A reader and follower of FreePhotoCourse.com named Sarah sent an email to our general mailbox yesterday with a very good question. We felt that our answer could be of value to all digital photographers with DSLR cameras, so we decided to post an extended "Tips" answer/article in our readers' forum and on this blog.
So here it is!
Sarah asked "I just paid $120 to have my CMOS sensor chip cleaned because it was filled with microscopic dust and particles that were leaving translucent splotches on my pictures. I've only had this particular DSLR for about 8 months and I do not live in a dusty environment, so what have I done wrong and/or why is this happening?"
Well, Sarah, this is a frustrating experience for all digital photographers and it seems to show up at exactly the wrong time...such as during special events, weddings, breaking news or other events that cannot be restaged. Argghh!!!
The first thing is to understand that under most conditions, even dusty ones, your camera is sealed and will not allow particles into the body of the camera. Very rarely will dust somehow 'get into' a camera that has either a lens or body cap in place. But, the problem generally occurs when changing the lens. There can be all sorts of microscopic dust particles floating around that you can't see. Also, any dust around the base of the lens or on the camera near the lens can easily find its way into the body of the camera when a lens or body cap is removed, because removing a lens creates suction.
There are certain environments that you should try at all costs to avoid if a lens change is necessary. Beaches are notorious for soiling sensor chips. All of the microscopic sand particles, particularly on windy days, as well as the salty humid breeze can quickly make a deposit during that brief moment when the camera is in-between lenses.
Dust bowls and arid deserts would obviously be a bad choice, but windy conditions in just about any area can whip-up all sorts of stuff that's just waiting to meet your sensor chip. Certain industrial environments can also be spoilers with various nano-particles that can be part of a manufacturing process.
The best advice is to:
1. Try to change your lenses INDOORS if at all possible.
2. If you are doing an outdoor shoot and must change lenses, try to get to a vehicle, restroom or other protected spot to do it.
3. Be quick with the process. NEVER leave a camera uncapped or without a lens for ANY period of time beyond a few seconds. Have the new lens ready to roll and get it in place as soon as the previous lens is removed.
4. Don't put the rear lens cap on the first lens before you mount the next lens. Do the rear cap thing AFTER you've replaced the lens.
5. Always spray off the front of your camera and lens with a rocket blower or can of compressed air before changing lenses. Wait a minute or two after doing this to avoid any unwanted movement of air and particles. (Warning: Never use compressed air to clean a sensor chip because it can deposit oil onto the chip.)
6. IF you MUST change your lens outside and can't get to a protected location, then try to do it in a large clean plastic bag. (Maybe not a camera bag, because they can be dusty from the fabric they are made from.)
7. If your camera condenses because you have gone from a cold air conditioned room to a warm humid environment (or from the cold, dry wintry outside to a warm, humid inside location), then wait until all condensation dries before you change lenses.
8. If your DSLR has an automatic sensor cleaning option, turn it on and choose the cleaning to occur at every camera power-up and power-down. Although this won't solve or clean serious dust problems on the chip, this feature can prevent the odd particle from hunkering-down on your chip.
Following these steps will help avoid the inconvenience and cost of having a sensor chip cleaned.
We hope this answers Sarah's original question and is helpful for all of our readers!
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