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Camera Lens Cleaning — How To Clean The Lens Of Your Camera

Remember your first reaction when you saw that finger print impression on the lens of your camera? I do. Without delay I put on my thinking hat and wiped it with a soft cotton cloth. Looked great until I noticed the fine fiber left over from the cotton cloth. I then blew air from my mouth to blow them off. Alas, a drop landed from my mouth on to the lens. Finally I knew I had made a mistake. It had to be cleaned the way one would clean the head of a cassette player. I used medical spirit and a cotton swab to gently wipe it off. Well, no matter how much I rubbed, it always left a residue. I felt like pulling my hair off.

Several years down the line when I dumped my film point-and-shoot camera I upgraded to a DSLR. It’s lens does get dirty but I’ve learnt from my mistakes. The first thing that came to my mind was to use a disposable lens. I could if I had disposable money. But I could use a cheaper lens – or a filter. I used a lens hood as a precaution to protect the lens. And I was better off. But at the end of the day something has to be cleaned up be it the lens of the front filter or the camera sensor for that matter. When it comes to your camera sensor you’d better let the manufacturer handle it. Cleaning the camera sensor at home is not something covered by the warranty. And when you leave a scratch or some residue, it will cost you almost as much as the camera. In fact the only people advising you to clean the camera sensor are the people trying to sell you those items. But you of course can clean the front-filter or the front lens element.

You won’t need to clean anything unless you see them result on the photograph. Better yet take a few shots to ascertain if there’s in fact any dirt on the lens. Chances are even if something is visible on the front lens element, it won’t show up in the photograph — you’ll have to hunt for it. Here’s how.

Testing For Dust

  1. Aperture: Set the camera to a small aperture setting. An f-stop of f/22 will be a reasonable number. Any smaller than this introduces other light artifacts known as diffraction.
  2. Focus: Set the focus of the camera to infinity.
  3. The Photograph: Take a nice shot of plain white surface.
  4. The evidence: View the image full size and look for spots. They’d look like cells under a microscope.

Things You Need To Clean The Lens

Just in case you find what you’ve been looking for and get eager to clean it up understand that it’s your money at stake. Forewarned, here are the specialized equipment you’d need.

  • Blower: When you blow from the mouth you risk sprinkling saliva. You can use an air blower to remove the dust and other particles from your lens. It will take away all loose dirt except the dirt that is stuck to the surface.
  • Microfiber Cloth: These cloths are available in all the stores. Always use this cloth for cleaning the lens. Do not use any other cloth or paper to clean your lens as you risk scratching the surface or leaving fine fiber residue.
  • Lens Cleaning Fluid: It is an alcohol based lens cleaning fluid – but it’s not alcohol. It is a special liquid which does not leave any residue on the surface. It is available in most of the camera stores.
  • Carbon based Lens pen: A carbon based lens pen has a carbon based soft tip. Cleaning Pens generally come with the brush on the other end. These can be carried with you in the bag as they can be used whenever required.

Lens Cleaning Procedure

Depending on the kind and amount of dirt on the lens you may need one or more of the above equipment to do the dirty and interesting job. Your options are

  • Blower: Use the blower to blow off loose dust particles settled on the lens surface.
  • Microfiber cloth: Very gently wipe off the dirt with the microfiber cloth. Make sure not to use one twice and try not to over-clean the lens.
  • Cleaning Liquid: If you suspect some kind of greasy substance, take the lens cleaning fluid on a microfiber cloth and wipe the lens gently in circular motion. Do not put the fluid on the lens directly. Also, do not use access amount of fluid.
  • Lens Pen: The lens pen is your best bet. It’s an all in one thing to clean the lens surface. Make sure you’ve read the instructions that came with it. You’ll need to expose the tip and wipe gently to take out the dirt at once (see the tip in the image). I keep one handy and use it only when I’ve been shooting on the sea shore. There’s very fine moisture suspended in the air that settles on the lens while it’s exposed. I’ve never tasted it but I think it must be salty since it comes from the salty sea.

Again, my advise is to trust the camera manufacturer and get the thing cleaned. While a filter is something I’d be confident cleaning myself, I’d always go to them to get the camera sensor cleaned.

Have you tried cleaning the lens or the sensor yourself?

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18 comments… add one
  • Chaps6691 Jan 12, 2012 @ 9:58

    I began in professional photography in 1948, and continued to do professional work until 1962. I also sold professional cameras, Leica, Contax, Graphics, etc. And in addition, taught photography; still, motion picture, and darkroom procedures.

    My advice is this: when you buy your camera, buy a good filter and put it on the lens as soon as you take the camera out of the box. Leave it there! And as mentioned before, when you see it needs to replace the filter, do it! I still own several cameras, and enjoy using them. At 82 years of youth, have also transitioned to digital. Nothing fancy or expensive. Most cameras today are capable of taking excellent pictures. Although I do look for the make of lens on the camera. It and the sensor are the most important parts.

    Don’t try to follow everyone’s guidelines! You will end up frustrated. Learn to think for yourself, but pick everyone’s brains when you can. You will learn much, and discard much as well. But you will get some really great pictures as a result.

    As a wrap-up, back in the early 60’s, sold a new camera (good one) to a customer. Taught him how to use it properly before he left the shop – for a round the world trip! Gave him mailers and sold him dozens of rolls of film, which he sent back to the shop in the mailers and his pictures were ready when he returned. Did not have one disappointing roll in all of them. Also kept him as a good customer!

    Have fun! Enjoy using your camera!

  • Chaps6691 Jan 12, 2012 @ 10:11

    Very good information. Lenses by the major manufacturers will have multiple pieces of glass. There are hundreds of types of glass they may use in their lenses, and each is placed precisely in the lens barrel, and each coated for that precise element. Spaced very precisely also. I have a Contax IIIA, purchased in 1956. Original lens, f 1.5, 50mm. Elements eventually separated (some are glued to another). Now I have an f 2.0, 50mm.
    Leica lenses are actually marked on the bottom end of the barrel with the exact focal length of that individual lens! Lenses such as that will have between 6 and 8 elements to make up the complete lens.

    As you can see by Johnny’s post, good lenses are not simple things! Take care of your lens, protect it! You will be glad you did!

    Thanks Johnny!

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