Luckily, it was covered under my extended warranty. But the one week turn around turned out to be 3 weeks. I don't think I'll try it again with my D90, but I think the D90 is self cleaning.