I finally broke down and did it…I finally cleaned the sensor on my DSLR…myself.
Dust is the worst enemy to any SLR camera, film or digital. You change lenses, you do it in a hurry, in less than ideal conditions (like on a windy beach or in the middle of a forest) and dust gets inside your camera. This dust would show itself up as specks on film; luckily it would only be on a few frames since the dust would move along with the film as it advanced. With digital cameras, that dust speck is on every single image until you clean it off.
Until now, I always took my DSLR to a professional to have the insides cleaned. The sensor inside your digital camera is very sensitive and can be easily damage. So I always figured a professional was the safest bet; even if it did feel like throwing money away at times. And, as I learned today, they tended to know more information about the gotchas of cleaning a sensor. For example, the Canon cameras (I have a D20) have a sticky substance on the frame around the sensor. The purpose of the substance is to trap anything that might get close to the sensor. The downside, is when cleaning it is easy to accidentally get this goo on the sensor (and then you need yet another cleaning solution to get it off…). Luckily, I learned this from one of the knowledgeable folks at Calumet Photo in San Francisco–thanks for the heads up!
Today, I cleaned the sensor myself using the Green Clean Sensor Cleaning System. This system was released to market back in March time frame. Since then, it has become one of the best sensor cleaning systems available. The System consists of a can of compressed air and a vacuum attachment–this turns the compressed air into a mini-vacuum to suck any loose dirt or dust off your camera (camera internals, sensor, lenses, eye piece, etc.). The hose for the vacuum has a sterile plastic wand that attaches to the end, this is used to pull dust off the sensor. Since it is sterile (you remove it from its bag just before you use it), if you accidentally touch the sensor with it there is much less chance of transferring anything to the sensor or damaging the sensor. This is the trickiest part, since it is hard to see inside the camera body and it is easy to touch the sensor with the wand (I did it, luckily no damage!).
Next, there are two cleaning swabs. First a wet swab to clean any residue off the sensor. Second a dry swab to clear away the cleaning solution from the first. Here is where you need to be careful of not touching the edge of the sensor (remember the sticky goo on the Canon’s?). Both swabs come sealed and you open them just before you use them. The kit comes with enough swabs and sterile wands for three cleanings.
I really like this system. It is easy to use, and well documented. You can visit the website for a demo movie showing you the steps of cleaning the sensor (they even have a download version for offline viewing on your laptop in the field). The most surprising thing is how little dust there was on the sensor after 15 months of use with no cleaning (and many lens changes). I found most of my dust on the lens housing and eye piece. Which will get a more frequent cleaning with the vacuum from this kit.
If your afraid of cleaning your own sensor, this might be the kit to try. Just take your time and follow the directions. You’ll be happy with the next photo you take.