March 7, 2006
Removing dust from your digital SLR is tricky—but it can be done
Written by Christopher Breen
I recently found myself on board a cruise ship packed not only with Mac experts but also digital-camera gurus as well. With so many of the brightest brains in the business on board for the MacMania/Photoshop Fling cruise—and with nowhere but the Pacific Ocean for them to flee—I took the opportunity to confide my dirty little secret about my digital SLR camera: I had gunk on my sensor, and I didn’t have a clue how to safely remove it.
Should you be out of the know, it’s like this: When you switch lenses on your SLR, it’s possible for the camera to collect small specks of dust on the sensor—the light-sensitive silicon chip that samples incoming light. Even without changing lenses, you can collect dust when shooting in dry, dusty environments. These bits of dust manifest themselves as tiny (and sometimes, not-so-tiny) spots on your pictures. I wanted those spots gone without having to edit them out in Photoshop or iPhoto—but I also wanted to know the safest way to do it.
Boy, was I surprised by the conflicting—and, often emotional—responses I got.
Two views on sensor cleaning
I first heard from the Don’t Even Think of Doing This Yourself camp. Representatives of this group state that attempting to clean a sensor voids the warranty on some cameras and that the chance you take in doing it yourself is far outweighed by what you risk—completely destroying the camera. Cited risks are blowers that put more gunk on a sensor than they remove, damage from the use of compressed air, damage due to a shutter suddenly snapping closed because a camera’s battery dies mid-cleaning, and a scratched sensor (actually, its protective covering). These folks contend that Taking It To The Shop is the wisest course.
Then there are the What, You’ve Successfully Taken Apart an iPod? Just Be Careful and You Can Do This Too folks. This group understands that my Nikon D70 is going to earn its fair share of sensor dust, and taking it to the shop time and again will eventually become an unreasonably expensive proposition. (Handing your camera over for cleaning services can cost $30 to $40, according to the estimates I’ve gotten. And that can add up over time.) With the right tools and techniques (and a measure of care), these people contend, I can do it myself.
Oh, and to be fair, there’s my local camera guy who claimed he could put things right with the judicious use of a can of compressed air and a couple of Q-Tips. Representatives from both of the aforementioned groups suggested I put as much distance between myself and the camera guy as humanly possible.
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