Monday, 15 July 2013

Clean your own Sensor

I've always stayed away from cleaning a digital sensor. It seemed to have a high potential for disaster, so I have left it to the experts.

But all that changed recently after a friend of mine 'loaned' me her 50D, after she was the lucky recipient of a brand spanking new 5D MkIII. It has had a bit of a hard life (the 50D), and was in desperate need of a sensor clean.

Arctic butterfly in sexy lime green :-)
Another friend of mine owns an Arctic Butterfly sensor cleaning brush. So I put 2 and 2 together and thought "What the heck, why not try and clean the sensor myself?"

In reality, it's a pretty simple process. SLR's have a 'mirror lock up' function - sometimes even called 'sensor clean' in the menu, that will flip the mirror up and out of the way, leaving the sensor exposed. Only it isn't really exposing the sensor, since there are other filters and micro lenses etc on top of the filter - and this is where the dust settles.

The 50D does have a sensor cleaning system that vibrates to shake the dust off every time you turn the camera on and off, but this isn't 100% effective (obviously), and with enough abuse, the sensor will have to be cleaned manually.

There are quite a few 'do it yourself' solutions out there, but for me, the Arctic Butterfly (while not cheap), seems the best option because it doesn't rely on any chemical swabs going anywhere near the sensor.

All you do is initiate the sensor cleaning mode on your camera (follow the manuals instructions), which will expose the dirty sensor, and then turn the Arctic Butterfly 'on' a few times to spin the bristles and discharge any dirt or static before wiping it across the sensor. This is important. Don't spin the brush inside the camera!

The sensor on the 50D before the sensor clean.
A quick snapshot of a blank wall with the camera set on a small aperture (f16 for lots of depth of field) revealed all the nastiness. Lots of ugly dust bunnies.

And after the cleaning....
Wow! Is it really that easy? Yep. If you look really close, it's not absolutely perfect - but it's pretty darn good. Clean enough for me at least.

So there you have it. Don't be afraid to clean your own sensor if it needs it. And if an Arctic Butterfly is a little too costly for you, then why not get together with a few other photographers and buy one together. You should only have to use it once a year or so (if you're careful with lens changes), so you could share it around? Just a thought...

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