Cleaning glass

©Neil Turner, August 2013, Bournemouth.

©Neil Turner, August 2013, Bournemouth.

I was looking through a few pictures from this summer this morning when I decided to post this picture just because I liked it. The young man in the photograph is a nephew who has just started his own window cleaning business in the Bournemouth area using filtered water and a long pole instead of ladders, squeegees and chamois leathers. I hope that it takes off and I hope that he gets around to putting this on his website. It was taken with my Fujifilm X20 when I was working at the kitchen table on some pictures that I needed to get to a client and the X20 was the camera that I had to hand.

One thought this morning led, as they inevitably do, to another when I read a posting on a Facebook group by a photographer who has never cleaned their own lenses or their own digital camera chips. Cleaning lenses is too easy to go to the bother of driving to a service centre and parting with money. Obviously if you are at a major sporting event and Canon or Nikon are there you’d be a fool to not take up their offers of free cleaning and checks but beyond that you should learn to do it yourself. I say that as someone who never uses filters on a day-to-day basis as protection and as someone whose home is over 100 miles way from the nearest Canon approved service centre. I also say it as someone who used to be a staff photographer based in London with an employer who picked up the tab for pretty much everything and got quite lazy there for a while! I tend to use the Eclipse solution designed for camera chips along with either a very old quality cotton handkerchief or a soft cloth designed for spectacles. Once I’ve done the glass I usually give the outside of the lens a quick wipe down too – there’s no sense in having dirty gear.

Cleaning camera chips is a whole other matter. Getting it done professionally every once-in-a-while makes sense but at up to £50 + VAT per camera I don’t want to get my chips cleaned as often as I want to get my windows at home done. Of course the “self-cleaning” mechanisms built into today’s cameras really help. In the past it was common to get sizeable amounts of dust on the chip which needed to be removed. These days most of the loose stuff goes away with one or two cycles of the built-in cleaning option. Much of the rest can be loosened or removed using a decent air blower (the rubber bulb type) and if all else fails you can buy the right chemicals and sensor swabs to do a thorough job. If I get an offer of a free clean or I’m having a camera serviced then I always get the chip cleaned too. Canon build in a small sticky strip to catch and keep the dust shaken loose by the piezo-electric motors that do the automatic cleaning every time you turn the camera on and off. The service centre replaces that strip when you take your kit in for an overhaul or repair and it is useful to bear in mind that the strip is only truly effective if a) you have the camera with the baseplate pointing to the ground when the cleaning is in progress and b) the strip gets changed regularly.

Because of the distance I live away from the major repair and service centres I find myself cleaning camera chips using the Eclipse solution every couple of months. It definitely has an effect because I then have to re-calibrate the white balance shifts on the cameras. The end result is that I save a bit of money, a lot of time travelling to and from the service centre and an awful lot of time in post-production not having to remove dust spots. When I travel for work I always take some cleaning kit. I was in India a few years ago now and the dust in my ‘weather sealed’ EOS1D MkII cameras had to be removed on an almost daily basis. I’d hate to think how bad it would have been after a week there without having the kit to do my own cleaning.

It doesn’t have to stop with lenses and chips either. Laptop screens, computer monitors and keyboards are all easy to keep looking their best if you take ten minutes to do so. I used to throw my Domke F-series camera bags into the washing machine (which is how my beautiful grey F1X ended up salmon pink thanks to a stray pair of red socks) and these days I get the vacuum cleaner into my camera bags a couple of times a year.

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