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Dust-like speck visible every few pictures — is it dust, or worse?

Is this a finger print on the lens? I don't know.
What can be the cause of the round spot on this photograph?
I have many times cleaned the lens with my fingers, never saw anything like this before.

Canon PowerShot SX210 IS

enter image description here

  • Do multiple phototgraphs have these same spots in the same place?
    – mattdm
    Jan 15 '12 at 14:12
  • @mattdm Yeah, that's why I posted this. :( Jan 15 '12 at 14:14
  • Then, yeah, it's almost certainly dust or something else on the sensor. You can have it cleaned by Canon's service center, but it'll probably be unreasonably expensive. Good thing you're shopping for a new camera anyway. :)
    – mattdm
    Jan 15 '12 at 14:38
  • @mattdm :) New camera isn't going to come tomorrow. Anyway, this dust will get inside the new camera too! then what to do? Throw away that too??? Jan 15 '12 at 14:57
  • PS: I'm assuming you're talking about the gray spot in the top left, underneath the (turned-off) streetlamp — not the glowing lights at the bottom of the scene. I think those spots are just actual lights, right?
    – mattdm
    Jan 15 '12 at 21:10

Spots like this are due to something on or very, very near the sensor. See Dust-like speck visible every few pictures — is it dust, or worse? for another example. Dust in or on the lens can't cause this problem, because, like lens scratches, they'll be so far out of focus that the effect is undetectable (in the same way a window screen becomes invisible when focused far away through it).

On an SLR, you can access the glass protecting the sensor, and it's not much of a worry, since you can clean this. And automatic cleaning technology has gotten better. With my first couple of DSLRs, this was a constant annoyance. The first one had no real self-cleaning mechanism, and the second did, but it was ineffectual. With my current camera, which I got in 2009, I've never once had a problem with dust, and I change my lenses a whole lot more than I did five years ago.

With a compact camera, though, the whole thing will need to be disassembled, and this isn't something you can easily do at home — they're not made to be user serviceable. A camera service center will be able to do it, and if they're feeling charitable may in fact clean the sensor under warranty for free. Out of warranty, or if they decide the dust is due to environmental conditions you should have been more careful about, it's generally unreasonably expensive. (I once paid $100 to have a Fujifilm F31fd cleaned in this way.)

So, in this lovely world of disposable consumer gadgets, most people consider this time to get a new camera. If you get a new camera which doesn't have either built-in sensor cleaning or a way to access the sensor for manual cleaning, consider one with environmental sealing (waterproof is also dust-proof).

  • You start out saying "Spots like this...". Like what? I don't see how we know enough to know what's a "spot" and what was actually in the scene. What specifically are you referring to? Jan 15 '12 at 23:27
  • The dark gray spot in the top left, underneath the (turned-off) streetlamp.
    – mattdm
    Jan 15 '12 at 23:31
  • Thanks Mat for the helpful answer. The camera's price is $200, so paying $100 for cleaning doesn't make much sense. :) Jan 16 '12 at 11:27

Firstly, you should never 'clean' a lens with your finger! Try not to touch it at all if you can help it by using a rocket blower instead to expel dust and dirt flecks, but if you must physically touch it, use a non-scratch micro fibre lens cleaning cloth. These are quite cheap, available at any photographic retailer, and will not scratch your lens.

That said, onto your question... Unfortunately this is dust but it's on the inside of your camera. With fixed point and shoots - this happens sometimes. I had exactly the same dark circles on my old Casio. At that time I took it into my local camera store and they identified it was on the inside. Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done without taking it all apart which - trust me - you do not want to do.

Unfortunately it's something you will either have to live with, or replace the camera. Sorry :-(


I guess I'm not seeing the same thing the others are. We don't know what the photograph was supposed to look like, so can't tell what's not supposed to be there.

The only thing I see that looks like a "spot" is a fairly large slightly darkened disk just inside the bend of the streetlight at the top. Since it's large and blurry, it is definitely NOT on the sensor. It looks like a bit of dirt on the front of the lens. Actually I'm guessing it's a water drop since this picture was clearly taken in damp conditions with mist easily getting onto the front of the lens. As Mike said, never clean a lens with your finger. That couldn't have helped and possibly made it more likely fog condensed onto your lens if the camera was a little cooler than the outside temperature.

The only other artifacts I see are in the darker area at the bottom. It's hard to tell what is real variation in the scene, but most of what might not supposed to be there look like JPG compression artifacts due to a low "quality" setting.

Clean your lens properly as Mike described, use the highes quality setting the camera has, and try again. Then describe clearly what is not supposed to be in the picture. Remember, we weren't there to see the original scene.

That's quite some fog, by the way. Where was this and how long a lens was this taken with?

  • A piece of dirt or drop of water on the lens would be blurrier than that. But also, she's wiped off the lens and the artifact still occurs in multiple pictures. Remember that this is a point and shoot camera, with a tiny sensor; a speck of dust will be enlarged to correspondingly larger.
    – mattdm
    Jan 15 '12 at 23:29
  • That's quite some fog, by the way. Where was this and how long a lens was this taken with? :) I'll post this info in my next question. :) Jan 16 '12 at 11:28
  • @mattdm: That's pretty blurry and doesn't seem out of line for a spot on the front of the lens to me. Yes a spec of dust on a small sensor could be large, but not so blurry since it's so close to the sensor, sortof like a contact print. Also it's not clear she cleaned the lens between this and other pictures with the same spot. The spot could be something that isn't loose doesn't wipe off, and needs to be dissolved off, like a drop of sugary drink hit the lens and dried for example. A finger wipe wouldn't clear that. Jan 16 '12 at 23:44

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