How Do I Keep My Camera Sensor Clean?

by Mar 30, 2021

Your sensor is the most important part of your camera, and if the sensor gets dirty, you’ll start noticing dark spots in your photos. These little spots take away from the quality of the images and are particularly obvious in slow shutter speed shots while panning.

While you can manually remove them during post-production, it’s time consuming, so your best bet is to try and keep your sensor clean at all times.

In addition to poor image quality, dust and debris in the sensor may end up scratching it and damaging the sensor beyond repair. The only way to fix a damaged sensor is to replace it, and since it’s the most expensive component to change, you may end up having to buy a new camera altogether.

In motorsport photography, keeping your sensor clean is especially tricky as races aren’t exactly sterile environments. Dust, dirt, and debris from the racetrack are bound to affect your camera, but if you follow these simple steps, you should be able to prevent your sensor from getting damaged.

Lens Swap

To prevent your sensor from getting dirty, the key trick is is to avoid changing camera lenses in dusty, dirty, or windy environments. So anywhere that’s not a trackside.

Always change your lenses in a clean and controlled environment, and don’t forget to switch your camera off before changing the lens – the static charge in your sensor might attract dust even when you’re changing the lens indoors.

Finally, never leave your camera with the lens mount open. When you remove a lens, immediately replace it with the other or cover the body with a cap.

For motorsport photography, it’s a challenge: to capture different shots, you may need to change lenses while at the trackside. To avoid swapping lenses mid-action, I tend to carry at least two camera bodies with different lenses. This way, I always have the right lens at the ready when action happens, and I’m preventing dust from getting into my sensor.

Cleaning Your Sensor

However much you try, sometimes it’s simply impossible to stop dust and debris getting into your sensor. If you start seeing those telltale dark spots in your images, it’s time to give your sensor a clean.

If you’re just starting out, it might be best to take your camera for a professional clean: sensors are extremely sensitive, and if you’re not careful, you may damage them.

If you think you’re ready to try it yourself, first prepare your working space in the cleanest, dust free part of your house. Then, carefully clean the outside of your camera body so that the dust from the exterior doesn’t get inside.

Finally, remove the lens and clean the inside with a camera blower and a sensor swab.

Once again, if you’re unsure how to clean the sensor, simply take your camera to your manufacturer’s professional service department. Canon (CPS) and Nikon (NPS) in particular offer a professional services unit who’s primary responsibility is to take care of these sorts of issues for you.

They include regular sensor cleans as part of your membership, and you’ll have the peace of mind knowing your sensor is looked after by the pros.

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Rhys Vandersyde

Rhys Vandersyde

I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.

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