Tips for Keeping Your Camera Clean

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I live in the desert. Well, the suburban sprawl that has encroached upon the desert, anyway. Bottom line, I battle with dust on a daily (hourly!) basis. There is dust EVERYWHERE, and as soon as I polish a surface the dust starts piling up again immediately. I’m serious. I stood there and watched it, once. It’s a house cleaning nightmare.

It also wreaks havoc on my camera and lenses. I’ve learned to use a handful of simple tips to keep my photography gear as dust-free as I can manage without hermetically sealing them (which would really make them difficult to use).

Tip #1 – Keep your camera and lenses bagged when not in use. It’s kind of an obvious tip, but if you’re like me and you’re swapping out lenses a lot, and pulling out memory cards to download pictures a lot, and running to grab the camera because the cat is doing something especially cute a lot, well, you’ll tend to leave the lenses and camera laying out. Invest in a few soft lens cases or pouches (something like a Zing Drawstring Lens Pouch), which are inexpensive and a handy way to keep your lenses clean. Also, of course, keep your lens caps on the front and back of your lenses whenever not in use, and keep the body cap on the camera when a lens isn’t attached.

Tip #2 - It’s hard to actually USE your camera and keep it absolutely clean, but there are ways to mitigate the amount of dust you accumulate. Try not to use your camera in windy situations, or if you do protect it as much as possible. I’ve been known to use a clear plastic shower cap, which has a stretchy rubber band around the opening. I’ve wrapped it around the body of the camera, leaving the lens opening and the viewfinder exposed, and received quite a few odd looks while shooting. Some camera models have a waterproof casing available for purchase – if it can keep out water, it can keep out dust!

Tip #3 – DON’T attempt to clean your camera’s internal mechanisms, ESPECIALLY the sensor, yourself. Just leave it entirely alone. I know there are a lot of articles out there that have tutorials on how to clean your camera’s innards yourself, but I’m telling you, it’s not worth the potential damage. Just send it to your local camera shop for a professional cleaning, or contact your camera’s manufacturer to receive the name of a recommended camera repair/cleaning shop. I send out my cameras and lenses for a professional cleaning once a year.

Tip #4 – For cosmetic cleaning and to get the dust off of the outside of your camera and lens, use a light, static-free microfiber cloth. You can buy one individually or as part of a kit (something like this) that includes other implements to get into the nooks and crannies. Pay special attention to the focus ring as grit gets in there and you can feel it grinding away when you turn it. Resist using the edge of your t-shirt or a napkin to polish off the lens surface, as it could become scratched.

Tip #5 - When changing lenses, try to pick a still environment. If you absolutely must change a camera lens while outside in the breeze, a large pillowcase (or an old-school film Changing Bag) works well to protect the camera during a lens change – hold the camera inside the pillowcase while you’re changing out the lenses. With a little practice, you can learn how to do it by feel.

Photo Credits (in order of appearance):
- “My Camera” by Big Tall Guy on Flickr Creative commons.
- “Macro lens meets tele converter” by rtarga on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “My budget SLR gear” by Claudio Matsuoka on Flickr Creative Commons.

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