For a while now I've been limited by the dust, dirt and oil particles on my cameras sensor. These marks only show up when using small apertures from around f11 or higher, and it has limited me to apertures within the f2.8 to f8 range. Although this is not so bad for most wildlife photography, I find I need to set the aperture to open wide for either isolating the subject or for getting a fast shutter speed. The problem came when I started to look at expanding out from wildlife photography into areas such as macro and landscapes. Both require smaller apertures than I use now and the dirt really shows up in the photos.
I needed to get the sensor cleaned, the options I had was to get it done professionally or try cleaning it myself. After quite a bit of research on the internet, reading how to do it, people’s stories of cleaning it themselves and professional’s advice not to do it yourself but to send it to them I had an idea of what it involved and what could go wrong. The cost of professional cleans ranged from around £30 to £80, and there was delivery costs each way on top making it even more expensive. I also don’t like sending my camera away by post as when it came back from repair last year it was dropped over our 6ft gate! I think it’s possible I would need to clean the sensor probably every 6 months (I found its best to not regularly clean it and only do it when really necessary, although one professional cleaning website said they advised it to be cleaned every 3 months), this means around £100 each year or even up £200 if every 3 months. For an expensive professional full frame camera it may be worth it, but for my second hand 2 year old D7000 that was roughly half its value each year in cleaning costs. My camera has no warranty left so I could not invalidate the warranty by cleaning it myself. If my camera cost more or if it still had warranty left I would follow the camera manufacturers advice to the letter not clean it myself.
By now I had decided I was going to look at cleaning it myself. I researched what equipment I needed. With an idea of prices I decided to go to my local (45 minutes away) camera specialist where I could buy what I needed and get advice at the same time. I was presently surprised that they advised me cheaper equipment than what I thought I would need, all in the total cost was less than one professional clean.
The items I bought were:
The Sensorklear Loupe allows you to view the dust particles whilst the sensor is exposed. Although it is not necessarily required it makes the process of cleaning the sensor faster. The first thing I did was to take a before shot of the dirt particles on the sensor to see how bad it was. I did this by taking a photo of the sky at f14. There was plenty of marks showing up and the sensor definitely needed cleaning. From the research I did I found the basic process I was going to use was:
The advice I found was each stage has more risk than the last and it is best to reduce the amount you touch the sensor to the absolute minimum required to clean the sensor. I started by reading the D7000 manual to find out how to open the shutter and I ensured I had a fully charged battery before starting the clean. The first process of using the air blower on the sensor was very easy as long as you kept the camera facing downwards and blow air upwards, allowing any dust to out downwards. The sensor loupe showed me there were still quite a few particles on the sensor so I moved on to the dry clean stage.
The sensor loupe and Sensorklear II pen are designed to work together. There is a gap around the side of the sensor loupe to allow the Sensorklear II pen to access the sensor face. Although this is helpful I found it was easier to clean the edges with using the sensor loupe. The sensor loupe came into its own in this stage as it allowed me to inspect the sensor for marks after each cleaning sweep. I repeated this dry cleaning stage a few times and I managed to clear all visible marks away without the need to wet clean the sensor. The image below shows the before and after shots of the sky at f14. As you can see all of the marks are gone and the sensor is now nice and clean.
Although cleaning the sensor myself did worry me, it is not impossible to clean it yourself if you have the right equipment, know what you are doing, don’t press too hard and allow yourself the time to clean it properly. In all it took me about an hour to clean it without doing a wet clean. If you don’t feel you can do it yourself please get it professionally cleaned. I will definitely clean the sensor on my D7000 again myself when it needs to be done. Only you can decide whether to risk it or not, if I had a new camera like a D600, D800 or D4 that was worth a lot I would not have done the clean myself. I hope this entry shows that sensor cleaning it not a magic process if you research what you need to do and read all the instructions before using any of the equipment and tools. When I upgrade my camera body in the future I will have to decide again whether cleaning it myself is worth the worth the risk and the possibility of voiding the warranty.
Disclaimer: Please note, cleaning the sensor of a DSLR is not recommended by any camera manufacturer to done using the ‘Do-it-Yourself’ approach. There is a risk of damaging the sensor beyond repair and you should not underestimate this risk. I cannot take any responsibility for any damage you may cause to the camera or sensor by following this blog entry. If you do not feel you are capable of cleaning the sensor yourself please get the manufacturer or a professional cleaning service to do the job for you.