Shooting Workflow: Sensor Cleaning
Sensor cleaning, woohoo! This is probably my least favorite thing I do as a pro photographer. It's not that much fun, but it's something that we have to do. If your sensor looks like this, and I don't know If you guys can see this at home, bu there's dots all over this, it's everywhere. This is my Nikon D4, awhile ago. And this is after cleaning, and there's still a few dots here and there, but it's cleaner than it was. And that's just to show you I would consider this a mostly clean sensor, it's pretty difficult, near impossible for DSLR or a mirrorless camera, where the sensor is down in a cavity, to get every single speck of dust off that thing. On a medium format it's a little bit of a different situation. So a few considerations when we talk about, cleaning your sensor it depends on where you live. If you live in Seattle here where it rains a lot, you're probably not going to have to clean your sensor as often because it's not much dust. Remember, I went to the Amazon several year...
s ago. It's 108 degrees, it's 100% humidity all the time, it's pretty rough. I cleaned my sensor before I left, it was exactly the same when I got back, and I changed lots of lenses out there but there's no dust because it's so humid. If you live where I live or somewhere in the southwest, I live in New Mexico, it's very dusty. So that means I probably have to clean my sensor more than everybody else that doesn't live in those kind of areas. I clean my sensors before every single assignment because it saves me hours and hours in post taking out dust bots and potentially having something on the sensor that screws up an image a little bit. It's just a necessity these days. Sadly, I would like to say, to all the manufacturers out there, it's crazy we have to clean our sensors manually like this. Like somebody create a windshield wiper, with some little secretion of liquid that wipes across the screen by pushing one button, gets it perfectly clean, like if you build this camera, why can't we create a sensor cleaning built into the camera and not just shaking the sensor, that's something that you might know that a lot of cameras have. It's somewhat effective but it's not really that effective. And it just basically knocks dust off to fall back on your sensor later, when you start flipping that mirror around in the camera so if somebody wants to build a sensor cleaning built into the camera I will switch to that brand tomorrow. Like guaranteed, Nikon let's do it. Because it's such a headache, especially if you're doing video and you have dust on the sensor I mean you see video all the time these days where there's giant dust spots all over the place. And even if you never change your lens, the focusing mechanism or the zoom mechanism in the lens sucks in dust through the lens barrel and it ends up on the sensor so it's not like it can't happen if you don't have a fixed lens. Maybe you have a video camera like we're using here, is completely sealed and all that stuff is taken care of and you won't have that problem but it's a major problem. How you check for dust bots? Let's deal with this real quick. Let me pull out my white sheet of paper here. We're gonna pull out a whole bunch of gear to do this. Move this out of the way. Um, basically how you would do it. I'll just run it through the slides and we're physically do it. You got a white sheet of paper it doesn't matter if it's pure white or a little bit orangeish or whatever it is, just a piece of paper. You don't want anything printed on it, any textures, you want it thick enough that you're not seeing through the paper, and we're gonna set our camera to F22. I'll do it with this camera. Let me actually change lenses because this lens only goes to F16 which is totally fine but it's a little easier if it's an F22. We set it to F22 because it just culminates the light a little bit better. You can technically set it to just about any aperture you want that's F8 or higher and you'll still see the dust. Just F22 makes the dust particles a little sharper. So, take the lens cap off here, I'm gonna go to aperture priority mode, just so it's automatic it doesn't really matter. F22, I'm gonna turn off the auto focus because I'm shooting a white piece of paper with no contrast. And single shot mode, doesn't really matter, the exposure mode, and then I'm gonna take a picture. I don't even have to look through the camera. I just want to fill up the screen, and then get an image that's pure, it's gonna look gray, because the meter is gonna make it 18% gray. Doesn't really matter, so I take a picture, that's my first test shot. That gives me a baseline of how much dust is on the sensor, and I've already checked this one. It wasn't as dirty as I wished it would be for sensor cleaning, but you know, it's got a few dust spots on there. So that's the first step, and then what you do, is we take this into Photoshop, and download the image. And let's see here, we're basically gonna download this image into Photoshop, and we can either hit auto tune, which is gonna basically pull in the black and white sliders to the levels adjustment to show us very clearly what's on the sensor. One thing I've seen all over the internet is like oh, just look at your image back here and zoom in and go around on this gray image. Reality is you're not gonna be able to tell much. You might see some dust spots, but if you see dust spots on that image, that means they're giant and really dark. So definitely need to be cleaned but there might be 1000 other dust spots that you can't see on that gray image so you have to take it into Photoshop. And you probably could do this in other software, I don't know, I don't use other software so you need a software, Capture One, you can definitely do this, import the image, and then pull the in and out, or the black and white levels to do a levels adjustment in Capture One. I just do it in Photoshop because it's fairly easy. So there's a whole bunch of different options and how to clean your sensor out there. We're get to that here in a second. There's sensor swabs, their kind of my favorite. And there's Eclipse solution, let me start pulling all this stuff out. Sensor swabs here and they come in different sizes, for whatever camera you have. I'll just start pulling all this stuff out. I got a whole host of stuff here. And headlamps, we're gonna get really geeky here. So the sensor swab is basically like, it's got a cloth on the end of it, that you can put some liquid on and then just stroke it across the sensor to remove the dust. And you're essentially picking up a little bit of dust, but you're essentially sweeping it under the carpet on to the side of the sensor, just getting it off the sensor, there's a solution, Eclipse solution. There's a couple different solutions you can use out there, this isn't the only one, this is one that's probably been around the longest. It's just an optical cleaning fluid that's safe for sensors and you can't fly with this so we bought it here in Seattle but, it gets rid, it evaporates super fast so it doesn't leave any streaks or anything on the sensor which is very nice. There's also what I call the gummy bear on the stick, the sensor gel stick which we'll use as well. Which is not a gummy bear on a stick, it just looks like a gummy bear on a stick. That's kind of a dry cleaning where you stick it on the sensor and pull it off and it actually does remove the dust because it sticks to the gel part of the stick which is really sticky and you take it off by sticking it on to a paper that is stickier than the gel. So, there's also, keep going here, a few other options. I used to use this one for years, the arctic butterfly. And it's like a paint brush that's been statically charged and cleaned and basically you turn it on, and it blows the brush around and builds up static electricity on the brush. And then it has a little light here, and then you just basically just sweep across your sensor and the idea is that the static electricity built up on the brush attracts the dust and pulls it off the sensor. It worked great for many years, it still works, my only issue with this product has nothing to do with the product it has to do with the sensors themselves. It seems like Nikon and Canon have put a lot of oil around the edges of the sensor these days, and when you use this, you tend to get underneath the edges of the center and you drag out oil on to the sensor, this brush has oil on it that I've had trouble removing so I don't use it that often anymore. But that's another option and this you can fly with because there's no methane or crazy in the product. So we're going through a lot of options here. Also, this is your first line of defense. An air blower, and this is VisibleDust, who makes the arctic butterfly, same deal that they make, it's the Zee Pro bulb blower. It actually has a filter on the back so that when you're blowing air through this, it removes the dust so that you're not just blowing more dust under your sensor so if you just get a regular blower bulb, you're actually just moving dust through the sensor and on to your sensor, I mean through the end of your blower on to your sensor so that's kind of a key little addition. And you know if you stick your camera like this, you just blow it off and the idea is that the dust can fall off and often this is all you need to do which is great because the less you can touch the sensor, the better. So, other things that they have here, I think there's hundreds of products to do this, and it's kind of confusing which is why we're going through it. You can buy these little loupes that have lights in them. The quasar sensor loupe from VisibleDust, they work fine, my only issue with these is that it's pretty difficult to see all the individual specks of dust on your sensor with that. And they're kind of pricey, at 100 bucks or more so whether it's worth it is debatable. If you're gonna download and look at them in Photoshop, you're gonna see all the dust anyways in much more clarity. The visible dust CMOS clean, there's several different solutions that VisibleDust makes that have some of their, I think smear away solution which is good for cleaning oil off of your sensor. You drag that on to the sensor, accidentally. This one works for oil and saliva, though hopefully you don't have too much saliva on your sensor. They also make like a quick kit here, that's much cheaper than maybe the arctic butterfly. They come with several swabs and a brush so if you just want to get something that's, you can spend a fortune on this stuff, trust me. These swabs, this box is 45 dollars for a dozen of these. And then the liquid's maybe eight or nine dollars, so that's not too bad, but you might have to clean your sensor eight times to get it clean. So you just went through $30 worth of swabs, every time you clean it so you can spend a fortune cleaning your sensor that's why it cost so much when you take your camera to a person to clean your sensor because they might be going through a fair bit of material just to get that sensor clean. So, let's go ahead and go to my camera here. We can go up, one thing, actually before we do that, let me go back, one reason I love this Hasselblad besides the image quality is that you can take the back off, let me not drop it here, that would probably be good. And if I pull out, typically most people might freak out when I grab the canned air, whatever I did with it, oh there it is. Because the sensor is not down in a well, that is the sensor, it's flush with the camera, (compressed air) it's clean, put it back on the camera, I'm done. You know they do make e-wipes which are basically they have this eclipse fluid built into a wipe, kind of like the things you wash your hands with, and you can do that across. If there's something really stuck on there, but this, if I tilt the bottle, there might be some moisture coming out and typically you would never use this to clean a sensor, I wouldn't recommend this for blowing into your camera, you're just gonna blow a bunch of dust all over the place, so it's not going to be good but you know, if I hold this level, it's pretty safe, you can buy some of these with a nozzle like I have at home that eliminates any moisture that might come out. But these are so easy to clean I mean, I love how easy this is to clean because I can access the sensor. This is quite laborious since I have an SD slot on the side of my computer I'm just gonna use that. And I'm shooting to both card on that camera just in case you're wondering. I go ahead and sit down here, and I'm gonna cancel this in Lightroom, I don't want Lightroom to do anything on the import here. Get rid of that. Just gonna go over to my Nikon DH50 card, pull off that one image, and there's a whole bunch of images of Tony so I'll pull up the last one, drag that to my desktop, and then I will eject the card, because I'm gonna have to stick it back into the camera, sure Lightroom stop using it. Oh, it's already started importing, okay well nevermind. I'm gonna then take this picture into Photoshop, and Photoshop should open up, there it goes it's thinking, it's thinking, it's because I have raw set in the camera, it's gonna come up as raw, I don't really care about that. I'm just gonna hit open raw image. At some point here why wasn't it opening the raw, let's see if Lightroom is doing something weird. Stop that process right there. I'm just gonna close Lightroom actually. That's getting in the way, there we go. Open that raw image, Lightroom's thinking that it's a big thing, so we can already see one piece of dust on there, right over here, so at least we have one piece of dust on there, I'm sure we have more than that. Then I'm just gonna do the levels adjustment. And here you know, if I do the levels adjustment, you'll see this come into focus much more clearly, I'm gonna take the black level and the white level and now you can see everything, and now enter there. So I can see on here that it might be hard for you to see at home this one here, there's one there, there's 40 or 50 dust spots that are maybe not giant, this is the main offender right there but there are some all over the place. So they definitely needs to be cleaned. So I'm gonna take the card out, put it back in the camera, and now get set. My first line of defense here, take the lens off, on the back of the camera, this might be hard to see but look at your user manual, figure out how to open up the sensor to clean it, for my Nikon, I basically come over here to the wrench, the set up menu, and I go down until I see lock up mirror for cleaning, and I click to the right, and I click to the right again to start, comes up with this thing it says when the shutter button is released press, or the shutter button is pressed, mirror lifts and the shutter opens so, other thing you wanna do before we get into this, you want to make sure you have your battery charged to 100% fully because, there's some dangers obviously in you doing this that for DSLR, you have a mirror flapping up and down and if that mirror closes while you're in there with your stuff, you're gonna be replacing your shutter or your mirror and your shutter because you're going past the shutter as well so, you do not want that to close while you have your cleaning device in there. If you have a mirrorless camera you're not gonna have a mirror obviously, but you still have a shutter to deal with and if that stuff closes down while you're in there you're looking at $1000-$1500 repair. So this is where you cut, you measure 15 times and you cut once, and you be very careful about it. So, I charged my battery up last night, I'm just gonna check my battery to make sure it's still 100%, it doesn't have to be 100% but it definitely needs to be above just for safety so we're at 97%, we're good. The other thing is when you lay it down, you wanna make sure you don't actually push any buttons on the back or anything like that so that you're not turning it off, so knock on wood, won't happen here. So I am going to open that mirror real quick, just like I showed you. Go back down there to, lock mirror for cleaning, and we're gonna push the shutter. So there's my sensor right there. Everything is out of the way first thing is I take my blower and I put the camera face down, and I just blow up into the sensor, because that may be enough, to blow out some of that dust. And then what I would do, is basically go through that whole process again and take another picture, I'll just take one. So I have to turn it off to close that, I'm gonna take one real quick, (camera clicks) and then I would typically go down and download that image and see if we're done, but since I'm showing the whole thing here I'm gonna keep moving on, we have a reference of maybe that helps, maybe it didn't, and sometimes you know with sensor cleaning you might make your sensor dirtier in the process before you get it clean so, if I saw this image, I may not clean it any more than that, that might be fine. Unless I was doing video and I didn't want that huge honking dust spot in the middle of my video. So it just depends on what you're doing. Because if you're not shooting your F16 or 22, you may never see those dust spots. If you're shooting at F1.4 to F5.6, their invisible because the light is going around the dust spot so, second line of defense is, now I'm gonna get geeky, and we can go to this overhead camera so you guys can see what I'm doing here. And, alright, I'm gonna put on my headlamp so I can actually see in there, turn this guy on, and I'm gonna pull out this is called the eye lead, the company that makes this. The sensor gel stick and it's essentially, this gel piece on the end of a stick. Doesn't look that fancy but I don't know, this came out, it's been around for awhile, but Leica uses this when you send your camera in. A lot of the main companies use these to clean your sensor and it didn't become available in the United States until about two or three years ago. Photographylife.com is the only website out there that sells this, they're the distributor in the United States. The first generation of these were more sticky, and in my view more effective, they've made this a little bit harder the gel, and I'm still kind of debating whether it's actually as effective as the original, but it's still easier than actually doing the wet cleaning. So, what you do with this guy, is that you pull out one of these papers, and these pieces of paper have a sticky side to them which is stickier than the gel. And I think you guys can move the camera to see, I'm gonna clean this just by sticking it to the paper and I do all the edges, and you'll see there's some hair and some dust on here as well and I'll try to move around to where I'm at a place where there's no dust so I get this clean, and then I'm gonna hold it and I'm going to go back to the camera and I'm going to open the sensor, it's not open right now, tu-du-do. Lock mirror up for cleaning, I'm gonna set the camera down and I'm gonna set it in this position, so there's my sensor, and can you guys see, okay I'm going to try not to put my head right over the top of it. I basically stick this to the sensor, and pull it up. And you don't wanna push super hard, I mean you don't wanna damage your sensor, we were talking earlier, and that's it, that would be my cleaning. And then again, I would take a picture, and we will do it here at the end, just for time I won't do it right this second, but this is great because often with that little cleaning, this is like $60 for this thing you can use it over and over my last one lasted like three of four years doing cleanings once a week so, they last for quite a long time, and it's much less expensive than the swabs that we will be using next. So highly recommended, very easy, especially if you're shooting video because it really gets a lot of dust off so the other thing we'll do is, we've gone from this guy, to the gummy bear on the stick, the sensor gel stick, they probably don't love me saying gummy bear on a stick but I think it's funny. So these guys are sealed, so I only cut them right before I'm gonna clean the sensor because technically if I put this headlamp up here pointing straight up in the air and we turned off all the lights, we'd probably see some floats and jetsum floating around in the air in here that's actually landing on my sensor as I'm cleaning it. Maybe not here in Seattle because it's, excuse me I'm blinding you all with my headlamp here, maybe not here in Seattle because it is so humid but, in New Mexico it's definitely the case. And one little trick, this is like bonus tip here, if you have a humidifier if you live in a really dry place get a humidifier, you don't want to humidify your room too much, but you want to humidify it a bit so that all that stuff drops out of the air. One of the things if I'm in a hotel cleaning my sensor, I'll take a shower, this is very strange. I'll take a shower, wait for the humidity just to drop a little bit, and then I'll clean my sensor in the bathroom with the door closed. Because that drops all the stuff out of the atmosphere. That's crazy little things you think about since I work as a physicist and worked in clean rooms there's always things you may or may not be aware of while you're cleaning your sensor. So anyway, so let's say that we didn't get all the dust off with this, and there's something hard and crusted on the sensor. We're gonna go to a wet cleaning. So, I'm gonna open up my eclipse liquid so it's ready to go, I got this guy ready, and I'm gonna take the camera, and I'm gonna open the sensor back up. Sensor is open let me turn on the headlamp here. I can still see a few pieces of dust on there that probably fell on while I was cleaning it. So I take this guy out, I do not want to touch this, I'm gonna go over to the side here and gonna put three drops or four drops on the edge so it's wet on both sides. So I'm gonna come in here, and put this on the edge, and just swipe across and I'm gonna go back on the other edge, which is still clean, and do that as well, that's it. And this stuff as you see evaporates really quickly, and I can now close that and at this point, I'm gonna put this back on, I'm going to put my lens back on, and we can go back to me and I'm basically gonna turn that off, and now I'm going to take another picture. (camera clicks) and so I have another gray picture there, take the card out, put in back into Photoshop, or download that image again. And let's see what we got here. This is usually the time I start praying. Like please let this be the last time I have to clean the sensor. Because some times just to be honest, you might have to repeat that process eight times to get it to where you get it, we might have just drug out some oil from the edge of the sensor because if I reach over there a little too far I just grabbed a whole bunch of that oil and dragged it across the sensor so you gotta be kind of careful where you're going. Also if you have a brand new camera, you're probably gonna drag some oil out unto the sensor the first 12 or 15 cleanings. Once you've cleaned it quite a few times you'll have actually have removed a bunch of the oil off the edges of the sensor, and it will be easier. Looks a little better now, let's see what the levels adjustment shows. I mean honestly it was pretty clean to begin with, it's definitely cleaner but, and let me turn this to black and white, it's a little greenish looking that doesn't really matter. But if we do it black and white it might just be, you know these little spot here we're seeing don't really matter, those could be dust spots floating in the chamber that are really far from the sensor, these little guys so there's still some dust spots. This guy, not so great, we kind of moved this guy from here to there, or I don't know what happened. But I would probably maybe do another cleaning on this one and see if I can get it and your technique matters on how you, like if you push too hard on that wipe as you wipe across, you're flexing it and at some point at the end it kind of likes, goes really fast. You want to do a really nice smooth thing, and I know this is really scary but, if you do it couple times you get over it. And also the thing to think about, unless you live in Seattle or a place that has a really good camera store that can clean your sensor, putting this in a box, Fedex or UPS, and having it shake all the way to UPS, or to Nikon or to Canon or whoever you're sending it back to, and then have it shake in the box all the way back to you, there might be more dust on the sensor that fell off the side walls of the chamber, than when you actually sent it to them. So you doing it yourself, is way better than having someone else do it even if you take it to a store, not gonna name any names, but I've seen some stores where people came in after they cleaned their sensor at the store supposedly, and we did this test, they didn't clean anything. They just put the camera on the shelf and gave it back to them and charged them $50. So you know, check if you have somebody clean your sensor, do what we just did to check and make sure it's actually clean. I remember I had an assignment, my Adobe Lightroom assignment, I was cleaning, this was 12 years ago now, 2006, I had a D2X from Nikon that was a crazy cool camera at the time. And I cleaned the sensor, and I thought ah it's fine, I'm not gonna download the image and do Photoshop and check. And then I thought, because it was like two in the morning, the night before the assignment, and I'm like, you know come on man you got to check, you can't just leave it like that and I checked and a giant hair across the sensor. So I always to make sure your sensors clean. And if you're doing a video shoot, with DSLR's or mirrorless cameras, you may be cleaning your sensor every single night of the entire assignment just to get that dust spot out of there because you might be shooting at F11 or F16 for video, you never know. Or landscape photographers this is definitely a major issue. Questions Jim?
I do have a couple questions, for sure. Glad you mentioned that Michael. So, here's my first question, can you show just again, you don't have to do the demo, on the pad that you put the drops on?
I just put it on the very edge.
That was my question, yeah.
So I just basically put it right here.
Do it real slow,
and i don't even flip it over, because it absorbs it around the entire pad. I can only use it once,
So you notice I only used it on one edge, then I use it on the other edge, this gets thrown away. So you go through, this is the consumable part of it.
Great, and it seemed like with the, this is one of our questions, from sunrise, looked like you were putting a decent amount of pressure on the gummy, and on the pad.
I am, I am definitely sticking it on there, I'm being a little careful how I pull it off, I'm not just like pfft, popping that thing off because if you push too hard, and pull it off too hard, you could rip your sensor out maybe. Or if you have a Sony camera or one of the new mirrorless cameras that has like image stabilization built unto the sensor where the sensor moves like Olympus I think invented this, you don't want to push too hard because you could damage that. So you have to be a little delicate, but do buy the sensor gel sticks, they make specific ones for Sony sensors because they have a film over the sensor that are a little less sticky. This one's for Nikon and Canon. Read their website very carefully, I did a giant review on my blog with these guys to show how they work but that gives you an idea. And it's pretty obvious when you get in there, you know how hard is too hard, I hope.
Great, and this is a silly question from me. The gummy, you can use multiple times,
Unlike the swipe, do you need to clean the gummy?
Every time you use it you got to go back to the sticky paper and clean it.
And clean it off?
There's a bunch of
The sheets of the sticky paper with it, so you go through those.
Got it, cool, I missed that.
And you can buy more of the sticky sheets from them as well if you run out.
They're not very expensive.
People out there on the internet are checking their cameras right now. Any questions in studio.
Go for it.
I got a quick question, and obviously, in an ideal situation you would have a clean room. I've done the shower thing,
But any particular do's and don'ts if you're looking at something out in the field? I mean what do you carry?
I don't clean it in a field. I don't clean it in a tent.
I mean is that with something that as soon as you take the lens off, there's a dirt bike that rolls by?
Yeah I mean ideally, you know Tony's assisted me here on several shoots. If I have a crew, and it's windy, I'll have them bunch around me, before I change lenses and we'll make sure it's fast. It's a reality, we can take the dust spots out in post but, the other thing is if you haven't cleaned your sensor in three of four months, you have stuff on your sensor. If you haven't cleaned your sensor in years, you have crustations on your sensor that are gonna need a wet cleaning, maybe multiple wet cleanings to get them off because it's just a fact of life so this is why it would be so great if the manufacturer but a wiper blade in there that just wiped them off and you can do that like every other day.
What about your lenses? You mentioned that dust getting sucked into the barrel of the lens with the focus and I have a 70- and I swear I can see dust inside of there?
There's not much you can do there, you can send your lens back to the manufacturer and have them clean it, and they'll have to take the lens apart to clean it out but it might just get as much dust that was in there back into there because they're not in clean room, necessarily. They may be, but I don't think they are. And it costs a lot of money because they have to disassemble the entire lens. I mean not as much as a new lens, but it still costs significant amount of money so I don't know, unless there's a giant amount of dust in there it's not really gonna factor that you can see in the image typically. Tony?
So you showed us a lot of products, if you could only take two,
Are you gonna give product recommendations?
I would say three, the three I use are the ones I would recommend. And I've tried lots of, I've spent hundreds, thousands of dollars on this sensor cleaning stuff. Get this, it's not that expensive, it's like $20, or maybe it's $30, I don't even know how much this is, but it's not that expensive. And it might of solve our problem I didn't even look at the image, but it might of solved our problem right off the bat before we even went to this. This I would definitely recommend, and stay tuned on my blog I might write a caveat after I work with it more I've only had for a month or two now because my old one stopped working back in January sadly and I had to buy a new one, but it seems like it's working pretty well. And this is de facto standard, like you're gonna have to get this. It may not be this eclipse solution and these swabs that VisibleDust makes that are just as good as these. There's lots of companies making swabs but if you've got something stuck on there, this is the only way it's coming off. So you kind of have to have this if you're going to do your own cleaning. Buy a headlamp, it will make your life easier, buy multiple batteries you know. I have had assignments where I did clean the sensor every night in a hotel. I've never tried doing it in a tent and the Himalayas or something, that just seems asking for it. You just live with the dust on there, or you have multiple camera bodies. If you have multiple camera bodies, and you're only gonna be shooting with two lenses then just don't ever swap lenses and that'll help, it won't solve the problem completely but it will help.