One of the most important parts of your camera is the sensor.
The sensor is the part that work like film does in SLRs. It's the part that captures the image your lens is seeing.
However, unlike film, the sensor is fixed on its position, and its prone to get dirty.
Ever since the beginning of the digital age in photography, sensors have been getting dirty and it was a problem that camera makers addressed by implementing filters and vibrating mechanism to remove dust that attaches.
However, sometimes that's not enough and a more thorough cleaning is needed. This article will review a product that will help you clean your sensor in an easy and safe way.
How does a sensor gets dirty?
If you use a DSLR, eventually you will get your sensor dirty. Theres no way to avoid it.
Unlike P&S cameras that have their sensor locked and sealed within the body, DSLRs have it exposed, being protected only by the shutter. The sensor per se isn't exposed, you can see it, but in front of it, there is a filter that protects it. This filter is the one who catches dust and other contamination.
The first DSLRs didn't have any filter in front of the sensor, so if dust was around, the sensor itself caught it, which posed a problem when cleaning since there is dust that will go away with a blower and dust that will require more effort to remove. The dust that didn't go away with a blow could end up scratching the sensor, rendering it useless.
All the Sony Alpha DSLRs (A100/200/300/350/700/900) have a filter in front of the sensor, so there is no risk of ruining your sensor per se.
Dust is the most common form of contamination that a sensor can experience.
Every time you change your lens, the mirror chamber is exposed. Behind the mirror, there is the shutter (those black curtains that move when you take a picture), behind those curtains, there is the sensor.
The camera runs an electrical current through all of it in order to function, this includes the lens. The movement of parts (mirror, shutter, AF mechanism, etc.) generates static electricity.
This electricity attracts dust, dust is sensitive to this kind of electricity. If dust enters in the mirror box, its prone to attach to the filter in front of the sensor once the shutter opens to take a picture.
Since the sensor is running a current and the shutter curtains move, the dust has it easy to stick to it.
In theory, dust is the only contamination your sensor should experience, unless you wet it with something or stick something to it. Read this article for more information about it.
Effects of dust in a sensor
All camera makers do not want you to futz with the sensor if it gets dirty so you wont break or ruin your camera. The most recommended solution is to blow air into the sensor to remove it.
But there is dust that wont go away with a blow (and by blow I mean using a blower to do so, not your mouth since you can spit over the sensor).
So what happens when you have dust on your sensor?
The thing with dust is that you wont notice it if you use large apertures such as f/1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 3.5 and so forth. Since light is splattered all over the sensor, it conceals the dust.
However, if you close your lens up to f/11, 16, 22, 32, 40 and so, you will start to notice dark spots on your pictures. In a closed down lens, light is fed to the sensor in a more precise way, so if there is something in front of it, it will come out in the picture.
You can either use large apertures to avoid dust from coming out on the shot or clean your sensor.
Ignoring the issue is easier than doing something about it, but keep in mind this: If you ever require to use a small aperture in order to have as much Depth Of Field as possible or your camera selects a small aperture, your shot will show dust spots and you will have to waste time removing them with post processing software.
It's far better to deal with the issue so you have your whole aperture range at your disposal and not limited.
There are a thousand different ways to clear your sensor, some are just plain silly and will leave a worse mess than you originally had, some are very effective but require precise movements and time and above all, skill.
As Ive stated before, here in Alpha Sight the axiom I follow regarding cleaning sensors is:
IF YOU DO NOT TRUST YOURSELF OR DO NOT FEEL CONFIDENT ENOUGH TO DO A CLEANING PROCEDURE, DO NOT DO IT. TAKE YOUR CAMERA TO AN AUTHORIZED SERVICE CENTER OR LET A QUALIFIED PERSON TO DO IT.
This is in order to avoid that you make things worse or ruin your equipment for good when trying to clean it.
The scope of sensor cleaning is vast and wide, this article will focus only in one. If you would like to learn more about other sensor cleaning methods, check out the links at the right side of this blog, ask in photography forums, and surf the net. There are plenty of answers out there.
Finally, if you rather leave this in expert hands, you can look for a Sony Authorized Service Center or take it to Adorama or Calumet Photo.
If you want to learn an easy way to clean your sensor, keep reading.
The Sensor Klear by LensPen
If you read the previous article, you will see a review of a cleaning product for lenses called LensPen.
Well, the company that produces that item, also produces items to clean other camera parts, including the sensor.
Their product is called Sensor Klear.
The Sensor Klear is similar to its LensPen cousin, its the size of a pen, although a bit smaller and thinner than the classical LensPen.
It's made of a retractable brush and a cleaning tip with the same carbon based compound that the LensPen has. For those of you who don't know, the tip is made of carbon, similar to the one found in pencils or in the ink of newspapers. The ink contains carbon, and the carbon absorbs impurities.
Unlike other methods (like the wet one) that require flammable fluids or tissues or swabs, the Sensor Klear doesn't create waste. And it's safe to take it on planes, whereas the liquids used for cleaning sensors with the wet method aren't allowed.
The cleaning tip of the Sensor Klear is smaller than the one in the LensPen, but there is a reason for that; it gives you more control over the handling of the tip when you clean the sensor.
Whereas on a lens you have a broad space to work with, on a sensor is different, you got to be careful not to mess with other components inside the mirror box. Having a smaller cleaning tip allows you to move the Sensor Klear just enough to clean the sensor and avoiding touching something else.
There is another feature to the Sensor Klear's cleaning tip: its in a triangular shape. This is done to allow you to clean the corners of the sensor if its required, if it had been a circular shape, you wouldnt reach the farthest corners of the sensor, and if you got dust there, it would be a problem.
To maximize the usefulness of the Sensor Klear, the head bends in order to give you flexibility in case you need to move the pen in an angle.
How to use it
1.- Set the camera to Cleaning Mode
In the A100: Menu-> Setup (Wrench Icon) Page 3-> Clean CCD
A200/300/350: Menu-> Setup (Wrench Icon) Page 3-> Cleaning Mode
A700: Menu-> Setup (Wrench Icon) Page 3-> Cleaning Mode
A900: Menu-> Setup (Wrench Icon) Page 3-> Cleaning Mode
Cleaning Mode (or Clean CCD) locks the mirror up, opens the shutter and cuts power off the sensor for you to clean it.
DO NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT USE BULB SHUTTER SPEED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE.
This is risky AND stupid. Bulb is designed for long exposures NOT sensor cleaning. While its true that it opens the shutter and reveals the sensor as long as you keep the shutter button pressed, IT DOES NOT LOCK THE MIRROR UP NOR IT CUTS POWER OFF THE SENSOR, IF YOU ACCIDENTALLY REMOVE YOUR FINGER OFF THE SHUTTER BUTTON AND IT CLOSES, THE SHUTTER CURTAINS CAN CRASH AGAINST THE SENSOR KLEAR AND THEY WILL GET BENT, THIS MEANS YOUR CAMERA IS RUINED FOR GOOD.
DO NOT USE BULB SHUTTER SPEED, USE CLEANING MODE.
2.- Remove the lens mounted on the camera and put it aside where its safe.
3.- Hold the camera body firmly and position it in a downward angle to prevent dust or other materials from entering the mirror box.
4.- Use the retractable brush on the Sensor Klear to remove any dust on the lens mount. Make sure you retract it back when you're done with it.
5.- Use a high quality air blaster to blow away dry and easy-to-remove dust from the sensor.
Note: It may happen that by doing this, the dust particles on your sensor may be blown away and that's it, no more cleaning required. However, make sure you don't blow the dust into the mirror or inside the viewfinder. If it lands on the mirror, use the brush gently to remove it. You will only notice if its on the mirror or the viewfinder once you turn the camera OFF and the mirror comes back down and you look through the viewfinder. If you see spots, its in one of those two. Blow or brush it away. Keep in mind that dust in those places WILL NOT show up in the picture.
6.- Use the Sensor Klear's cleaning tip to remove any dust, stains or oil from the sensor. Play close attention to the corners. If you used a blower, dust may have moved to the corners and hide there.
7.- Once you're done, put the cap back on the cleaning tip and give it two twists to leave it ready for next time.
8.- Use the brush to remove dust from the rear element in your lens if there's any. If you see finger prints or something else, you will need a LensPen to remove it.
The cleaning tip
Inside the cap, you will find a foam pad, that is the replenisher that contains the carbon compound, everytime you use the Sensor Klear make sure to put the cap back on and give it two twists to replenish the cleaning tip for next time you need to clean the sensor.
Notes of use
Here are some points to keep in mind when using the Sensor Klear:
- It's possible that one pass with the Sensor Klear won't do. Sometimes dust is sticky and requires more passes to remove. Keep using the Sensor Klear until the sensor is completely clean.
- The test to find dust on your sensor is: Point the camera to a white piece of paper or at the sky at infinity focus, select f/22 or a smaller aperture and take a picture. If there are spots, there is dust. When you clean your sensor perform this test to confirm your sensor is clean or if there are still spots to be removed.
- It's possible that you clean dust on one part of the sensor and it shows up on another part. If this happens, do a thorough cleaning of the whole sensor to ensure that no dust is left behind or just moved.
- Again, DO NOT USE BULB SHUTTER SPEED, USE CLEANING MODE.
- Do NOT use the brush to clean the sensor, use only the cleaning tip.
- The Sensor Klear lasts 50 uses.
- There are replaceable heads in case you use it 50 times, you just pull the tip off and insert the new one.
- The Sensor Klear is advertised to work with CCD sensors, it also works with CMOS sensors.
- DO NOT TOUCH THE BRUSH WITH YOUR FINGERS, YOU MAY ADD SKIN OILS TO IT AND IT WILL STREAK WHATEVER SURFACE YOU USE IT ON.
- DO NOT TOUCH THE CLEANING TIP WITH YOUR FINGERS EITHER.
- When using it, do NOT press hard against the sensor or the mirror, you may disalign them and that is B-A-D.
- It's recommended that you use a clean environment with no breezes.
- I recommend using a strong light and a magnifying glass to see what youre doing. The company that produces the Sensor Klear is about to release a magnifying glass designed for sensor cleaning as well.
- Use latex gloves and a gown if possible, this will reduce the chance you will touch something you shouldnt and ruin it or breathe or sneeze over the mirror box and/or sensor.
- Do NOT blow the sensor with your mouth, your breath contains saliva, which may end up falling over the sensor. If it does, use the cleaning tip.
- DO NOT USE CANNED AIR UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. Canned air has been proved to contain all sorts of particles on it and you may end up giving those to your sensor.
- The Sensor Klear is environmentally friendly, it doesnt create waste nor it requires flammable liquids, swabs, tissues, etc.
- The Sensor Klear reduces static build up on your sensor, this will help to reduce the amount of dust being pulled towards your sensor.
- A blower is recommended with this product because sometimes dust will go away before you use the Sensor Klear.
- Clean your sensor only when necessary, check for dust every month and remove it as soon as you find it, the longer dust stays there, the harder it is to remove.
- Finally and again: IF YOU DO NOT TRUST YOURSELF OR DO NOT FEEL CONFIDENT ENOUGH TO DO A CLEANING PROCEDURE, DO NOT DO IT. TAKE YOUR CAMERA TO AN AUTHORIZED SERVICE CENTER OR LET A QUALIFIED PERSON TO DO IT.
Sensor cleaning is a tricky business. If done well, it's not an issue, but for the inexperienced it can be something terrifying to do.
Methods to do it there are by the boat load, but the few that really work need practice and skill.
The Sensor Klear is an easy way to clean your sensor quickly and with no hassle if done correctly.
To have a dirty sensor these days can be a problem, especially if youre not aware of it. It may present a problem when you least expect it and you will need to waste time removing dust spots from your pictures in post processing.
You may ignore the issue using large apertures, but like I said, one day you will need to use a small f/stop and you will be in trouble.
The Sensor Klear is a method that works everywhere and you can always take it with you since it doesnt take much space at all. And the procedure is really simple and doesnt require special liquids or swabs or whatever. You can travel with it since its completely safe.
This product is therefore, an Alpha Sight recommended product.
Finally, if you purchase this item and you've never cleaned a sensor before, read this whole article again, read this article as well too. Read and watch the presentation at the official site. If you have any questions, you're always welcome to ask me.
And remember, if you dont feel confident enough to clean your sensor, DON'T, leave it to someone who does know what he is doing.
Until next time.