How to Clean SLR Camera Lenses

When it comes to cleaning SLR camera lenses, photographers use different methods that work for them. In this article, I will show you my way to clean DSLR camera lenses. I often get emails and comments from our readers, who ask to provide detailed information on this process, so I am including a detailed article along with an accompanying video to thoroughly explain the process. Cleaning lenses is a fairly straightforward process and is almost risk-free, as long as you are using proper tools for the job. If you are impatient and want to see the video where I show the entire process of cleaning a lens, skip all the way down. I hope you find the below article and video useful.

1) Why Clean Camera Lens?

Besides the obvious answer “because it is dirty”, keeping your lenses clean will ensure that you get the best and highest quality results from using your gear. During a Photo Walks that I led a couple of years ago, a novice approached me with a question about his camera. He told me that his images look cloudy and he had no idea why it was happening. I asked if I could take a look at his camera to see if I could find anything wrong with it. As soon as I opened the front lens cap, I knew exactly what the problem was. The front element of the lens was very dirty and had oily fingerprints and other stuff all over the place. I showed him the lens and asked if he knew about the problem. He told me that he had a toddler that likes his camera too much and apparently, that’s how the lens ended up getting all the stuff on it. He did not know how to clean the lens properly and after spending so much money on the camera gear, he was too scared to clean it himself. Gladly, I always carry my cleaning kit with me, so I took a picture before and then another after cleaning the lens. We compared the images and as expected, the first one indeed looked cloudy, while the second one was clear and sharp. This is one example of how dust, dirt and oil can affect your images.

Another important reason to clean your camera lens is keep your images free of particles that might show up in background highlights and other parts of the image. Take a look at my earlier post on “the effect of dust on lens bokeh” – you will see, that dust on the rear element of your lens will show up in your images, especially if you have large specks of dust there.

Dust is a normal part of a photographer’s life. While it is a good idea to prevent dust from landing on your gear, whether you like it or not, you will eventually end up in a dusty environment some day. So, it is not a matter of how, but when. If you see a beautiful sunset on a windy and dusty day, are you not going to take a picture? Some photographers say things like “do not get your gear dirty in first place”, which I consider to be a ridiculous statement. I would never want to miss an opportunity for a good picture, just because I wanted to keep my gear clean. Every time I go to places like Sand Dunes, I know beforehand that it is most likely going to be windy. Take a look at this shot:

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The Effect of Dust on Lens Bokeh

Do you want to find out how dust affects your lens bokeh? I ran some tests today on my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II to find out exactly what happens to bokeh when there is dust on the front element of the lens and also when it is on the rear element of the lens. Take a look at this image crop:

Bokeh with dusty front element

See that large speck showing up in every background highlight? That certainly looks annoying to me. Here is how the lens front element looked like before I took the above shot:

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What To Do With Dust Inside Lens

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get from our readers, is what to do with dust inside a lens and whether it is something to worry about. I decided to write an article on this subject, because lens dust and flecks are a very common issue not only for camera sensors, but also for lenses. When I first discovered dust inside my brand new lens that I only used for a couple of days, I was very disappointed and I remember how I started searching for a solution online in panic mode. If you are frustrated with a similar issue and do not know what to do, keep on reading.

1) How to Inspect Lens for Dust

So, how can you find out if you have dust inside your lens? Actually, let me rephrase this question – how can you find out how much dust you have inside your lens? Because even brand new lenses normally do have some foreign particles in between lens elements. A quick visual inspection of the lens front will often reveal large dust particles behind the first lens element, if there are any. Just make sure that the front is thoroughly cleaned beforehand and any protective filters are removed. Look straight and then inspect the lens at an angle and you might see some dust behind the front glass element. Now if you really want to see dust, and I promise you will, here is the best way to do it. First, find a very bright LED flashlight. You can find those pretty much anywhere nowadays, even in a grocery store. Next, you will need to open up the lens aperture (the lens obviously needs to be dismounted from the camera, rear lens cap should be removed). If you have an older lens with an aperture ring, you just need to set the aperture ring to the smallest value (which is the largest aperture) like f/1.4 or f/2.8 and you are ready to go. If you have a modern lens like Nikon “G” type AF-S lenses, then you will need to push up a small metal lever to open the lens aperture as seen below. To keep the lens aperture open, you will need to keep pushing it with one finger:

Nikon G Lens Aperture Open

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Nikon 35mm f/1.4G Image Samples

Lola and I just got back from a trip to Utah, where I had a chance to test the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G lens, along with other 35mm lenses from Zeiss and Nikon. The last 3-4 weeks have been super busy for both of us and on top of that, our whole family has been sick for the last two weeks. Out of everyone in the family, I got a special present – a really nasty virus that put me to bed for two weeks! I don’t remember the last time I had anything like this. High fever with a really bad back pain. If it wasn’t for Lola, who kept on making me eat and drink plenty of fluids (including hot tea/milk with honey), I would have been in bed for a month!

Due to the above, I have not been able to post much on the blog lately. And the number of comments that I need to respond to have been piling up, don’t even know how I will be able manage several hundred comments. My apologies to all those who are waiting for my response!

Anyway, back to Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G – I loved this lens! And darn, I loved the Zeiss f/2.0, too. Never thought I would fall in love with a manual focus lens, but more on that later – in the upcoming Nikon 35mm f/1.4G lens review. I have a pretty good feel for the Nikon 35mm and I am glad that I was able to test it for portraits/weddings (see images below) and also for landscape photography (our trip to Utah), so the review should be fairly detailed and complete (a Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 review will follow).

Here are two image samples from the wedding that Lola and I shot a couple of weeks ago. Please note that the images are simply extracted out of Lightroom without any post-processing (except sharpening). Other image samples at different apertures with some bokeh will be provided in the upcoming review.

Sample #1

Click here to download the full size version of the above image.

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Things to Do After Buying a New Lens

So you have just received your brand spanking new lens that you have been dreaming of for a while. The first thing you probably do is mount it on your camera and take some sample pictures. But before you do that, it might be a good idea to do a couple of things that will not only help keep your camera gear clean, but also decrease your frustration level with your new lens in case it is defective. Below you will find the list of things I personally do after buying and receiving a new lens.

Nikon 85mm f/1.4G

Nikon 85mm f/1.4G

1) Inspect the lens

Most of the time, the lens you purchase is going to be brand new. However, there are cases when some retailers will try to sell a used lens as brand new. Ever since I switched to online purchasing from companies like B&H and Adorama, I have not had such a problem. Either way, it does not hurt to check if your lens is in good condition or not.

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What lens do you use the most?

One of the powerful features of Lightroom (and incidentally, one of the reasons why I started using it) is its ability to read the EXIF data from each photograph, for photographers to be able to sort images easily and stay organized, and to quickly find specific photographs without going through thousands of pictures. Lightroom stores its catalogs in a database, which is designed and optimized to index all relevant fields such as Camera type, Lens type, Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, Keywords and Collections, in addition to storing information about every single picture (note that the pictures themselves are not stored within the database). This index is used by Lightroom extensively – every time when you access an image or work with “Collections” and “Keywords” to tag your photos, this index is read from and written to. This database is also the reason why Lightroom gets much slower overtime as you add more and more photographs to it, since it stores so much information about every single photo.

At the end of each year, I go through my Lightroom catalog to see my “photo statistics”. I do it through the “Library Filter” feature on top of Lightroom’s “Library” module:

Lightroom Library Filter

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Nikon 35mm f/1.8G vs 50mm f/1.4G

Some of our readers, especially those who are just getting into photography, frequently ask me if they should choose the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G or Nikon 50mm f/1.4G to be used for low-light photography. I decided to run a quick comparison between the two, along with some other technical information to hopefully make it easier for our readers to select the right lens in this Nikon 35mm f/1.8 vs Nikon 50mm f/1.4 comparison.

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

Nikon 35mm f1.8G (left) and Nikon 50mm f1.4G (right)

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Equivalent Focal Length and Field of View

When it comes to focal lengths, it seems that many photographers get very confused by “equivalent focal length” and “field of view” jargon that is often used to describe lens attributes on different camera sensors. To help fully understand these terms, I decided to write a quick article, explaining what they truly mean in very simple terms.

1) True Focal Length

What is the true focal length of a lens? This one is extremely important to understand. Focal length is an optical attribute of a lens, which has nothing to do with the camera or the type of sensor it uses. The true focal length of a lens is typically what manufacturer says it is on the lens. For example, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens (below) has a true focal length of 50mm, irrespective of what camera you use it on.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S

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Nikon 24-120mm VR Review

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This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G ED VR lens that was released in August of 2010. The constant maximum aperture, mid-range Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR zoom lens is a major update to the Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G VR that was released back in 2003. The older, variable-aperture 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 had some optical problems that did not make it a popular lens among photographers, so Nikon decided to address those problems by releasing this highly-anticipated Nikon 24-120mm f/4.0 lens. Why highly-anticipated? Because the 24-120mm focal range is very useful for photographers who use full-frame cameras like Nikon D700/D3s/D3x and who find the 24-70mm f/2.8 either too short on the long focal end, or too heavy for everyday use. In addition, having VR on a mid-range lens like the 24-120mm is crucial for low-light photography, even on the wide end.

Nikon 24-120mm f/4 ED VR

Did Nikon address all problems the Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G had in this new f/4 update? How does it compare to the legendary Nikon 24-70mm and the new 28-300mm lenses? Is it really on par with the 28-300mm when it comes to performance, making it a worse buy than the 28-300mm like some of the reviewers stated? In this review, I will do my best to provide a detailed analysis of the lens’ performance, including sharpness tests and comparisons against other mid-range lenses and answer the above questions.

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Nikon 24-120mm Initial Impressions

We have just come back from a long family trip to California, stopping in Vegas for two days on the way. While I did my best not to photograph and rather spend time with the family, I did take about 800+ photographs with the new Nikon 24-120mm lens (mostly family pics and some landscape/architecture). Right before our departure, Lola and I also photographed a wedding and took around 900+ pictures with the 24-120mm. Having used the lens for the last two weeks, I now have a pretty good picture of its performance and I wanted to note a couple of things before I post the full review of the lens. Overall, I like the lens – read below to see why.

First of all, the lens is NOT of the same class as the Nikon 28-300mm in terms of performance like many people think. I have not done sharpness tests of the lens yet, but even if the 24-120mm appears to have similar performance as the 28-300mm at some focal lengths, several things on the 24-120mm do make a huge difference. The difference in focal length, for example, is very apparent. Those 4mm of difference (it is actually a little more than that, because the wider side of the 28-300mm is more like 30mm) are significant, especially for landscape and architectural photography. The Nikon 24-120mm has the maximum angle of view of 84°, while the 28-300mm is 74° – a whopping 10 degree difference. Next comes the AF performance, another huge difference that many photographers and reviewers omit. The Nikon 24-120mm focuses dead on, both in terms of speed and accuracy, something the 28-300mm is not very good with. I did not see a single picture where the 24-120mm did not focus well – if an image was out of focus, it was because I screwed up and moved or the subject moved. Every time I focused on a subject, I got consistently good results at all focal lengths. Last, but not least, is sample variation. The first copy of the 28-300mm I got was very poor at long focal lengths and it did not focus accurately beyond 105mm – the second copy of the 28-300mm was better and did not have the same problems. Other people report getting soft copies of the 28-300mm and one of our readers even reported receiving three different copies of the 28-300mm that all performed poorly. The Nikon 24-120mm seems to be better in that regard. So far, I have tested two copies of the 24-120mm and they both performed equally well. I had to return the second copy, but a quick side-by-side comparison yielded very similar results. Four other readers have reported similar feedback on the performance of the 24-120mm. From the pictures of the wedding and our trip, the sharpness of the 24-120mm appears to be very good in the center. Corners are soft wide open, similar to 24-70mm, but get much better by f/8.0. Like I said above, I have not yet performed full tests in a lab environment, but will do later today for the upcoming review. Oh, and one more thing, not sure if it was the weather or other circumstances, but the color rendition of the 24-120mm seems to be more pleasing than the 28-300mm. Obviously it is not the same class as the 24-70mm and the lens suffers from distortion and vignetting, but it is not too bad, quite acceptable for an f/4.0 lens.

Here is a sample shot at 58mm, shot with the Nikon D3s @ f/5.6, 1/60, ISO 200:

Nikon 24-120mm Test

Nikon 24-120mm Test