I recently noticed a few shots online that had the dreaded dust bunnies in them and this prompted today’s posting. Note this only applies to DSLR or Medium Format with interchangeable lenses and mirror mechanisms, not to your mirrorless Point and Shoot or Bridge Camera UNLESS they have interchangeable lenses where the sensor is visible and prone to contamination.
A few days after I bought my Tokina 12-24mm f/4.0 ATX Pro DX, I was at the coast. With the intention to do UWA scapes with the D80 (It’s ISO 100 and long exposure is superb on the CCD). The camera is seldom used and I also rarely remove the Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 that’s on it. Less lens changes, less dust, or so the theory goes. Camera has done under 6000 images in 4 years.
So I get up at 4am and head off to the local lake district in Sedgefield for a few pre-dawn landscapes. Take a few shots, chimp at the screen. Everything looks awesome (LCD’s always make everything look awesome…)
Get back to the apartment and fire up the laptop, offload the images…enlarge…and there they are…”dust” bunnies.
What a waste of time! No wait, I can clone them out in PP. But still, what a waste of time if I had just spent a bit more time on checking the SENSOR pre-shoot. I honestly thought that because I rarely remove the lens on this body, that it wasn’t necessary. (One of the reasons why it’s advisable to have 2-3 bodies with a different lens on each when out in the field, on safari, etc.) IF your travel arrangements, weight restrictions and bank manager allow it. Possibly a reason for another article on those all-in-one wonder zooms from 50-500mm or an 18-250mm. Convenient but not optically as good as a few select primes.
I did blow out the body cavity with a decent bulb blower the night before but never raised the mirror to expose the sensor, to blow that as well. Can’t see dust bunnies anyway with out a sensor scope / loupe. You must take a “reference” shot and enlarge that on your LCD. Battery wasn’t 100% charged (mirror wont flip up unless battery is at 100%) so even had I wanted too, I would have had to charge a 70% battery. Not a good plan if you want your batteries to last more than a year. My other EN-EL3′s were also just a tad off 90% so I left it.
What next? I did eventually fully charge the battery, now at 50% charge after shooting for the morning. I took a reference clear sky shot first. Duly raised the mirror via the in-menu option, turned the camera so that it faced downwards and used the blower to remove the stubborn dust particles that had gotten onto the sensor. Do it indoors in as dust free an area as you can find. In the car or on the back of the dusty OSV (Open Safari Vehicle) is not such a good place! Up till then I didn’t carry a full wet sensor cleaning kit with me and hoped for the best because I seldom change lenses and when I do, i do it in a fairly dust free environment. Took the “after clean” clear sky shot and voila! Problem solved for the rest of the week. Thankfully it was only dust and not some stubborn pollen or body fluid!
I’m off to the Kruger shortly and have naturally checked all 5 bodies sensors a week early to make sure. Pre-coupled the lens I want on the body I want and off I go. The Kruger in winter is very dusty. Don’t need dust bunnies in my landscapes, wildlife, timed night sky images. DIY. Don’t totally rely on the self cleaning option in most new DSLR’s as they don’t remove dried specks, only dust. (The D80 doesn’t have this option). It is good advice to enable the filter self cleaning option on your DSLR if it has it. My D90 and the D300s have an on-startup or on-shutdown option. I use “on-shutdown” because if “on-startup” the camera takes longer to “boot-up” as it were and if you are hasty to get a quick shot, well, tough. Take a clear sky, or white ceiling reference shot and check the image to be sure. If you can’t get rid of them by raising the mirror and blowing (using a blower) and NOT your breath, take the body to your local agent. Humidity from your breath or spittle will lodge somewhere in the camera internal cavity; the next time the mirror slams open and closed the wet droplet(s) will dislodge and end up on the sensor where it will eventually dry out). The agents often use filtered compressed air but if the bunnies are more than dust, i.e. mucous or sea spray etc, you will need the sensor professionally “wet” cleaned. Or DIY if you are up to it.
Sensor cleaning kits are available at any decent photographic shop, and it’s not a difficult thing to do, however have someone show you first. Helps keep the heartbeat down when you do eventually do it yourself. There are el-cheapo and Pro Kits. Ask your dealer. The sensor is arguably the most expensive part of your camera, next to the shutter mechanism and if you feel you aren’t up to it, take it to the agent. Practically this might be difficult, especially if you are a ranger or photographer in the bush, miles from civilisation or there is no-one in your area that you trust with your camera. Might cost a bit to get it the agent, but they are pro’s at this. Still, you can clean your own sensor and it’s a good idea to keep a cleaning kit with you in your bag. At the bare minimum have a decent blower (bulb). It can be used to clean dust off your lens front and rear elements too!
I feel that if I am asked to clean someone’s sensor that I should be absolved in writing from any damages arising from my services or my advice AND I am entitled to charge a small fee for my time and expertise. Some companies will do it as a paid service or for free (mostly blowing for free, seldom wiping and cleaning for free) and that is their prerogative. You would be better off at least learning how it’s done and doing it yourself in the future, if only so that you can “wet” clean in the field when you have no other options and especially if you are on “Safari” in the Serengeti and the nearest Dukka (Little Indian Shop) is 100 km’s away
Incidentally, you’re not cleaning the actual sensor, you’re only touching / cleaning the anti-aliasing and Infra Red filter (blocks IR before reaching the sensor) that is above the sensor, similar to the transparent film or hard glass template you use to protect your smart phones touch screen.
One last tip I can give you is to regularly vacuum clean your camera bag. Even a good wash and drip dry. Remove all the velcro’d compartments and suck out all the lint and fluff and sand and whatever else is in there. You’d be surprised how much muck comes out.
Thom Hogan from ByThom has an excellent and comprehensive cleaning article that I neither wish to plagiarise nor improve. Pop over and give it a look. Thanks Thom, great read!
Nasim Mansurov has also written a great dead, hot pixel article here.
The final edited image with dust bunnies and hot pixel cloned out. All that remains are a few grey clouds.
Disclaimer: When you fiddle with the guts/innards/sensors or any factory serviceable part of your own or someone else’s camera, you do so at your own risk. I can’t be held liable for what you do with the above informative information. You do so at at your own risk.