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Best And Worst Lens Cleaners We Tested

CanonTreasures | Camera and Photography Basics | Published Feb 23, 2013

We tested the most popular branded lens cleaners for removing oils/finger prints from camera lenses, filters and eye glass lenses. Only three products were clear winners. You may be surprised by the one "high tech" lens cleaner that came in last.

    If you've read this bio in one of my other guides, skip to the next paragraph. It's not fair to bore anyone more than once. My background after leaving the Military, as a photo wet lab instructor, with “several" hours of photo reconnaissance in the Far East, was a 20 year paid affiliation with a respected optical use and  applications laboratory for a Fortune Fifty Corporation. I am “retired” in Florida with a home grown photo testing lab and a reseller of Canon Gear. Ok, that's out of the way, now let's get on with the reasons for writing this.

1st Objective…To set up a test procedure that will determine which of the name brand lens cleaners performed best, with minimal rubbing, producing 100% streak-free results. I firmly believe, as do many, when cleaning any lens, whether photographic, or prescription eyewear, THE LESS RUBBING, THE BETTER!

2nd Objective…To select for our test, the most common surface contaminant needing to be removed from lenses.  By far, the most common soil found on camera lenses, filters and eye glass lenses are, finger print/smudges caused by skin oil, called sebum, followed by mosquito repellents, sun blockers, salt spray, hazes from air pollution, mud…and all others. This test will focus on skin oil, the main cause of fingerprint smudges. Our next guide will cover several more of the soils mentioned above.

3rd And Final Objective, to keep the “test equipment” and test variables practical, so anyone reading this can run this test at their kitchen sink.

Important to note before we begin…This test was NOT designed to try and replicate the many ways a lens can be cleaned, using this wipe or that cloth, light rubbing, aggressive rubbing, etc., but rather, the sole purpose of this test was to see which cleaner would passively, (all by itself), remove/emulsify, "dissolve" skin oil with little or no mechanical variables introduced, (no rubbing or spraying). This proved out to be a valid test. This passive test method correlated 100% with actual lens cleaning results. The better the passive cleaning performance of the cleaner in our tests, the faster and better the same cleaner worked on cleaning lenses regardless of the tissue or cloth used in our follow-up real world cleaning methods of both photographic and prescription eyewear lenses.

Now, let's get started!

Materials used: one 52-58mm camera filter, (a compact mirror will also work), lens cleaner(s) to be tested, a roll of  Bounty Paper Towels, a kitchen sink, and a decent light source, sufficient to read a newspaper.

Test method: 1. Wash and dry hands.

2. Clean a 52-58mm  filter thoroughly (a compact mirror will also work) with a lens cleaner and dry the filter with a sheet of Bounty, or a lens tissue.

3. A forefinger is used to touch the side of the nose or behind the ear to get a sample of skin oil. The same forefinger is then used to rub 3 times in a tight circle in the center of the filter. The oil film sample applied to the filter should be no more than ¾ to 1 inch in diameter. The forefinger used to apply the sample is then thoroughly cleaned.

5. Next taking the lens cleaner, we syringe 0.4mL and squirt the  cleaning solution on to the filter or mirror surface always to the side of the oil sample, never directly on the sample. If you are running the test yourself, a field expedient, without using a syringe, is to spray 4-5 times to the side of the oil sample or if a dropper bottle 7-8 drops, once again to the side of the oil sample.

6. Next, carefully picking up the filter/compact mirror, we tip the filter/mirror a few degrees forward and back once, and then side to side once, being careful to contain the solution on the surface of the filter. We repeat this sequence for 30 seconds. There must be enough solution to flow back and forth over the entire oil sample as the filter is being tipped side to side, forward and back. If there isn’t enough when you are running this test at home, just add more solution. At the end of 30 seconds, or slightly longer if compensating for adding extra solution, the solution from the lens is poured off into the sink.

7. Now the filter is held up to the light.  If the lens cleaner did its job in completely emulsifying the oil, the surface on the filter or mirror should show no oil spot whatsoever. Once again, let me emphasize, this is not the way we clean a lens or filter. But it is a valid test to see how well a cleaner does passively in emulsifying oils (without help from rubbing with this cloth or that tissue), its main task in this test protocol.

8. Here's the final check for complete removal... We place the filter under a very gentle stream of lukewarm water on to the filter surface to the side where the oil spot was present. If the water completely covers the filter surface, edge to edge in one uninterrupted sheet of water, as the filter is being tipped side to side, this is the  final proof of an effective lens cleaner that entirely removed the oil. If, however, the water beads up even slightly where the oil sample was placed, the cleaner failed.

RESULTS: Three branded cleaners out of about a dozen, after 5 test repetitions, walked away with the honors. They are: Zeiss Lens Cleaning Solution, Nikon Lens Cleaning solution and ROR Lens Cleaning Solution. At the bottom of the list was surprisingly, Purosol, that tied with straight distilled water for having absolutely zero emulsifying properties for removing skin oil in all 5 of our test repetitions. When I spoke with the Purosol folks, and asked "How does NASA use your product and for what cleaning purposes", I was politely told, "That information is classified, and, we unfortunately don't know!"

Errata. Contrary to urban legend… "straight solvents" (a misnomer), such as, 95% ethyl alcohol, methanol, acetone, anhydrous isopropanol, heptane, none of these will truly emulsify oils. Many do have a place in special cleaning applications in optics maintenance, sensor cleaning, microscopy, and to some extent, astronomy, but in cleaning our camera lenses, filters, and prescription eyewear from common soils, where LESS RUBBING IS BETTER, Zeiss, Nikon and ROR have us covered.

The following, is one of the favorite home brew lens cleaners for either camera or prescription eyewear, plastic or glass, coated or uncoated, should you ever run out of the good stuff. To eight ounces of distilled or filtered water, add 1 teaspoon of Ultra Dawn Dishwashing Liquid Pure Essentials, colorless, no antibacterial, no perfume, 1 ¼ oz of 70% isopropyl “rubbing alcohol”, the one with 30% distilled water (and nothing else). This simple combination works streak-free, is perfectly safe and the price is right. If you really like the cleaning results, and already threw away the old lens cleaner bottle, you can purchase an empty 2 oz spray or dropper bottle in one of the drug chains for a buck or two, and you're back in business. Well, that's about it. I sincerely hope you found this test and its results helpful.....steve...Canon_Treasures

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