Clean Image Sensor, Digital Photography Tip Number 17

Disclaimer/Caution

Most people will have success cleaning their own image sensors, but it is possible to damage the image sensor. If your mechanical skills and hand eye coordination are very poor and you don't have a delicate touch, you might want to pass on cleaning your sensor yourself. I was hesitate at first to clean the image sensor myself, but now after doing it, I have no problem cleaning it and I don't have any fear about damaging anything. I make no guarantees though, you are on your own, so be careful and make sure your tissues and brushes are absolutely clean. If you damage your image sensor, don't come after me, I am just trying to help. Canon and other manufacturers will tell you to send it to an official repair center, so that's what I will tell you to do, but its your decision.

Tip #17) Clean Your Image Sensor(On Digital SLR's).... Cleaning your digital SLR image sensor is very important, if you want your photos to be free of grayish black snowball looking spots. Everyone with a digital SLR will someday see these beautiful darks spots floating in the skies of their photos. Aren't they beautiful, are they birds, dirty snowflakes, UFO's, no, no, they are dust on your image sensor.

There are a few ways to clean your image sensor and we will describe below how to do each of them. If you would like more information on the cleaning processes below, please contact us with the form below.

In this photo I have circled the main image sensor dust spots, but if you look closer there are many more. This was right after I arrived in Switzerland, and a couple of weeks after getting my camera back from Canon, where I sent it to get the image sensor cleaned. That was a waste of $200, I couldn't believe how dirty it still was after sending it to Canon for a professional cleaning. I tried to get my money back but I couldn't, so don't bother sending your digital SLR camera to Canon to have the image sensor cleaned, you could do it better yourself. Please click on the photo if you would like to see a larger version.

It is very annoying to look at your photos and see these ugly spots in the sky and elsewhere. They are caused by dust and dirt and anything else getting inside your camera and settling on the image sensor. Or they can be particles from inside your camera moving around and settling on the image sensor, so even if you never take your lens off, you will still get dust on the image sensor eventually.

In this photo I have increased the contrast to really bring out the image sensor dust spots. Please click on the photo if you would like to see a larger version.

The most common way of getting dust inside your camera, is when you take off your lens, for whatever reason. Also dust in the lens can make its way to the image sensor also. It is very important to make sure your camera and lens are clean, and you are in a dust free area, when you take off your lens. Never leave the camera sitting around with no lens or no body cap, on it, that is just inviting dust to settle inside your camera.

Image Sensor Cleaning Items

How To Check For Dust On Your Image Sensor

The easiest way to see if you have dust on your image sensor is to take some photos. Below I made a list of instructions to make sure you see all the dust on your image sensor:

1) Dust shows up the most with a small aperture, so set your aperture at the smallest setting,
   like f22.
     
2) Shutter speed isn't so important, just set it to get a slightly underexposed photo.

3) Set the focus to be totally blurry, then the only thing in focus will be the dust spots.

4) Zoom into a part of the sky that is uniform like a white/grayish cloud or blue sky, or white
   wall.

5) Take some photos, and then look at them on your LCD screen and zoom in some to see the 
   smaller spots.

6) Some spots will be small and some will be large and clearly visible.

7) Welcome to the world of digital SLR's and wonderful image sensor dust.

8) Next I will explain how I clean my image sensor.
  

The Three Methods Of Cleaning Your Image Sensor:

There are basically three ways to clean your image sensor:

1) The simplest and safest, but probably the least effective, is to blow air at the image sensor with a powerful photographic bulb blower.

2) The next method is to use a high quality synthetic brush, like a makeup brush, to lightly sweep clean the image sensor. This method is fairly safe and simple, but also not the most effective.

3) The best way to get the most dust spots off is to wipe the image sensor with a high quality photographic tissue with high quality cleaning fluid applied to the tissue.

These three methods will be described below.

The First And Easiest Method Of Cleaning Your Image Sensor: Bulb Blower

The first and the easiest way to try and clean your image sensor is to use a powerful photographic bulb blower. It is safe and easy to do, but not very effective against spots that are really stuck on your image sensor. Using a pressurized can of air to blow off your image sensor,isn't recommended because sometimes stuff will come out of the can with the air and really make a mess of your image sensor. Below are the general steps to take to blow off your image sensor with a bulb blower.

1) Turn your camera power on.

2) Make sure your camera battery is good so it doesn't die while cleaning your sensor.

3) Look through your camera's menu to find "Clean image sensor". If it doesn't have this 
   option, then you will have to just set your shutter speed to like 20 to 30 seconds and
   hit your shutter button to open the shutter for 20-30 seconds so you can blow off the sensor.

4) Remove your lens.

5) Activate "Clean image sensor" from the menu or hit the shutter button to open up the 
   shutter mirror.

6) Carefully blow air onto the image sensor to remove the loose dust particles. Be careful 
   not to touch the image sensor or any other part with the blower. It's probably best to 
   have the front of the camera pointing down so the dust you remove will have a better chance
   at making its way completely out of the camera body. If you opened the shutter with the 
   shutter button for 20-30 seconds, make sure you don't have the blower in the way of the 
   shutter mirror when it closes.

7) Attach the lens, take some photos as described above to check the dust spots on your sensor.
   If there is still dust spots, then you can repeat the steps above, or try the second or 
   third methods of cleaning your sensor.
  

Note: To help remove any dust floating around in the image sensor area while cleaning, it might help to have a small electronic equipment vacuum cleaner sucking in all the dust so they don't settle right back on the image sensor. I haven't used one yet, but I have found when using a blower or brush to clean the image sensor, it seems like I am just moving the dust around instead of removing them, so a vacuum might help to remove them completely. It is possible also the the vacuum cleaner might suck more dust into the image sensor area, so if you try this you will have to experiment and see if it works for you. If you try a vacuum cleaning with your cleaning methods, please let us know how it works and we could add your information to this page.

The Second Method Of Cleaning Your Image Sensor: High Quality Brush

The second method of cleaning your image sensor, and also pretty easy to do and probably more effective than the blower method, is to use a high quality synthetic clean brush, like a makeup brush. It is fairly safe and easy to do, but you are touching the image sensor, so there is always a chance that you could scratch it or something, but if you use a clean soft brush, it should be fine. Blow off the brush with the bulb blower to remove dust from it and I have read that blower through the bristles puts an electric charge on them and attracts the dust better when you clean the sensor. Below are the general steps for sweeping clean your image sensor with a high quality clean and soft makeup brush.

1) Turn your camera power on.

2) Make sure your camera battery is good so it doesn't die while cleaning your sensor.

3) Look through your camera's menu to find "Clean image sensor". If it doesn't have this 
   option, then you will have to just set your shutter speed to like 20 to 30 seconds and 
   hit your shutter button to open the shutter for 20-30 seconds so you can sweep off the sensor.

4) Remove your lens.

5) Activate "Clean image sensor" from the menu or hit the shutter button to open up the shutter
   mirror.

6) Carefully and softly move the brush across the image sensor to remove the loose dust 
   particles. Be careful not to apply too much pressure to the image sensor. It's probably 
   best to have the front of the camera pointing down so the dust you remove will have a 
   better chance at making its way completely out of the camera body. If you opened the 
   shutter with the shutter button for 20-30 seconds, make sure you don't have the brush
   in the way of the shutter mirror when it closes, or you could damage the shutter mirror.

7) Attach the lens, take some photos as described above to check the dust spots on your sensor.
   If there is still dust spots, then you can repeat the steps above, or try the first or 
   third methods of cleaning your sensor.
  

Note: To help remove any dust floating around in the image sensor area while cleaning, it might help to have a small electronic equipment vacuum cleaner sucking in all the dust so they don't settle right back on the image sensor. I haven't used one yet, but I have found when using a blower or brush to clean the image sensor, it seems like I am just moving the dust around instead of removing them, so a vacuum might help to remove them completely. It is possible also the the vacuum cleaner might suck more dust into the image sensor area, so if you try this you will have to experiment and see if it works for you. If you try a vacuum cleaning with your cleaning methods, please let us know how it works and we could add your information to this page.

The Third And Most Effective Method Of Cleaning Your Image Sensor: High Quality Tissue And High Quality Nonresidue Cleaning Fluid

The third method of cleaning your image sensor, and probably the most effective, is to use a soft photographic tissue mounted on a handle with nonresidue cleaning fluid applied to it, to wipe clean your image sensor. You shouldn't use just any tissue, it must be made for cleaning sensitive photograhic equipment like Pec Pads, and you must not use just any cleaning fluid, it must be nonresidue, so you don't make the sensor more dirty than it was. You can buy a complete set with tissue, cleaning fluid and brush handle. I made my own brush handle from an old credit card. Just cut the one end slightly narrower than your image sensor and the end that you hold can be narrower than the cleaning end. The cleaning tissue overlaps the sides of the handle so the handle needs to be narrower than the image sensor. With the tissue applied to the handle, you should be able to clean the whole image sensor in one pass. Below are the general steps for cleaning your image sensor with a high quality cleaning tissue and high quality cleaning fluid.

 
The first six steps below are if you are making your own brush handles to mount the cleaning 
tissue to.
 
1) Find an old credit card and find out the smallest width of your image sensor by opening
   the shutter mirror.

2) Cut one end of the credit card about 2mm narrower than your image sensor and the other end
   of the credit card handle about half the width of the sensor side.

3) Lay out the cleaning tissue on a clean surface.

4) Lay the brush handle with the widest side in the middle of the tissue.

5) Fold half of the tissue over the handle.

6) Then wrap the rest of the tissue around the handle so you have a good tight cleaning 
   edge on the wide side of the handle. Wrap tape or string around the middle area of the
   tissue to keep it securing on the handle. Make sure you don't touch the cleaning edge
   of the tissue, or the oil of your hands might get on the image sensor.

7) Apply some cleaning fluid to the cleaning edge of the tissue.

8) Turn your camera power on.

9) Make sure your camera battery is good so it doesn't die while cleaning your sensor.

10) Look through your camera's menu to find "Clean image sensor". If it doesn't have this
    option, then you will have to just set your shutter speed to like 20 to 30 seconds 
    and hit your shutter button to open the shutter for 20-30 seconds so you can clean
    off the sensor.

11) Remove your lens.

12) Activate "Clean image sensor" from the menu or hit the shutter button to open up the 
    shutter mirror.

13) Carefully and softly move the tissue cleaning brush across the image sensor to remove 
    the loose dust particles. Be careful not to apply too much pressure to the image sensor.
    It's probably best to have the front of the camera pointing down so the dust you remove
    will have a better chance at making its way completely out of the camera body. If you 
    opened the shutter with the shutter button for 20-30 seconds, make sure you don't have
    the brush in the way of the shutter mirror when it closes, or you could damage the 
    shutter mirror.

14) When done cleaning, deactivate "Clean image sensor" by the method described in your 
    camera manual, with my Canon I just have to turn the camera off.

15) Attach the lens, to keep more dust from entering the camera.

16) Take some photos as described above to check the dust spots on your sensor. If there 
    is still dust spots, then you can repeat the steps above, or try the first or second
    methods of cleaning your sensor.

Note: There are usually some dust spots that are stuck on the image sensor, so you might
      have to repeat the cleaning process with the tissue and cleaning fluid until you 
      get the spots off. Don't reuse the cleaning tissue.
  

Disclaimer/Caution

Most people will have success cleaning their own image sensors, but it is possible to damage the image sensor. If your mechanical skills and hand eye coordination are very poor and you don't have a delicate touch, you might want to pass on cleaning your sensor yourself. I was hesitate at first to clean the image sensor myself, but now after doing it, I have no problem cleaning it and I don't have any fear about damaging anything. I make no guarantees though, you are on your own, so be careful and make sure your tissues and brushes are absolutely clean. If you damage your image sensor, don't come after me, I am just trying to help. Canon and other manufacturers will tell you to send it to an official repair center, so that's what I will tell you to do, but its your decision.

Image Sensor Cleaning Items