This article was originally posted in 2012 and is the most read post by far in this entire Blog. Internet searches for "sensor dust" find this post daily so I have updated it with new information and for the benefit of our many many new Blog subscribers.
Dust Be Gone! Ridding your Point and Shoot or SLR Camera Sensor of Dust.
For traveling photographers digital camera sensor dust can ruin your day or your entire trip! A camera image sensor is an electrostatic device and easily attracts dust particles to its surface and if large enough can ruin your images.
When I photographed clear plastic food containers for a manufacturing client several years ago I needed to increase the contrast significantly to make the transparent product stand out. I was astounded at the hundreds of dust particles adhering, like a sloppy wet snowstorm, to my digital camera sensor. Not usually an issue with complex multicolour backgrounds dust particles can wreck havoc when they are large and visible in a sky or plain background. Auto sensor cleaning cameras had not been developed yet, so I ran to my local camera store and picked up a camera sensor dust cleaning brush system called Arctic Butterfly by Visible Dust. A battery operated spinning brush achieves a static charge and when you gently stroke the charged brush (turned off!) on you camera’s sensor it easily picks up all the dust. It works so well that I frequently zoom in and scroll all over a plain color image (e.g. grey sky, white wall) and stroke away when I see dust.
I know of an African safari tourist who thought using a blower brush on his camera’s sensor was the trick to remove dust but he didn’t notice that oil droplets and other gunk being sprayed from the blower would ruin every image taken on this once in a lifetime trip – so sad. Cloning out the dust spots with your editing software is certainly a last resort option but get a life! We would rather travel or Blog post than spending needless hours fixing images.
Here is an example of an image from a SLR camera showing tiny dust spots in the blue sky:
For images that have obvious dust spots, such as in a clear sky, removing the dust spots in your editing software by using the clone stamp tool or spot healing brush tool can be a quick fix. This example shows the spot healing brush tool in action and removes the dust spot quickly with one mouse click.
Even though my Canon 7D and recently purchased (and amazing!) Canon EOS M mirror-less SLR cameras have auto sensor cleaning, I take the Arctic Butterfly with me on my world travels just in case. Noting that most cameras with auto sensor cleaning systems have a backup mode which really says in effect; “well, my sensor cleaning system didn’t work so let’s automatically clone away the dust spot on all images”. Moist pollen that dries and frequent lens changes in salt spray, windy or dusty environments are particularly problematic. Liquid cleaning systems can also be used
Well, SLR cameras seem to have several dust on sensor cleaning removal teacniques but what about point and shoot cameras?
What about Point and Shoot Cameras?
This image was taken in Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert with a point and shoot camera. Note the huge dust spot at the mountain side at the top right:
OMG! THE VACUUM CLEANER SOLUTION!
For about 3 years in my digital and travel photography lectures and classes, I always thought that point and shoot cameras don’t have sensor dust problems since the camera body is sealed and the lens is not removable. I did wonder about the pressure changes inside the camera from zooming in and out the camera lens – perhaps sucking in dust? A few years ago a cruise ship guest showed me his P&S camera with huge sensor dust spots that ruined every image. When we visiting Jordan’s Wadi Run desert with 2 point and shoot and an SLR camera shooting out of a speeding 4 wheel drive with windows open became sensor dust hell for all cameras – including the point and shoot camera!. The SLR was easily cleaned but the other cameras were stowed to be dealt with on return home. Fortunately it was the second to last day of a 3 month journey. Ultimately both point and shoot cameras were exchanged under warranty.
Until recently I suggested the only solution for point and shoot sensor dust problems is to return the camera for professional dis-assembly and cleaning (a step frequently costing more than the worth of the camera) or buy a new one. In a recent cruise ship lecture a woman piped out “I used a vacuum cleaner hose over my extended lens (camera on with lens set to zoom) and it sucked away all the sensor dust”. I repeated her comment in my next class and I had a very happy cruiser who did the same thing and got his camera back and operational without visible sensor dust at the start of a long travel journey.
For travelers vacuum cleaners are easy to find in hotels, cruise ships and shops (but not remote deserts!) so is this the ultimate solution for P&S camera sensor dust? Will the powerful suction do away with tiny semiconductors or dislodge camera parts? Should this solution be only for cameras that will be tossed anyway? Please share your thoughts and experiences on this apparent “easy” solution. After a prior post on this subject I received emails and comments from many who used the vacuum cleaner solution with success. However, one photographer did it so often that the rubber ring holding the lens in place became dislodged so be sure to avoid having the full vacuum suction on the lens by keeping an air space between the vacuum hose and the camera body.Please fill in the comments and your experiences with digital camera sensor dust in the reply section below.
Dust be gone?
The author of this very popular Blog post is David Smith Image Master with Interface Images – travel photography, travel writing and cruise ship guest lecturing worldwide. David has a fine art photo collection at Fine Art America (with worldwide shipping )and has produced online travel photography courses: Travel Photography-Amazing Tips & Techniques and Easy Photography Tips for Cruisers. Please “like” his Interface Images Facebook Page and join his Facebook Group Travel Photography Tips & Photo Adventures.
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