If you own a digital SLR, you’ve probably started to notice something on your photos that wasn’t there before. Have you ever gotten a photo full of little black specks or smudges and wondered how they got there? If you clean your lens religiously and wonder how this could happen to you, then you are about to be introduced to the world of image sensor dust. A lot more goes on inside your camera than you think.
Camera companies try to remain quiet on this issue. They never want to tell prospective digital SLR buyers that, yes, dust does get inside of your camera, and guess what? It can have a pretty negative effect on your photography. Every time you switch your lens, more dust creeps in. Because your image sensor holds a charge, it naturally attracts the dust particles to it.
How To Get Rid Of Image Sensor Dust
What’s a camera owner to do? You’re obviously not going to stop switching lenses and taking pictures just because you’re afraid of getting dust on your sensor. Why would you even own a digital SLR if you couldn’t enjoy the ability to switch lenses? Being “conservative” is obviously out of the question.
You will want to get your sensor cleaned every once in a while, but you shouldn’t be obsessive about it. Each sensor cleaning costs $40. Of course, you can do it yourself, but it does require a substantial up front investment of time and money. You also have to worry about the possibility of damaging your camera for good. Many would say this just isn’t worth it.
So here’s my solution. Get your sensor professionally cleaned once every year, and take care to introduce the least amount of dust into your camera every time you change lenses. Here are a few other things you can do.
- Change your lenses efficiently. When you change your lens, make the sure the new lens is sitting right next to your camera. Turn your camera off, hold it upside-down, twist off the old lens, set it down, and then put the new lens on as fast as you can. By holding the camera upside-down, you are stopping dust from falling into the camera’s sensor chamber. This doesn’t completely stop particles from getting inside, but it certainly helps. If you are quick enough, you won’t get that much dust inside.
- Use lower apertures (if you can). Dust particles really show up when you use apertures between F11 and F22. I’m not saying you should avoid these apertures entirely. I’m just saying you’ll have less work in Photoshop to try to fix dust when you use F4 to F10. If you’re taking a landscape photo, and you need a very large depth of field, by all means use a higher-valued aperture.
- Consider using lenses with a bigger focal range. If your quiver of lenses is full of single focal length (prime) lenses that cannot zoom in and out, you are going to be changing your lenses much more than someone who owns a few good zooms. Every time you change your lens, you give dust a chance to break in. Some people take this tip to the extreme and purchase two cameras - one for a wide angle/normal lens, and one that can zoom in. Do what’s best for you.
- Avoid changing lenses in dusty environments. When there’s more dust in the air, that dust gets into your camera. Stay away from wind storms, attics, and any other place with a lot of particles in the air.
- Get a camera that cleans itself. Some of the more advanced models actually clean themselves. When you “boot up” the camera, an ultra-sonic vibration shakes dust off of the glass filter covering the sensor. The filters on these cameras also repel dust particles, so less of them will stick.
- Learn how to use the clone stamp in Photoshop. The clone stamp is a tool that lets you copy the colors from one part of a photo onto another. I like to combine it with the blur tool to remove dust spots on my photos once I’ve taken them. I can’t describe how all of this is done within the space of a short article. I’ll have to show you in a future tutorial.
Here are a few things you definitely should not do when you discover your digital SLR has dust problems.
- Try to clean your image sensor with Q-tips, Windex, paper towels, or any ordinary household cleaning product.
- Attempt to clean your sensor without testing your “bulb” shutter release option. You don’t want your shutter to close on you while you are cleaning. It can do a lot of damage.
- Use pressurized air to blow dust off of your sensor. This can ruin your camera for good.
Like I said, it’s best to just hire someone to do this. You’ll always have to deal with dust anyway. When you know the right post-production techniques (which we’ll discuss in another tutorial), it’s much less of a problem.
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