Cleaning Your SLR

Sensor Versus Mirror

I’ve written several times on the blog about cameras, sensor dust, and cleaning your SLR.  You can review those here, here, and here (5 Ways to Clean, 5 Times to Clean, and 5 Ways to Avoid Dust).  I’ve also elaborated a bit on the various options for cleaning your SLR from the no-contact to the wet and dry methods, but I’ve never really addressed the fundamentals behind camera dust in question.  So, when someone asked recently on Quora about the Self-Cleaning Mechanisms in SLR’s, I figured a more complete write-up might help.  This was posed on Quora recently, and in the interests of sharing the points I made there to any of the reading audience here, figured it’d be worth inclusion.  So, without further ado – here’s the full skinny on SLR’s and self-cleaning:

The Self-Cleaning Mechanism

Dust Delete

The self-cleaning mechanism of SLR’s has many larger concepts that need to be addressed to fully understand what is happening, but in basic principle, a camera will use the battery to either shake or vibrate the dust off, or, it will negatively charge air particles that will attract the dust off the sensor and let the now airborne dust fall down to the dust trap at the bottom of the sensor.  Having said that, there’s a couple additional points to make in this question that can help:

Sensor Cleaning Versus Mirror Cleaning

Sensor Versus Mirror

The internal self-cleaning addresses the sensor itself, whereas DIY cleaning methods really are addressing the mirror that reflects an image onto the actual sensor.  Unless you want to lock the mirror up (such as on older cameras) and clean the actual sensor, any cleaning efforts you do on newer cameras is really only addressing the mirror.  Because of that, the internal sensor cleaning will address the sensor cleaning adequately, but does not address the mirror in the SLR  (until of course the dust trap fills up and needs to be emptied by an authorized professional from Canon, Nikon, or other third party).  When it comes to cleaning the mirror, you will have to do that yourself.

Is the dust really being removed?

While the self-cleaning function does “remove” dust from the sensor, through either vibration (or shaking), it’s not really removing the dust from the camera.  Here is where the larger question of “where does it go” remains unanswered for the most part, and also where the usefulness of the feature sort of falls flat.  Inside cameras that have this feature, there is a dust trap at the bottom of the sensor that catches dust when it is shaken off the sensor and/or sensor mirror.  Simple laws of physics suggest that eventually this trap will get filled, which means it needs to be emptied, or you need to send a camera in for cleaning.

Preventive Maintenance

While I have personally found that the self-cleaning feature is useful to a degree, the fact that dust is not being removed entirely from the camera detracts from its value, as well as the consideration that difficult or stubborn dust is not removed sort of devalues the benefits in the long term.  Instead, incorporate a system when using your camera to avoid introducing dust in the first place, such as some of those mentioned already, including, but not limited to:

1.  Keeping the camera pointed down when changing lenses
2.  Using a changing bag
3.  Turn the camera off before removing a lens
4.  Change a lens as quickly as you’re able – the longer the face is open the more chance of additional dust being introduced.
5.  Keep your camera clean and try to change lenses in less dusty situations (i.e. not in the middle of a sandstorm)

DIY Mirror Cleaning

There are several methods of dust removal you can use such as the use of a Rocket Blower (also use with the camera pointed down), mirror wipes, lens pens, and other similar products.  These are often categorized as no-contact and contact cleaners.  Within the contact cleaners, there are also sub-categories:  wet and dry cleaners.

No Contact Cleaners
No contact cleaners (blowers) use a puff of air to dislodge dust from the mirror and when used properly, the dust will fall out of the camera entirely. A great product in this category is the Giottos Rocket Blower.

Giottos Rocket Blower

Contact Cleaners – Wet Versus Dry
Dry cleaners generally refer to the brushes like Lens Pens that act like a paintbrush of sorts that sweeps dust off the mirror.  Conversely, the wet cleaners use a pad and a liquid that is swiped across the mirror to swab the dust off with a quick drying agent (usually some form of an alcohol) – the one I’ve used is a combo of Eclipse solution and PecPads.  Both of these often come with increased risk of damaging your camera, so I would only recommend these for those comfortable with the mechanics of cameras in general.  The dry cleaners are less likely to damage, but still carry some risk, so keep these in mind in your cleaning approaches.


I’d also be interested in hearing what others think of the “Self-Cleaning” SLR’s…do you use this feature?  Do you find it useful? Do you clean your own camera, and if So, how often? Feel free to sound off in the comments below!

Lightroom Workflow: Mundane to Beautiful

Making better pictures comes in three forms – better setup, better composition, and better post production.  You will make your best shots if you improve in each of these areas.  So, today, I’m going to share a technique I’ve used in my Lightroom workflow to take boring and bad photos to make them beautiful in post production.  Here’s where we’re going to go:

The Final Product from my Lightroom Workflow!

So, the final product looks pretty good here, right?  It means we must have had a keeper to begin with, right?  Well, not necessarily – the first shot looked like it was under-exposed, and could easily have been thrown out.  Take a look:

The Beginning before my Lightroom workflow!

Yeah, it looks pretty bland – there’s no pop, the shadows are too dark, the blues in the sky are bland, and it’s something that we might just blow past as an under-exposed shot.  The truth is though – we’ve gotta trust the histogram when using our Lightroom workflow.  Take a look:

Histogram in my Lightroom Workflow

What we have to remember is that there are no blown highlight details or shadow details lost according to our histogram.  We’ve got detail on both ends.  What the histogram is telling us though, is that more of our photo is in shadow than in highlights.  We do have some of both, but we need to bring some balance to it.  So, let’s get started!

Step One in my Lightroom Workflow

Step 1

In getting started, we need to bring out the shadow detail more, but I also want to bring some of those highlights down a little too, because it just looks a little too harsh.  Here’s the default scene inside of Lightroom.  Let’s see what happens when we bring the highlights down – and when I say “down”, I mean way down!

Step Two in my Lightroom Workflow

See how the harshness of the sky on the right has been pulled back?  Much better, but we still need to bring out some of that shadow detail on the next step in the Lightroom workflow, so, let’s take a look:

Step 2

Step Three in my Lightroom Workflow

Now we’re talking!  We can see the details in the red rocks.  It’s still kind of bland though, without a lot of pop to it.  This is where the Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation sliders for my Lightroom workflow come into play.  Here, it’s a matter of personal tastes, and any one persons preferences are so subjective, I don’t want to say “Do it this way”.  But, for my taste, I like my pictures to pop, so here’s my results from adjusting the CVS sliders:

Step 3

Step Four in my Lightroom Workflow

Remember, it’s just my personal tastes, but I like the settings of 50-15-15 through to really get some eye-dropping pop in my photos.  It’s pretty nice, but if I push these sliders much further, it will start to look garish.  This means I need to dabble a little with the tone curve in my Lightroom workflow to get the pop that I am looking for.  So, in remembering the histogram, I am wanting a bit more detail from the dark and the bright areas need to pop a little more too without getting lighter.  Here’s where I made some tone curve adjustments:

Step 4

Step Five in my Lightroom Workflow

The pop is really starting to take shape here…but the red still need a little more brightness to them to really keep the look and feel consistent wit what I want the image to look like once all is said and done.  To do that, I dive into the color palette, grab the red luminosity slider in my Lightroom workflow and crank it up all the way.  The results are pretty nice!

Step 5

Step Six in my Lightroom Workflow

With the develop panel moving down toward the bottom, I am revealing the details of what I did wrong during capture…my ISO settings were too high given the exposure levels!  I was shooting at 1/800th of a second, and my ISO was at 800 as well!  It’s an “oops” for sure, but thankfully, we can compensate for it thanks to the benefits of our Lightroom workflow and it’s noise reduction feature.  We’ll also take care of our post production sharpening here too.  Remember, less is more (over-sharpening leads to halos, and over-application of the noise reduction tends to cause a buttery fake look to images).  But, we still need to take care of the details:

Step 6

Step Seven in my Lightroom Workflow

It’s at this point when I noticed a dust bunny from my lens (see near the top of the sky).  So, I headed back up to the top of the Develop Module to take care of business:

Step 7

Step Eight in my Lightroom Workflow

Now that I’ve fixed the dust bunny, it’s time to move onto my final lens correction!  No matter how good your lens is, there are imperfections, from chromatic aberrations to edge distortions.  The general rule of thumb is that the wider the lens, the more edge distortion there is.  Since I shot this with my 10-22 which is an ultra-wide, there’s some substantial distortion to fix.  So, let’s take a look:

Step 8

Step Nine in my Lightroom Workflow

At this point, I’ve pretty much done all the edits I need.  The image went from mundane to beautiful, and is something worth sharing with the world!  What do you think?  Any developing techniques you’ve learned about my Lightroom workflow that you’d like to share?  Sound off in the comments with what you like and what you’d change in this 8 step Lightroom post process!

For those of you that prefer audio/video tutorials, I’ve done a short YouTube video walking through my Lightroom Workflow. It’s a lot faster than the read, but some details are lost if you tend to go after minutia:

Canon STM Lenses – Photography Lenses, Videography lenses, or both?

Canon STM Lenses

As we see continued convergence toward using the same capture device for still photos and videos, I get a lot of questions from people about what gear is the best fit to accommodate both worlds.  Specifically, the question really comes to a head when speaking about photography lenses and videography lenses. This is a great question, and a few people emailed me about it after releasing a recent article and eBook that covered the basics of SLR lenses, because I do not speak to the Canon STM lenses designed and built as video lenses in that article or eBook.  Allow me to elaborate further here and address these concerns. Read more