Digital Camera Cleaning and Maintenance

Cleaning Camera Lenses, Sensors, Mirrors

Digital Camera Cleaning and Maintenance

Digital camera cleaning and maintenance is something many photographers (including myself) neglect to do with sometimes costly consequences. It is too easy to come home after a day's shooting, whip out the memory card, have a play with your new images and forget all about maintenance of your kit.

If you are like me, anything new that I buy over time gets cleaned immaculately at least once a day. Then after a few weeks it falls to once a week or so. Then just "on the odd occasion" or when they look really dirty.

Photography is my livelihood. I have to physically make myself grab my camera bag and go and sit somewhere quiet. I take a good half an hour to an hour after a shoot to clean every piece of equipment that I have used.

This kit has cost thousands and its cleanliness has a direct bearing on the quality of my images and the longevity of its use. Not only that but as I upgrade my equipment, I may want to sell on my old cameras at the best price.

These are the checks that I make;

Digital Camera Cleaning and Maintenance - Lenses

Obviously take great care when cleaning the glass. It is what makes the lenses so expensive and costly to repair or replace. Use only fine tissue paper and alcohol solutions that are designed for camera optics. Clean both the front and rear elements using a blower brush first to remove any dust particles.

The last thing you want to do is scrape even the smallest piece of dust across your lens.

I also use the bristles of a blower brush to clean in between the moving parts of the external barrel. This prevents a build up of dirt over time and maintains smooth operation whilst helping to prevent dust from entering the internal optics.

Make sure you clean the brush or replace it often too otherwise you simply end up smearing minute particles of grease and dirt onto the lens.

Camera Sensor

The most talked about and asked about issue with Digital SLR maintenance is the sensor and the accumulation of dust. If you are altogether unsure of how to go about it, wait until any sensor dust is at a point where it is unbearable. Note: Most specs are easily and quickly removed in editing. Then take it to be professionally cleaned.

Damaging a sensor is expensive...

If you intend to do it yourself, just be careful. Set the camera to manual with a 30 second exposure. You will need time to clean the sensor but using the bulb setting ("B") could be a mistake.

If whilst cleaning the sensor, you accidentally close the shutter you are in danger of damaging:

  • The mirror
  • Shutter
  • Sensor
  • Or all three

Even if you use a remote release set to "B", the batteries on the remote could give out and close the shutter prematurely. With a fully charged battery in your camera and a 30 second delay, you know where you are. Once the shutter is open, hold the camera up so that the sensor is facing down. Use the blower (without the brush) to blow any dust away from the sensor.

N.B. The camera is held this way to allow any dust to fall out of the camera. The brush is removed in case it touches the sensor and adds grease smears or dust to it rather than removing it. What if the sensor is really dirty? You are able to buy cleaning kits with swabs where you physically touch the sensor to "swipe" away dirt. Again, you need a steady hand and great care to do this so if unsure, seek professional help.

Mirror/focussing screen

Unless I can barely see through the viewfinder (exaggeration), I tend to leave the mirror and focussing screen alone. Apart from a quick blow/swipe with the blower brush that is. The only time I would give it more attention is if it were to run the risk of transferring dust to the sensor.

Dust on the mirror or screen has no effect on the final image. Therefore, any dust you see on these through the viewfinder won't affect the photograph. However, excessive dust on the screen "may" affect the accuracy of focussing).

Once again, be careful as the mirror in particular is extremely sensitive and easily scratched.

Outer casing

Even though it is mostly aesthetic, it is still important to try and keep the external workings clean. The dirt on the outside can easily make its way inside, particularly if you change lenses often with dirty hands.

I give it a quick once over with the blower brush first and then a quick rub with a lens cloth or dust cloth. I usually do the outer parts before the inner. This reduces the chance of dirt transferring itself inside.


Most accessories have mechanical or electronic workings so it is just as important to keep these clean to help with their longevity. For example, the battery contacts in a speedlight or remote switch need a quick clean now and again. This can prevent any build up of dirt or even rust.

A failing accessory can be as disastrous as a failing camera in certain situations, especially paid ones.

The Bag

This is something that many people wouldn't consider. One of the quickest ways for cameras, equipment and accessories to become dirty is if you have a dirty camera bag or holdall. Dust, dirt, sand and even bits of Mother Nature (leaves, grit etc) are easily accumulated when out and about.

Remove all equipment once in a while and just Hoover/vacuum the bag thoroughly inside and out.

All of this seems a bit tedious but once I have done it I feel surprisingly good and happy with myself. I also know that when I go out shooting or turn up to a paid job, the equipment is in tip-top condition.

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