Monday, December 3, 2012

Sensor Cleaning with Sensor Swab, LensPen, and Blower

Hi everyone.  Sorry for the infrequent posting (our daughter has fever).

Anyway, I cleaned my camera's sensor for the first time with more than just a blower.  I resorted to a Sensor Swab with Eclipse fluid, a LensPen Sensor Klear and a blower.

I got the Sensor Swab and Eclipse fluid because it was recommended by the store where I bought my Nikon D600 (Bel-Air Camera).  Their service department uses blowers and this combination.  As for the Sensor Klear kit, I got it because I wanted a lighted loupe, and it came with a blower.  As for the LensPen SensorKlear itself, I thought it would be good to try because I find the LensPen effective for cleaning my lenses.

Here are the results.

Since this was my first time, I didn't dare try to clean my D600 and instead I practiced cleaning my Nikon D70.

This is what the sensor looked like at f/45 (I used a Tamron 70-300 VC).

Quite dirty, even though I couldn't see anything with the naked eye, or even with the lighted sensor loupe that was included in the SensorKlear Kit.

The first thing I tried was a blower.  I selected the menu option for raising the mirror, tilted the camera facing down at around 45 degrees, then used the blower at various angles to the sensor, being very careful not to touch the sensor/AA filter.  Here's the result.

A significant improvement, although not pristine.

When I first used the lighted sensor loupe from the SensorKlear kit, the light would not turn on despite having fresh batteries (the small ones similar to those used in watches -- be very careful to keep these away from babies).  I determined that it was because the battery contacts were loose.  I used a tweezer to pull them and make the contact with the battery tighter, and after that the light worked.

The lighted sensor loupe went over the camera mount.  The loupe has a cut away to allow you to put the lenspen in the mirror box and clean the sensor as you see it.  At first I liked this feature but after a few cleaning attempts, I found it easier to just clean the sensor without the loupe then use the loupe to inspect the sensor.  The other thing is that the magnification of the loupe is not super high.  I estimate perhaps 10x or so, and it seemed that whatever I could see in the loupe, I could almost always see with my naked eye with careful scrutiny.

Using the lenspen was easy.  The lenspen is similar to the one used for lenses except that it can be angled.  The tip is also triangular which I suppose helps clean edges of the sensor's rectangular surface better.

Here is the result.

Both of those shots were taken after the first attempt with the lenspen.  Terrible.  There were those huge specks that I believe came from the lenspen itself.  I thought maybe that's because it's the first time to use it.  So I gave it another shot.

I cleaned again with the lenspen, this time looking to see if the lenspen was itself introducing new spots.  Here is the result.

Ugh.  Better than the first attempt but no better than using the blower.  In addition you can see that there are strand-like specks.  I don't know if those came from the lenspen or were in the mirror box and released by the lenspen.

In general I found that the lenspen could clean the dust but somehow there would be new dust, or perhaps the old dust just got moved.  The dust wasn't getting absorbed by the lenspen.

This time I decided to try the Sensor Swab.  Each swab is individually wrapped in a clear plastic bag.  The swab is wrapped with some sort of lint-free artificial fabric which is secured to the swab with a small elastic rubber band.  The fabric and rubber band can be mistaken for a mere wrap -- do not remove them.

Sensor Swabs come in two sizes -- one for full frame and another for APS-C.  The one for APS-C can be used for full frame as well but it will take more than one swipe and is therefore not recommended.

I placed a drop of the Eclipse fluid on each side of the sensor swab.  Starting from one side of the sensor, I swept to the other side, then swept back using the other side of the swab.  I found it hard to make sure that the swab was making sufficient contact with the sensor without pressing too hard, especially near the corners.  In addition, the sides of the swab tended to get snagged by the frame around the sensor.

Here is the result after a couple of swabs (each swab is supposed to be used only once).

Better than the lenspen but still quite a few specks around the corners.

After a couple of attempts with the sensor swab, my D70 suddenly locked up.  All I could see was "CHA" or "CHR" where I normally see the shots remaining.  The camera could focus but would not take shots.  I recharged the battery and reformatted the CF card, and on the theory that perhaps the sensor got too wet, I left it to dry a bit.  I tried again and the D70 was working again.

Anyway, I tried to clean it a couple more times with the sensor swab (5 times total) but could not get rid of all the dust.  I thought maybe the lenspen would do a better job at the corner so I tried that again.


As with one of the previous shots, it seems the lenspen itself seems to lose some bits of fabric that end up as specks.  It could be that the lenspen is getting snagged by the sharp-edged frame around the sensor, causing it to lose those bits.

I tried the blower again

Not perfect but much improved.

I'm a newbie at cleaning sensors but for now my preference is to simply use the blower.  If there are stubborn specks, I'll use the lenspen.  The lenspen may lose some bits but those are easy to blow away with the blower.  I'm wary of using the sensor swab.  It seems that it takes skill to use it very well and practicing with it is expensive.

Because of the blower's effectiveness I might also consider the Firefly ionizing blower, suggested to me by a reader (thanks!).  Update: Firefly review posted here: Firefly DSC-2000 Review

Firefly DSC-2000 Review