We get it, cleaning DLSR or mirrorless camera sensors can be an intimidating endeavor if you’ve never done it before. The good news is that if you can clean a window, you can clean a camera sensor. What you’re actually cleaning is a sensor filter (pictured above), which is a piece of glass that is positioned above the actual camera sensor. Depending on the camera’s make and model, the sensor filter can have a coating on its surface which can make for a tricky cleaning if you don’t have the proper tools. In this blog post, we’ll explore what to look for when selecting a gel sensor cleaning tool.
Gel Camera Sensor Cleaning Tools
When you start to see the same dust specks on every one of your shots then you know that it’s time for a sensor cleaning. The quickest and easiest way to clean a sensor is using a gel-based, dry sensor cleaning tool as it doesn’t require any liquids and is pretty simple to do. Just dab the gel-based, dry sensor cleaning tool in each of the corners of the sensor filter and you’re done! The cleaning will remove statically held dust and fibers. It’s a great first step in sensor cleaning and if it got everything then you’re all set to start shooting again.
Choosing the right gel-based, dry sensor cleaning tool will ensure that you have an easy and safe sensor cleaning experience. Due to the wide range of sensor coatings and digital SLR and mirrorless cameras on the market, there are three things that you really need to consider when choosing the right gel sensor cleaning tool for the job; microtexture, inherent gel oils, and internal chamber light.
Does the gel-based, dry sensor cleaner have a microtexture on its cleaning surface?
Let’s talk about vacuums and microtextures. No, not the vacuums used on carpet, but the vacuum seal when you place a smooth gel surface onto a smooth glassy surface. If you’ve ever played with silicone gel window art and tried to pull it up perpendicular to the window, you know how strong of a vacuum seal it can have. Only by peeling up one corner of the gel art can you release the vacuum seal and then remove the gel toy from the window. What’s happening is that the smooth gel has removed all of the air between itself and the glass, which then creates the vacuum seal. One way to stop the vacuum from forming is to have a microtexture on the surface of the gel. When a gel cleaning tool with a microtexture is lightly depressed onto the surface of the glass, the microtexture flattens out and adheres to the dust. And when the pressure is released, the microtexture forms back into shape and allows air back under the gel and glass which releases any formation of a vacuum. This is essential for weak coated sensor filters as it eliminates any vertical stress on the coating and will not delaminate it from the glass. Both the Dust-Aid Platinum and the Dust-Aid Platinum Light Wand, which are Dust-Aid’s gel-based, dry sensor cleaners with microtexture cleaning surfaces, have been tested on weak coated sensor filters with no issues or affects to the coatings.
Why are the inherent oils in sensor cleaning gels important?
All sensor cleaning gels have inherent oils within them, its what makes them spongy and able to pick up dust and fibers. The trick is to balance the amount of oils within the gel so it doesn’t leave oil residue on the sensor filter, won’t delaminate weak coatings on sensors, and also remove dust and fibers. Another challenge to overcome is that some camera manufacturers constantly change their sensor filter coatings, so you never really know what the final filter coating stack is or it’s bond strength to the glass filter. Due to these requirements and coating variables, Dust-Aid has taken the approach of marrying the benefits of the microtexture and the level of inherent oils in the gel so that our gel-based sensor cleaning tools are able to safely clean any manufacturer’s past, present, or future sensor filters without issue.
Why is light important when sensor cleaning?
If you’ve ever looked down into the dark camera chamber of a DSLR body, you know why having a light is important. You can try to position light outside of the chamber, but you’ll find your head blocking the light when trying to see down into the camera. The best solution is to add light down into the sensor chamber itself, which would make it exponentially easier to see what you’re cleaning. By doing this, you’ll be able to see the corners clearly and be able to stay away from any camera oils around the sensor filter. With gel-based, dry sensor cleaning, it’s best to position the cleaner in all four corners for a full sensor clean, and having an internal light within the camera chamber will help you accomplish this. Our Dust-Aid Platinum Light Wand has an internal LED light built within the handle, so when you insert the wand into the camera chamber, it lights up everything, making it a snap to see and clean DSLR camera sensors effectively and safely.
What’s the negative of gel dry sensor cleaners?
Two things. For starters, it’s a great way to quickly and easily remove static held dust but it won’t budge welded-on dust and it won’t remove camera oils. You’ll need to do a wet clean for welded-on dust and oils. And second, any gel-based sensor cleaner surface can become contaminated with finger oils, camera oils or anything they come in contact with, other than your sensor filter. So if you grazed the gel cleaning surface on your finger or touched the side of the plastic case that it comes in you could have transferred oils to the cleaning surface, and thus, transfer those oils to the sensor filter when you clean with it. There’s an easy solution to this contamination, simply clean the surface of the gel with a sensor cleaning liquid and clean sensor cloths that are approved for cleaning the gel surface. You can always test the gel sensor cleaner before you sensor clean, just grab a clean ND filter and apply the gel cleaner to its surface and see if you have any oil contamination. The darkness of the ND filter will help you see any contamination. If you see contamination, repeat the cleaning of the gel surface until it cleans the ND filter without residue.
So, we hope this overview of gel-based, dry sensor cleaners helps your search for a quick and easy way to clean static held dust from your camera’s sensor. With some care and practice, you’ll be a sensor cleaning pro soon enough.
Cheers and happy dust-free shooting!
The Dust-Aid Team