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.

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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!

Picking a Good Flash Battery for Your Gear

Eneloop Batteries from Sanyo
Eneloop flash battery
Eneloop flash battery

As with anything, photographers perform a natural progression with their flashes.  We start with the built-in flash, then quickly move to an added flash.  Said flash then becomes external, but still tethered to the camera, until finally we liberate the flash from the camera via wireless triggers and remote control.  Through all of it, we need to fire these flashes with some power source.  Inevitably, the question comes up about what flash battery is best for your gear and needs.

There are lots of flash battery options out there with options in every category from type of battery (alkaline, NiMh, and LiOn) to vendor (Sony, Sanyo, Duracell, Energizer, etc.), milliamps (1500 vs 2000 vs 2400), and then of course the never-ending debate over chargeable versus rechargeable.  As always, your mileage may vary, but I’ve always found some of the best results come from my usage of the Sanyo Eneloop brand.  These are rechargeable batteries and the ones I’ve used are the 1500 milliamp variety.

They’ve  been good, but after a couple years of usage and re-usage, it became time to get a whole new set.  So, I set out to look at how the landscape has changed in the battery realm.  Here’s a couple things to consider:

1.  Normal versus Rechargeable:  This was almost a no-brainer given the cost per battery…go with rechargeable batteries.  After recharging, you can reduce your cost per charge down to mere pennies instead of even a dollar per battery with regular alkaline flash battery options.  The question is really whether you should choose the Nickel Metal Hydride batteries (NiMh) or the Lithium Ion (LiOn).  The difference lies in your intended usage and needs.  The NiMh flash battery apparently charge much more quickly, but also deplete more quickly, and take fewer charges.  Conversely, LiOn flash battery does last longer, but also take longer to charge.  Additionally, you can also likely get more recharges out of these.  Of course, the downside is that the latter are a tad pricier.

2. Brand Stength:  Here I really think it comes down to personal preference.  Just like the Coke vs Pepsi, Ford vs Chevy, Canon vs Nikon, Mac vs PC debates, if you are strongly inclined by one brand or another, there is a battery out there that will work for you.  Pick your poison for whichever flash battery best suits your needs!

3.  Milliamps:  I liken the milliamps (mA) power of a battery to the Megapixels of a camera.  You can never have enough, and the race for more will never end.  Just a few years ago, a AA battery that had 1500 mA was cooking with gas.  Nowadays, that’s pretty much the norm and 2400 or more is desired.  There have been some reports of the higher powered ones overheating and cooking your flash, so I tend to shy away from the onces that are juiced the most.  As always, your mileage may vary.

So, there ya have it – 3 factors to consider when buying flash battery for your gear.  What did I end up going with?  Sanyo Eneloop Pros – the 2000 mA variety:

I got some AA’s for my flashes, and some AAA’s for my wireless triggers…along with the charger and it was less than $40 after shipping…not too shabby imho.  What are your favorite batteries for your gear?

5 Point and Shoot Cameras Under $250

Fuji

Introduction

Cameras are everywhere. Every cell phone these days has a built in one. Many folks tend to notice though that a cell phone camera has limitations on functionality, and look at getting a dedicated camera to take better quality pictures. While I’ve always encouraged people to adopt the mentality that The Best Camera is the one you have with you, there are added benefits to working with a dedicated camera over one that exists as part of a multi-function device like a smart phone. This means you could be looking at a point and shoot camera, an SLR, or even a mirrorless camera.

The Digital SLR Camera

DSLR’s are great, but have several limitations themselves, the most common one of which is that they are bulky, and have a higher learning curve than most are willing to engage in. Enter the point and shoot camera. P&S cameras are highly portable, more cost effective, and you don’t have to worry about all the accessories (at least in terms of lenses, filters, and such) that are often associated with SLR photography.

The Point and Shoot Camera

The Point and Shoot category is rife with options itself though, ranging from miniature ones that cost under $100 to ones that are almost SLR quality that exceed to the cost of entry level SLR gear. So, if we’re going to look at the P&S category, it helps to focus on a particular budget. One of the most common thresholds is around $200 to $250. So, with that in mind, here are my top five point and shoot cameras under $250!

  • Fujifilm FinePix S4200 – The largest in this category, and the ability to swap out the lenses put this one on par with some of the features of a DSLR, but still maintaining the compact nature of a Point and Shoot, the FinePix S4200 produces stellar quality images at 14MP!

Fuji

  • Canon Powershot S110 – As a Canon guy, I like this one a lot for the quality of the images, the ISO handling, and the 12MP images for under $200.  Lightweight, and easily sliding into my pocket, this is the essence of a point and shoot camera with portability, but maintaining image quality for the budget conscious shooter

Canon Powershot S110

  • Nikon Coolpix S6300 – With 10x zoom, great ISO handling that Nikon has become legendary for, and the full HD video, for under $250 (it’s actually even under $150!), this is a great camera for the price.  my one nit is that there is still a bit of shutter lag, and AF can cause blurry shots if you’re not stable in your grip.  The most economical of the bunch though, so there will be downsides to this that aren’t present in others since the mantra of “you get what you pay for” bears witness here…

Nikon Coolpix S6300

  • Sony Cybershot DSC-WX80/B – At 16.2 MP, this is the 2nd highest count of the five cameras, so the images are huge!  I also like the 8X zoom on this…while not at the longest end, the resulting shots are on par with ones taken at a wider angle.  A great pocket camera for the shooter on the go!

Sony Cybershot DSC-WX80

  • Samsung WB350F – While this is a notch below the reputable mirrorless NEX line of Samsung, those are beyond the scope/budget here, and this is a nice economical alternative if you like Samsung.  At 16.3MP, it ups the Cyber Shot by a mere 1/10th of a MP count – which is not a lot but is enough to put it at the highest count.  And Samsung is becoming the newest BIG player in the camera scene.  Definitely worth considering at only around $180! 

Samsung WB350F

 

Conclusion

Keep in mind, the camera is only as good as the shooter behind it and gear is not the be all end all solution to anything.  A camera is what you make of it!  I know professionals that have shot with point and shoot cameras and gotten better results than amateurs with multi-thousand dollar rigs.  What does this mean?  Basically, the next step is up to you – which one best fits your needs requires your commitment to taking and making better photos and any of these setups will help you improve your craft on a budget.  Let me know which one you got and tell me what swayed you!  Happy shooting!

Want more tips on taking better photos?  Check out my video tutorial on how to hand hold a Point and Shoot here!