Cleaning the Camera Matrix: When and How to Do It?

Sooner or later, any photographer begins to notice in absolutely all his photographs have small black and gray spots in the same places. This becomes especially noticeable in light frames, for example, when the sky or light clothing is present in the frame. We’re not talking about dead pixels now. What then remains? That’s right, it’s dust on the matrix. Lets discuss cleaning the camera matrix in this article.

The appearance of dirt on the matrix of a camera, both SLR and mirrorless, is typical mainly for cameras with interchangeable lens. It is during the lens change that the matrix of your technique is freely blown from all directions and dust particles flying in the air adhere to it. At this moment you ask yourself the question: what is the cleaning of the camera matrix and how best to do it?


Do I Need to Clean the Camera Sensor at All?

In fact, in technical terms, dust cannot be harmful. Of course, we are talking about reasonable amounts, not a trip in the desert or a walk on the beach with the lens unfastened. The dirt particles are so small that most of them you cannot even see with the naked eye if you look directly at the matrix itself.

The biggest problem with this dust is that it is wildly annoying for both the photographer and the viewer. If your matrix is ​​clean or not very dirty, then you will not notice the catch. When this happens, we assure you that you will always find these dust dots in all photos, because you will know where to look.

There are three options for dealing with this scourge:

To score and forget. Just don’t do anything, especially if it doesn’t bother you. This is very easy to do in the beginning, but more difficult later, when the number of black dots and cloudy spots begins to grow, and it will grow, even if you do not change lenses at all (in this case, much slower).

Fix programmatically using Lightroom, Photoshop, or any other editor. In this case, you can either set up a special action (action) to clone a previously marked area with the Healing Brush tool, or make a preset in Lightroom to clone the same area. It remains only to apply as needed or to all uploaded photos. The option, frankly speaking, is not so-so, because all photos will have to be controlled manually and to catch incorrect cloning/copying, then fix them manually.

Make a present for yourself and your camera – to clean the matrix. This option also has alternatives, you can do it both on your own in literally 3 minutes, or give the camera to a service center, spending time on the road and, of course, money to pay for the master’s work.

Which of the options to choose is up to you? We will talk specifically about the third approach, we will tell you how to clean the matrix at home, how to do it and in what sequence?

We are not responsible for your actions and for damage that you may cause yourself or your equipment. If, after reading the article, you doubt whether it is worth doing the cleaning yourself, then we definitely recommend contacting the service center.

Stage 1 – Preparing the Camera and the Room for Cleaning

So, we decided to clean the matrix ourselves. First of all, we need to prepare for this, namely, buy the items/sets necessary for the procedure and prepare the equipment itself.

From equipment and consumables we need:

  • Air pear
  • Matrix cleaning mops of the appropriate width for your sensor type
  • Liquid that dries very quickly and leaves no residue
  • Matrix cleaning pencil
  • Or you can buy everything at once in a special set

We will talk about all these subjects in more detail below, and now we will start preparing the premises and equipment itself.

Charge the battery of your camera fully. The sensor must be cleaned with a fully charged battery. if at the time of cleaning the reflex camera turns off and the mirror goes down, then you will most likely damage the lifting mechanism of this very mirror and go to the service center for repairs rather than cleaning.

Cleaning the Camera Matrix - Stage 1
Stage 1 – Cleaning the Camera Matrix

Look in advance in the instructions in which menu the sensor cleaning mode is activated. Not ultrasonic cleaning when turning on / off the camera (which, by the way, does not save you from dirt at all), namely the mirror up mode. This will save time later, when you are already in the mood for work.

Prepare the room in which you will work. Close the windows to keep out new dust from the street when the wind blows. Especially prone to cleanliness, you can additionally do wet cleaning, this is never superfluous. In the most extreme case, turn on the humidifier so that the dust already flying in the air settles.

So, the first stage is completed. The equipment is charged, the cleaning is done. It’s time to prepare the necessary tools.

Stage 2 – Take A Test Shot and Look the Enemy “In the Face”

Probably, since you are reading this article, you already know and have noticed exactly where the dust particles are in the photo. We will disappoint you a little, these are just the parts that you have found. After the test shot, there will be even more of them.

Cleaning the Camera Matrix Stage 2 - Take A Test Shot
Stage 2 – Cleaning the Camera Matrix

To get a high-quality test shot, we need to take a picture with a clamped aperture, a minimum ISO and a uniform shade, it is under these conditions that the dust will be seen best. There are several ways, the simplest of which is:

  • Set manual focus
  • Put ISO 100-200
  • Select aperture priority (A for Nikon, AV for Canon).

Set your aperture to maximum, F16-F32 will do. If you still chose manual mode, then set the shutter speed for a few seconds.

Point the camera at the monitor or at the sky and take a picture. If the shutter speed is long enough, then move the camera left and right during the exposure. There should be no dark areas in the frame.

We admire the result. Download it to your computer, increase the brightness and contrast of the photo as needed. 90% of all dust particles will be visible already when viewed on the screen of a DSLR (mirrorless) camera at magnification.

An interesting point. A mirror is installed in a DSLR, which flips the image, then the dirt at the bottom of the frame will actually be on the top of the sensor, if you look at it through the mount (from the side of the lens).

Stage 3 – Blow Off Large Particles with A Pear

We proceed directly to the cleaning procedure. The first and easiest way to clean the matrix is ​​to blow off the annoying dirt. For this we need a special air pear.

Friends, do not buy such pears at the pharmacy (they are also enemas), because their principle of action is completely different. Our regular pear should suck in air from the back and blow out from the front. In this case, you will not suck in the same air with dust and immediately blow it back out. Not to mention the fact that inside the pharmacy pears, most likely, there will be talcum powder, which will be impossible to remove from the inside of the SLR camera on your own.

Stage 3 - Cleaning the Camera Matrix
Stage 3 – Cleaning the Camera Matrix

Using a pear is very simple.

  • Detach the Lens
  • Set the camera to the matrix cleaning mode, the mirror will rise and lock. DO NOT TURN OFF THE CAMERA.
  • Pivot the camera down so that the sensor and lens mount are facing the ground. Thus, the dust lifted up by gravity will settle down and not back onto the sensor.
  • Bring the pear, do not bring 1-2 cm to the matrix and do not touch it. Blow with sharp movements two or three times. Note that when the pear is squeezed, the tip may jerk upward towards the matrix. This should be avoided and, as a last resort, practice beforehand without a camera.

That’s all. Hold the camera for a while, letting the air settle. Then take a test shot again and see the effect. If you are not satisfied, repeat it again.

Unfortunately, only large particles can be blown off in this way, and even then, not always. It makes no sense to repeat the procedure more than 3-4 times, so you will either need to stop there, or go further if the dirt still remains.

Stage 4 – Clean the Matrix with A Mop or Pencil

After the pear has done its job, it is time for heavy artillery to remove the stubborn particles. It is necessary to show this dust who is the owner of the camera and take it properly. Various clever and specially invented cleaning tools will help us with this.

Cleaning the Camera Matrix with Cleaning Fluid

As you can imagine, ordinary water is not suitable here. There are serious requirements for matrix cleaning fluid:

  • It should dry very quickly and leave no residue.
  • It must be very clean.

These points are closely related to each other, since everything that dries for a long time (even a few seconds) leaves a trace behind. Thus, we find ourselves in a vicious circle when the traces of cleaning from the sensor cannot be removed.

The most famous liquid of this kind is Eclipse E2 (version E2 is needed) from the American company PhotoSol, which has proven itself for decades. It dries up literally before your eyes, leaves no trace of it. In addition to it, there are other more budgetary manufacturers, for example, VSGO.

Matrix Cleaning Fluid
Matrix Cleaning Fluid

This liquid is needed to moisten a special mop, which is used to directly clean the sensor. The standard capacity of the bottle is 15 ml, and you only need to spend two drops for one mop, so the bottle will last you for a long time. If desired, it can also be used to clean the optics, after dropping it onto a clean napkin.

Matrix Cleaning Mop

This is exactly what we will use to clean the matrix of our camera. They look like the most natural mops, only in miniature. They are sold both one by one and a whole set of 6-12 pieces. For one cleaning we need one mop, in a neglected case – two.

The peculiarity of mops is that they exist in different sizes, mainly divided into:

  • APS-C Crop Die Cleaning Mops (16mm wide)
  • Full Matrix Cleaning Mops (24mm wide)
Matrix Cleaning Mop
Matrix Cleaning Mop

We recommend the proven mops of the same Photosol company called Sensor Swab, but there are positive reviews about other analogues of the Chinese company VSGO. Choose a width that matches the size of your sensor.

Cleaning is as Follows:

  • Put 2 drops of special liquid on the brush.
  • We put it at the very edge of the matrix, let’s say the left one. We press tightly, but without fanaticism, we do not press hard.
  • With a smooth movement of the hand, still pressing the mop, we move it from left to right. Having reached the right edge of the matrix, we do not raise the brush, but stop.
  • We begin to move the brush back from right to left at the same pace and with the same little effort.

In total, we have to make two wires without tearing from the sensor: in one direction (with one side of the mop working) and in the opposite direction (while the second, still clean side is already working). One mop is used only once. Congratulations, you just cleaned the matrix.

We immediately throw out the used brush, take a test photo, and admire the result. Much better than a pear, isn’t it?

Cleaning the Camera Matrix with Cleaning Pencil

This pencil is different from those created for cleaning lenses and lenses, but its essence remains the same. At the end it has a special tip with graphite sputtering. By the way, it is triangular in shape, as opposed to round for the lens, and that’s understandable. With a round tip, you can never remove dirt in a corner. The cleaning process is according to the instructions and does not differ from the lens: we put the pencil in the center of the matrix and begin to gradually expand the circle of movement with rotational movements, moving from the center to the edges. The edges of the sensor should be cleaned with the last strokes.

Matrix Cleaning Pencil
Matrix Cleaning Pencil

The body of the pencil itself, closer to the tip, has the ability to bend about 35 degrees, which gives the cleaning process a certain convenience. After cleaning, put on the cap and turn it 180 degrees to clean the tip of the collected dust.

Cleaning with a pencil as a whole looks easier than with a special mop, but in terms of the result and the speed of cleaning, mops still come out on top.

Camera Matrix Cleaning Kit

And our list of special tools ends with a special set for cleaning matrices, in which several items are collected at once:

  • Air pear.
  • Cleaning pencil or mop with liquid, depending on the kit.
  • Illuminated magnifying glass.

The stages of cleaning, as you understand, are almost the same, with the exception of a couple of details:

  • Install the magnifier, turn on the backlight and see where the dust is on the matrix
  • Clean the sensor with a pencil or mop
  • Check the result again. The magnifier has a special hole in the case, thanks to which you can do everything at the same time – both look and work with a pencil.
Cleaning Kit for Cleaning the Camera Matrix
Cleaning Kit for Cleaning the Camera Matrix

We ourselves did not buy such a set, but we had to use it. At photo exhibitions, a special stand is often installed by the Lens Pen company, where any interested photographer can clean the sensor with just such a kit. We checked it on ourselves – it really works. Dust can be seen through a magnifying glass, everything was cleaned, there are no traces left.

Is It Worth Sending Your Equipment to Service?

As for ourselves, we try to include our cameras in the service as rarely as possible. One has only to read user reviews after visiting the warranty workshops and the hair starts to stand on end.

  • They relate to one problem, get a zero result (i.e., in fact, the service did nothing at all).
  • Instead of one problem, they end up with another (we treat one, we cripple the other).
  • The matrix was cleaned, but there were scratches and so on.

It is for these reasons that we clean the matrix of our cameras ourselves. As you can see, it is not as scary as it looks and, having carried out the procedure at least once, in the future you can do such a cleaning without problems and any excitement in general in a couple of minutes.

Friends, we have just reviewed, perhaps, all the available options for cleaning the camera matrix at home. We repeat once again, if you are in doubt about something, then be sure to take your camera to the service. At the very least, you will have someone to make claims later if something happens.

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