Camera Essentials: The Cleaning Kit

Giottos Rocket (image courtesy uniquephoto.com)
Giottos Rocket (image courtesy uniquephoto.com)

No matter how careful you are, you’re going to get your camera and lenses dirty. Shit happens, as does dust, schmutz*, fuzz, fingerprints, lint, and all manner of other large and small debris. Therefore, it helps to have the right stuff to clean your camera.

A few recommended items:

  • Giottos Medium Rocket Air Blaster: These come in a number of sizes, some with directional nozzles, some with a little doohickey (pardon the technical jargon) that ionizes the air before it leaves the nozzle, supposedly leading to better cleaning. The reason I suggest Giottos over some of the other options out there: as camera equipment goes, they’re pretty cheap (the standard size usually retails for between ten and fifteen bucks), and they’re higher quality. I’ve heard from a couple of photographer friends who’ve bought cheaper versions that on the first few uses, they’ve ended up with a fine white powder on their lenses or sensors; apparently, some manufacturers put talcum powder or some other,  similar, substance inside their blowers to keep the rubber from sticking to itself. D’you really want powder on your lens, or, God forbid, your sensor? Didn’t think so.
  • Nikon 7072 Lens Pen: These come in a few varieties. Some will have a soft felt tip, others a small brush with soft bristles; others still will have both, one at each end. The brushes are good for things that settle in crevices around your camera, in your eyepiece, or in your lense’s filter threads. The felt end, in the meantime, is handy for the stubborn stuff the brush won’t take care of.
  • Microfiber Cleaning Cloth: Similar to the cloth used for glasses,  this is a soft cloth that’s good if you have a larger area you want to clean. It’s good for your lenses and filters, and even works well in getting nose grease off your LCD. These are available in multiple sizes, and some even come in their own neoprene pouch, complete with lanyard, for easy storage.
  • Lens papers and cleaning solution: I know these are both supposed to be reliable, but I’ve never trusted the papers, especially. Many of them break down into a linty mess as you’re cleaning, which rather defeats the purpose.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to use these in the order in which I have them listed. The air blower should come first, to get all the larger crap off your gear, followed usually by the brush, and followed last by the cleaning cloth. Why that order? I’m glad you asked (and if you didn’t, you’ll be glad I told you anyway). If you reach for a cleaning cloth first and you’ve got something abrasive on your lens, all the cloth is going to do at that point is act like sandpaper, scratching the lens/filter coating, or sometimes even the lens/filter itself.

A few things to NEVER use: paper towels are an obvious no-no. Tissues are, too, since they’re not as soft as they may feel. Puffs tissues (or any other that contains lotion) are even worse, since the lens will shoot everything in soft focus for a long time after that. Avoid harsh cleaners (like Windex, or other glass cleaners), rubbing alcohol, and the like. Also worth noting: if you frequent discussion forums (fora?) and blogs, every so often people will suggest that a t-shirt is about all you need for most of your camera needs. Generally speaking, a cotton t-shirt is pretty soft; the problem is that if you’re out somewhere that your camera can get dusty and dirty, your t-shirt is picking up the same stuff, and then some (things don’t adhere to glass the way they will to fabric). Add sweat to the equation (and/or fabric softener) and you’re setting yourself up for more problems than you solve.

If your sensor needs cleaning, use your air blower in an environment that isn’t going to introduce more dust and dirt into the guts of your camera. Your best bet regarding the sensor is to have it professionally cleaned, since it’s one of the most delicate parts of your camera, and also one of the most expensive to fix if something goes wrong.

Your local camera shop should also have lens cleaning kits that contain the above items in various combinations. Don’t pay too much attention to branding (aside from the caveat about your air blower). If you shoot Pentax and happen to find a kit that’s perfect for your purposes, save for the Canon logo, buy it. Unlike a lens, cleaning kits won’t discriminate between one body or brand and another. The tools listed above are made and sold for a reason; they’re the right tools for the job. Your camera, no matter how large or small, no matter how much you spent on it, is an investment. Take care of it, and it’ll return the favor.

*Schmutz (n., Yiddish): Dirt, debris, random filth.

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