The Lumix Diaries Kenya: Cleaning a Dusty Sensor

Posted Jan. 25th, 2015 by Daniel J. Cox

Cleaning a dusty sensor is quite easy. During our time here in Kenya we’ve traveled on some very dusty roads, and along the way I’ve been changing lenses now and again. In general, I try not to change lenses while in the field, especially in a place as dusty as Samburu National Reserve, but sometimes it just has to be done.

I’ve not noticed anything in particular on my sensors but I hadn’t looked really close. So before we start our second ten days in the field I decided to check my two GH4’s and found that they both needed cleaning. That being the case I thought I would share with you how I go about cleaning my cameras sensors.

This is the sensor of one of my GH4's before I did any cleanup.

This is the sensor of one of my GH4’s before I did any cleanup.

The first step is check to if my sensors are dirty. I do that by taking a photo of a completely blank wall at the lowest aperture I can get. In this case it was F/22 with the Lumix 12-35mm F/2.8 lens. While in my hotel room I simply pointed the camera and lens, lens set  to infinity, at my room wall. I didn’t worry about blurring the image with a slow shutter speed; in fact I actually prefer a slow shutter speed, since I move the camera around, so nothing small, like a spec on the wall, is registered in the photo. In this case the camera exposed the frame for about a 1/2 second at F/22, and as I shot the picture I actually moved the camera in a small circle.

This technique will show you the smallest dust specs on the sensor of the camera. After the exposure, I enlarged the frame on the back of the LCD and found there to be several small dust particles as well as what looked like four larger smudges in the shapes of small circles. The more detailed specs came off very easily with my small butterfly paintbrush, however, the larger smudge-like circles wouldn’t budge with the brush. I remembered I had seen this one other time and found that what was actually showing on the sensor were dust specs on the rear lens element. I removed the lens and cleaned the glass on the back, shot another test, and found that all specs and smudges had disappeared.

A frame that shows the dust smudges coming from the rear element of the lens.

A frame that shows the dust smudges coming from the rear element of the lens.

In the past I’ve spent a countless amount of time trying to remove these smudges. Once I realized they were out of focus dust spots on the rear glass element, it was easy to get the entire sensor as clean as new.

That’s all there is to it. I no longer even carry canned air. All my cleaning is done with a sensor cleaning brush which is ridiculously priced. If I had to do it again I would most likely just buy a simple, high quality, nylon bristled water color brush. I’m not convinced the digital sensor brush mentioned above is anything special, but it’s the one I currently use. Along with this brush I also use the LensPen which is for cleaning things that don’t brush off so easily. The LensPen allows you to polish the surface with no damage and I prefer the triangle shaped design.

A final image of my newly cleaned sensor that took no more than maybe five minutes.

A final image of my newly cleaned sensor that took no more than maybe five minutes.

It’s all quite simple. I will say that the Lumix sensor is much easier to clean than my Nikon’s. Why, I have no idea. One possibility is there seems to be a broader border where you can use the tool completely outside the sensor box without hitting a wall. That alone makes it easier. Additionally, Panasonic seems to have some sort of protective cover that really cleans off easily. Maybe this is all in my head, but all I know is I don’t have to clean my Lumix sensors as often and when I do, they clean very easily.

Let me know if any of you have any other tips. Post them here on the Blog and happy shooting.







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There are 8 comments on this post…
  1. Bradley LeachOn Jun. 10th, 2015

    Thanks for the advice. I didn’t think about getting just a normal nylon brush for cheaper locally, that’s a good tip. I have a lot of smudges on the glass that sits just in front of the sensor (between the sensor and the lens mount) and I can’t seem to get the smudges off. They look like dust specks, but they wont budge. I dusted it off with a nylon brush and then with a vacuum hose just to the side of the sensor (to suck away any dust that got near it) I sprayed a dab of lens cleaner onto a microfiber cloth, wrapped it around a q-tip and tried to get the specs off but they wont budge. What do you suggest I do? Seems like it would be a common problem, but I can’t find anything about it online. I don’t even know what the glass piece is called.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 10th, 2015

      Bradley, y guess is you are trying to clean the so called Low-pass filter. It’s basically a protective piece of glass that also does some other technical things not necessary for this comment. If you have tried a cleaning solution and still have issues, it’s now time to have professional clean your sensor. I have a local camera shop that does sensor cleans for $35.00. Hopefully you have someone close as well. If not you could always send your camera to the boys here in Bozeman at Bozeman Camera, 1008 N 7th Ave Suite B, Bozeman, MT 59715. Hope this helps.

  2. JuriOn Jan. 27th, 2015

    Great tip Dean. Thanks.

  3. Eric BowlesOn Jan. 27th, 2015

    Dan – Nice post.

    I really wish Nikon and others would apply some of their nanotechnology efforts to the sensor. Your comment about the Lumix sensor resonates. I would think it’s possible to have a filter over the sensor that strongly repels dust and other debris.

  4. LauraOn Jan. 26th, 2015

    I understand that there are certain risks to cleaning the sensor. Can you clearly explain what they are? Thanks.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 27th, 2015

      Laura, Risks include a dirty lens pens, a dirty lens brush, opening your camera in a windy, dirty environment, etc. Whenever I clean the sensor I make sure I’m in a closed, non windy environment. I keep all my cleaning tools in a ziplock bag for protection so they don’t become contaminated with dust and dirt other than what comes off the sensor of course. All camera manufactures make it sound like cleaning the sensor is difficult, dangerous and should not be tried at home. I can’t disagree more. It’s very simple with some a little common sense and reactively simple caution. If I had to take my cameras in for professional cleaning of my sensors, every time they needed it, I would have stuck with film.

  5. DeanOn Jan. 26th, 2015

    Great tech suggestions, as usual. One of your awesome talents is sharing your “tricks of the trade” with us. Your practical, “tried in the field” information is invaluable. You might want to add an eyelead SCK-1 sensor cleaning stick to your arsenal. It’s magic!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 26th, 2015

      Will look in to it Dean. Thanks for the tip.

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