If you are like me, the fight against dust spots on digital camera sensors is something that you battle with constantly. I have been troubled by this issue since 2001, ever since I bought my first Canon EOS-D30 DSLR camera.
Up until recently, I hadn’t found a good solution for getting rid of the dust other than taking the camera into a service center and spending time and money to have them clean and remove the dust for me.
I have also used sensor brushes and other things in the past like sensor swabs to try and clean sensors myself, but nothing ever really worked well enough or on a consistent basis. So eventually I’d end up back at the camera manufacturers’ service center for another sensor cleaning.
But that’s all changed now and in this post I’m going to teach you how to effectively get rid of sensor dust yourself. But before I do I want to talk a bit more about why sensor dust in digital cameras is a problem to begin with.
Please see the photo below. This is a shot I took recently in Valencia Spain and you can see all the dust spots in the sky which I have circled in red. Some of the spots are more noticeable than others.
One of the reasons the dust spots in the above shot are a bit more pronounced than in other photos is because it was shot at F/22 and, when you shoot with a very narrow aperture setting, dust spots can appear even sharper and more noticeable. On wider apertures they will be less focused, softer, and look more like gray blobs or smudges rather than spots in your photos.
Thankfully these spots can be easily removed in Photoshop with use of the healing brush or clone stamp tools. So usually photos aren’t completely ruined by dust spots. But wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to spend time removing dust spots from photos on the computer or even see them at all?
So how do spots accumulate on a sensor?
Even if you are very careful to only change lenses in clean environments and where there is no wind or air movement, eventually dust spots start appearing anyway. There are always microscopic particles in the air so it almost can’t be avoided.
Sometimes there is also a bit of dust on the back of the lens’ mount which then places dust onto your sensor as you mount the lens to your camera. And with the recent advent of mirrorless cameras, you now have a sensor that is fully exposed and no longer protected by a mirror when you remove the camera’s lens cap. So sensor dust with mirrorless cameras is an even greater problem now than 5-7 years ago when only DSLR camera bodies existed.
If you are wondering if your own DSLR or mirrorless camera has dust spots on the sensor then you can conduct a simple test yourself with your camera and a computer monitor as follows:
1 – First put a lens on your camera that has roughly a 50-70mm focal length.
2 – Then change the background screen color to pure white on your computer. If you have trouble changing your screen color then you can save this pure white JPG file of mine here and temporarily install it as your background wallpaper for doing your sensor tests.
3 – Put your camera onto the “Aperture Priority Mode” setting.
4 – Set your light metering mode to Matrix/Evaluative/Averaged metering.
5 – Set your Exposure Compensation to 2 stops over exposed.
6 – Set your camera to the lowest possible ISO number, such as ISO 100 or 200.
7 – Turn off Auto ISO if you have that set to on.
8 – Turn off auto focus and set your lens to manual focus.
9 – Set your aperture to the highest number available for the lens you are working with. F/16, F/22, F/32 or whatever the case might be.
10 – Then point your camera onto your white computer screen background.
11 – Turn the focus ring all the way to one side to ensure that the lens is completely out of focus.
12 – Take a picture (don’t worry if the exposure is long, for example 2-3 seconds). You don’t need a tripod and it won’t matter for this test if your hand shakes during the exposure. Any dust spots are fixed onto the sensor and will not be affected by movement of the camera. Just make sure you keep the lens pointed onto the white part of the computer screen for the entire exposure.
13 – Now zoom in on the test image you just shot, either using the rear LCD on your camera or by loading the photo onto your computer (better to shoot in raw). Look at the photo at 100% resolution on your screen. Then scroll from left to right and top to bottom of the image to see if you can find any dark spots representing dust spots on your image.
If you cannot see any dark spots on your test shot then your sensor is clean. If you see spots, like on my Valencia shot above, then your sensor has dust on it.
Below is a sensor dust test I just conducted with the camera and lens that captured the Valencia photo you see above. The photo was taken with a Sony a6300 mirrorless camera and a Sony Zeiss 16mm to 70mm lens. I captured the sensor test shot below at F/22. Note that I normally only use this one lens with this camera. So I rarely change lenses and have not removed the lens from the camera in over 3 months. As a result you would think I wouldn’t have any dust spots, yet, dust still seems to get in there over time.
Then I used a sensor cleaning product to remove the dust from my Sony a6300’s sensor that I purchased recently. It is something known as a “sensor gel stick” and it is made by a company called Eyelead.
I simply used this orange gel stick to press down onto the sensor a few times in different places and, as I did that, it removed the dust from my sensor within just a few seconds. Below is a second dust test shot taken with the same camera and lens a few minutes later, after I cleaned the sensor with the Eyelead gel stick. As you can see in the new test shot below, ALL the dust is gone now. Wonderful!
This Eyelead product actually comes in two versions. An orange version model # SCK-1B designed for cleaning more delicate Sony and Leica camera sensors and a blue version model # SCK-1 for cleaning Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, and other DSLR camera body sensors. You can buy the Eyelead orange gel stick here and the blue gel stick here.
I was told that the orange one wouldn’t be effective for cleaning Canon camera sensors though since Canon cameras require the blue gel stick version which is stickier and is needed to remove dust from Canon sensors. I did however use the orange gel stick on my older Canon 5D Mark II as a test anyway and it managed to remove 95% of the dust spots. Below you can see the first sensor dust test shot taken with the 5D Mark II before I cleaned it, followed by a second test shot taken a few minutes later with the same 5D Mark II camera after cleaning it with the orange gel stick.
As you can see, the Canon sensor hadn’t been cleaned in quite a while and it was full of dust to start with. In the near future I plan to purchase the blue version, which is made specifically for Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Olympus cameras, to see if I can remove all of the dust spots from my Canon DSLR sensors too when cleaning them.
In conclusion, I feel this is an excellent digital sensor cleaning device. Please note though that these gel sticks may not remove 100% of the spots on your sensor 100% of the time. Occasionally you may still have to take your camera to be cleaned professionally if a more difficult spot has gotten onto your sensor which isn’t of a dust particle nature. But for the most part it should save you a lot of time and money on needing to have your sensor cleaned professionally on a regular basis.
If you have any questions, comments, or experiences with this sensor gel stick please feel free to post them below.