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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

DPP Solutions: Defeating Dust

What you need to know about cleaning your sensor

This Article Features Photo Zoom

3) VisibleDust Zeeion
Dirty Job
Not all cameras take such a tidy approach to dust, and even with the best systems, a microscopically tiny speck can survive on the mirror or focusing screen, if not the imager. When grime infiltrates, there are a number of minimally invasive procedures any do-it-yourselfer can tackle with little risk of exacerbating the problem. The most obvious is to send the camera in for service. Although least convenient, it’s the safest approach.

Joe Virgil, product specialist for Pentax, suggests cycling the camera through its self-cleaning functions first, then getting professional help. “We recommend the user avail camera features for cleaning first,” he says, “and then send in for sensor cleaning, if needed.”

Puff, The Magic CCD Cleaner
Another approach is to lock up the mirror and use a manual bulb blower—the kind that’s based on an ear syringe—to send a puff of air across the imager. Most D-SLRs have a special Clean Sensor setting that can be selected from the menu. Consult your owner’s manual before proceeding—it likely will recommend that you invert the camera so that the lens mount is facing down to allow the dust to fall downward. In every case, make sure that the battery is fully charged, or better still, use an AC adapter.

A person with normal hand-eye coordination can safely clean the camera’s imager if he or she exercises reasonable caution, carefully follows the directions and uses a suitable product. Needless to say, never take a swipe at a CCD with a common cotton swab dipped in eyeglass cleaner.

That’s the approach that Lindsay Silverman, senior technical manager at Nikon, recommends, adding, “I like to use the syringe-type blower sold at photo-specialty stores. They work well and don’t leave a residue on the low-pass filter, and they pack lightly with a small footprint in any camera bag.”

Silverman also suggests that professional cleaning sometimes may still be necessary. He says, “I’d recommend sending in the camera only if dust was on the low-pass filter and using the in-camera method of cleaning or by manually blowing the dust off didn’t work. You also have to use some common sense with this; if you’ve traveled to a dusty environment like the beach or a desert and were frequently changing lenses, I’d send the camera in for a cleaning regardless of dust when you return from such a trip.”

You can make the job easier by using a magnifier like the Delkin SensorScope System. About 250,000 systems have been sold, with legions of satisfied customers who will testify to their reliability. “We’ve engineered the SensorScope using LED lights and magnification to allow photographers to analyze their sensor and really determine if there’s debris, where it is, and what it is,” Delkin’s Tom Robeson told us. “In most cases, the debris is a minor dust issue and is easily remedied using the SensorVac, which completely removes the dust from the sensor and out of the chamber, as opposed to blowing or brushing it around.”

The Low-Pass Filter

A low-pass filter is a thin, transparent sheet of optical glass (or, occasionally, high-quality plastic) that causes controlled blurring. It smears the “stair-step” pattern that otherwise appears jagged, and eliminates aliasing and moiré patterns. Low-pass filters often incorporate IR-cutoff filter functionality as well—which explains why you can’t take IR images with most digital cameras unless they have been modified.


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