Earlier this week, when I wrote about my experience at the 2013 Photo Plus Show, I pointed out that I found a product that I have been searching for the past 4 years. It was something that I found on the last day at the conference, while going through the smaller, less popular booths towards the end of the exhibit hall. I first hesitated about what I saw, but as soon as I realized that it was exactly what I had been looking for, I got very excited and bought one for myself immediately (and pretty much forced Tom to buy one as well). You might be wondering what it was – well, as weird as it may sound, it was a Sensor Gel Stick!
Don’t mind the name – I came up with that, because it describes the function of this tool pretty well in my opinion. The actual product name is “Eyelead” :)
It has been 4 years since I watched a video of the guys at The Luminous Landscape visiting a Leica factory in Germany that assembles Leica M9 cameras. Although I have seen a lot of different videos since then, this one for some reason got stuck in my brain, especially the part where a lady cleans the sensor before putting it in a container. A lot of attention is paid to the process – something Leica is famous for. And unlike other cleaning methods that I have seen other manufacturers like Nikon use, this one seemed like the best one to me! If you have time, watch the whole video. It is certainly worth your time! But if you want to skip to the “meat”, move the video slider to 13:30, where the factory tour guy explains how it works and then the rest of the video basically demonstrates the process of cleaning sensors:
(Sorry, but there is no way to embed the video here, so you have to watch it by clicking the “Watch on Vimeo” button in the middle).
Pretty cool huh? One of the guys in the background asks “where can I get it?”, but he never receives a response. The moment I saw this video, I started looking for a similar solution and did not have much success. I found a product that performed a similar function called “DustAid”, I was quickly disappointed after trying it out. The sticky part did not seem like it was properly attached. After a single try, I tossed the product in the trash, since I did not want to end up leaving it on the sensor and further risking to scratch my sensor while attempting to remove it.
The “Sensor Gel Stick” that I found during the conference does exactly what is shown in the Leica video. The color of the gel on the stick is green and that’s really the only difference between the one pictured above and the one used by Leica. The Chinese entrepreneur that manufacturers and sells them in Germany (the product has a “Made in Germany” label), showed me his cell phone, where Leica and other manufacturers were requesting to order more of these sticks in large batches. I am just puzzled by why it has remained such a niche product and has not become popular among photographers.
Seriously, once you try this product out, you will be getting rid of all your sensor brushes, cleaning pads and all other expensive junk that often ends up leaving more dust on the sensor. I don’t have to explain how to use the product, since it is shown pretty clearly in video. In short, it is a very quick process that takes less than 30 seconds to clean the entire surface area of your digital sensor. And this stick comes in one size, so you can use the same stick to clean everything from something like a Nikon 1 with a 1″ sensor to a full-frame DSLR.
Take a look at my Nikon D600 sensor, which I wet-cleaned a long time ago and abused quite a bit in the field (not a good idea to change lenses when it is windy!). I took a picture at f/32 using a very old manual focus lens from 1962:
Don’t worry about the round spots on the bottom of the frame – those are from the old lens that had some damage on the rear element. See all that junk on the sensor? That’s mostly micro dust – a fact of life when dealing with DSLR cameras. Can’t really see much of that when taking pictures, except when stopping down smaller than f/11. Notice that the portion of the sensor a little above the center of the frame has a line of dust; the same in the bottom right corner. That’s what typically happens when you use a sensor swab. While the dust can be effectively removed with a swab, you often end up leaving some of it in the corner of the sensor, or sometimes the liquid can create streaks of residue that require several passes to be fully cleaned. If you have done this sort of cleaning before, you know exactly what I am talking about! And unfortunately, there is no easy way to remove all that build up of stuff around the sensor. Rocket blowers can sometimes be effective, but they end up moving the air around and raising other dust inside the camera chamber that literally goes right back on the sensor! Quite a frustrating experience if you ask me (and I have cleaned sensors hundreds of times).
Here is how the Sensor Gel Stick cleaned up the nasty-looking sensor (again, don’t pay attention to the round shapes – those are not on the sensor):
Wow. I don’t think my Nikon D600 has ever been this clean. I did the same thing on my Nikon D800E and the D3s and all three are now very clean.
Where to buy?
Now if you are just like me, you are probably wondering where you could buy something like this. Well, if you’ve missed the Photo Plus show, you are pretty much out of luck, since the product is not sold or distributed in the United States. But after talking to the company president, we might be able to open up the opportunity to sell them in the US – if there is enough interest!
What is the price?
I was told that the product is normally sold for 35 Euros, which is around $50 in USD. However, if we start distributing the product in the US and become a distributor, we will be able to offer it at around $40 USD. Now compare that to a pack of VisibleDust swabs that cost $42 and do not nearly do as good of a job. Plus, you need 3-4 of these for a good clean, so you will eventually end up buying many of them. There are other cheaper methods to clean sensors, but they require messing with special lint-free paper, liquid solutions, etc, with a higher chance of leaving more stuff on the sensor and the camera chamber. The Sensor Gel Stick is reusable many times. The guy told me that it can last as long as 5 years, but that’s obviously being optimistic for someone like me that cleans sensors on a regular basis. But for everyone else that only occasionally does it, it will probably last about 3 years. Still, $40 for a couple of years is pretty cheap if you ask me! I could imagine that it would save a lot of frustration when working in the field and a dust blower does not help. And don’t even compare this to sending your camera to Nikon/Canon every time, as each trip will cost anywhere between $50 to $70.
Would you buy it?
Now here is the main question – would you buy the Sensor Gel Stick? Please vote below. Thank you!
Would you buy the Sensor Gel Stick?
- Heck Yeah! I need one please! (80%, 2,019 Votes)
- Maybe, but I am a little hesitant about touching my sensor (19%, 488 Votes)
- No, not interested (1%, 18 Votes)
Total Voters: 2,525