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.
Table of Contents
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 the Great Sand Dunes NP, I know beforehand that it is most likely going to be windy. Take a look at this shot:
I captured it on a very windy and cold day. The sand was all over the place and it ended up going into every hole in my camera and lens. It took me several hours to get everything cleaned and even after cleaning, the lens had some screeching noise when I moved the zoom and focus rings. If I worried too much about dust and sand, the above image would never have been captured.
2) Dangers of Improper Lens Cleaning
Most people end up with bad equipment because of their creative ways to clean it. Remember, camera lenses are very similar to glass lenses on eyeglasses, which means that they can be easily scratched. Lenses are generally made of tough optical glass, but if you attempt to clean it with cloth that might have sand particles on it, you will surely scratch the optical surface. That’s because sand is harder than glass. If you use a wrong type of chemical liquid on lenses, you might damage the lens coating. If you put too much of the liquid on the lens, some of it might get inside the lens and give you all kinds of trouble afterwards. The list goes on and on.
If you decide to clean your lenses yourself, it is very important that you choose the right tools for the job and use them properly.
3) Using Protective Filters
Every lens I own and use has a high quality protective filter in front of it. I also suggest protecting expensive lenses in my articles on purchasing camera gear and other gear-related articles I post on this blog. Why? Because filters make it easier not only to protect your lens, but also to clean it. Some lenses have threads or “steps” right by the front lens element (separate from filter threads), which attract dust and even cut off pieces from microfiber cloth. Overtime, it gets difficult to keep the front of the lens clean due to all the stuff that gets attached to those threads. A protective filter will go over those threads and you will spend much less time cleaning your lenses. If you are too worried about image quality, don’t be – take a look at my gallery and Lola’s weddings page. Every picture you see was taken with a lens that had a protective filter. Do you see any problems with image quality? Just use professional multi-coated filters from companies like B+W and Hoya. Those filters will have the least impact on image quality, because they are made of high quality glass. They are expensive, but definitely worth it. When you consider the amount of time you will be spending on cleaning your lenses and when you weigh in all potential problems such as scratching your lens, you will quickly realize the benefits of using filters. If you happen to scratch or break your filter, you just buy another one and your lens stays protected.
4) Tools to clean lenses
There are plenty of different tools available on the market today for taking care of your lenses. I have used many different solutions before and I found some products to be more effective than others. Here is the list of tools that I personally use and recommend for cleaning lenses:
- Zeiss Liquid Lens Cleaner or Eclipse Optic Lens Cleaning Solution are the liquids I personally use and recommend for cleaning lenses
- Visible Dust Magic Cleaner is a large piece of microfiber cloth for cleaning lenses. Grab a couple of these.
- Tiffen Lens Cleaning Paper to clean the optical lens elements.
- Giotto’s Rocket Blower to blow off the dust from lenses.
- A hard toothbrush or some other hard brush for cleaning the rubber focus/zoom rings.
There are many other types of liquids and tools you can find online or in a local camera shop that also work great. Giotto’s Lens Cleaning Kit is also great if you don’t want to spend much – just don’t buy the other kit that comes with a small blower, you will need the large one.
5) Lens Cleaning Process
My process of cleaning lenses is divided into three parts:
- Cleaning the exterior of the lens, including the lens hood – I first start off by using wet microfiber cloth to remove any dust or dirt from lens exterior and lens hood. I apply the same optical formula that contains anti-static material on microfiber cloth or if the lens is too dirty, I start off by using regular water (distilled water would work best) and then finish off with using the solution. To clean the rubber zoom and focus rings, I use an ordinary toothbrush, which works great for removing particles in between the rubber lines.
- Cleaning the lens mount – a very important part of the process that sometimes requires me to clean the mount several times due to oil and dirt. Apply the same lens cleaning solution on microfiber cloth and clean the mount thoroughly. Don’t forget to clean the round contacts on the lens as well.
- Cleaning the rear and the front optical elements – I find microfiber cloth to be unsafe for cleaning optical lens elements, especially if you reuse the same microfiber cloth that you use to clean your lenses outside. Also, sometimes microfiber cloth will leave particles that are hard to remove with the rocket blower, so I rely on lens cleaning tissues instead. They clean glass very well and if they leave anything on the lens, it can be easily removed by the rocket blower.
The process is pretty straightforward and you can do it with ease yourself. Here is detailed video of the entire process:
Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!