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How to Clean Your Camera Sensor

Cleaning your camera sensor is like giving your trusty camera a spa day. An essential task for any photographer, cleaning the sensor helps to maintain the quality of your images, keeps them looking their best and prevents pesky dust and debris from ruining your shots. A dirty sensor can cause spots or smudges on your images, which can be difficult or even impossible to remove in post-processing. No one wants dust bunnies in their photos!

Dust can build up on the sensor when you change lenses, so it's important to  avoid changing lenses in dusty environments such as on the beach or on a windy day to avoid unnecessary dirt entering your camera. However, no matter how careful you are, pesky dirt will always find a way in so it's important to clean your sensor regularly. 

Follow the step-by-step instructions below to clean your camera sensor safely and effectively. Please note, this process should be done with extreme care as it is very easy to damage the sensor which can result in expensive repairs.

Step 1: Determine if your sensor needs cleaning

Before you start cleaning your sensor, it's important to determine if it actually needs cleaning. A dirty sensor will typically cause small, dark spots to appear in your images, especially when shooting with a wide aperture. To determine if your sensor needs cleaning, you can take a photo of a white or light-coloured surface (tip: take a picture of a clear sky with no clouds if you are struggling to find a background) with your widest aperture (e.g. f/22) and check for any spots or smudges in the image viewer.

To get an even clearer view of any dirt or marks, import the image to lightroom, head to the healing tool in the develop tab, and select 'visualise spots'. This will show any marks or dirt on the sensor as white marks, as seen in the image below.

How to clean your camera sensor - determine if the sensor needs cleaning

Step 2: Prepare your camera

Some cameras have an inbuilt cleaning mode which will automatically clean the sensor by shaking any dust or dirt off. If your camera has this mode, definitely try this first before proceeding to the next steps. This will often help, but depending on how dirty the sensor is it will often need manual cleaning as well.

After this clean, some cameras will lock your sensor down which will make it easier to clean. If your camera does have this feature, don't power the camera off after you select it as this can disengage the cleaning mode.

Step 3: Gather your tools

To clean your sensor, you'll need a few tools, including a blower brush, lens cleaning solution, and sensor swabs. It's important to use a blower brush that is specifically designed for cleaning camera sensors, as regular air blowers can actually push dust and debris further into the sensor. Your local camera store should sell these tools, otherwise you can pick them up pretty cheaply from online stores such as Amazon.

How to clean your camera sensor, sensor cleaning tools

Step 4: Use a blower 

The first step in cleaning your sensor is to use a blower to remove any loose dust or debris. Remove your lens or cover, hold the camera body so that the sensor is facing downwards, and use the blower to gently blow away any loose dust. Be sure to hold the blower brush a few inches away from the sensor to prevent any damage.

How to clean your camera sensor, step 4 - use a blower

Step 5: Apply lens cleaning solution

Next, you'll need to apply lens cleaning solution to the sensor swab. Make sure to use a high-quality lens cleaning solution that is safe for use on camera sensors. Gently squeeze the solution onto the swab or dip it into the solution, being careful not to apply too much.

Step 6: Clean the sensor

With the solution-covered swab in hand, gently swipe the sensor from one side to the other, being careful not to apply too much pressure as the sensor is very sensitive. It's important to only clean the sensor in one direction, as cleaning back and forth can push dust and debris further into the sensor. Two swipes across the sensor is plenty.

How to clean your camera sensor, step 5 - clean the sensor with the swab

Step 7: Check for any remaining debris

After cleaning the sensor, take a photo of a white or light-coloured surface with a wide aperture to check for any remaining debris (the same as the first step above). If there are still spots or smudges, repeat the cleaning process until the sensor is clean.

Cleaning your camera sensor is a crucial task that should be performed regularly to maintain the quality of your images. By following these steps, you can clean your sensor safely and effectively, and prevent any dust or debris from appearing in your photos. Just remember, the sensor can be delicate, so take your time and be gentle. Happy cleaning!

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