One thing I’ve noticed about my mirrorless Sony A7r is how quickly the sensor gets dirty. Same thing probably happens with the Sony A7 and A7s I’m sure.
Typically on my Canon 5Dmkii I would take my camera into a camera shop and getting cleaned every so often for around $40 bucks.
But on a mirrorless camera there is no mirror to offer that first line of defense against dust and debris, so cleaning the sensor becomes a much more frequent activity. And constantly sending it into camera shops is unreasonable.
Also, if you’re shooting video with the Sony A7s, Panasonic GH4 or Canon 5Dmkiii, C300, C500 or even the Red, keeping a clean sensor is a lot more important than when shooting still photography since it’s a lot harder to paint out sensor dust on video. This is especially important if you plan on shooting high aperture.
This should also works well on the NEX systems and the new A6000 as well as Nikon, Olympus and Canon mirrorless systems as well.
5 Techniques To Clean Your Mirrorless Camera
Clean your sensor at your own risk. I’m not responsible for any damages just merely instructing you in the methods I use.
Before You Begin – Create A Dust Free Environment
First thing you need to do before you can ever even consider cleaning your camera sensor is to prepare a dust free environment.
I have a few Air filters I turn on full blast in a small area like a bathroom which can work. I get bad allergies and have chronic bronchitis so I always keep air filters around. If you’re looking for some air filters to have in your camera room I recommend the Rabbit Air. But the BlueAir is also good for those larger rooms. You definitely don’t need one to clean your sensor.
But you can also turn your shower on and steam out your bathroom for a bit. This will cause the dust particles to stick together and fall. Just make sure all the steam is out of the air before you start cleaning your sensor.
The Dry Method
1. The Blower
Amazon – Rocket Air Blaster – Large Black
This is what I use most. Great to use between lens changes, or for general maintenance. Or sometimes you’ll notice large particles of dust or lint on your sensor. This works instantly for that.
I’ve found the Large Black Rocket Air to be the best as you can get the most PSI out of it.
A couple bursts and you’re good to go.
2. The Sensor Cleaning Brush
Amazon – Sensor Cleaning Brush – Full Frame
Amazon – Sensor Cleaning Brush – APS C
Some times pieces of debris are stubborn and won’t come off. They’ve created a static connection to the sensor. That’s when the brush is nice.
When using a brush there are a few rules.
First, never touch the bristles with your fingers. You don’t want your body oil on them.
Second, use your Blower in step one and blow some air on the bristles of your brush. This does two things. Removes old debris, and creates a static charge on the bristles which will help it collect dust off your sensor.
Third, brush across the sensor, very gently a few times. When doing this, think about how you would brush your eyeball with the brush while causing as little pain as possible. Now brush your sensor like that. Make sense? Good.
I love my brush. It’s a must have.
The Wet Method
The dry method works most of the time. But sometimes there is other debris besides dust on your lens that needs to come off. For instance if you do a lot of shooting near the ocean, you could have had salty misty particles collect on your sensor between a lens change. Or perhaps you once didn’t have a blower and decided to blow air from your mouth to get some dust off and some microscopic spit got stuck to it. (Never do that btw.) Or maybe you sneezed while changing lenses. These things happen. Believe me.
Before using the Wet Method always make sure you’ve used the dry method to get any large particles off your sensor or you’ll risk rubbing those into your sensor and scratching it.
3. E Wipes
Amazon – E-Wipe Cleaning Pad
These are great. Especially for larger sensor like full frame and especially medium format. Take out an E Wipe and brush it once across your sensor as even as possible. Done.
I actually like using the E Wipes on my Sony A7r because it’s so easy. But so far in 6 months, I’ve only had to do it once.
4. Sensor Swabs With Eclipse
Amazon – Sensor Swab Type 1 (Box of 12) – Smaller Full Frame, Canon 1D systems, Nikon D300’s etc.
Amazon – Sensor Swabs Type 2 (Box of 12) – APS-C, Micro 4/3 cameras. A6000, Panasonic GH4, NEX-7. Etc
Amazon – Sensor Swab Type 3 (Box of 12) – Full Frame, Canon 5Dmkiii, Sony A7r, Nikon D800E etc.
Amazon – Eclipse Cleaning System Solution
If I didn’t list your camera you can see the sensor swab compatibility chart here.
The one is a bit more difficult and I use it sometimes in Place of the E Wipes.
You take your microfiber that comes in the kit, secure it to the spatula, put two drops of eclipse or (methanol) on the spatula, wait a few seconds for it to spread, then wipe it once across the sensor. Or flip it over and do it a second time if you think it needs it. But don’t wipe twice on the same side.
A Better Deal But More Work
The swabs are expensive. So instead of buying the Box Set which you can only use 12 times. I bought a cleaning kit which comes with 3 spatulas. Then bought some extra Pec Pads so I could reuse the Spatulas.
But replacing the Pec Pads on the spatula can be a pain.
Amazon – Digital Survival KIT – Sensor Swab Type 2 (w/Eclipse)
The kit above comes with eclipse, the sensor swipes and some pads. You can order more Pec Pads and cut them in half for future use and some more eclipse. The swabs should last you forever.
5. Sensor Loupe
Not required but sometimes these are handy to check and see you’ve cleaned all the dust from the sensor.
Amazon – SensorMag LED Lighted Cleaning Loupe
Oh No! You Scratched Your Sensor, What Do You Do Now?
If you’ve scratched your sensor it’s not the end of the world, don’t panic, don’t get depressed. A lot of times scratches won’t show up or affect your image quality. If it’s scratched bad and is effecting your image quality then there is a fix. But it is expensive. Often times around $300.00 USD.
What you’ve done is actually only scratched the High Pass filter or UV filter or glass that sits in front of the sensor. You haven’t scratched the actual sensor. So you can take your camera in to be serviced and you can often get that piece of glass replaced. No big deal, just call your local service department.
How Not To Clean Your Sensor
Firstly, I highly recommend you read the experiences of Al Vise on his blog. He’s had his sensor glass repaired and cleaned by Sony several times now.
As far as I know, on Sony cameras you shouldn’t use cleaner with Alcohol in it (update: read the link above). It can mess with the coatings on the sensor. That’s what I’ve heard at least. But then I’ve also heard Sony say they use Alcohol products. Maybe it doesn’t matter, can anyone confirm?
Second, don’t ever use a micro fiber cloth or anything other than what’s listed above to clean your sensor.
Third, never use canned air. It’s just to risky. You don’t want the little tube to fly out hitting your sensor, and you don’t want it to spray that nasty cold mist onto it either.
Good luck. These are the methods I use to clean my DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras. They’ve been effective for me both on my Canon 5Dmkii and my Sony A7r. Although they should work on most DSLR and Mirrorless camera sensors, but are by no means the only methods, just one of the methods out there that I like.
Please leave a comment if you’ve found other methods or techniques that you like to use for cleaning your mirrorless sensor.