Cleaning the sensor

Cleaning the sensor of a camera is not something to do beyond the built in facility if you are not the thoughtful and careful type. A sensor, or better the cover of it, is sensitive to smudges and scratches and needs to be handled with extreme care!!! It may speak for itself that you cannot derive any rights from this workflow description!

Cleaning differs per brand and type and specifically models with mirrors and mechanical shutters demand some real extra care. In short:

  • body with moving mirror: if you use the brush like I do then DO NOT touch the sides of the inside of the camera. There can be really tiny drops of oil flying around and sticking to the sides. If they end up on your brush they will end up on your sensor and you'll need professional cleaning of your sensor. Bodies with moving mirrors are somewhat older and may well have a mechanical shutter so professional cleaning may result in the need of taking the sensor out which can be quite costly.
  • body with mechanical shutter (and no mechanical but electronic mirror): BE SURE! that your battery is fully charged! And that your battery is not at the end of it's usefull life too. The battery has to keep the mirror up and shutter open. When they close due to an exhausted battery you will have a serious problem.
  • body with mechanical shutter or both mechanical and electronic, see previous item.

    There are multiple ways to clean the sensor so I will describe only the way I do it.
    My bodies are Sony A99ii which means that there are fixed mirrors and an electronic and mechanical shutter. As the mechanical shutter is stored when the power is switched off I don't have worry about it.

Process 1: Initial dust check

First thing to do is checking if any dust is there on the sensor at all. To do this load the Whitescreen file which you can download here and spread it out over your screen. Pair the body with the (slight) telelens and select the smallest aperture it offers so f22 or higher and slect an iso of 400. The exposuretime is irrelevant but do overexpose for 1 stop. The purpose of this all is to get a high contrast light on the sensor to get a good view of the dust on it.
Load the image into Lightroom and put it in its own folder which you create when you run this proces for the first time.

Then goto the develop module and select the spot repair tool. spot repair tool
Beneath the view in the bar select the Spot Visualisation tool. Drag the slider to the right and watch the spots of dust appear. Spot visualisation tool
In the first run of this proces you now have your starting point. Dust on the sensor
Everytime you re-run this process you can easely compare your progress in dust and dirt removal.
End of proces 1.

The next thing to do is making your working area as dust free as possible. When you have done this spread the microfibre cloth as your working surface. It will act as a cover for left dust and it will hold new descending dust. after this it is important not to introduce new dust on your workspace. So ware a cap if you have long hair and clean your face skin if you have a dry skin.

Process 2: Using built in cleaning with the help of the rocketblower

Of all options start with the built in facility to remove dust. Go into the menu, select it and follow the instructions on your cameras screen and in the manual!!!. Usually you'll be prompted to remove the lens and blow out the inside. DO NOT use compressed air!!! This is stored in very cold liquid form and droplets can and will seriously damage your sensor!!!
So use a tool like the Rocketblower. Rocketblower
Now repeat the whole of process 1 and repeat this process if you see the particles move from one shot to another and they get lesser in numbers.

End of process 2

If process 2 has not removed enough particles you try process 3. The equipment used however is not cheap though quite effective. The Arctic Butterfly is a motorized brush that charges itself with static electricity and so attracks dust. This does require discipline. DO NOT touch the brush or let the brush touch the inside of the camera other than the sensor. Also do not just lay it away but put it back in its protective cover. The base of the brush with which it attaches to the hold will in time crack due to the forces put upon it. And the brushes are not cheap. So... handle with care.

###Process 3: Identify and dry cleaning

Study the last made image and flip it in your mind or better: flip it 180 degrees on your screen. Now it shows you where to clean. Put on the headlight and switch it on. Remove the lens and put the cap on to prevent dust entering the lens and later the clean camera. If you have a mirror then flip it and reveal the sensor as described in your manual. Keep the bodycap at hand and lay it on the open body as long as you do not do anything with it. You don't want to introduce new and more dust to it.
First read the manual of the Arctic Butterfly and do a trial first so you know what to expect.Arctic Butterfly
Now start the Arctic Butterfly to charge it. When done, remove the bodycap and carefully insert the brush aided by the light in the handle and your headlight. Gently sweep the sensor as a whole and more specific where you saw dust gathering. Put the cap back on and recharge the Arctic Butterfly. I charge and sweep it three times each round. Put the lens back on and repeat process 1 until the image shows no more dust or shows particles that do not move and seem to stick to the sensor.

End of process 3

When particles keep sticking tot the sensor you need the Special Forces to come in. Now it is time to use swabs and fluid.
FIRST: be sure to buy the correct type of swabs and fluid. I use Aero-Clipse as it is less agressive and it is not flammable so airlines do not object to it. Be carefull all the way. DO NOT ever touch the swabs!

###Process 4: Wet cleaning

This requires utmost care. Read the swabs manual carefully for possible brand and type specific handling. When you have moistened the swab with the fluid place it in an angle on the sensor side and stroke to the other side, make the angle the opposite way and stroke back. Did you touch one of the four sides on your way down DISCARD the swab! Have you completed the 2 strokes, DISCARD the swab. Repeat process 1.
End of process 4

Your sensor should be clean now.

The discarded swabs i use for cleaning the eyepieces. I cut off what is too much and put a drop of the fluid on it again and stroke the eyepieces. That delivers brilliant sight.


Process 1: Initial dust check
Process 2: Using built in cleaning
Process 3: Identify and dry cleaning
Process 4: Wet cleaning

List of hardware:

  • closing caps for the lens and body
  • headlight
  • Preferrably a (slight) telelens
  • Giottos Rocket Blower
  • Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly
  • Aero-Clipse fluid
  • VSGO Cleaning Swab Kit
  • microfiber cleaningcloth

    List of other things:

  • Adobe Lightroom
  • White screen file
  • Built in cleaning facility