Cleaning your Nikon camera sensor - a guide

Started Feb 6, 2009 | Discussions thread
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Cleaning your Nikon camera sensor - a guide
Feb 6, 2009

Camera sensors seem to attract dust and, even if you've got an in-built anti-dust feature on your particular camera, the day will eventually come when you need to clean the sensor.

I had been using my D40 for a full year before it got to the point where I finally plucked up enough courage to have a go at cleaning it. Things finally came to a head after I started doing very long exposure photography which sometimes involved stopping the aperture down to very small fstops (the f22 end) where dust becomes very visible if your cameras sensor is dirty.

Just before cleaning my sensor for the first time I reckon that on one long exposure photo I must have cloned out more than 30 dust spots before the image was useable.

Before we get too far into this guide I'd like to make a point that should be obvious but it's worth stating anyway: 'If you can't see sensor dust appearing in your photos then don't go looking for it and certainly don't think you need to clean the sensor.'

Sometimes, however, here on the forum I see someone posting photos which have dark spots asking questions about what they are; so if you are uncertain about the issue here's how to tell if you have a problem.

How do you tell if your sensor is dusty? :

The answer is to take a photo of a white piece of paper with your lens stopped down to it's smallest aperture - f22 or thereabouts - any dust on the sensor will show, as on the photo below:

My sensor is pretty clean so you'll see that there are only a few dust spots showing up on the image.

When deciding what to buy to clean up my sensor I decided that I wasn't going to buy an air type blower as I wanted to make sure that I got the sensor properly clean rather than risk just ending up blowing the dirt about into a different spot in the mirror box for it to eventually settle again on the sensor.

The kit I bought to clean my sensor is made by a company called 'Visible Dust' and is called the Arctic Butterfly. It bought it along with a really invaluable 7x illuminated loupe and with their wet cleaning system with swabs exactly sized for the Nikon DX sensor and fluid designed for the type of sensor on my D40 (they have different swabs and different fluids depending on your model of camera)

The basic idea of the Arctic Butterfly brush is that is powered by a small battery which spins the brush when you turn it on to get rid of any dust that it's picked up from the sensor and also to give it a very small charge (don't worry - it's not enough to harm your camera!) which helps it lift dust up when you lightly brush it over the surface of the sensor.

In order to be able to get inside the cameras mirror box so you can examine the sensor and clean it you need to be able to lock the mirror up. The internet is full of horror stories from photographers whose mirrors have flipped down while they've been cleaning their sensor so make sure your battery is on a full charge.

Engage mirror lock up by going into the full camera options menu (not 'my menu')

As the notice on the back of the camera says, the mirror will stay up as long as you don't turn the power off so make sure you keep your fingers away from the on-off switch and make sure the battery is fully charged before you start. (no answering the phone in the middle of the process or going off to make a cup of tea

The next step once you've locked that mirror up out of the way and removed the lens is to use the 7x magnifying loupe to have a look at the sensor. the loupe is absolutely invaluable as it lets you really see what you are doing, where the dust is and just when you've got it clean instead of guessing or hoping for the best.

The loupe has a ring of bright battery powered lights inside the inner rim that really light up the sensor surface and the 7x magnification is just right allowing you to see the dust that matters.

as you can see, the loupe sits neatly onto the ring the lens mount without wobbling.

This next photo is pretty representative of what you'll see when you use the loupe to look at the sensor although the first time I cleaned the sensor on my D40 there was a lot more dust than this


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