DUST IS THE absolute enemy of the professional photographer, because it can make your post-production a misery and waste tons of valuable time that could have been spent on much more profitable and productive activities. The problem is that those who make photography their profession are, by definition, going to be working their equipment hard and in all kinds of scenarios, and if you don’t have stringent policies in place to keep cleanliness at the heart of your operation, it’s inevitable that you’ll forever be plagued by troublesome spots on your files.

“We’ve found that mirrorless models suffer from sensor contamination more than DSLRs,” says Anthony Sinfield, MD of CameraCal in West Sussex. “This is due to the fact that with mirrorless models, the contamination has nowhere to go but straight onto the sensor.

“With DSLRs, contamination build up starts, and is initially trapped, in the mirror box, then over time it gets transferred to the shutter and then the sensor chamber itself. It doesn’t help that sensors in Sony and Nikon mirrorless models are physically closer to the lens mount and thus more exposed, while Canon uses a clever system where a mechanical shutter gate is closed when the camera is switched off, thus protecting the sensor.

“There can also be an issue caused by oil/grease ‘splatter’, something that’s particularly associated with cameras such as Canon’s 1D X series and the Nikon D600. They might have come off the production line with excess lubricant on the mirror shutter unit, which can result in oil/grease being sprayed over the sensor glass when the shutter is fired while you’re shooting in high-speed continuous mode.”

Fortunately, it’s a fairly straightforward process to clean a sensor, and you can purchase kits to enable the process to be carried out at home, while CameraCal even offers courses to help you learn the skills. However, as a pro, the chances are that you won’t have time and, in any case, you’ll be working with a high-end camera that cost a fortune and there are all kinds of things that can go wrong when you’re attempting a home clean, from scratches on the sensor itself to drying marks from using too much cleaner. Faced with this, many are choosing to send their kit to specialist outlets for cleaning, and these are inevitably set up to do a thorough job that’s tied into an ultra-fast and secure delivery service.

At CameraCal, for example, what’s offered is a mixture of in-depth cleaning carried out by experts, and the cost for this is £56 for a full-frame or medium-format sensor and £36 for a MFT or crop-sensor camera. A ‘while you wait’ service is available for personal callers who book in advance, while for those further afield a fully insured courier service is offered, starting at £17 for a pick up and return. Also on offer is a selection of products that can make the home-cleaning process far easier and safer, including clever inhouse-designed accessories known as dust collectors – sticky discs that can be fitted inside lens and body caps, which are available for £3.99 for a pack of ten – that can massively lessen the amount of dust that makes it onto your sensor.

FULL PRO SERVICE

If you imagine that sending your precious pro kit off to be cleaned will involve it being out of your business for days on end and then just receiving a very basic service, it’s time to think again. The most reputable businesses that provide this service are totally aware of how precious a photographer’s tools of the trade might be, and they will have procedures in place to ensure a rapid turnaround, while the kit itself will undergo a really thorough cleaning ritual that will ensure it goes back to its owner pretty much as good as new.

At Fixation, for example, the sensorcleaning service that’s offered alongside the company’s renowned camera-repair offering reflects how well attuned the business is to the specific requirements of the professional photographer. For a start, the outlets in London and Manchester will both allow photographers to drop off their kit and to wait while cleaning takes place on the spot if the need is really urgent – Nikon, Canon, Sony and Fujifilm cameras only for this service – while a one-day turnaround is also offered, and pretty much all camera makes are accepted.

Likewise, Fixation offers a pack of low-tack discs to catch dust, and these are available at a price of £5 for a pack of ten, and they definitely help to cut down the risk of dust. Sensor cleaning for a fullframe model is £66 and the price is £36 for a crop-sensor camera, and the procedure that’s carried out is thorough. Test images are taken to establish the level and location of dust, the mirror box area, including the underside of the focus screen, is cleaned, along with the sensor and the body cap and rear element area of any attached lens. Finally, further test images are shot and then magnified to 100% resolution to make entirely sure that the cleaning has been completely successful.

Advice from Fixation is that the cleanliness of the sensor should be checked on a regular basis by taking an image of a clear background or blue sky, with the aperture stepped right down to increase depth of field, with the file then being checked at 100% on a monitor. Carry out this procedure before every important job or trip away and you’ll cut down on frustrating postproduction sessions down the line.

FIGHTING THE DUST

BOTH CANON (Dust Data Ref) and Nikon (Dust Off) provide a facility that can be hugely useful in helping professionals fight the dust. “This can help enormously if recontamination of the sensor occurs in the future”, says Anthony Sinfield, “and it’s one of the first things that should be carried out after unboxing. You create a clean reference shot that will at a later stage enable you to clone out multiple dust specks, using Canon’s DPP (Digital Professional Pro) or Nikon’s NX-D software to batch process your files.”.

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