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I've discovered spots on the image sensor of my DSLR camera that cannot be cleaned using a blower bulb, so I would like to know the risk of problems, such as further image deterioration or damage to the sensor or low-pass filter, associated with wet cleaning the image sensor. Just how high (or low) is the risk? Is this a difficult task to perform?

The products I expect to use are as follows:

In my research, I have also found the following products, for which there is a greater degree of trust because the manufacturer guarantees against sensor damage when used properly:

Additionally, the reviews are generally positive, so is it worth it?

My biggest concern at this point is further staining or residue from the cleaning process. How likely is this going to affect image quality, and would it be worse compared to the dust or other contaminants?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I do it regularly, I don't regard it as difficult. It's not that risky in the grand scheme of things but it's riskier than it used to be, especially with larger full frame sensors. Before the useless "self cleaning" function was implemented, the low pass filter assembly sat right on the sensor. Now there is an air gap to facilitate vibrating the LPF in order to dislodge dust. This airgap removes support for the glass LPF in the middle allowing it to bend and potentially break under pressure. See this photographers's cautionary tale:

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1032&message=30812646

So if you have a new camera with "self cleaning sensor" be very careful, esp. if it's full frame.

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The camera is a Pentax K-r, with an APS-C sensor. The low-pass filter is fixed on the sensor; the self-cleaning mechanism simply uses the Shake Reduction system to shake the entire sensor. It appears that when the shutter is open for sensor cleaning, the SR system tries to keep the sensor in place. –  DragonLord May 15 '11 at 22:12
    
Self cleaning is rather useless, isn't it? –  Alan May 15 '11 at 22:12
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@DragonLord file that as a plus for sensor shake reduction over lens based shake reduction in that case! You should be fine as long as you use light pressure. –  Matt Grum May 15 '11 at 22:17
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Sensor shake for this is handy, but not perfect. With my K-5s, I will do the menu based option on lens change, otherwise I just have it on startup. It's not 100%, but it really cuts down the overall volume of dust. –  John Cavan May 15 '11 at 23:23
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I took a leap of faith and went ahead with wet cleaning. After three Sensor Swabs, some Eclipse, and my blower bulb, the sensor was essentially clean without any damage. Thanks for your help, @MattGrum and others! –  DragonLord May 16 '11 at 22:33
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It's both risky and difficult.

Sensor cleaning has come a long way from the DIY solutions used many years ago, but it's still not fool proof. Most the sites that sell such products have ample enough warnings which should be a clear indication of the risks involved.

A licensed camera repair facility can easily clean the sensor for you.

Or you could consider waiting till the problem becomes much more noticeable, and use image processing (clone/healing brushes) to mask out the problem until then.

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Who, exactly, licenses a camera repair facility? –  Michael Clark Oct 22 '13 at 1:08
    
President Obama. –  Alan Oct 22 '13 at 3:31
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I say: DON'T TOUCH THAT OLP filter! You can clean it a hundred times and don't have any worries, and the 101th time you accidently pick up a piece of grid, and you scratch your filter! That is what happened to me! A 1000€ camera, and a 500€ to fix it! Send it back to the manufacturer! Dust? Blow it off, but leave those swabs and Eclipse alone! (I had oil spots on the sensor, coming from the mirror mechanism.)

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It's not that risky (apart from as previously mentioned the self cleaning sensors).

However I find it difficult, because it's hard to remove all of the residue from even dedicated cleaners. If you need to do this (and some things like pollen even the best sensor brush will not remove) then just be careful and apply a VERY tiny amount of fluid to clean with (a drop or two). Look when you are done if there is any kind of sheen across the sensor, you can try sample shots of something very flat in color across the whole frame (out of focus white paper with flat lighting) to make sure any residue left is not affecting the image.

I also like the Visible Dust sensor cleaning pads, they are very wide and let you do a wet clean with just a pass or two. They have a sensor cleaning solution that seems to work just fine but you may be able to find cheaper cleaning solutions.

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