Grime Doesn't Pay - Part 1

Fact: if you use your camera, it’s going to get dirty. And if you’re using it seriously it is going to get even more dirty. Photographing interiors? They’re dusty. Beaches are gritty. Flowers shed pollen.

But even if you keep your precious camera carefully wrapped up in cotton wool, the cotton wool itself is made of fibres.

There's more. Your camera is a machine, with moving parts. The shutter, just opening and closing, is going to wear releasing microscopic particles of plastic, metal, or whatever the shutter mechanism is made of.

Grime is grim, wherever it’s found. So, you wash the car, dust the house and brush the dog. But how often do you clean your camera and associated gear?

“Clean the camera myself?” you say. “No way! I’m going to end up with a massive repair bill.”

Not necessarily. Here’s a personal experience. A few years ago I took my camera to have its sensor cleaned by an authorised dealer in the UK (who, because I don’t want to get sued, shall remain nameless). The ‘cleaning’ cost me 30 quid and the camera came out worse than it went in. Since then I’ve done the sensor cleaning myself, in a three-stage process that I’ll describe later in this series.

But first, start out by cleaning the exterior. You can’t hope to get it spotless inside if the outside is dusty. This process is simple. Brush ... blow ... wipe. And here's the equipment you nedd to do the job ...

Cleaning equipment: microfibre cloth, blower, soft brush (this is a man's shaving brush), optical cleaning fluid, cotton bud.

Brush. You can get a dedicated camera brush for this, but you’ll probably pay extra for it. A large, soft make-up brush, or a man’s shaving brush (both of them unused, of course!) will do the job just as well, if not better. And will cost less. Give your camera a good brushing all over to remove surface grit and grot. Then ...

Blow. No, not with your mouth. There are two ways of doing this. Either buy a big fat bulb-type blower, that looks like a hand grenade with a pipe sticking out of the end, or use a can of compressed air. Don’t bother with those diddly little puffer and brushes combined. They’re close to useless. Use a big ‘un. Puff liberally all over the camera body and front element of the lens to shift any particles that have not been removed by brushing. Blow out the inside the lens cap too, as dust can gather there. If you’re using a can of compressed gas be a bit careful. This can spurt liquid propellant if you hold it the wrong way (like upside down). Finally ...

Wipe – using a microfibre cloth. This is a special type of tightly-woven cleaning cloth that has a unique, silky feel to it. You can buy these cloths in photo shops and or at opticians. Get a big one. You could use a well-washed piece of cotton, but cotton tends to shed fibres. In addition, microfibre cloths are good at removing greasy marks, and they prevent scratching. Just remember, you need to keep the cloth clean, too. So give it an occasional wash.

If there are stubborn greasy patches that won’t shift – and let’s be honest, your nose against the viewing screen can leave hard-to-shift marks – then use a dab of optical cleaning fluid. These liquids have been specially formulated to ensure that they don’t damage glass, plastic or coated surfaces, and they evaporate away harmlessly. But, even so, always read the instructions first. Never ever use other solvents like white spirit. Then you may well have a massive repair bill.

Clean the eyepiece of the viewfinder too. This is usually recessed and is a wonderful dust trap. A cotton bud, moistened with some optical cleaning fluid will do the job well. And, while you’re at it, check the dioptre adjustment - the little wheel or lever that sets the viewfinder to your individual vision. It can get knocked out of place during use, or your vision may have altered slightly since you last set the viewfinder. You can’t hope to take sharp photographs if you can’t view them clearly.

Cleaning the eyepiece. Check the dioptre seting at the same time.

Finally, don’t forget your camera bag. It’s no good putting your lovely clean gear back into a bag that’s been gathering dust all year. Empty it out completely, remove all the interior partitions and vacuum clean it. Make sure to get the nozzle into all the nooks and crannies, and suck dust out of the various pockets, too.
Next time round – cleaning your lenses.

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