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I recently went to Silverstone to watch the F1 qualifying and took my DSLR camera with me. Throughout the day, I switched lenses a few times, but each time was very conscious that there was a lot of dust around (by then end of the day, my clothes were covered in dust).

Every time I changed lenses, I was very protective of the SLR body and made sure the amount of time that the SLR lens hole was exposed was minimised. Was I being too protective, or is it very easy to get dust in the SLR body when changing lenses?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 10 down vote accepted

In my experience, it is pretty easy to get dust...as well as other unwanted junk, inside your camera body fairly easily. I follow a pretty rigorous routine when changing my lenses so that I minimize the world-exposure time of anything...sensor, back lens element, etc. Despite my attempts to be careful, even a short, random gust can blow in the most astonishing things and they can drastically effect your photos.

A couple months ago I was out taking shots of birds (one of my first times trying bird photography) and I changed a lens. I had exposed the camera sensor for only a few seconds, but a dried fragment of a grass blade ended up inside my camera body. It took a while to find it at first, as I was looking at the shutter and sensor assembly. After some time, I finally realized it was actually stuck to the prism that redirects light to my viewfinder.

Since then, I've completely accepted my paraniodism about switching lenses. Better safe than sorry. ;)

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In my experience, its easy to get dust inside the body without switching lenses. Yes, keep it protected. In fact, try not to change the lens in that type of environment at all, if you can. Bring two bodies if you have them available, or retreat to the bathroom or somewhere indoors, away from drafts, if you have the time and inclination.

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+1 for the two body option. Always the way to go. I do one body with a zoom, and one with a fast prime. –  Bryce Alan Flurie Jan 21 '11 at 1:23

Dust on the sensor is a small downer[1]: when you review photos and you see the same ugly-shaped smudge in the same spot in each image (usually in the sky), it sort of makes you wish you weren't shooting digital.

Somehow, even without changes lenses for years, my sensor has a big fuzzy dark shape on it. This can be fixed by using a blower or sending the body out for cleaning, but strangely enough even though I looked for dust before I left on a two week photo trip, I didn't spot it (or new dust got in there without any lens changing). I suppose my little LCD doesn't show the ugly spots the way they show up on my computer.

My solution: grab a blower, shoot photos of the sky and check ON THE COMPUTER for dust BEFORE it covers my beloved images. Clean the sensor in a draft-free room and shoot more sky photos until they come up clean.

[1] Note that most images (of the sky usually) could be Photoshopped when the dust is obvious, the whole point is not to have to manually fix thousands of photos in this manner.

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1  
blowers are bad for sensors, imho –  reuscam Jul 15 '10 at 22:11
3  
how so? can you elaborate for our edification? –  Jared Updike Jul 16 '10 at 6:58
1  
The only part of the optical path that your viewfinder shares with the sensor is the lens. Any dust on the viewfinder prism or mirror is going to be visible in the viewfinder, but won't affect your images. Any dust on the sensor isn't going to be visible in the viewfinder. –  Evan Krall Jan 21 '11 at 0:21
    
@Evan: ha! I realized I meant in my little LCD, not viewfinder. –  Jared Updike Jan 21 '11 at 1:13

Naturally the answer is 'it depends.' What does it depend on? What you plan on doing with your camera. To take @che's example, often times newsguys treat their lenses and camera bodies like crap because they know that the pictures they take are often going to be printed in black and white and at a crap resolution anyway. The dust is never gonna show up or noticed!

Similarly, the photog who spends more of their time playing around with really wide open apertures, dust just isn't as big of a problem as it becomes when you're working with really small apertures. Ditto for photographers who mostly work in the studio. My primary work is as a portrait photographer and I manage to get around to doing some dust cleanup in my camera body about once every other month...

Those who spend more time outside, or in heavy weather have more to worry about, but even so I think we tend to baby our equipment more than we need to. I was chatting with a Canon rep at a seminar late last year and he talked about the filter that protects the sensor being 'quite a bit more robust' (his words) and scratch resistant than people give them credit for (especially in cameras that have come out over the last 2 or 3 years). His recommended method for cleaning was wrapping a microfiber cloth around the end of a pencil, rubberbanding it on there, and swiping around inside the camera to clean it out. This is from an official Canon guy. He went ahead and demonstrated on a 5DmkII that he had on the table!

I don't know if I'd go as far as to recommend that DIY of a method, but I do think that in general it is easy to implement a cleaning protocol that doesn't involve paying a lot of money to have your camera sent out to be cleaned. There are a couple companies such as Visible Dust which market 'safe' cleaning solutions. I use Visible Dust products since I got my Canon 20D about 6 years ago and have never had a problem...

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Depends on how much you're afraid of dust. I'm trying to minimize time I keep the body/insides of lenses "vulnerable", and I still occasionally get dust spots on the sensor, visible around f/16. They're not that much of a problem and can be brushed off.

On the other hand I've seen news photographers switching lenses and putting them into bags without any front or rear caps at all, so the bodies must be able to survive it somehow.

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Yes, if it gets you to be careful about where and how you change your lens.

No, if it prevents you from getting the shot you want.

If it happens rarely that you see dust, have it cleaned, its cheap and safe to have it done professionally. If it happens often, learn to do it yourself. It takes a few tries but its not that hard.

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