How to Clean (or Not) to Clean Your Camera


No, you’re not seeing things.  There’s a horrendous squiggle in the middle of my photo.  Can you imagine my horror, when we came back from the beach, and I sifted through the 20 million shots I had taken, and good 25% of them had this ghost like apparition on my screen?  What could it be?  It wasn’t on every picture, just some.

I looked for patterns.  Is it the shots I took with the new lens – damn that lens! No, it’s on shots taken with both lenses.  Look, it’s only on shots with sky.  Oh wait, there’s one right across my face.  Is it dirt?  I opened my aperature all the way open, and took a picture – no dirt there. 

Its a ghost.  Definitely a ghost.  I must call pyschic network.

But, I instead called my local camera store at home, and they diagnosed my problem as dust, on my sensor. 

Vacation nightmare.

So, do you put your camera away?  Is all lost?  Not necessarily.

You can turn your photos into this –


But, unless you want a comic strip vacation journal, that’s not really a good option.

If you have Photoshop or another editing program with similar features, you can use your cloning tool to patch over the offending area.  If you’ve glanced over the photos I’ve posted throughout the month of July of me frolicking on the beach, all of those photos were smudged up with the dratted dust, and I kind of blended them in with the healing brush.  This was painstaking, and just made me angry at my camera. 

Your next option is to shoot your vacation photos at an aperature below 7.1, because after taking many tests shots, you can only see the dust when the aperature is narrower  than 7.1 (obviously, this would depend on your camera, but you probably could get away with 5.6 no problem).  High aperature – big spot o’ dust.   Your artistic inclinations may be strapped, but it’ll save you time in the editing room.  If you’re on a landscape photography vacation, well, this won’t be your solution.

Or, you could try to clean your sensor.  Which is what I did.

Before you take on cleaning your own sensor on vacation, you really need to do some soul searching.  Really, how long will it be before you’re home, and can have the thing cleaned for around $60?  Are you willing to risk damaging your sensor permanently and having to buy a new camera?

For me, I’m secretly looking for an excuse to upgrade, so I didn’t do much soul searching.

I was cleaning.

I followed this tutorial, with some trepidation.  My camera shop warned me, in no uncertain terms, do not use any kind of forced air on your sensor, and of course, they specifically talked about the forced air that you buy when you are looking to clean your computer equipment.  This kind of air leaves a residue that will ruin your sensor.  This tutorial talks about compressed CO2 gas.  My camera store told me to only use a handheld, plastic bulb. 

But, on vacation, I couldn’t find the bulb, which you can only buy at a camera store.

I did find the CO2 at Staples.

The guy in the tutorial seemed confident.  But then he did write that little caveat about it too leaving a residue.  To spray or not to spray?

I gave the can a few good squirts before using it on my camera, and found that when the canister wasn’t inserted properly, or tightly enough, there was a residue, but once my husband had screwed it on tightly for me, it seemed clean enough to me.  And, I went for it.

Again, I went for it knowing that I could be wrecking my camera.  If you follow in my wreckless footsteps, you too should know that you may be plunking down a nice chunk of change for new hardware when you get back, instead of just taking your camera in for professional cleaning.

Anyway, how do you get to your sensor?  On your camera, there will be a mechanism that will flip your mirror up, and and allow you access to clean the sensor.  On a Canon, it’s under the “Y” menu – choose manual clean.  It’s extremely scary.  The mirror slowly flips up, the camera buzzes like a nuclear reactor has had an accident, and then – you spray.

Or you don’t.  I highly recommend a professional cleaning once you get home.  Really, if you shoot at 5.6 or below, you’re not going to see the dust, and if you see anything, it will be so miniscule, it’ll be really easy to fix in a photo editing program.  The day I got home, I went to my local store, and I bought a handheld bulb, and if I ever get dust in my sensor again, if the bulb doesn’t jolt the dust out, I’m going to just take it in.

 Or maybe not . . .


  • Jess

    October 20, 2010 at 3:39 am

    The guy at the camera store wouldn’t even sell me the cleaning kit he had on the shelf! So I actually went home and used one of those blue baby-nose-booger-sucker bulb-thingies to blow my Rebel’s sensor off. I hear ya sister! lol!

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