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How to Clean Camera Lens

how to clean camera lens

If you’re looking for the best way to take care of your expensive camera, you’ve landed in the right place, as today’s article will teach you how to clean camera lens in a safe and efficient manner. The thing about camera lenses is that they require a bit of regular maintenance if you want to get the most out of it DSLR, smartphone or whatever device you’re using.

Why Clean Camera Lens?

Camera lenses are prone to get dirty in smartphones, but also in DSLRs, especially if you have kids with sticky fingers. Actually, lenses can get so dirty that you’ll eventually have to clean them in order to be able to take a decent pic. Moreover, it’s equally important to be able to remove dust particles from the rear element of your lens.

It must be noted that you must be extra careful when cleaning your lens, in order to avoid damage (scratching mostly), and today’s article is aimed at making sure you’re actually going to improve your camera’s condition, not do more damage than good.

How to Clean Camera Lens Quick Facts

Before getting into the meat of the problem, let’s first establish a few crucial facts: dirty optics, as in dirty lenses, will definitely impair image quality.

Also, there is a proper way and an improper (as in wrong) way to clean both lenses and filter optics (the latter are equally important by the way).

Finally, since we live in the day and age of readily available information courtesy of the “interwebz”, you’ll find a ton of articles on how to clean camera lens, but truth be told, some of the information out there is pure wrong and/or conflicting.

Use a UV or Skylight filter

uv filters for lens
Here’s the first thing to remember if you’re using professional cameras for your photographic endeavors, expensive gear like a DSLR or a mirrorless camera: consider investing in a high-quality UV or skylight filter. Why, you asked? The answer is pretty simple: on top of cutting out UV light, if you keep the filter attached to your lens, it will prevent it from getting dirty or scratched.

Moreover, a UV filter can protect the lens from cracking/breakage in case you drop your camera accidentally, and, with regard to our today’s topic, when it comes to cleaning, all you have to do is to clean the UV filter instead of the actual lens. It’s a win-win situation, see?

Just remember that not all UV filters are created equal, as in there are low-quality (cheap) filters and high-quality (expensive) ones. Needless to say, if you own a state-of-the-art lens, don’t look for the cheapest UV filter, alright?

General Cleaning Rules

Many people, including yours truly, can become a little bit OCD with keeping their gear as clean as a whistle, and by gear, I mean anything ranging from a brand-new Nikon mirrorless to a smartphone. Even if camera lenses are generally speaking durable and scratch-resistant, OCD cleaning is not recommended. Here are a few rules to prevent you from inflict damage on your camera lens:

First, avoid unnecessary cleaning. Even if glass is tough and durable, camera lenses usually employ extra layers/coatings (anti-reflex, anti-glare stuff), and those chemicals added on top of the glass itself will scratch relatively easy, especially if you’re doing it wrong.

The end goal of cleaning your camera lens and filters is to keep them free of dirt and fingerprints, and that can be prevented by avoiding repeated physical interaction, including obsessive cleaning and touching the lens.

It would be a great idea to always keep your camera stored in its bag, with the front/end caps always on, in order to keep your optics clean when you’re not using it. However, as soon as you’ll take your camera out and start shooting stuff, it will become dirty, this is a fact of life and you have to deal with it.

The next rule is that, well, dust happens. Everywhere you go there is dust, and it will get on and inside your lens. Even brand-new lenses may be shipped with dust trapped between the lens-elements, and keep in mind that lenses are made in incredibly clean factories, where dust is the enemy of the state.

However, in our particular case, dust is not the worst thing that can happen to your camera, as in a few specs of dust on or inside the lens are not the end of the world, because after all’s said and done, they will have basically no effect on overall image quality. Read the last phrase twice, it is important.

Why? If you become obsessed with removing the last dust particle (which is impossible, really) from your lens, you are at risk at scratching its surface every time you try to clean the glass.

The next thing to remember is beware of rear smudges. Smudges are way more damaging to image quality than dust, and also harder to clean. Smudges on the rear element have the most dramatic impact on image quality, but it’s also true that the rear element is less susceptible to oil and dirt.

However, you must be extra-careful about this issue, and you must learn how to clean inside camera lens like a pro if you want to have a future in this business (just kidding for dramatic effect).

Perform a Dirt Test

To prevent unnecessary cleaning, always perform a dirt test. This is very simple, as it only takes four basic steps: first, set your camera to manual mode, set focus to infinity and increase your aperture; doing so will make it easy to identify dust when reviewing your images or looking through the viewfinder.

Then, take a photo of a plain surface; ideally speaking, you will get two pictures: one of a light-colored plain surface, and a second shot of a dark-colored surface. Step three, examine your photos and check the images for dust or hazy spots. Finally, inspect the camera’s rear element for any smudges or dust, and then look for mold inside your lens. If you find mold or traces of mold inside your lens, you should have it cleaned by a professional.

Cleaning Your Camera Lens

Now that we’ve decided your camera lens is filthy, it’s time to get to it. The first step would be to go buy a full lens cleaning kit, and rest assured, they are not expensive. Here’s what a proper kit should contain (bare minimum): lens blower, lens brush, cleaning tissue and/or cloth, cleaning fluid and an optional carbon sponge.

Once you have the kit ready for action, remember the mission: to remove dirt/grime/grease/dust without damaging the lens, so be patient and do it properly.

Step one

Air cleaner rubber for lenses

Remove loose debris and dust by using the lens blower. Keep in mind that the lens blower is one of the safest methods to clean your lens, and most of the time, you’ll never require a second step. For best results, give it a few jets before you put it to the lens, to make sure it’s clean, and hold the blower very close to the lens, but without touching it. Don’t be a cheapskate and blow on the lens with your mouth, ok? Also, don’t use air compressors, as they may drip onto the lens, and don’t go for the smallest (cheapest) air blower. Also, freon powered air cans are not recommended, as they may lead to condensation build-up.

Step two

top view of a master repair modern camera equipment, cleaning dust on the lenses
If there’s more than dust on your lens, and/or the lens blower is not enough, use a lens brush to get rid of the grime. Camel hair lens brushes are probably the best in the business, as camel hair is soft yet thick enough to do a good job without damaging the lens. Be gentle when you brush, and remember to not touch the bristles with your fingers, okay?

Step three

When everything else fails, enter cleaning solutions. There are basically 2 ways you can clean a filthy camera lens: the cleaning fluid spray bottle and microfiber cloth/cleaning tissue, or, not so common, the carbon sponge.

Alcohol-based cleaners do a good job with cleaning smudges/fingerprints from lenses. Always use a small amount of fluid at a time, one drop or two, wiped with a cleaning tissue in a circular motion. Don’t apply the cleaning fluid on the lens, but on the tissue/cloth.

If you don’t want to introduce harsh fluids into the equation, you can breathe on your lens and then wipe the condensation with a high-quality microfiber cloth. If the mark is too difficult to remove, then you’ll have to go the way of cleaning fluids.

Here’s a video tutorial on how to clean a camera lens the right way.

Step four

This is the final step: wipe down the lens to remove excess grime or moisture. You can use a clean microfiber cloth, single-use lens cleaning tissues or pre-moistened lens cleaning wipes. Remember to start at the center and wipe in a circular motion.

The same cleaning procedure applies to the rear element of the camera, and while you’re at it, check out the outer edge of the lens too.

Finally, take care of the lens cap, look for dust and/or debris, and wipe it down every time you take care of the lens itself.

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