for those of you who don’t know, i have a small photography business on the side. we haven’t done much lately because of my partner’s health issues, but i still take a ton of pictures.

my nikon D200 digital SLR is about 2 years old now. i keep my lenses immaculate, but i started noticing some spots and other “noise” in my shots. that’s when i decided it was time to clean the sensor.

there are a few ways to go about this. first, you can send your camera off to nikon, which (of course) is the only method approved by the factory. this cost some $$ and you don’t get your junk back for a couple of weeks.

the second option is to send it to a local cleaning shop/repair shop. again, this is pricey and you don’t get your camera back. plus, these guys don’t typically guarantee their work (!).

the last option is to do it yourself. being the guy i am, i chose the last option.

the CCD is the heart of a camera. it receives the light information and expresses it to the processor in a way the machine can understand. if the CCD is damaged then the camera is garbage. for a stress bonus, the CCD is built into the camera’s circuit board and is not replaceable! if it’s damaged then sionara D200 and i’m about an expensive camera body.

CCDs also can’t distinguish between normal light waves that we can see and infrared light waves. that means there is an IR filter, typically made of glass, that is applied directly to the CCD. so if you scratch this up which cleaning then you MIGHT luck out and not completely destroy your camera. the IR filter can be removed, which exposes the CCD to damage, but it nets you the ability to take IR photos. or you can have the filter replaced.

that being said, there are many methods of cleaning DSLR sensors. i researched them all and came up with a system that makes me happy, though i was unbelievably nervous the first time. here we go.

a company called LensPen makes all kinds of neat lens cleaning products. i have used their stuff in the past, and, in my studies, i found out that they have a sensor cleaning system called SensorKlear as well. SensorKlear is a dry cleaning system, and you must make contact with the sensor in order to clean it. this is dangerous, and you should be extremely careful when cleaning with this device.

i also got my hands on a Giotto’s super rocket air blower. it’s necessary to have a way to blow unattached dust out of the camera before you attempt cleaning the sensor. the idea is that the dust on your sensor might not even be attached, so blowing might do the trick alone.

i also bought a set of Sensor Swab pre-moistened wet cleaning swabs (for the D200 i bought type 2/Eclipse).

this complete system should be all you need to clean your DSLR in any event. the only other thing i found helpful was my Petzl hiking headlamp. I use a Zipka Plus.

i first found the mirror lock up function on my D200 so i could gain access to the sensor. once the mirror was locked open i took the lens off and inspected the sensor. just like i was seeing in my images, there were some specks of dust on the sensor.

step one is to hold the camera with the lens opening pointed at a downward angle. grab your Super Rocket or other blower and blow the camera body out a few times. inspect the sensor again, and blow a few more times. i did this until i was satisfied that i couldn’t get any more dust off by blowing alone.

once the loose dust was blown off, i inspected the sensor very carefully and saw 3 or 4 visible specks of dust. i broke out the LensPen SensorKlear and went to work. give the cap a few twists before you pull it off so that the tip is clean and loaded with the cleaning compound.

start in the middle of the sensor and work your way out in a circular pattern. then wipe across the sensor lengthwise, and pay special attention to the corners of the sensor. the tip of the SensorKlear has a triangular shape so that you can get in those corners and clean them well.

after the SensorKlear pass I inspected the sensor again and saw no dust or streaks. just to be safe I blew the sensor off again before i closed up the camera.

my test shots show no strange marks or specks whatsoever. the cleaning was a success!

note that i have not tried the sensor swabs yet. if the dry cleaning does not suffice, then a wet cleaning will be necessary in order to break up any dust or dirt that has solidified and stuck to the CCD filter.

i am very happy with the SensorKlear and will continue to use it for cleaning. i will report back once i have tried out the swabs, but i shouldn’t have to clean the sensor for a while now.

the best pricing and availability i could find on these products was from B&H Photo Video.