A friend of mine was searching for an article on how to keep his camera clean. Everything that google searched for him pointed to website that taught about how to clean the camera but nothing about keeping it clean. Based on his suggestion, here are some pointers to maintaining your photography equipment. If you are anywhere close enough to me when it comes to keeping your camera and lens clean, then this is a must read article for you. This is about prevention. Prevention is better than cure, or in this case cleaning.
(Nikon Df with Nikkor 50mm lens, f/8, 1/250 sec at ISO 100)
Here is a list of Do’s and Dont’s for keeping your photography equipment clean:
Good habits while storing photography equipment at home
Store everything in a clean place. I prefer to keep everything in a dry cabinet. (Dry Cabinet) Apart from preventing dust, it also maintains humidity below a certain limit which helps in preventing fungus growth. Do not store in polybags or paper cartons. Moisture can get trapped in polybags and ruin your costly equipment. Paper boxes in which the items are initially sold are good only for that purpose. They just make the item look attractive. Do not pack things back into them after use. Once again, repacking leads to fungus growth by sending those fungal spores also along with your favorite lens into the box. If you love those boxes, store them for the day you plan to put your items for sale but till them store your precious goods out of them.
Most importantly, take your camera and lenses out. They get spoilt faster when they are stored compared to when they are being used.
Buy a good comfortable camera bag, preferably a bag that can be washed. Keep the camera bag clean. Quite frequently I have seen camera bags that appear dirtier than the surroundings. Imagine the dust they are capable of introducing into cameras and lenses. If your camera bag is not washable, vacuum it once in a while with a domestic vacuum cleaner and then wipe it clean with a moist cloth. Let it dry completely before repacking your expensive photography equipment.
Do not use plastic bags, cloth cases or any other cloth inside the camera bags to provide added support. Plastic bags can trap dust particles and moisture inside them. Cloth cases and other cloths can shed fine lint and fibres. Electronic equipment with their charged surfaces are magnets for these lint and fibres. So store your favorite ‘lint-free’ microfiber cloth in some other pocket of your camera bag. Carrying a towel or a handkerchief along with camera or lens is a big no.
More about what I carry in my camera bags – Inside my camera bag
These are the soul of photography. Each and every pixel that your camera captures is from the light that passes through these. If properly cared for, lenses last more than a lifetime. These are investments. To take care of the lenses, first of all, purchase only those lenses which you intend to use. Unused lenses develop fungus and get spoilt very fast.
Keep the outside surface of the lens clean using a make-up brush and a fine microfibre cloth. Most of the lenses suck in some amount of air while the optical elements move inside while focusing and zooming. This air flows in from close to the lens body and sucks in whatever dust there might be. If no cleaning aids are there with me, I simply wipe the lens barrel with my hand, this does leave behind some oil marks from my hands but removes any dust that might be stuck on the barrel. Oil marks can be easily wiped off with a microfibre cloth later on.
Using a clear filter helps especially when there are chances of accidental touch by hands. (To use a clear filter or not?) Fingerprints are not exactly the best things for the front elements. Prevent touching the front element where possible and use a clear filter if you want to. When it comes to protection, lens hoods are superior than these filters.(Hoods & Lens Flare) The debate, however, still rages on in the photography world, about which of the two (clear filter or hood) gives better protection.
If you are planing to click macro, either use a dedicated macro lens or extension tubes. (Macro Photography) Inverting the lens, though gives good image quality, is actually a bad idea. The lens is more vulnerable to the elements from its rear end than any other side of it. The dust particles can very easily enter the lens from its camera mount’s side. So be very careful when inverting the lens for macro photography and if possible avoid this method.
When storing the lenses in camera bag, double check the rear lens caps. These can come off easily inside the camera bag itself and can scratch the rear element. So be careful while carrying lenses in camera bag.
First and foremost, attach a screen-guard (either thin plastic film or glass film) to the preview screen. Being on the rear of the camera, it can easily get scratched by shirt buttons and belt buckle. Oil marks from nose oil is nothing to worry about. In most cases it gets wiped by shirt itself when the camera is hung around the neck and rubs against the body.
Dust also settles around on all the parts on the camera and especially in hard to reach places between the buttons. Once in a while clean it with a brush or give it blow using a blower bulb while out in the field. Most importantly, do it before changing your lens. Give a good blow to around the lens mounting area before changing lens.
Always change lenses in an area which is free from strong winds and dust. One good technique to learn is to quickly change the lens without dropping them. A little amount of dust does less harm to the lens than a fall to the ground. When in doubt, sit in a shaded area with no wind and then change the lens. I recommend turning away from the wind and using body as a shield against the wind.
Something that most photographers tends to forget or ignore – DSLRs use a sensor which is a charged device. It attracts dust. So always turn ‘off’ the camera, few seconds before you plan to change your lens.
A word of precaution – do not use your mouth to blow off any dust from inside the camera or from the mirror. Air blown from mouth can contain minute amounts of saliva which can do more harm then good.
(Ladies – Photographed at Dol Ashram, near Natadol, Uttrakhand. Nikon Df with Nikkor 50mm lens, f/5.6, 1/400 sec at ISO 100)
For all the photography accessories, including the camera and lens too, it is very important to spare a couple of minutes and clean everything before packing them off. I have seen countless tripods getting ruined by photographers who did not take the pains to clean the feet of the tripod before packing it back.
Similarly with speedlights, body oil and fingerprints can cause them to malfunction and sometimes even undergo expensive repairs.
Clean everything before packing them back after a photo-shoot. This is common sense but very few photographers practice it.
Some small changes to photography techniques can also improve the overall life of your photography equipment.
- While focusing or zooming, turn the ring slowly. Imagine the air being sucked in as you turn those rings. Slow movement prevents turbulence, which thereby prevents dislodging any dust from the lens body.
- Freelensing or clicking pictures when the lens is not attached to the camera is a sure-fire way to get dust into the camera. Never attempt it.
- Use a clear filter when it is not causing any problems in the photograph and a hood even if there is no sun.
- Switch off the camera when not in use. Do not wait for it to switch off on its own.
- Use optical viewfinder instead of live-view. Liveview keeps the mirror and shutter assembly open and the sensor charged. I do not have to explain what may happen if there is any dust between the rear element of the lens and the sensor.
Photography equipment is made to last a life-time. Take good care of your possessions and they will serve you well. One last word – the worst thing that can happen to any photography equipment is lying unused in storage!