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VisibleDust Sensor Cleaner Products: My Battle with a Dust Mote

VisibleDust Arctic Butterfly and Sensor Loupe

DSL cameras have two annoying design flaws that don’t seem destined for improvement soon. The first one is lack of sophisticated manual focus. The old analog cameras had ground glass and split screen focusing systems that put the DSLR focus to shame. Now all the technology is focused on auto-focus, so when you need to use manual focus . . . don’t get me started.

The other is dust. If you change lenses often, you are acquainted with the dreaded dust-on-the-sensor devil. If it has struck you down, you’ll see it’s grimy footprints on the next picture of expansive sky you take. This is even more of a problem with mirrorless cameras than standard DSRL’s, because the sensors are not as recessed and are not protected by mirrors.

Don’t think you’re immune if your camera gently shakes the sensor to dislodge dust. It may get rid of some of it (on average, only a third). The rest clings for life like a cat held over a soap-filled sink. So how do you get rid of it?

You have to get your hands dirty, and that means getting over your fear of exposing and peering down at the multicolored plate of your sensor. One way to remove dust is to blast it off with a heavy duty dust blower. But sometimes even that doesn’t work. You may need the heavy artillery.

VisibleDust makes a kit that contains these weapons in the dust eradication battle.

The Sensor Loupe

This is a very cleverly designed loupe designed to fit over your exposed sensor and reveal the dust. It does this via a series of small
LEDs around its perimeter. Since they are placed at an angle, they reveal the dust and its shadow. It comes in two sizes: 5X and 7X. I tested the 7X. It showed that I had two dust motes on my sensor.

The Arctic Butterfly

This curious device is an electronic brush designed to pick up the dust that you spot with the Sensor Loupe. When you turn it on, two events
occur: it spins around, developing a static charge so that the dust is picked up. And it turns its own little light on, to aid you in relocating the dust mote you spotted with the loupe. I didn’t find the light strong enough to easily relocate the motes—perhaps I need to get used to it or it needs a second
LED. But I did relocate them with the loupe. And it did the job—for one of them.

Cleaning Swabs

Since I could not get the second mote, I had to assume it was a daub of grease.
According to the Visible Dust web site (and others), grease can appear on the sensor of even new cameras, due to the mechanical
aspect of the shutter and its mirror. I didn’t care how it got there, I had to get rid of it. So I moistened the swab and
dragged it across the 1.6 Canon APS sensor, then swiped it back. (It was a tight fit; perhaps a smaller size would have been better.) It didn’t work the first time, so I tried again. And again. It took EIGHT times to dislodge the grease blob. This meant a new swab each time. I later found out that this
kind of protracted grease battle is not that uncommon. I also found out that it’s not a good idea to use the Arctic Butterfly
until the sensor has thoroughly dry, or it will smear.

I did finally win the battle, thanks to these three products. The alternative would have been to send it to a specialized service and pay up to $100 for a cleaning. And it would have knocked the camera out of commission for—what? Two
weeks? If I was lucky!

Like basement sump pumps, these tools are in that odd category of products you hope you don’t have to use,
but are glad to have when you need them. Who knows? If you get good at sensor cleaning, you can clean your friends’ DSLR
sensors and make enough money to make back the cost in a few short months.

Tips

Mount your camera on a tripod while cleaning the sensor. That way you can tilt it down slightly to allow the dust to escape. Also, don’t clean your sensor unless you have to. Take an out-of-focus picture of your ceiling if you suspect dust infestation, then examine the photo
for tell-tale specs. Also, remove the batteries from the Arctic Butterfly when not in use. (They do go bad.)

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Peter Bates

Peter Bates is a writer and photographer living in Florida. He is the administrator of this blog and runs the blog Stylus.

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