If you haven’t touched your cameras since the leaves turned color and fell from the trees, it’s time to break out your gear, clean it up, and get everything ready for a new season of picture taking. In case you haven’t noticed—spring is coming down fast!
For Starters, Empty Your Camera Bag and Clean It
Over time, dust particles and other forms of airborne detritus find their way into the recesses of your camera bag. If left unchecked, some of this detritus ultimately finds its way onto and into your camera gear, which is something you don’t want. Empty your camera bag, including the inserts, and shake it out. After sorting the loose change from the gum wrappers and fast food receipts, vacuum the interior of your bag, making sure to clean the corners of every pocket and insert. If your bag is washable, wash it thoroughly and set it out to air dry.
Clean Your Camera Sensor
Even if your camera has a sensor-cleaning mode, there are always maverick airborne particles that find their way to your camera sensor and refuse to yield. For these stubborn buggers, you have to break out your sensor-cleaning tools and go in manually.
Your first and least intrusive line of defense is an air bulb blower. To use air blowers, remove the lens, hold the camera upside down, place the tip of the blower close to the sensor, but not inside the camera body, and gently pump the blower until the troublesome particle gives way.
The best way to use sensor swabs is to place a few drops of cleaning fluid along the leading edge of the swab, place it on one end of the sensor, and gently swipe it across the surface of the sensor from right to left. Turn the swab over and repeat the swipe in the opposite direction. If the infiltrator is still hanging onto the surface of the sensor, repeat the process with a clean swab and fresh fluid until the problem is resolved.
Avoid using compressed canned air for sensor cleaning. When used in proximity to the sensor, it can inadvertently blow oily residues left over from the manufacturing process inside the can onto the sensor or, worse yet, “burn” the surface of the sensor. In the case of DSLRs, you risk damaging the mirror mechanism if you aim the stream of canned air too close to the camera’s mirror chamber.
Clean Camera Bodies and Lenses
The exterior surfaces of your cameras and lenses are covered with buttons, switches, and lots of crevices. To keep everything in smooth working order, it’s a good idea to clean the exterior surfaces of your photo gear regularly. Using cotton swabs and balls moistened with alcohol or Windex, clean all of the surfaces of your gear, making sure to get into tight corners, crevices, buttons, and wherever body panels meet.
At this time, you should also clean the camera lens mount, as well as the mounts and any data-transfer contacts of each of your lenses to ensure they, too, are grit- and grease-free. Cotton swabs dipped in alcohol are usually sufficient. For denser grime, you can use the tip of a soft pencil eraser to clean contact surfaces, but do take care to blow off any eraser particles before reattaching your lens.
Check and Clean Your Filters
Just as you regularly clean and check your lenses, the same holds true for your filters. Clean each of your filters with cleaning fluid and a cleaning cloth or lens tissue, making sure to get into the corners along the filter ring with a cotton swab. Once clean, hold each filter up toward the light to see if there has been any buildup of tiny scratches or other blemishes that might affect image quality. You should also check the filter threads. If they are damaged, replace the filter before you incur damage to your lens threads.
Clean Your Microfiber Cloths
Lens tissues do a great job cleaning lens surfaces, but I prefer using microfiber lens-cleaning cloths because there’s no rubbish to toss when you’re finished cleaning your lens. The downside of microfiber cloths is that the grit and grime you clean off your lenses slowly builds up onto your cloth. Over time, this buildup of grit and grime can damage delicate lens coatings.
To prevent this from happening, it’s a good idea to take all of your microfiber cloths and periodically hand wash them with warm soapy water and rinse them out thoroughly before laying them out to air dry. Follow this tip and you will get years of service out of your microfiber cloths and, more importantly, your lens coatings will hold up better over the long run.
Are Your f-Stops Consistent?
This might sound like an odd question, but if your lenses are more than a few years old, you might want to take the time to see if your lens diaphragm is working properly. Depending on the make and model, many lenses allow you to stop the lens down manually. If this is the case, stop your lens down one aperture at a time and see if it stops down to the same size opening when you repeatedly open and stop down the diaphragm. You should also check to see if the diaphragm blades close symmetrically each time you stop the lens down. If the blades stop down to varying openings or asymmetric apertures, or if the blades seem to stick in place, it’s time to have your lens serviced.
Lens Wobble and Loose Screws
Depending on the age and physical integrity of your lens, not to mention how ham-fisted you are, some lens barrels develop some form of wobble, which can affect critical focusing. If this is the case, have the lens serviced by an authorized or otherwise reputable repair shop before doing any serious shooting.
How old are your rechargeable camera batteries and through how many charge cycles have they gone? Over time, batteries lose their capacity to hold a charge, which translates into fewer exposures per charge. If your batteries seem to be pooping out sooner than they used to, perhaps it’s time to tag them as backups and invest in a fresh battery or two.
Check Your Meter Accuracy
Few light meters are gone-off when it comes to accuracy—including new light meters, but, at the very least, your readings should be consistent. If you shoot with the same camera all the time, you quickly get to know if your meter gives you readings that are consistently accurate, or perhaps consistently over- or underexposed.
The camera I currently use tends to overexpose by about 1/3 of a stop. To address the problem, I simply set my camera to underexpose each exposure by 1/3 of a stop, and the problem is solved without having to send it in to the shop. Again, as long as your exposures are consistent, it’s easy to program your camera to compensate for these types of exposure issues.