Sensor cleaning has been a necessary part of shooting digital. When we are on big assignments we clean sensors every night. But let’s review a few things before I talk about sensor cleaning. First, never say this “I don’t want to change lenses because I’m afraid of getting dust on my sensor.” When you need a lens, use it. I’d rather have a great image with dust on it than no image at all. And you can always clean your sensor later. Second, you can reduce dust that shows up in the final image by shooting at a wide open aperture like F2.8. But once again, if you need F16 then shoot at F16 and deal with dust in post processing. But I will admit I have shot wide open on some shoots hoping to minimize dust on a certain shot. Mirrorless cameras present even more sensor cleaning issues. The sensor is closer to the front, and the opening is larger, so getting dust on your sensor is going to happen.
I used to use the arctic butterfly brush as my main approach to cleaning my sensor. This is still a great tool. But what I have found is by using a puff blower I can pretty much blow things off my sensor. And dust that doesn’t blow off probably needs to be swiped off. So here is my current process. It starts with the blower ‘football’ you see above. I take the lens off my Z7 and start by blowing air against the sensor with the camera held upside down so any dust falls out of the camera. If you are cleaning a DSLR, then you need to choose “lock mirror up for cleaning” in the setup menu.
Next, if I still have smears on my sensor, I will swipe it with VSGO full frame brushes. This kit comes with full frame swabs and a cleaning solution. I put a couple of drops on the swab and gently swipe it left to right, turn the swab over, and swipe right to left. Remember your sensor is protected by glass, it is more durable than you think. It is a little nerve racking swiping across that beautiful full frame sensor, but I have never had a problem doing this. Each brush comes in an individual sealed packet so they are perfectly clean.
The other approach is to send your camera in to the manufacturer and let them clean the sensor. I try to send my cameras in about once a year for cleaning and inspection. But during the year I am cleaning sensors when they need it.
Don’t forget your camera can do its own sensor cleaning by setting this in the menu. The camera will oscillate the sensor to shake off any loose dust. Nothing drives me more crazy than shooting a F16 landscape and seeing tons of dust in the corners. When that happens, it is time to clean the sensor.