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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
- In a previous Practicing Photographer, you saw me encounter this Canon EOS 5D that has a sensor dust problem. We talked about how to identify sensor dust, where it comes from, and then we went to the first step of sensor cleaning, which is to use a blower bulb to get the sensor cleaned. I used this Visible Dust Zeeion anti-static blower, which has some very, very interesting properties compared to a regular blower. It got some dust off, but it didn't get it all, so I have to move to the next regular stage of sensor cleaning.
If you can't get it off with a blower bulb, then you have to move on to a dry-cleaning solution. I have seen people in forums say, "Oh, just go buy a makeup brush and stick that "in there and wipe it on your sensor." I cannot stress enough how you should not use any material to clean your camera sensor that was not designed for cleaning a sensor. Think about the size of your sensor and how it has, in this case, what, 12 million pixels on it. That means any individual pixel is tiny, the faintest scratch on the surface of the filter that's covering the sensor could be visible, so you really need a brush, or cleaning materials, or whatever it is you're gonna use that is not abrasive and designed specifically for this process.
For years, I've been using products in various stages of evolution from a company called Visible Dust, visibledust.com. I've cleaned lots and lots of sensors, and always had great results with Visible Dust products, and never had any problems, I cannot recommend them enough. That's what I'm showing you, here. We've already seen the Quasar Plus loupe, which makes it easy to see where the dust is, and we've seen their Zeeion blower. We're moving now to the Arctic Butterfly 724.
Visible Dust has been making variations of this product for a while, and they are currently, at the time of this shooting, selling two variations of this brush. One, with built-in lights, and the other without. The one without is cheaper. What's cool about this brush, is it's not actually doing its cleaning through a brushing action. This is a, Visible Dust got their start designing products for cleaning microscopes and other high-end optical devices, so they really know how to clean glass.
This is a brush with bristles that are, one, not so abrasive that they'll ever do any harm to the filter that's in front of your sensor, and two, they're designed to pick up a static charge very easily. The idea is, if I charge this brush with static electricity, and stick it in here, it's not the brushing motion that's gonna get rid of the dust, it's the static charge that's gonna slurp the dust up onto the bristles, so that I can pull them out of the sensor chamber. To give it a static charge, I put batteries in the brush, and there's little switch over here on the side, when I flip it, the brush spins.
This actually does two things. It cleans the brush, the centrifugal force throws off any dust that was already on there, and if I let it go for about 10 seconds or so, the brush itself is gonna get a good static charge. I've already got my camera in sensor cleaning mode, we looked at that last time. That's, flipped the mirror up and gotten the shutter open. I'm gonna turn the little lights on, and I'm gonna go in here and just brush across the sensor, and hopefully that static charge is picking up dust. I was applying very little, if any pressure, only enough to get the brush to fan out.
I'm sitting here spitting over this open sensor, so I'm gonna just cover the camera up. I just did one swipe across. Now, making sure that I don't set the brush down somewhere where it's gonna pick up more dust, I'm gonna grab my loupe again and see what I can see in the way of dust. Wow, it is dramatically different. There is far, far less, but there are still a few bits in there, and there's one bit in particular that's very large and seems to have moved. I think maybe, I'm just pushing it around. I'm gonna clean the brush off, charge it up again.
That one piece was in the upper left-hand corner. My upper left, upper stage left. I'm gonna really be sure to get the brush in there. One thing I like about Visible Dust products is, they've got a really nice attention to detail. I like the way they're built, they all come in these nice carrying cases, they've given thought to the fact that you would want to travel with these tools, so they made them easy to carry around. That got a lot out, but there's still one bit, and it did not move. It could be that it's actually stuck to the sensor.
I'm gonna give this one more go, here. Already though, I've seen a dramatic improvement. Charging up the brush again, turning the light back on. As for whether you should go with the lighted or unlit brush, I am finding that light helpful. It's not critical, if you want to want to save some money. I don't think you're giving up too much by going without the light. What's nice about the light is it means that, if you find yourself somewhere, really in a panic, needing to clean, and you don't have good light around, you're gonna be able to see with the brush.
Okay, that's looking good, that one piece is still on there. I've done the dry-cleaning solution and it's helped a lot, and it's gotten rid of most of my sensor dust, but there'e still some there. As I mentioned before, dust comes in several different flavors. There's dry, particulate matter that gets stuck on the sensor that you can try blowing off or brushing off. There are stains, liquids that get inside and leave stains on the sensor. I don't think we have any of those, however, there are times when liquid can get it and a piece of particulate matter can stick to that liquid, and end up kind of cemented there.
It might be that that's what we have here. Sensor cleaning, as you've seen, is a multi-step process if you've got a bad sensor problem, and this was a pretty dirty sensor. The main thing I want you to really take away from this, is you have to use gear that is designed for cleaning a sensor, and again, based on my experience, you can't go wrong with Visible Dust, visibledust.com This is their dry-cleaning solution, you got a couple of different options. You may think it's expensive just for cleaning your sensor, but if you're gonna use your camera for a while, you will run into a sensor dust problem, and this is a great solution for taking care of it.
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