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May 13, 2008

How To Properly Clean DSLR Camera Lenses

It doesn't surprise me how often I'm asked by new and experienced photographers how I clean my DSLR camera lenses.

If you're not a photographer or even an amateur DSLR user you probably wouldn't think about it at all but properly cleaning your lenses to get rid of dust, rain drops, finger prints and oil smudges, and other dirt without permanently damaging your lenses and their coatings can be very tricky. Unfortunately many photographers don't realize their mistakes until it's too late.

It's so easy to get confused since there are so many cleaning products marketed to photographers. Few are great, most are average but some should be avoided completely and even thrown out! I bet you have a few of these in your camera bag right now.

Before we dive into the best methods lets, talk about what works, what doesn't and what's outright dangerous and damaging and you should NEVER use.

NEVER use the following products under any circumstance:

  • "Canned air" or compressed air spray cans

          Under certain circumstances the propellant can come out of the can in liquid form, and if it should, it will damage your lens' coatings. It's absolutely not worth the risk when a quality rubber bulb cannot cause damage, never runs out of air, and never needs to be replaced! If you have a canned air can put it back next to your computer and use it for your keyboard cleaning. It's best kept far away from your lenses and photography gear so you're never tempted to use it on them.


  • Bathroom tissues, kitchen towels, toilet paper, Kimwipes, lens papers, or lens tissues

          Paper products almost always contain wood fibers. If you have lens tissue that doesn't state if it's free of wood fibers throw it out! Anything that contains wood fibers will damage your lenses' coatings and scratch your lens elements. Never use them no matter how careful you think you will be.


  • Single use pre-moistened lens wipes for eye glasses

          You typically find these at big box warehouse stores sold under Flents or Bausch and Lomb brands. I wouldn't recommend you use these on your eye glasses, let alone your expensive DSLR lenses. They may contain wood fibers and are often too dry to adequately clean your lens and can leave a residue or film on the surface.


  • Window/Glass cleaner or ammonia based cleaners

          Your DSLR lenses are not windows. Don't use any glass cleaning product or any cleaner that contains ammonia as they can damage or even strip the lens coating.


  • Liquid cleaners that don't list their ingredients

          If you come across a liquid cleaner that doesn't list any of the ingredients or is cryptic about what it contains don't take the chance. It might contain ammonia or another substance that may damage your lens coatings. This can still be the case with some liquid lens cleaners that are marketed as photographic lens cleaner. There's even one sold under a major camera company's brand name that contains some dangerous chemicals!


  • Anti-fog products

          These products are not approved for use on coated lenses and may cause damage to the lens coating. This can still be the case with some anti-fog products that are marketed for photographic use! Even if it's sold under a camera company's brand name ensure it can be used on your coated lenses by contacting your lens maker before purchase or use.


  • Tap water, bottled water, saliva, soda, etc.

          If you don't want to purchase a good quality chemical lens cleaner such as described below use distilled water as it should be free of minerals and other substances that may leave a residue.

There is no single method that works well for every type of issue so I'm going to explain the best cleaning process for the most common types of dirt and recommend some products that should make the cleaning process easier.

  • How to remove Dust Particles
          You may remove dust particles from the lens elements with a good quality air blower or air bulb and/or a anti-static brush.
    NOTE: Neither brushes or blowers should be used if any other type of dirt or smudges are present. Carefully check the lens element for dirt, smudges, and/or liquid droplets. If you should use the brush if these types of dirt are present the bristles will pick up the foreign matter and transfer some of it back to your lens each time it's used in the future! You should also avoid using a blower when liquid is on the lens because it could possibly push it to the edge and some of it inside the lens.

    Recommended products for dust removal:

    • Large Gittzos Blower

      Large Gittzos Blower      Provides stronger air flow than any other air blower on the market and is made out of high quality rubber so it holds up to frequent use. It may also be used to blow dust off your brush.


    • Lens pen

      Lens pen      I recommend this product for dust removal as the brush is stored in a way that helps keep it clean and in shape and it's very inexpensive.
      NOTE: I recommend only using the brush end; don't use the chamois/graphite end.


    • Kinetronics StaticWisk Brush

      Kinetronics StaticWisk Brush      If you have a place to carry/store a StaticWisk in your bag that will keep it clean you're better off investing in this than a Lens Pen. It's also very good for cleaning any dust of your mirror and can even be used on your CCD sensor.

    AVOID the following products for dust removal:

    • Lens blower brushes

      D60F996C-0DB0-4DB1-B8F4-F85136B36769.jpg      You probably already have one of these because on the surface it might seem like a good idea to just carry around one object that combines both a blower and brush in one, but these blowers NEVER move enough air to blow away any dust! You've probably also already used it when dirt or oils were present on your lens so now it's contaminated. Do yourself a favor and just throw it out now!


    • "Dust free" tissues, lens cloths, or other types of tissues or fabrics

            Some of these products are useful for removing other types of dirt and smudges but they don't work well for removing just dust. They either move the dust around, transfer more dust to the lens, or leave other marks that will require more thorough cleaning so stick with a brush or a blower.

  • How to remove finger prints and oil based smudges

          The most common and one of the most stubborn types of dirt that you'll find on your lenses will be oil based. To completely remove it you'll need to use a liquid chemical cleaner and disposable non-abrasive wipes.

    NOTE: You must be careful to only use a chemical cleaner that is very pure and approved for your lenses' coatings.

    The cleaning process is simple once you know these steps:

    1. Fold clean, unused non-abrasive wipe in half.
    2. Place 2-3 drops of the cleaner on one side of the wipe. (Never apply the cleaner directly to the lens.)
    3. Gently wipe the entire lens surface with the wet section in a circular motion until all dirty areas have been covered.
    4. Gently slide the wipe off the edge of lens element. If you lift it up, rather than slide it off the edge, it will leave some residue.
    5. Refold the wipe to expose a clean/dry side and gently rewipe the lens as necessary. If streaks still remain, use another clean, unused wipe.

    Recommended products to remove finger prints and oil based smudges:

    • Photographic Solutions Pec Pad Non-Abrasive Wipes

      Photographic Solutions Pec Pad Non-Abrasive Wipes      Each individual 4" x 4" wipe is only good for one use but you can be sure it's clean and won't transfer any lint, dirt, oil, or dust to your lens. Store them in a re-sealable plastic bag to keep them clean until ready for use. Free of wood fibers so it's ultra soft and non-abrasive.


    • Photographic Solutions Eclipse Optic Cleaning Liquid

      Photographic Solutions Eclipse Optic Cleaning Liquid      The best lens cleaner currently on the market. It's 100% Methanol and it evaporates quickly without leaving residue. You only need a few drops per use so it goes a long way.
      Warning: Never apply this cleaner or any other cleaner directly to the lens. Flammable; cannot be brought on airplanes or put in checked baggage.


    • Calumet Single Use Screen & Optical Cloths

      Calumet Single Use Screen & Optical Cloths      Very useful at events and in the field when using a Pec Pad and Eclipse Cleaner isn't as easy and convenient. These single use two step wipes are packaged in a tear open foil wrapper to keep a pre-moistened wet wipe wet and dry cloth dry and sterile so they're ready for use when you only have time for a QUICK and simple cleaning. They're also extremely useful to clean your camera bodies, lens bodies, notebook screen, keyboard, and case, and LCD monitors.

  • How to remove water or rain drops

          You might be tempted to just wipe off water or rain drops with your shirt but you'll end up transferring dust and possibly even dirt to the lens element. Instead use a lens cloth that you reserve just for this purpose.

    NOTE: Only handle the cloth if your hands are very clean so you don't transfer any dirt to it. Also, do not use the lens cloth if any other type of dust, dirt, or smudges are present on the lens element. If you should use the cloth when dirt is present it will pick up the foreign matter and transfer some of it back to your lens again each time it's used!

    Recommended products for water or rain drop removal:

    • Spudz Lens Cloth

      Spudz Lens Cloth      Very conveniently stores itself in its own pouch to keep it clean and dust free. However, I recommend you replace it periodically. Since I'm shooting everyday and use mine very frequently I typically will replace mine monthly.


    • Microfiber lens cloth

      Microfiber lens cloth      Not as handy as a Spudz but works just as well. It's important that you keep the cloth in something that will keep it dust free and clean. Avoid over handling it so you don't transfer oil from your skin to it. Like the Spudzs, I recommend you replace it periodically.


    • Photographic Solutions Pec Pad Non-Abrasive Wipes

      Photographic Solutions Pec Pad Non-Abrasive Wipes      While more costly in the long run, as each wipe is only good for once use, you can be sure it's clean and won't transfer any lint, dirt, oil, or dust to your lens and is ultra soft and non-abrasive.

  • How to remove other liquids

          Carefully absorb and remove the liquid with a disposable, non-abrasive, dust free wipe. You may need to then follow up and clean the lens with another wipe and a liquid cleaner or distilled water. See the cleaning method from the "Finger print and oil based smudges" for step by step directions.

  • How to remove mixed or unknown types of dirt

          If you're not exactly sure what's on your lens then you need to use care removing the dirt so you don't cause more problems trying to get it off.

    Try using a non-abrasive wipe lightly dampened with distilled water to see if it removes easily. If the material dissolves and removes easily then you can use the "Finger print and oil based smudges" cleaning method to finish it up.

    If it doesn't remove easily with a lightly damp wipe you could try using the "Finger print and oil based smudges" cleaning method but with 4-6 drops of liquid cleaner instead of the usual 2-3.

    If you're still unable to remove the substance you should send the lens in to the manufacturer for cleaning so you don't risk damaging your lens.

  • How to remove dust or other foreign matter from INSIDE a lens

          Modern lenses, with proper care, shouldn't allow dust or objects to intrude inside the lens. If you should notice something inside the lens you should send it in for repair instead of trying to performing this cleaning yourself. I know several photographers that attempted to take apart their lenses to remove this dust and ended up voiding their warranty and either making it worse or they were unable to reassemble the lens! This type of cleaning is best left to the manufacture as they will restore it to like-new condition by performing the disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly in a clean room.

  • How to remove scratches, nicks, or other damage

          Never attempt to repair scratches, nicks, or other damage to your lens elements. You'll need to send the lens in to have the front or rear element replaced as a repair to the scratched lens element typically isn't possible.

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Posted in How To & DIY , Photography by usrbingeek at 2008-05-13 15:15 ET (GMT-5) | 0 Comments | Permalink



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