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DPChallenge Forums >> Hardware and Software >> How I Clean My DSLR Sensor
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04/19/2005 11:53:48 PM · #1
*Disclaimer* if you think that risking your $1000 camera's sensor to a home-made cleaning method, you shouldn't be cleaning your sensor AT ALL. You should be sending it to the manufacturer for 'approved' cleaning. I, for one, do not plan on doing that for the rest of my camera's life, so this is how I do it.

This little tutorial is for instruction purposes. If you decide to try it out and break something, I'm not responsible. I will say, however, that I have used this technique with great success and received the information from another fellow who has done it at least 10 times with perfect results. While his camera was in at Nikon for a routine checkup, he asked them to check out his sensor filter for any possible residue which maye have come from this method and they said it was spotless. So, on with the tutorial...

What you need is a roll of 3M brand Scotch Magic Tape. I have used Part number 810, but it seems people are leaning toward the 811 "removable" series now. You want the 19mm diameter roll. It will cover the sensor perfectly. This tape does not use an adhesive glue like other tapes. Instead of sticking itself to things, it just sticks things to itself. It does not leave anything behind on the filter and you can certainly test this yourself on any mirror/cd/filter.

I use a Nikon D70, modify these instructions as required for your DSLR. First, make sure you have a fully charged battery and then enable mirror-lock up. In a well-lit area and clean (dust-wise) area, remove the lens from the camera and position it before you so you can clearly see the sensor at the back of the body.

Using rubber gloves might be a nice thing to do, but I personally do it with bare hands because I prefer the better control I have with skin. Now, tear off a strip of tape approximately 15cm long (do not allow it to touch anything in the middle 10cm. Hold it with each hand by the ends. Fold the tape back onto itself so that it forms a "U" shape and pinch the top with two fingers.

Next, use a soft plastic instrument (the back end of a Bic pen has been suggested) to lower the tape into the back of the body and gently touch it to the sensor. Now, using the end of the pen, spread the tape out evenly onto the sensor. I personally use my fingers for this.

Now, with the tape evenly spread out over the sensor, gently remove it starting at one end (you should have nice long handles on either side to use to pull away with). This tape has a very gentle grab and will not require significant pressure to come away from the filter (which covers ths sensor).

Most people I have heard from have only had to do one application to clean the sensor 100%. My experience has required several applications (a new piece of tape every time) simply because I am not able to cover the entire sensor in one application (the tape overlaps the sensor slightly and so the edges are tough to get stuck down). In the end, I took my sensor from 14 nasty bunnies to 2 very insignificant bunnies which, even at f/22 were barely noticeable.

If you put a piece of tape down unevenly, the edge can often leave a slight mark from bits of collected dust from the air or something. These easily lift off with another application of tape.

Remember, the sensor in the camera is covered by a glass filter. You aren't touching the 'ultra sensetive sensor' with the tape. You're touching the glass filter.

For anyone who disbelieves me, I suggest taking a piece of scotch magic tape to a filter or the underside of a DVD and see if it leaves marks. I can assure you it does not.

If you have any questions, feel free to message me. And remember: don't blame me! :D
04/20/2005 12:42:53 AM · #2
I use an almost identical method only I use duct tape. Duct tape fixes anything.
04/20/2005 12:50:55 AM · #3
If you put a little rain-x on it, dust will just slide off and not stick. Then the duct tape is not necessary.
04/20/2005 01:14:16 AM · #4
That's fascinating. For those that are snarking at him, he DOES point out that the sensor on the nikon ius covered by glass and he's not touching hte sensor itself, which would be insane... I can attest that I've used magic tape to attach tags etc to the front of framed images, and never noticed any residue whatsoever when I lifted it off, although of course I wasn't being super-critical in my examination. So it doesn't sound entirely off-the-wall to me, though I may be completely insane myself...

Robt.
04/20/2005 02:32:00 AM · #5
bear_music, try it out on the underside of a writeable cd/dvd for interest's sake. Under good light, this surface will show you ANYTHING. It's a good test bed.
04/20/2005 03:00:50 AM · #6
Originally posted by rebelo:

bear_music, try it out on the underside of a writeable cd/dvd for interest's sake. Under good light, this surface will show you ANYTHING. It's a good test bed.


Right, I realize that. But I also don't have a dSLR, so I'm just a disinterested observer. It just sounds interesting to me, is all, and it makes sense based on my own experience of the tape.

Robt.
04/20/2005 03:24:04 AM · #7
This sounds good to me, I had a scare last weekend when I cleaned the sensor for the first time.

I used the mirror lockup and with using a blower brush I gave a couple of gentle blasts of air, slipped and crashed the end of the brush into the sensor - after the inital heart attack and wishing it hadn't happened, I sat there for an eternal amount of time enduring a cold sweat. Eventually, I got up and tested it to have my fears realised, a huge dark mess on the centre of my photos. Now, with the doom of having to send my precious in for repair hanging over me like a dark storm cloud at an outdoor origami fesival, I took the approach of having nothing to lose. With a lens cloth wrapped around my index finger I made contact with that delicate rectangle of stress. After a few gentle wipes I tested again, and rejoiced in the improvement that was so clear to see, after repeating the process a few more times over the next half hour my sensor was clean and I was most relieved.

At the end of the day, it's only a case of cleaning the IR filter that sits in front of the sensor and not the sensor itself, I know that the finger/lens cloth is a terrible idea as there is a risk of scratching, but the Magic Tape idea is an excellent one and something that I'll certainly adopt in the future.

Thanks Justin for the tip :)

Darren
04/20/2005 03:28:10 AM · #8
I use Comet and one of those green scratchy pads from 3M.

works everytime!
04/20/2005 04:44:17 AM · #9
'Hi-ho,

Just to let rebelo know we're not all picking on his well written description...

I've not done this myself, but a friend who a couple of 1DII's (he's a real pro, I just pretend :-) ) does this quite regularly. I asked him one day why he has a roll of scotch tape in his kit...

The only thing that's touched my sensor so far is a copolymer 'spec grabber' although I've got a bottle of eclipse and some sensor swabs here for the day when the blower and spec grabber fail me. To be honest I'd be more inclined to try the scotch tape method first asuming a test of a filter came up 'clean' with my tape. It's a 'dry' method, and has been reported to work by quite a few people.

Cheers, Me.

Message edited by author 2005-04-20 04:47:25.
04/20/2005 05:31:00 AM · #10
After some serious dust issues in a couple of challenges, I bought a cleaning kit from my local photo store. They recommended, and I bought, a relatively high power compressed air blower. It uses mini compressed CO2 cannisters (which contain pure CO2, with no additives or aerosols). Works brilliantly.

It is very important that any compressed air blower operates on the principle of compression, not on arerosol movement, as the aerosol would definitely cover your sensor with a layer of oily residue and wreck the camera (eg cheap cans of canned air).

Only issue will be travel: cannot take compressed air onto an aeroplane, so I may have to make do with a blower, or try the scotch tape method in the event of an emergency.
04/20/2005 05:49:11 AM · #11
I have the Canon 20D. When I remove the lens and look at the opening there is a mirror. Is this the sensor or is the sensor on the opposite side of this piece? If this is not the sensor what do you recommend for cleaning this mirror?
04/20/2005 06:28:51 AM · #12
You need to apply mirror lock up mode using the command functions in order to see the sensor. I would clean the mirror and sensor in the same way, though cleanign the mirror will only improve what you see in the viewfinder, not what is captured by the sensor.
04/20/2005 07:25:07 AM · #13
Well I am waiting for my 300D to come back from cleaning/servicing which is going to cost me around £80. However, next time It needs a clean I will give this a go. Thanks for some very useful info.

Mike


04/20/2005 08:04:59 AM · #14
The Canon 20D has a sensor clean mode. Doesn't that do a good job of cleaning the sensor? Should I still clean it as described above?
04/20/2005 08:54:52 AM · #15
I believe you'll find that the 'sensor cleaning mode' simply locks the mirror up and opens the shutter so that you can reach the sensor to clean it, rather than being any active form of cleaning itself.
04/20/2005 09:16:02 AM · #16
I picked up VisibleDust's sensorbrush kit. That company has done some serious research into maintaining sensors, and they have some compelling material on their site.

Absolutely zero (ok, maybe not zero, but pretty close) chance of damaging the sensor, no risk of compressed air goo splatting on the sensor, no risk of tape pulling anything out of alignment or leaving micro-residue that shows up in enlargements...

Sensorbrush seemed to be a cheap investment compared with what it costs to ship my D70 back to Nikon's repair facility if I were to twitch while doing something more risky. They also seemed to have the least risky process. So far, I'm 100% satisfied.

Message edited by author 2005-04-20 09:16:28.
04/20/2005 09:58:31 AM · #17
I see no reason why the non-adhesive tape wouldn't work. Great idea!

A few days ago, I bought these brushes on ebay.

//cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=7508780263

If you go to the webpage instructions that is listed in the description, he compares them to VisibleDust's brushes. He has done a lot of testing/research also, for a 1/10th the price.

-Chad

Edit: typos

Message edited by author 2005-04-20 09:58:59.
04/20/2005 10:04:28 AM · #18
If the eBay brushes work just as well, then great! I don't know if they have the same grade bristles (not saying they don't, I just don't know), but in the end what matters is a safe, repeatable, and effective technique.

I feel much more comfortable with the idea of a micro-fine brush lifting particles with static charges than I do applying tape to the sensor (or the PecPad approach). I'm definitely not keen on the air blowing - tried it, and half the time it just shuffled new dust into place.
04/20/2005 10:05:41 AM · #19
Read this: the Pixel Sweeper

Yes, I know it's kinda long. You may choose to believe the info on the website of the company that is selling the high priced brushes. But there are some tips here that will apply to sensor cleaning no matter what method you decide on; and that I didn't find anywhere else.

Message edited by author 2005-04-20 10:07:51.
04/20/2005 11:28:12 AM · #20
Hmmm - I thought I was splashing out when I spent £15 on the compressed CO2 cannister system - but a ton on brushes...!

The compressed air/CO2 (again - non-aerosol based) system is quite powerful and there is no "moving of dust around" - at least not that I have seen so far. It is blasted out of there!

Compressed air seems safer to me than touching my sensor (or the glass cover or anything) with brushes, which surely must degrade over time, or at least get contaminated if you forget to pack them away and the dog/cat/canary steps on them.

04/20/2005 11:43:36 AM · #21
How often is it recommended to routinely clean the sensor?
04/20/2005 11:48:29 AM · #22
Originally posted by legalbeagle:

Hmmm - I thought I was splashing out when I spent £15 on the compressed CO2 cannister system - but a ton on brushes...!

The compressed air/CO2 (again - non-aerosol based) system is quite powerful and there is no "moving of dust around" - at least not that I have seen so far. It is blasted out of there!

Compressed air seems safer to me than touching my sensor (or the glass cover or anything) with brushes, which surely must degrade over time, or at least get contaminated if you forget to pack them away and the dog/cat/canary steps on them.


It's known to blast stuff everywhere vs. surgically removing it. Much of the time you'll blast if off the sensor sucessfully, but you may be moving it into other parts of the chamber where it can fall back onto the sensor from. There is also a high risk of tipping the can the wrong way and shooting toxic goo onto the sensor that requires a liquid to remove.

If you're always hyper-careful, and a little bit lucky, compressed air will work.
04/20/2005 11:50:32 AM · #23
Originally posted by lnede:

How often is it recommended to routinely clean the sensor?


Depends on your conditions. If you shoot outdoors when its dusty and change lenses a lot, you may need weekly cleaning. If you rarely take the lens off your camera you may almost never need to.

I'm finding that roughly once / month is about right for me. I check the camera periodically by shooting white paper at f/22 out of focus. I then apply over sharpening and the dust specs stand out like sore thumbs.
04/20/2005 11:56:59 AM · #24
Conditions can certainly be a factor. But unlike a regular oil change for your car, cleaning your sensor should only be done when you can see that it needs it. If you routinely shoot at very wide apertures like f2.8-f4, you will gets lots of stuff on your sensor and never know it because the dust bunnies dont show up in your pictures.

So why bother to clean it until they become an issue. I just dont bother until the clone work to be rid of them becomes a chore. I cleaned my Sigma about a year ago and have not seen a real need to clean my canon yet.

Thats my take on it anyway.
04/20/2005 11:58:11 AM · #25
Originally posted by legalbeagle:

Hmmm - I thought I was splashing out when I spent £15 on the compressed CO2 cannister system - but a ton on brushes...!

The compressed air/CO2 (again - non-aerosol based) system is quite powerful and there is no "moving of dust around" - at least not that I have seen so far. It is blasted out of there!

Compressed air seems safer to me than touching my sensor (or the glass cover or anything) with brushes, which surely must degrade over time, or at least get contaminated if you forget to pack them away and the dog/cat/canary steps on them.


As long as there's no propellant in the product you use then you're ok otherwise you run the risk of getting propellant on the sensor which is much worse than even the meanest of killer dust bunnies.
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