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by Bart Arondson

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A lot of praise goes to Arctic Butterfly when doing DIY sensor cleaning. However are there cheaper solution to brush off dust by using other non-sensor cleaning specific brushes?

Most high quality paint brushes are camel hair brush, isn't that the same material used in sensor cleaning brushes?

Thanks in advance :)

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3 Answers 3

Most high quality, natural-hair paint brushes are hog bristle (obviously not what you're talking about), sable (usually some species of martin/weasel; the best are Kolinski), squirrel or (in the oriental tradition) goat or wolf. Camel hair brushes are rare and specialised -- the hair isn't stiff and resilient enough for thick paints (hog's territory), doesn't taper enough for detail (sable, sometimes badger, and wolf), and isn't suited for edgeless washes (squirrel and goat).

You can try a small squirrel mop (sable is stiff enough to scratch if the dust particles are hard enough; hog is, of course, out of the question, and the equally-soft goat is usually mounted in wide, flat brushes). You can do the spinning thing by rolling the brush between your palms, like a Cayley top (or taketombo). Just be aware that new brushes -- even mops, which use a soft ferrule -- will shed hair, so it will need to be abused before use. You'll also want to wash it using plain soap and water and rinse it thoroughly before using it. You might find that having a dielectric in contact with the brush tip while spinning generates a better charge.

No guarantees, of course, but if you want to try a cheap alternative, you can't actually hurt anything with a squirrel mop. You can hurt the sensor filter with almost anything substantially stiffer.

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I follow a process that I learned several years ago from some readings on the net.

Here's what I learned:

  1. Start with a good, quality nylon paint brush, no larger than the sensor size. Having more than one brush is even better, as you can use one to clean the mirror box and one for the sensor. Nylon is used because it can be given a static charge which helps with dust removal. I am reluctant to use any natural fibers because of fraying and shedding issues.
  2. CLEAN the brush thoroughly with a no perfume, non moisturizing dish soap to remove all sizing. Sizing is a coating that helps stiffen the fibers for manufacturing. It will wash out over time. You can check to see if you still have sizing or oil on the fibers by brushing it over a multi-coated UV filter to see if it leaves streaks. Once it's clean, let it dry before using on your camera.
  3. When you are ready for cleaning the camera, use a source of air that is not charged with a liquid propellent. For most this means using a rubber type squeeze puffer. Note that some puffers can spray crumbling bits of themselves as they age.
  4. Use the puffer to knock out the big clumps of dust out of the mirror box. Use your spare brush to clean out the mirror box so that you're not introducing new particles to the sensor area.
  5. Use the puffer to ruffle up the bristles of the brush (this is the static charge process).
  6. With this charged brush in hand, you can use it to pass over a sensor in the expectations that some dust will be attracted and move from the sensor to the brush.
  7. Do repeat this process without touching the sensor surface until you're happy.
  8. Once you realize that no amount of direct puffing on the sensor or brush waving is moving the offending bit, it's time to directly brush the surface. I've done this enough times with my own camera that I'm comfortable with this step. You may not be ready.
  9. Brush to your heart's content. Check often to see if the dust moves off screen and if you are satisfied. Remember, it will most likely never get fully clean but have some small bits left over that you can map out with software.
  10. Drastic step: gently fog the sensor with moist air to soften a blob of dark matter so that it can be brushed away. Don't brush a fogged sensor. This step has helped me in some tough spots.

I've followed this procedure for 5 years with my Pentax camera and haven't had any real issues. YMMV.

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The Arctic Butterfly is more than bristles at the end of a brush. It contains a motor with batteries that spins the brush, and charges the bristles. This actually PULLS the dust off of your sensor, something that a brush from an art store is simply not going to do. It is so special in fact, that it is patented.

Using a camel hair brush is not the same thing, and I would not recommend trying it on a camera that you want to still use.

If you are looking for cheaper alternatives, take a look at this question which has other options: What is the best way to clean the sensor on a digital SLR?

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1  
Before Arctic Butterfly, people still able to charge brushes with compressed air. However those non-motorized brushes seems to be rare and appears over priced. –  rockacola Dec 6 '11 at 3:36

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