Spring cleaning: Clean your digital SLR camera

Cleaning your camera’s body, lens, and sensor requires only a handful of items and some care.

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Has your digital SLR camera been collecting dust because your phone has replaced it as your everyday camera? Mine has and could stand a thorough spring cleaning. Of course, with heavy use in the field, your camera can also pick up much dirt and grime.

To start, wipe down the body of your camera. One tip from my local camera shop is to use denatured alcohol and an old toothbrush to scrub off stubborn stains. Be careful around any leather surfaces because denatured alcohol can remove the glue that holds them in place.

After cleaning the body of your SLR, there are two areas you'll want to clean: the lens and the sensor. Each is a delicate surface, so proceed with caution.

Cleaning supplies
Matt Elliott/CNET

First, gather the following cleaning supplies from your local camera shop or an online retailer:

  • Rubber bulb blower
  • Non-abrasive, lint-free wipes
  • Lens cleaner

Next, find a clean surface in a well-lit room for your operation. Whenever possible, avoid taking the lens off your camera when outside in the elements.

Lens

Dust and other small particles can collect on your lens. The trick here is to remove the detritus without scratching your lens. First, use the blower to remove as much as possible without touching your lens. Use a blower without a brush. If you still see dust and dirt particles on your lens, use a lens cleaner and non-abrasive, lint-free wipes to carefully and gently clean your lens. Do not spray or drop lens cleaner directly on your lens but apply it to your cloth.

It's a good idea to keep a blower, lens cleaner, and cloths in your camera bag. And backing up a bit, it's a good idea to keep your camera in a bag when not in use to protect it from dust and dirt.

One other tip: use a UV filter for your lens. I don't have one for each of my lenses, but for my primary 18-200mm lens, I keep a UV filter on it at all times. Like its name implies, it filters out UV rays that can result in a blue color cast in your photos. I use it less for its intended filtering purpose and more to protect my lens. I'd rather replace a cheap filter than an expensive lens.

Sensor

Unless you change lens constantly, you won't need to get inside your camera to clean your sensor that often. If you notice blemishes on your images, however, particles could have found their way inside the body of your camera.

Before you endeavor to clean the sensor, you should look inside the body of your camera for dust and dirt particles. The reason? When you turn on the camera, the sensor is charged and can attract the particles. So, with your camera turned off and the lens removed, take a close look for any particles inside the camera. My local camera shop uses a lighted scope and tweezers to hunt for and remove particles inside the body.

Mirror Lock-Up
Matt Elliott/CNET

To access the lens, you will need to put your SLR into cleaning mode, which raises the mirror in front of the sensor and locks it in its open position to give you access to the sensor. On my old Nikon D50, in the settings menu, it's called Mirror Lock-Up. To turn this setting on, press the shutter-release button; you'll hear the mirror flip up. Now, you can use your bulb blower to remove any particles on the sensor. When you have finished, turn the camera off to lower the mirror and put a lens or lens cap back on.

Tip: Make sure your camera's battery is fully charged or connect your camera to a power source before entering cleaning mode.

If the blower doesn't do the trick, don't be tempted to brush or wipe, or in any way touch, the sensor. Instead, take your camera down to your local camera shop and ask a professional for help. And be sure to take a look at Rich Trenholm's piece for more in depth information on how to clean your dSLR.

Editors' note: It's spring cleaning time! Week's two's theme: physical cleaning. Check back every day next week to see how best to keep dirt, grime, crumbs, and other annoying bits off your devices. And be sure to return next week for more spring cleaning tips and tricks.

 

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