Dust, Dust, Dust….Damned Sensor Dust

I knew there was a reason I had two cameras……Digital photography has its advantages and it has its disadvantages and one of the flaws is dust. No matter what steps you take to prevent dust it gets everywhere. In the past, within twenty-four hours of buying a new camera I have found dust on the sensor. This week things got bad, very bad. I had to revert to the second camera at one point. This meant that the dreaded sensor cleaning time had come around again. I hate doing this, I can quite catergorically state that I DETEST DOING THIS !!. Before we move on to the tutorial, I tried a wet process first as some of the dust was quite stubborn, the wet process is linked further down the blog. I decided to show you the dry process as this was more successful on this occasion for me. Obviously this will vary according to your camera and quantity of dust.

Anyway, just in case you have never cleaned your camera sensor here is a tutorial using a Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly. Your DSLR is a picture-taking tool that’s been designed to capture tens of thousands of photos without any problems – and like your lenses your camera should provide a lifetime of service, too. But, like all tools, it needs to be looked after properly if it’s to keep running smoothly. By far your biggest concern will be dust, and the tutorial below will show you a simple sensor cleaning technique to keep your camera running smoothly.


We all know that when you change lenses, dust can enter the camera and be deposited on the filter in front of the sensor. Dust can even be generated inside the camera by the friction between moving parts.

Whatever the cause, the result is the same: blotches in the same place on every frame. When you consider that the imaging sensor inside your DSLR is packed with millions of receptors, yet isn’t much bigger than a postage stamp, you can imagine how much detail a minute piece of dust can potentially obscure in an image.

Sensor dust is most noticeable in areas of smooth, pale tones such as skies, particularly if you’re shooting with narrow apertures, and it becomes particularly obvious if you use a narrow aperture and slow shutter speed during a panning shot.

Bear in mind that it’s only once you’ve taken a picture and you’re looking at it on the rear LCD or on a computer that you’ll spot sensor dust. If you notice other specks when you’re looking through the viewfinder, it’s either the viewfinder window or the mirror inside the camera that require a quick blast from a rubber bulb blower.

The Integrated Cleaning System inside your DSLR does a fine job of vibrating most of the offending particles away from the sensor, but it isn’t perfect. Image-editing programs such as Photoshop make removing any shake-resistant spots relatively simple, but it’s better to remove the dust from the sensor directly.

If you’ve got the right tools and lots of patience you can have a go yourself; although bear in mind that you’ll void your warranty, and replacing a scratched sensor doesn’t come cheap! If in any doubt, leave it to the pro’s.

What you’ll need to clean the sensor in your digital SLR camera

A whole industry has built up around camera care products, with sensor cleaning devices in particular taking many different formats. But which items do you really need?

We’d recommend that a minimum on-the-road cleaning kit comprises a bulb blower, brush and microfibre cloth. You can add a set of wet/dry sensor swabs and a sensor loupe if you’re confident of removing dust manually, although with the EOS Integrated Cleaning System doing a genuinely fine job of removing dust particles automatically, this should be a relatively rare requirement.

It’s also a good idea to keep a pack of lint-free Pec-Pads or lens tissues in your camera bag to help remove marks from lens mounts, buttons and LCD screens.

Warning: dust-spotting your camera’s sensor requires a gentle touch and the right equipment. Remember, one wrong move here and you are looking at a write off


Step 1: Try auto cleaning
Make sure the camera battery is fully charged, then select the ‘Sensor cleaning’ option in the second Setup (yellow) menu. Choose the automatic option to start with.


Step 2: Switch to manual
If dust persists, return to the sensor cleaning menu and select the manual option. This locks the mirror up and opens the shutter. Remove the lens to get access to the sensor.

Step 3: Use a blower
First, use a manual air blower to dislodge any particles (some will say not to do this, but I am yet to have any problems and I have been doing this 8 years)  – face the camera down so that the dust falls out of the body. Avoid using a compressed air can as these contain propellants, which reminds me too…dont ever blow with your breath inside your camera. Once you have done this, take a test shot.


Step 4: Start dry cleaning
If dust remains, charge a sensor brush for ten seconds and carefully drag this over the sensor. If dirt is stuck to the sensor, do a wet clean with a swab and sensor cleaning fluid. A great tutorial on wet cleaning can be viewed here


After you’ve finished your sensor cleaning…

When the sensor has been cleaned – either automatically by the camera or manually, by you – take a test shot to check that all is clear. Switch the camera to Av mode, and set the smallest aperture available on the lens.

Photograph a bright, clean area – a piece of white paper is ideal or even a clear sky – with the lens manually focused at a close distance. Upload this shot to your imaging software and apply Auto Levels or the equivalent to show up any specks.

The bottom of the image actually represents the top of the sensor, so flip the image vertically prior to cleaning your sensor to find out where on the sensor the dust lies. A sensor loupe – a device incorporating a magnifying lens and lights that fits over the lens mount – is also a great aid here.

And that’s it !! What is so scary about that I here you ask?


About Mark Winterbourne

A little about me … well, what can I say. I started photography back in 1979 when I was just 11 years old. I was given a 35mm SLR Camera by my late Grandfather as a birthday present. The camera was a Russian built Zenit EM and built like a house brick. Many of my slides on here are taken with the very same camera. My passion stemmed from my Grandfathers love of photography and in particular his fondness of the English Lake District. I will showcase his work on here in the coming months, but there are over 10,000 slides and I have quite a task ahead of me scanning them in. In the late eighties and early nineties I moved on to autofocus SLR’s and began to accumulate quite a stash of equipment. In between my full time employment and sleeping I started doing small photographic assignments for freinds, family and small businesses. In the early 2000′s I started using a digital camera and traed all my traditional film cameras in for more equipment. My Camera Equipment Canon EOS 20D Body BGE2N Battery Grip Canon EOS 50D Body BGE2N Battery Grip Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 EF-S Lens Canon EF 75-300mm f/4.0-5.6 III Lens Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM Sigma 28-105 F2.8-4 DG Lens Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Canon 580EX Speedlite Flashgun Canon CP-E4 Compact Battery Pack for 580EX I took an avid interest in aviation photography at the start of the 2000′s when digital cameras became more accessible. My enjoyment was taken up a level when I discovered I could mix my love of light & colour with aviation photography by taking photographs. In 1983 I suffered a head injury which was diagnosed as a brain tumour. LIfe soon returned to normal in 1984 but in the early part of 2002 things turned nasty and headaches and sickness returned. To date I dont have a surgeon willing to operate on me and struggle by day to day. You will find more about this in my blogs……. Nothing will stop my photography, not even this head injury….this blog reflects my day to day life as a person with an interest in photography….with a headache to match Hope you enjoy….please feel free to contact me, anytime

Posted on April 27, 2013, in Photography (General) and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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