A camera is a fantastic tool for artistic expression. Anyone can learn to take wonderful pictures with enough practice, and over time, many people find it turn from a passing hobby to an artistic addiction. Your camera is your ‘baby’ and you’ll want to take good care of it. After all, a decent camera is quite an investment, so you want to ensure that you always practice good camera maintenance techniques. Quality photography equipment will hold up for years with routine maintenance, which means keeping it clean. We already talked about sensor cleaning, in this article we focus on cleaning the other vital parts of your camera kit: lenses and filters.
Over time, it’s inevitable that no matter how clean you keep your environment, your camera and your lenses will get dirty. The small grooves and crevices in the exterior will eventually attract dust, dirt and other grime that will build up after a while. Filters end up with fingerprints, grease stains or annoying condensation marks. This becomes especially apparent when unsightly marks start making an unwelcome appearance in your photos.
Sometimes, multicoated camera lenses are a little tricky to clean. Stubborn marks are caused by oil sticking to the glossy surface of the filter, but we’re not scrubbing plates here. You want to keep your cleaning process as simple as possible, and use a gentle hand. It’s not a complicated process if you use good sense and exercise some caution.
What Do I Need?
While it comes down to personal preference, some useful cleaning items to have on hand are:
- Air blaster
- Lens pen or sensor cleaning brush
- Lens cleaning fluid or ROR (residual oil remover)
- Eyeglass repair kit
- Soft microfiber cloth or lens tissues
TIP: if you want to purchase multiple of these items, we suggest buying this lens cleaning kit (also includes tools to clean your sensor)
It’s really up to personal preference, and you may never really need to use cleaning fluid at all (although it is nice to have on hand). An eyeglass repair kit is a very affordable way to get some quality glass cleaner and soft cloths if you can’t go to a camera shop. Let’s get some more insight about cleaning technique.
Do’s and Dont’s
- Clean in a well-lit, dust-free area (preferably natural lighting) so you can see the clarity of your lens and filters from different angles. If you’re using cleaning fluid, work in a well ventilated area so you don’t breathe in the fumes.
- Take a test shot to see how the grime is affecting your photos.
- Get a quality brush made from camel hair (or synthetic). The electrostatic charge will help pull away debris. Or use a lens pen, it’s a great tool to have around.
- Use an air blaster meant for camera cleaning (not canned air for electronics)
- Try to keep it minimal—see if the dust can be removed with the air blaster first.
- Always use a new cloth, and wash them frequently.
- Dry wipe the lens or filters with paper towels. This will spread the smudge, or grind the particles into the coating and cause scratches.
- Submerge the lens in liquid (the water will seep between the layers)
- Apply cleaning fluid directly to the lens, always put it on the cloth
- Touch your brush with your fingers (it will attract oil from your skin)
- Use regular rubbing alcohol, it often has additives that will damage the coating of the lens.
With that in mind, usually a mark can be removed by simply breathing on the lens and gently wiping it clean. However, this doesn’t always work, and for some multicoated lenses, it can make it look worse.
- Start by puffing your air blaster once or twice so the propellant doesn’t come off on to your filter or lens. Blow away any debris from the lens with the air blaster, and see how it looks. If you’re using a brush, fluff the bristles with the air to charge up the static cling.
- Use the brush to pick up any remaining bits of dust off the lens. If you have a lens pen, this of course is the best time to use it. While a microfiber cloth won’t absorb oil, a lens pen uses carbon-based material that does.
Does it still look dirty? Okay, move on to the next step.
- Using an oil-cutting cleaning fluid, apply a few drops of it to the cloth and gently wipe off the lens, rubbing in a circular motion. You may have to repeat this step a few times, so always use a new cloth each time. Some people prefer to use a bit of natural soap diluted in a few cups of warm distilled water.
- Dip the cloth in the water and squeeze out the extra liquid so it’s just damp, and wipe the lens.
- After either of these methods, follow up with a dry cloth.
Now after all that, your filter should look squeaky clean. If there are any remaining streaks, you might want to follow up with a very pure alcohol-based cleaning fluid (eyeglass cleaner works well too), another dry cloth, and a final blast with the air. Touch up with a brush or lens pen as needed.
Lenses vary in sturdiness, as well as how their coatings respond to certain products, so you’ll have to figure out what works best for you. Even if you keep your camera super clean, it’s bound to incur a fingerprint or some splotches eventually, but a lot of gunk can be removed with the air blaster or a lens pen. A lot of smudges and marks can be removed easily by simply breathing on the filter and lightly wiping it clean. You definitely want to avoid a lengthy cleaning process if you don’t need it, so if the lens doesn’t look dirty, leave it alone. The less you mess with it, the longer the coating will hold up. When you do notice a smudge, remove it right away so that the oil doesn’t sink into the surface.
With all this in mind, cleaning a lens isn’t rocket science, it just takes a little time and attention. Follow these steps and you’ll have those splotches gone in no time with minimal risk.
If you prefer to watch a video on how to clean your lenses, we’d recommend this one (made by Tom Photoix)
More Lens Cleaning Tutorials