Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Photo Technique #005

"Cleaning your Sensor with the Sensor Brush"

review note by Rick Decker



My sensor on my SD9 had been getting dirtier and dirtier. I admit I am not the most careful when it comes to changing lenses. I had some success with methanol-based products early on but as the camera got more and more dust, I just couldn't get it clean and often felt like I was just moving dust around. With my SD9, I had pretty much given up and just spent time with Photoshop using the clone tool and healing brush; this process was getting longer and longer and naturally more painful! My SD10 was starting to get more dust in addition. Desperate to find a solution, I tried the Sensor Brush from Visible Dust which someone had mentioned at one time on the forum. I emailed the company for advice and some specifics on cleaning that weren’t clear on their website (since updated, I believe). Upon their advice, I first cleaned the chamber walls with the electrostatically charged brush of which there are two sizes. I could see that there was no lack of dust particles in the chamber and realized that this probably had a lot to do with not being able to get the sensor clean. I would do one pass with a side of the brush and then blow off the particles with an air can as recommended. After cleaning the walls, I cleaned the sensor in the same manner. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see such a dramatic difference in the amount of dust on the sensor. I suspect I could clean the chamber walls a little more and the company makes a product designed for cleaning walls. In addition to the product working very well, I like the fact that there is no liquid to put on the sensor. With methanol-based solutions, I got smears on the sensor a few times and although they were probably my fault, it didn’t make it any easier to bear. It appears that a number of Sigma DSLR shooters are using this product now and commenting favorably upon it.

Even if you don’t have the chamber-cleaning product, clean the chamber walls first with the larger of the two brushes. The smaller brush is for touch up and spot work. There are a couple of things to remember. You need canned air to use the brush. The canned air charges the brush. This take 5 – 10 seconds to do and the charge only lasts about 20 seconds. The canned air tube has to be close enough to really move the fibers against each other or you will not recharge the brush. Also, the canned air cools the brush. The brush heats up very quickly and can over-heat very easily and be ruined by the fusing of the fibers. The company recommends blowing the brush for 5 to 10 seconds and then making ONLY one pass over the camera area. Then re-blow for 5 to 10 seconds. In addition to recharging the brush, as I just mentioned, this cools the fibers off and dislodges all the attached particles from the brush. Don’t expect to get all the dust off with just a few passes. In addition, there may be some spots hard-to-get or as someone mentioned, some kind of residue on the sensor cover. These may not come off and the company offers a liquid-based solution for “sticky” spots.

Don’t touch the brush. You can clean it with alcohol but it will take a long time to dry; mine took more than an hour and I finally left it for the night. Blowing with the canned air might help. When not using it make sure you store it immediately in its tube with the cover on. Some final words of advice are to make sure you have a clean, dry, wind-free area where you work to clean the brush and use rubber gloves for added insurance.

I have the chamber cleaning product but have not tried it yet as I have been happy with the results of just the brushes. When I do use it, I will add to this review.

Note: If you use a white paper to do your test shots, you run the risk of dust and imperfections on the paper that can be confused with dust on the sensor. I try always shoot blue sky or clouds if there is no blue sky.


Here you can download sensor check photos:

FYI: We enhanced the contrast strong to show the dust stronger than you would see in your normal pictures.


Note by Uwe Steinmueller: We actually shoot a white wall in the room at very low aperture (F/18 or smaller) and be really out of focus. This way the dust or spots on the surface you shoot cannot be taken as dust.

You can get the products from Visible Dust


One addition

It has been recommended NOT to shake the compressed air can as you can get a residue on the sensor cover. I did have this happen with a friends camera - maybe it was just moisture -
and it eventually disappeared (a matter of minutes). I am using a scuba tank now as I have gone through a few air cans as a result of having two cameras and helping another person clean theirs.


Additional information provided by Visible Dust

We received some more information from the company and would like to share it with our readers:

"Sensor brush surface is modified to attract dust and particles that are usually have opposite charges. CCD surface is positively charged so they attract dust and particles that are either negatively charged such as pollen or particles of animal or human origin or less positively charged such as hair or synthetic material from clothing. So the strong positive charges of CCD attract negatively charged and less positively charged particles to strong positively charged surface. Alcohol cleaning is the culprit not the helper in this situation, since alcohol removes water due to the hygroscopic nature makes the situation worst. This is the reason spraying water will reduce the static charges in laundry machine. Consequently in dry climate static charges are more than wet climate.

CCD has hot and dry cavity and with constant charging it produces high electrostatic environment to become a dust magnet. Our science is based on these concepts rather than mechanical cleaning. The air can is used to clean and to dislodge particles. Fluorine can rub the electron from the surface making it more positive (1,1,1,2 tetrafluoroethane which has low pressure with no residue that last 20% longer and the other more popular brand 1,1 difluoroethane which has more pressure, if not held properly will spit out residue). In our case the brush filament having positive charge of its own once blasted with air become even more positive than CCD surface. If air can is used directly on CCD surface it will produce the opposite effect. This is the reason many people experience when they blast the surface with air.
Using microfibre cloth to clean the surface runs the risk of fiber burn resembling scratches if the cloth used in dry state. That means the filament of polystyrene will melt on CCD by heat resulting from friction. Nevertheless, they leave a lot of lint behind.

Scotch tape or magic tape 810 will produce scattering effect not visible by naked eye and has been seen using FTIR scanner. This will produce color shift in 6.5 microns range in red spectrum. This is like coating the sensor with polymers of low quality aside from adverse effect of stress on cover glass covering CCD. Our results show that cleaning the chamber wall with chamber clean solution containing anti dust repellant and antistatic charge build up (It is important to be filtered to less than 0.2 micron otherwise will produce adverse effect) reduces the cleaning of the sensor by more than 95%.

Our unpublished results for sigma SD10 has shown that not cleaning the chamber for three months we only had two small specs showing up on our CCD surface. Of course sigma has a dust protector as well. One could also use sensor brush to clean the chamber wall grooves and hinges that are hard to reach. Using other cloth or other methods makes this situation worse since they leave more lint behind. Also once you used the chamber clean avoid using the same brush since the antistatic material from chamber clean will diminish the good electrostatic ability of brush to attract dust. A separate brush can be used for the chamber.

Brushes maintenances may not be that difficult at all. One can use pure alcohol or rubbing alcohol to wash the tips or Electrasol dishwasher liquid devoid of waxy stuff or peroxide. Put one drop of Electrasol liquid in one quarter of water using clean cup. Followed by rinsing with plenty of distilled grade water from pharmacy to rid of any slight left over detergent. One should avoid using oxybleach, or fancy detergent since most are surfactants having charged molecules that can attach themselves to the filament rendering it neutral or ineffective.

Finally sensor brush is made specifically from very thin filaments and specially designed for sensor and delicate surface cleaning. They are meticulously cleaned to rid of any trapped particles such as metals, sands, glue or chemical. Every one is microscopically examined. We don't trust to put a few thousands dollar camera tools in hands of home made brushes. The ease and effectiveness of our products will amaze any DSLR user. We rely on scientific testing and the state of art equipments. Our sensor brush can outlast the life of many digital cameras. It is portable and can be carried on flight. These properties make the sensor brush a valuable tool for an avid photographer or landscaper owning a DSLR camera."


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