Dust on the Image Sensor

This problem primarily occurs on digital single-lens reflex cameras. One of the causes is changing the lens and the level of camera and lens cover dust attraction. Abrasion of the mechanical elements can also dirty the sensor.

When digital photography was first introduced, it would appear that most camera manufacturers refused to talk about this topic and kept this problem under wraps. Only Olympus tackled this subject early on and in doing so, secured itself a head start in knowhow in the cleaning of image sensors. By now almost very modern digital SLR camera is equipped with a more or less effective dust removal system.

Various dust removal systems for image sensors

  • Using an ultrasound – the dust is shaken off (Olympus introduced a system early on)
  • Shaking of the low- pass filter
  • Coating of the low-pass filter

There are also software based approaches that do not remove the dust from the sensor but instead, using reference images, the “dirty“ images are filtered.

Despite all the technical solutions, it can occur that dust still sticks to the sensor. The safest solution which is also the most time consuming and costly, is to have it cleaned at a service point. For those of you who wish to clean the sensor yourself, there is an array of tools available. Caution should be exercised for all these methods as one wrong move can damage the sensor i.e. the low-pass filter and it can swiftly become in need of repair.

Attention – Follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions precisely!

Potential cleaning gear

  • SpeckGrabber
  • Brushes
  • Bellows
  • Compressed air
  • Cotton buds
  • ...

The best protection against a dirty sensor is still to avoid allowing the camera gear to become dirty.

  • No changing of lenses in dusty places!
  • Store cameras professionally in dustproof cases!
  • In very dusty surroundings (desert…) it can be advisable to use an underwater housing 

Compact cameras are seldom affected by the problem of a dirty sensor. However, if this problem occurs, a photographer will usually be unable to clean it. The device has to be send to a service centre to be fixed.

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