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How to Clean a Camera Lens

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Cleaning your camera lenses and camera gear can be a bit intimidating and scary. After all, that large piece of glass you are about to work on likely cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars. But cleaning is an essential step in maintaining your lenses and in ensuring the optical quality stays high. Following these simple and non-invasive steps will help you keep your precious equipment clean and safe.

1. Clean Environment

First and foremost before you begin working on your equipment is to be in a clean and dust free environment. Never clean outside, as dust particles will inevitably attract themselves to your glass. Use clean towels to cover surfaces, such as a table top that you will be working on. If possible, close all doors and windows leading to the room you are working in to avoid wind and debris from being blown around. Have all of your materials on hand to avoid leaving your work space and stirring up dust. 

2. Blow Off Dust

Once you have the appropriate location to work in, the first step is to use an air blower to remove the loose particles off of the lens. I use the large sized Giottos Rock Air Blower, which has a nice snout to help direct the airflow to where I want it. You simply point the snout and squeeze the body of the blower. The blower is made of plastic and will not harm a lens if it comes in contact with the glass (however, if using to clean a sensor, never allow the tip of the blower to come into contact with the sensor). 

Remove the front cap of the lens and begin blowing air around the front element. I also blow out the inside of the lens cap, then I put the cap back on. Next, do the same for the rear element - blowing away any loose particles and the rear cap as well. Replace the rear cap. Once I've removed debris from the lens elements, I'll use the blower to remove any particles around the zoom and focus rings, or anywhere else on the lens body that might attract dust. 

Giottos AA1903 Rocket Air Blaster Large-Red
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This is the air blower I use - it works great and is less than $10.

3. Dry Wipe

The air blower is used to get any loose particles away from the lens. The idea is to start with an invasive cleaning first. Some dust and debris will not blow away, so the next step is to use an appropriate wipe to remove the tougher stuff. I use Pec Pads since they are lint-free and designed for use on sensitive surfaces. I repeat the same areas as with the blower - remove the front cap, gently wipe the glass and then wipe down the lens cap. Dispose of that Pec Pad and use a fresh wipe for the rear element, and then the body of the lens. Wipe gently, as the goal here is to remove loose debris that the blower could not get rid of. Anything that feels tough will be removed in the next step with a cleaner.

PEC-PAD Lint Free Wipes 4"x4" 100per/Pkg
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(price as of Jul 25, 2015)
One pack of Pec-Pads lasts me almost a full year.

4. Lens Cleaner

Once all the easy stuff has been blown or wiped away, I next use a cleaner to remove oils or other debris that is sticking around. There are two products I use for this - Zeiss lens cleaner or I'll use electronic wipes that have a cleaner already on them. I keep electronic wipes in my bag in case I need a quick on location cleaning. My preference is to spray a cleaner directly on a Pec Pad and use it to gently buff the glass on the front and rear elements. Buff in a circular motion, similar to how you wax a car. I use one pad on the front element, dispose, then a fresh pad for the rear element. If I've been shooting in a dusty area I will take a third pad with a cleaner sprayed on it and wipe around the body of the lens. I want to make sure nothing gets in and around the focus and zoom rings.

Once the lens has been buff with a Pec Pad and cleaner, use the air blower to provide airflow to dry the glass. If there appear to be streaks on the lens, use a fresh dry Pec Pad to gently wipe those away, and then more airflow from the air blower. 

5. Clean Regularly

Cleaning your lenses is that easy. It is important to maintain and clean your gear regularly to protect it against dust and debris getting into openings. I use my air blower to blow away dust on my camera body as well, and then a Pec Pad with a light amount of cleaner to wipe the camera down after photographing weddings or when shooting portraits in windy or dusty environments. I want to make sure nothing gets into the openings around the camera buttons and that loose dust does not fall into the sensor area when changing lenses. 

Cleaning your camera sensor is completely different and is a very delicate process. Personally, I never use anything to physically touch the sensor. I will use my air blower to get rid of any loose particles. Either put the camera in mirror lockup mode or use a long shutter (30-seconds works), hit the shutter to flip the mirror up, then hold the camera with the sensor facing the floor. Carefully put the tip of the blower inside the camera and blow around the sensor, but do not touch the sensor. Any loose particles should fall downward. There are products made specifically for cleaning sensors. Personally, I still avoid those. If I cannot blow away debris and I am having issues in my photos, I feel safer taking my gear to an authorized service technician rather than cleaning it myself.



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