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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
  • Johnny Dec 13, 2011 @ 11:18

    My preference to avoid micro-fibre cloth is just based on my own preference and research. There are many who recommend them.

    However, no synthetic material can match natural fibres for softness and any synthetic will scratch paint, glass, etc. The microfibre variants make very, very fine scratches, that apparently many can live with. But, they do scratch, and there is no way to avoid that. It’s up to you.

    Multicoatings are never part of the glass itself. Metals are incorporated into glass for various reasons, but not for the same purpose as multicoating. The multicoatings are there to correct the different focus points as light varies in wavelength.

    They can only work as a thin layer (or they would not be transparent), and ideally they would be on the same plane, but that is impossible, so they are layered on top of each other. Each corrects focus point for a narrow band of light.

    The more advanced microcoating the lens has, the sharper the edges of your images will be, for example, where diffraction effects show as colour fringing.

    Each element in the lens should have the coating on both sides for best effect, since we’re dealing with very small wavelengths and distances here. Obviously, you can see an opportunity to save money here … the consumer only sees two surfaces, or sometimes just one.

    Digital cameras also suffer from a similar effect since they colour sensors are on the same plane but the light focuses at different planes due to it’s varying wavelength. A quick perusal of a reputable camera test review site (where they actually “test” things instead of paraphrasing the press release and product literature) will reveal a point-and-shoot has bigger problems there than a DSLR lens. A huge difference between the two lenses is multicoating, which can partly correct for this problem.

    Multicoating costs money and it’s what you paid for when you bought your DSLR lens. So, my advice is don’t use a multifibre cloth on it, since it will always scratch the multicoating, even if the scratches are extremely fine. Cotton fibres or camel hair is capable of leaving the surface scratch-free. Take your choice.

  • narendra Dec 15, 2011 @ 17:36

    I want to buy and replace the lens of sony DCS-W320 cybershot camera.
    Can anybody tell how to get it and any guidence to do replacment my self.

    I am talking about the front lens only.

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