Processing... Please wait...

Product was successfully added to your shopping cart.

Pro Photo Rental

Sensor Cleaning - Don't Settle for Dust Spots
By Zac Henderson

Sensor cleaning is not a subject camera owners like to think about. The thought of anyone touching that precious sensor is enough to make many go weak in the knees. As a result, sensors often go uncleaned, adding more and more dust particles over time.

The easy fix is going into photoshop and retouching those spots out. It’s easy enough to do, but can be time consuming. The other option is to take a “dust reference photo” for the cameras and pieces of software that allow you to do so. Software will see the discrepancies in an otherwise clean photo and apply the same correction to your images as it takes to clean up the reference photo. This works fine most of the time, but you’ve got to take a new reference photo each time a large enough piece of dust lands on the sensor, or if an existing piece of dust or debris already on the sensor moves to a new location.

The truth is that both of these “solutions” are not solutions at all, but rather band-aids that don’t fix the problem. Don’t settle for dusty images. Have your sensor cleaned. It’s not as scary, or as pricey, as you might think.

***It’s important to note that, unless you’re using a niche speciality camera, dust rarely ever gets on the sensor itself, but rather will land on the IR filter in front of the sensor. The IR filter is a coated piece of glass that protects the sensor from dust as well as IR light from polluting your photographs. It’s extremely rare that an actual sensor has to be cleaned.
However, for the sake of simplicity, we will continue to refer to this type of cleaning as sensor cleaning.

How does dust accumulate on sensors?

Dust gets on your sensor a number of different ways. The most common and obvious way sensors accumulate dust is when lenses are changed on the body. Any time the inside of a camera body is exposed to open air there’s a chance that dust will land on the mirror and/or the inside walls of the camera. Even if you’re lightning fast when changing lenses, all it takes is a moment for that dirty, dirty air to enter your camera.

This doesn’t automatically mean that dust will be on the sensor. If you see dust when looking through the viewfinder of a DSLR it just means that you have a dirty viewfinder or there’s dust on your mirror. Neither of these will affect image quality, though they can certainly be annoying. The issue then comes when you make an exposure. If dust is on your shutter or mirror, it is violently flung off when an exposure is made and bounces around inside the camera until, inevitably, some will land on the sensor.

If you’re looking through an electronic viewfinder and see dark spots then that dust is on your sensor and needs to be cleaned. Mirrorless cameras are most susceptible to dust and debris because generally the shutter mechanism is not engaged until an exposure is about to be made. This not only means that the sensor is being exposed to air and light all the time, but because of the mirrorless camera’s very short flange distance the sensor is physically closer to the opening of the camera body, leaving it even more vulnerable to dust when switching lenses.

Another less obvious way dust enters a camera is by means of a body cap or the rear element of a lens. Most people don’t think to blow off their lens and body caps, but they accumulate dust just like everything else. When those caps are put on lenses and bodies, they could easily transfer some of that dust to the next closest surface.

Ways to get around dust accumulation

The best way to get around dust accumulation is by preventing it from getting inside the camera body in the first place. This means minimizing the time the camera is open to outside air as much as possible. Using an interchangeable lens camera means that the camera will inevitably be exposed to air occasionally. The best you can do is to switch lenses as quickly as possible, or if you know that changing lenses will take more than a couple seconds, putting a body cap on the camera.

Blowing off lens caps (front and back) as well as body caps can prevent dust from moving from the caps to the lens and then subsequently to the camera. You should also be regularly blowing off your lenses so that there’s not excess dust accumulation there either. Blowing off the rear element will do the most to prevent dust from moving to the sensor.

Most modern digital cameras have the ability to self-clean their sensors. The way this is accomplished is by using micro-vibrations to literally shake dust off the sensor. This is a great feature, but it doesn’t always get the job done if the specs are too small. The dust also isn’t actually removed from the camera. Because the debris simply falls off of the sensor, it could potentially be kicked up and land back on the sensor again.

As mentioned above, it’s also possible to take a dust reference image in some cameras or software so that the dust can be mapped out in your actual photographs. This is fine for most applications, but can be troublesome for unique compositions. It also requires a new reference photo be taken every time a new piece of dust shows up.

There are also ways to clean the sensor yourself, though we don’t recommend actually opening up the body and touching the sensor. Most particles can be removed by simply using the manual cleaning feature in modern cameras and using a rocket blower to send short bursts of air into the camera, thus dislodging the debris and allowing them to fall out of the camera never to be heard from again.

NEVER USE CANNED AIR Canned "air" isn’t really air at all. It contains a propellant that can come out of the can and land on the sensor’s surface. Don’t ever, under any circumstances, use canned air on the inside of the camera to clean the sensor or the mirror.

Getting your sensor cleaned

Sometimes, despite best efforts, a sensor just gets dirty and has to be cleaned either by brush or wet swab. Dust can be removed in this way as well as water stains. We have years of experience cleaning all kinds of sensors- from medium format to mirrorless, and we’ve seen some pretty ghastly sensors.

Below is an actual camera we received for a sensor cleaning. Being one of the worst we’ve ever seen, naturally we had to take a picture. This one seems to have suffered the fallout from Mt. Wannahockaloogie. Even we were impressed to see clean glass underneath those stains! Click each photo to get a high-resolution view.


We accept walk-ins as well as shipped cameras. If you plan on shipping your camera to have the sensor cleaned, give us a call first to verify any special information your specific model needs in order to be cleaned. We can clean nearly anything, including medium format sensors!

Our pricing structure varies depending on how quickly you need it done- NOT on sensor size. The options available are as follows (as of 08/09/2018):

Same day service (dropped off before 12 PM): $100

Next business day service (dropped off before 12 PM): $75

2 Business day service (dropped off before 3 PM): $50

Comments (0)
There are no comments

You must be logged in to post a comment.

to log in