My grandmother always told me to wear clean underpants everyday in case I got hit by a carâ"and to keep my camera lens clean in case I needed to take a good photo.
Granted, I made that last part up, but the fact that I invented it doesnât make it less of a truth. Using a dirty camera lens is like looking at the world through a dirty window, and even a few tiny specks of dirt or rain will affect the photo youâre taking.
Just look at the image belowâ"itâs a great shot except for the blurry bit right in the middle caused by a water droplet on my lens. There are also a few other less obvious blurs and smudges throughout the image.
While this is mainly an issue with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, a drop of water or a fingerprint smudge on your smartphone lens will also affect the photos you take. Just remember that time you were eating greasy fries and when you pulled out your smartphone to take a picture you realized all the lights on the street looked elongated on your screen. So, even if you only shoot with your phone, you should still do your best to keep the lens clean.
Clean your lenses regularly
The simplest way to make sure youâre shooting with clean lenses is to regularly clean them yourself. If youâre out shooting and notice a dust spot or two in your images, you can do it then, but itâs better to preemptively clean your lenses in the quiet and safety of your own home. Youâll have more time, better tools, and run a lower risk of making it dirtier by just spreading smudges around.
Cleaning a camera lens isnât hard, but you will need to be a little bit carefulâ"if you do some real damage, it will be expensive to repair or replace. You donât need to be scared, thoughâ"the outer element of a lens is designed to stand up to a bit of abuse, so unless you go at it with a wire brush or break out the industrial bleach, youâre unlikely to scratch it or strip away its protective coatings.
Itâs a good idea to make a habit of cleaning your lenses every time you shootâ"itâll only take a minute or two. You can either do it before you head out orâ"as I preferâ"while importing your images to your computer after shooting. Your lenses are unlikely to get dirty when theyâre not in use and have a cap on, so if you follow this advice, theyâll always be ready to go, even if you head out in a hurry.
There are three things youâll have to clean off your lenses: dust, dirt, and smudges from fingerprints or evaporated water. There are different tools and techniques for getting rid of each one.
Get rid of dust and dirt with a brush or a blower
A lens brush has soft bristles specifically designed not to damage camera lenses, so donât use a toothbrush or a makeup brush instead. Theyâre pretty simple to use: just gently brush the surface of the lens until youâve removed any dust or dirt particles. Make sure to brush around the edges of the lens since thatâs where dust is likely to gather. If something still sticks, donât force itâ"weâll deal with it in the next step.
An air blower is useful for cleaning off dust in places that are hard to brush. You can use one to clean the front surface of your lens, but theyâre most useful for cleaning the back element of the lensâ"the one that goes inside the camera. If youâre careful changing lenses, you shouldnât have to clean the rear element very often, but if you occasionally do need to, you may find it hard to properly reach the lens element with a brush. Blowers are a better option in those cases and are also quite simple to use: point the nozzle at the element youâre cleaning and squeeze hard. The air will blow away any particles of dust.
One thing: always use a manual blower instead of a can of compressed air. Itâs unlikely, but thereâs an outside chance that the chemicals and fluids in compressed air could damage the electronics in your camera. Also, the force you get is a lot more than necessary to blow dust off a lens and could eventually damage your camera. Itâs definitely a risk not worth taking.
While youâre cleaning dust from your lenses, itâs also worth taking your brush or blower to the inside of your lens cap. Dust and dirt can gather there, too, and if you put a dirty lens cap on a clean lens, you might end up with a dirty lens again.
Wipe away smudges and stubborn stuff
Brushes and blowers are great for cleaning off anything thatâs easy to remove, but for smudges and stubborn bits of dirt, youâll need to take a more direct approach.
Dry microfiber lens cloths are handy for giving your lens a quick polish when youâre out shooting but, when it comes to removing smudges, they can make things worse and just spread fingerprint grease around. Instead, wet them with a few drops of lens cleaning fluid first, which will dissolve grease and make it easier to remove dirt. You can also get single-use lens wipes that are pre-moistened with cleaning fluid. Itâs worth keeping a few in your bag, but as with all single-use items, theyâre a bit wasteful.
To clean your lens with a cloth or wipe, start in the center and gently circle outward toward the edge of the lens, rubbing away any dirt or smudges. Donât rub too hard, especially if there are any dust or sand particlesâ"if youâre too aggressive, you could scratch your lens.
Keeping your lenses clean when you shoot
Having nice, pristine lenses sitting at home isnât much goodâ"you have to go out and use them in the real world. Thatâs where keeping them clean gets a bit harder.
If youâre not planning to shoot immediately and donât need to be ready to respond to something happening quickly, keep the lens cap on or even put your camera in your bag, especially if itâs dusty, sandy, or wet out. If your lenses are protected from the elements, theyâre much more likely to stay clean.
If the weather is bad and you want to take a photo, pull out your camera or remove the lens cap until youâre sure of the shot. Frame the image in your mind, get into position, and dial in the exposure settings. When youâre ready, take out your camera, shoot, and put it away again.
If you need to, find cover and wipe your lens down with a lens cloth. While not as effective as a proper clean at home, a lens cloth can get the worst of the dust or raindrops off in a few seconds.
Though it might be tempting, you should definitely not try to get rid of whatever is on your lens by touching it. Grease from your fingers is really sticky, and without cleaning fluid, the lens cloth wonât be able to do much about it.
Donât change lenses unless you really need to, either. If youâre not careful, itâs an easy way to get dust or smudges on your lenses. Even worse, you can let dust or dirt into your camera or onto the rear element of your lensâ"both places that are not easy to clean. If you do decide to change lenses, do it somewhere sheltered, put any lens caps on quickly, and keep your camera pointing at the ground, which will stop debris from getting blown into it.
In an ideal world, every lens would remain clean forever, but if you use them, they will get dirty. Donât overthink things and stress too much. Itâs better to mess up a photo because your lens was a little dirty than to not take it at all.