If you are someone with poor vision, or envious of the term: “20/20,” feel free to read no farther because you likely already know the struggles on the need to clean for the ability to see. For those of you whom the gods have shined brightly and bestowed upon you the gift of unhindered sight, consider these your best practices as a meditation focus on empathy toward people with glasses. Regardless of your visual acuity score, a dirty camera and lens is a problem, albeit easily avoidable.
Before you disassemble your camera, maintain clean hands. I cannot stress this enough. Considering everything that happened in 2020, it’s good to have a keen perspective on this, but oily fingers will negatively influence the quality of your photos with fingerprints on or inside your lens. To avoid oily fingerprints and smudges when handling your camera, make sure to first wash your hands.
At the top of the list of items you should have ready for regular cleaning is a camera bag. Having a place to safely store your camera, extra lens and film, in addition to the cleaning items listed below, will not only help delay the need for cleaning, but also, prolong the life of your camera itself. Plus, it makes travel to and from shoots much safer for protecting your hardware.
When preparing to clean your camera, be aware that there are a variety of kits in the market. Many will include a number of superfluous tools. To pick the right kit for you, the items you should consider as imperative are a blower, soft-bristled brush, lens-cleaning solution, and a cloth(s).
Keys to remember in each of these tools: a manual blower will suffice, there is no need for a compression-air blower. When it comes to soft-bristled brushes, this is an item you should opt for high-quality over something standard. As for lens-cleaning solutions, avoid acetone and/or alcohol-based solutions. Lastly, I prefer microfiber cloths, but in a pinch a tissue will do. Although, tissues should be considered more of a last resort. Often, I find that using a tissue creates a messier lens than what I started with, as they often leave behind tiny fibers and contain unwanted moisturizers that will smudge your lens. You are much better off grabbing a microfiber cloth from Photdom at $5 a pop.
After disassembling your camera, begin with the blower and soft-bristled brush to carefully remove any noticeable unwanted debris and particles on the outside lens. Repeat the process on the inside of the lens and any other part of the camera that is noticeably dirty. Then, spray or add a few drops of the cleaning solution onto your cloth and rub the lens from inside to out in a circular motion until there are no streaks and the surface is clean.
If your camera has some age to it or nooks and crannies not easily cleaned with the above processes, I recommend utilizing Q-tips and/or a dull toothpick placed behind your microfiber cloth to pinpoint the dirt excavation. Precision and extreme attention-to-detail are important for these measures.
After cleaning your camera and reassembling, if you are not in the field prepping to use it then and there, make sure you abide by proper storage. Keeping the lens cover on will protect against dust and scratching. Store the camera inside your bag, most have soft interiors and padding so your camera will be safest there from external elements. Furthermore, avoid high temperature/high humidity storage. Both high temperatures and high humidity can lead to otherwise avoidable damage and rust.
There is no exact science to cleaning your camera, like cleaning one’s glasses: doing so is necessary to see, but you never want to haphazardly over-clean and scratch the lens. It does not need to be a daily, obsessive process conducted before every use. If happen to notice debris or floaters clouding up your photos, then it is likely time for a cleaning. Use your best judgment and care, following the above steps and suggested products, and you will be set to shoot with a clean camera.
Sean Patrick Smith is a freelance photographer, playwright, and artist living in Brooklyn. Check out his Instagram here!