I recently bought myself a shiny new DSLR camera. Before I can use it, I had to do something kind of terrifying: mount the lens.

Now of course, half the advantage of SLR cameras is that the lenses are interchangeable. But sitting there holding an extremely expensive brand new camera and staring into its bare innards, I'm just terrified that if I make one wrong move, a hair or a piece of dust could fall in there, and then the camera will be irreparably damaged and I'll never be able to use it again.

This might sound like a stupid question, but… is it actually “safe” to change the lens on the camera? Is this likely to destroy it?

(Obviously it goes without saying that you should limit the time spent with no lens attached to the minimum number of seconds possible. But even if you have lightning fingers, the camera will still be lenseless for some number of seconds. And it's not like I'm standing in a class 100 cleanroom here! Besides, you don't want to be too rough with the delicate lens mounting either…)


9 Answers 9


I'm just terrified that if I make one wrong move, a hair or a piece of dust could fall in there, and then the camera will be irreparably damaged and I'll never be able to use it again.

Fear not, young Padawan. Those of us who regularly use dSLRs can attest that simply having dust or hair fall into your dSLR body will NOT irreparably damage anything, and you can even get the dust/hair back out again with simple methods like a bulb blower, or more complex ones involving the arcane methods of sensor cleaning. But dust on the sensor is usually just something you deal with on a regular basis.

A few facts to ease your mind.

  1. The sensor is not exposed when your camera body has no lens on it. A dSLR uses a mirror to take the light coming in from the lens and throw it up into the viewfinder. When you take a picture, the mirror flips up, to let the light go through to the sensor. But at all other times, that mirror is covering your sensor. You're really only exposing the guts of the camera when changing lenses, if you shoot mirrorless.

  2. Your sensor is also covered by a glass filter. This filter serves several purposes, including filtering out ultraviolet and infrared light to keep them from throwing the colors off on your sensor (which is sensitive past the visible spectrum). But it also protects the sensor. When you "clean the sensor", you're not actually touching it, you're cleaning the glass filter over the sensor.

  3. Your camera, if it's not just brand new to you, but also a relatively new model, probably has sensor shake technology that effectively clears most dust/hairs off the sensor before taking a shot. You also typically don't see debris on the sensor unless you're shooting stopped down into the f/8 and smaller range, because it's out of focus to the sensor otherwise.

  4. Your brand new shiny shiny camera probably came with a body cap. You can use that to protect the guts of your camera until you're ready to actually mount the lens. There are also tricks and techniques you can pick up (i.e., turning off the camera, holding it face down so dust falls out, not in, changing the lens in the bag, etc.) to minimize crap getting in while you swap out lenses.

I live in Southern California, where the weather is typically dry, and wet dust doesn't weld itself onto sensors, and I change lenses with wild abandon all the time. I don't do any of the "best practices" methods--I just use a body cap if I think I'm going slow and fumbly while juggling lenses. And I mostly shoot mirrorless these days.

It's basically nothing to worry about, really. It just takes time and practice and putting behind you the big dent you put in your wallet when you bought the gear, and starting to get to know it as tools. Take a deep breath, screw that lens on, and get started clicking. The more times you do it, the less frightening it becomes.

  • 1
    I assume that the "debris" you speak of in 3 refers to the (outer) lens more than the sensor (or inner lens)? Jan 31, 2016 at 12:28
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    +1 but I'm not sure about the "tricks". We have another question here about whether turning the camera off really matters. And, also, I don't think the direction is as important as people think. Watch dust in a ray of sunlight something — it's so light that it only tends to fall down over time. Much more important to position the camera so you can swap quickly, whatever the orientation. (If you can do it quickly upside down, fine.) Same goes for using a bag, except when the local environment is particularly nasty (and the bag your have kept clean).
    – mattdm
    Jan 31, 2016 at 14:08
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    Even without a mirror, most interchangeable lens cameras have a shutter that covers the sensor stack when the camera is turned off. Those with mirrors pretty much always have the shutter curtains closed when the mirror is down.
    – Michael C
    Jan 31, 2016 at 21:07
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    @BinaryFunt Not really. These days sensors are only energized on DSLRs immediately before the shutter opens and don't remain energized after the shutter closes. And if the mirror is down the shutter is protecting the sensor stack. Most mount designs are engineered so that the power leads uncouple first and don't touch any of the other connectors as a lens is removed. For more please see photo.stackexchange.com/a/54252/15871
    – Michael C
    Jan 31, 2016 at 21:25
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – inkista
    Jan 31, 2016 at 23:35

This might sound like a stupid question, but… is it actually “safe” to change the lens on the camera? Is this likely to destroy it?

Changing lenses is quite safe for your camera, less so for your wallet.

Once you see what your camera can do with different lenses, you'll want to start a small collection. Some lenses, like a typical 50mm f/1.8, are very affordable -- $100-$150 -- and quite good. Do not be taken in. These lenses are the gateway drug of photography! Before you know it, you'll be looking at $600 and $800 and $1200 lenses thinking: Yes, it's a lot of money, but my god look at that bokeh! Companies like lensrentals.com and borrowlenses.com will promise to keep your costs down, but they only feed the addiction.

It's not even just the lenses... if you're carrying a DSLR and a couple of lenses, you're going to need something to carry them in, right? How many of the regulars around Photo.SE do you suppose own fewer than three camera bags? That's right: none of them.

Also, under no circumstances should you consider mounting a Speedlight (or a Speedlite, depending on which team you play for) on your camera. Again, it won't hurt the camera a bit, but it'll lead you down a rabbit hole from which you may never escape. Shortly after you put the flash on your camera, someone is bound to show you how much better your shots will look if you take the flash off your camera. And if you happen to have two or three instead of just one... Don't even think about visiting strobist.com unless you have space in your life for a dozen umbrellas and a million AA batteries.

I'm glad you asked this question at a point where there's still time for early intervention. More often, we get people showing advanced symptoms, like Should I buy the carbon fiber tripod legs, or settle for aluminum and invest that money in an Arca-Swiss geared head? or Now that I've moved up to a 50Mpx sensor, don't I need do buy all new lenses (please say yes)? Thankfully, you have time to kick this habit before it becomes a real problem.

Just turn that mode selector dial to the green setting and pretend that lens is fused to the camera body...

  • 9
    ...it's so true. All of it. Repent now, the end is near.
    – J...
    Feb 1, 2016 at 1:03
  • ...so what you're saying is, "save yourselves!" Feb 1, 2016 at 9:11
  • Half a sentence of assertion, and five paragraphs of ramble? -1. And not because I've only ever had one camera bag in ~10 years of shooting.
    – l0b0
    Feb 1, 2016 at 15:15
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    ...And don't forget the extension tubes, although they're (fortunately) much less expensive than actual lenses. (And... seriously, I have been WAAY happier with macro shots from the extension tubes than the actual macro lens.)
    – Geoff
    Feb 1, 2016 at 16:32
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    @l0b0 The question already had a very good, highly voted, accepted answer when I wrote this, so I tried a different angle. My answer is a tongue-in-cheek attempt to make the serious point that changing lenses is not only safe, it's one of the key capabilities that makes a DSLR (or MILC) the tool of choice for serious photographers. I hope that wasn't lost on most readers.
    – Caleb
    Feb 1, 2016 at 17:05

Funny question :) but I can see where you're coming from.

Yes, it's safe to change the lens! It becomes a very quick process once you've done it a few times. At the same time, don't fret about getting it done in the minimum number of seconds.

Some people insist that you should hold the camera with the lens mount facing the ground, but my personal opinion is just change the lens with reasonable care and you'll be fine. This is a procedure that the camera and lens are explicitly designed for - it's not like you're doing something that voids your warranty! Just don't do it at the beach or in a very windy environment, etc - at least not without taking proper precautions first.

If your sensor eventually needs to be cleaned, so be it - that's also a relatively painless process.

Enjoy the world of interchangeable lenses!

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    It's worth noting that "proper precautions" in those cases can be something as simple as turning your back to the wind, and not exposing the surfaces needlessly to the elements. Like you say, this is something the equipment (both body and lenses) is designed for!
    – user
    Jan 31, 2016 at 16:49
  • Yeah, I agree — facing downward is superstition. Dust is light and floating in the air, not falling like hail.
    – mattdm
    Jun 9, 2018 at 18:30

Yes, it is safe to change a lens. Just use common sense and try to avoid getting dust or dirt inside.

Some dust will always find a way to get inside, but most new cameras have automatic dust cleaning sensors. Eventually you will need to manually clean the sensor or have some one else do it for you.

The lens mount is quite robust and is not delicate. There is almost no chance to damage it just from mounting and un-mounting the lens. Dropping the lens on concrete or other hard surface is another story.

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    +1. It'a a camera, not a Fabergé egg.
    – Blrfl
    Jan 31, 2016 at 12:51
  • Well, it's a £400 camera. That's not exactly cheap. :-} But point taken. Jan 31, 2016 at 13:28
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    @MathematicalOrchid I think you might be surprised how many high-rep regulars here have cameras that cost more along the lines of £4000 than £400. Not to mention the lenses. (Not that an expensive camera guarantees good results, but they tend to have features that help you produce good results...)
    – user
    Jan 31, 2016 at 16:50
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    @Blrfl Indeed, although in the years between the '80s and rather more recently there was never a risk of getting dust "on the sensor", so to speak ;)
    – J...
    Feb 1, 2016 at 0:59
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    @J...: True enough. Sometimes it was nice being able to get new sensors in rolls of 24 or 36. :-)
    – Blrfl
    Feb 1, 2016 at 10:31

For years I shot professionally in one of the worst environments for cameras: rodeo arenas. The dust is always in the air, even when you're in an indoor arena, and somedays the wind is blowing, making it worse. Changing lenses in an arena is quite doable, and, with a tiny bit of precaution, can be done without any dust getting into the body or on the sensor.

I'd always had a cap ready for a lens prior to taking it off and would blow it out, either with a good puff from my lungs or a air-bulb, turn the body so the lens was pointing at the ground, then I'd remove the lens, lay the body, lens-opening down, on my leg to block any air movement, then immediately cap the mount on the lens and put it in my case.

Then I'd grab my next lens, turn it so the lens pointed at the sky, uncap it and immediately put the cap back in the case and close the case to avoid exposing the rest of the gear to more dust than necessary. Then I'd lift the body and, keeping it facing down, attach the lens.

By keeping the body facing down you're reducing the chances of dust getting into the body because the dust would have to be moving opposite the direction gravity is trying to move it; Even if the wind is blowing you're still reducing the chance of dust landing inside.

I'd also make sure the sensor was very clean prior to shooting and got really good cleaning it sitting in the car with the A/C blowing toward me. (The truck had a HEPA filter which helped keep clean air blowing.) I used a bulb and the eye-glass cleaning moist towelettes from Costco, because they come in sealed packets. Once I thought the sensor was clean I'd put on a lens, set it to a very small aperture and shoot a grey card or blue sky, then zoom into the resulting image on the LCD and scroll around looking for dust. If I saw any I'd clean again.

Yeah, it was nerve-wracking at first, but eventually I got it down. And that was in the days when the manufacturers swore we'd destroy our cameras if we did anything like that.


I was like you when I bought a brand new Canon 70D. First few weeks I was afraid to touch the camera, let alone freely use it and interchange lenses, but after a while I got used to it and feeling confident using it. It's completely normal that you are afraid to do something wrong to a brand new expensive gadget, I think it happens to everyone, but after some time you forget it and use it like a boss. Hope that helps.

  • I get the impression that with the lens fitted, it's quite a sturdy piece of equipment. (Although I still worry about scratching the front of the lens.) It's just taking the lens of to change it that's a bit disconcerting. Jan 31, 2016 at 14:39
  • @MathematicalOrchid Yes, you just have to be more careful with it, before getting fully used to the thing.
    – Giancarlo
    Jan 31, 2016 at 14:42
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    Actually, @MathematicalOrchid, there's another question about scratches on lenses. Unless you're selling your lens, it's not as bad as you think. But if you're worried about scratches, go spend $10 on a UV filter and slap that on the front of your lens. Jan 31, 2016 at 16:29

I changed lenses on my camera in the middle of a desert storm. And Under "normal" rain. And during a tropical storm. And, she is still ok and ass kicking.

Worry not, just try to avoid doing something REALLY stupid (like changing lens with the camera facing the rain...)


One point not mentioned. There should be a dot on the lens and on the body. Make sure they are lined up correctly or you could do some damage.


Offbeat advice when you got yourself a shiny new camera, are not experienced with it, and want to keep the resale value:

Get a beater body. Find a well used, one or two generations older, model from the same line. Practice anything you consider unsafe with that camera. Use the shiny camera when you find you are hitting actual technical limits with the older camera. It makes for interesting picture opportunities and a refreshing attitude to have a set of gear where you don't care too much if it gets totalled, lost, found, stolen, scratched, folded, spindled, mutilated, impounded, used for self defense, dropped, melted, insulted....

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