I got a text from a buddy of mine asking for the best method for cleaning the surface of his lens. He said there were a “couple of water droplet stains” on the front surface, though he didn’t say if it was on the front element of the lens itself or a filter on the lens.
First things first. In the photography world we have a cute little maxim: it is better to keep your lens clean than to keep cleaning your lens.
This principle is meant for photographers working in the field day after day, not equipment fetishists who take the gear out of aluminum cases once every three months to look upon it like treasure, and its meaning is pretty plain: use a hood and a filter, and keep your fingers off the optical surfaces. That’s all.
Be aware that the number one way to put schmear on the front of your lens is by removing and replacing lens caps. I don’t even own a lens cap.
You can take my word for it. I shoot every day, often in trying weather condition of blowing dust, rain, snow, heat and cold, and I might clean my lens surfaces four times a year. They stay pretty clean.
There’s the rub, really. If you guard your gear like a virgin and have to have it spotless and gleaming, your priority probably isn’t photography. A little bit of dust, dirt, rain spots, even scratches, seldom effect the quality of your images.
On those rare occasions when I do clean my gear, I keep it simple and use…
- Canned air on all the surfaces to remove dust.
- A toothbrush to remove dirt in the hard-to-reach areas where canned air doesn’t work.
- Q-Tips for glass surfaces like viewfinder eyepieces, LCD displays and monitors.
- Clean, soft-weave cotton (like a t-shirt) for optical surfaces. If needed, I will breathe on them to create a small amount of solvent (pure water).
- Kodak Lens Cleaner, used in very tiny amounts, is reserved for the most stubborn filth on a lens, which is almost never.
Since the inception of digital photography in 1999, a recurring problem has been the accumulation of dust on the imaging sensor. In recent years, camera makers have installed sonic “shakers” on the front surface of the sensor to remove dust, which is usually collected by a piece of sticky tape at the bottom of the sensor box. Only some of my cameras have this feature, and none of the cameras I use at work have it. Cleaning the imaging sensor follows the same principles as cleaning the lens surfaces…
- Be gentle. The sensor is more delicate than optical surfaces.
- I use canned air and it’s never been a problem, probably because I’ve been handling canned air for my entire career. The trick is to keep the can perfectly upright and use short bursts of air.
- I don’t use anything that requires me to actually touch the surface of the sensor. If it’s really that dirty, it needs professional help.
After working in the rain, it’s temping to think your prized photographic possessions will be ruined by water getting inside. I’ve worked many situations in rain, blowing rain, snow, and even getting accidentally sprayed with water by firefighters.
- Instead of plastic bags and duct tape around my gear, I have better results with keeping cameras under my rain poncho and only bringing them out to shoot.
- I keep a small towel or wash cloth with me and wipe off rain as it accumulates.
- Back at home or at the office, if my gear has really gotten soaked, I simply use a blow dryer set on medium to drive out any residual water.
The bottom line for any of this is to recognize that there is a big difference between “field clean” and “showroom clean,” and a little bit of dust, dirt, rain spots, and fingerprints are part of the life for anyone who actually takes pictures, and as a rule, they don’t ruin our images.