You Can Do It: Clean Your DSLR's CCD

UPDATE #1: There is a Flickr thread with stories of people who have had problems doing this. Ditto someone that got the anti-aliasing filter messed up by the manufacturer's guys, too.

To clarify, I used only the weight of the tool itself as pressure as I pulled it across my sensor. I felt like that was a very safe practice and I would do it repeatedly without fear. But this is a personal decision.

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UPDATE #2: While the Copper Hill method works well for most cameras, apparently the Canon EOS 5 has potential problems. So if you use that camera, you will probably want to consider another chip cleaning method. Details of the Canon 5d/Eclipse fluid issues are here.


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Original post:

DSLR sensor chips collect dust. That is a Photoshop-time-consuming fact of digital life. At The Sun, whenever we send in our DSLRs to be otherwise repaired, one nice little bonus is that (along with the obscene repair bill) they come back with a freshly cleaned CCD.

Which, of course, lasts for about a week. Two if you are lucky.

You may not even notice that you have dust at all, until you stop down and shoot with a wide lens or macro. Then, all of a sudden it looks like you are looking through an electron microscope or something. Eww.

Heck, I used to even keep a little sticker on one of my bodies to denote which one had the "cleaner" (and I use the term in the relative sense) CCD. That was so I would know which one to use if I needed to shoot something at f/11 or higher.

Truth be told, I was scared to death of the idea of cleaning my own sensor. But finally screwed up the nerve and did it myself with the help of a $32 kit from Copper Hill Images. I don't think I have to tell you that the ol' pucker factor was running at about f/64, if you know what I mean.

But I read through the site's tutorial, which over-explains every step to the point that even a numbskull like myself feels as if he has a fighting chance. Then I spread my gear out on the table, along with their Basic Sensor Cleaning Kit, and took the plunge.

NOTE: Read the tutorial before you try this. Don't be a “guy” about this. These instructions are there for your protection. This is not something you can just breeze through like, say, birth control. THIS IS YOUR SENSOR.

The basic kit is a package of Pec•Pads, some Eclipse cleaning fluid and a cool little tool best described as a cross between a windshield wiper and one of those things you use to get the last of the mayo out of the jar. Make sure you choose the one sized for your sensor.

First result: I was very successful at moving the dust from one part of the sensor to another part of the sensor. But I did not eff up my sensor, which I saw as a victory.

Ditto on the second attempt.

Third time was the charm: A clean sensor. A brand, spankin' new clean sensor.

Schwing! Why did I wait so long to try this?

After my sensor-cleaning deflowering, I would now clean my own sensor without a second thought. Heck, I'll clean yours for half of what Nikon charges – heh, heh.

Not really, but the point is (a) that it is easy and effective if you follow Copper Hill's instructions as listed above, and (b) the camera manufacturers charge way too much.

Look, I am not going to sit here and guarantee that you wont spaz out and do something bad to your camera. But what I can say is that I found the tutorial to err on the over-cautious side and this kit worked just great for me.

That said, the decision to go into your digital baby is yours and yours alone. But I have been to the promised land. And I can report that it is dust-free.

Since I have started cleaning my own Copper Hill also has a new method (called "Dust-Aid") that looks even easier if your sensor only has dust as opposed to stuck-on grime. If anyone has real-world feedback on that, I'd love to hear about it.

Do any of you guys already clean your own sensor? What do you use? Yak back in the comments section and let us know what works – or doesn't work – for you.

UPDATE: There is a Flickr thread with stories of people who have had problems doing this. Ditto someone that got the anti-aliasing filter messed up by the manufacturer's guys, too.

To clarify, I used only the weight of the tool itself as pressure as I pulled it across my sensor. I felt like that was a very safe practice and I would do it repeatedly without fear. But this is a personal decision.

-DH


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