Keeping Your Camera’s Digital Sensor Clean

Ron Niebrugge Equipment, How to, Miscellaneous 39 Comments

About a year ago I wrote a post on sensor cleaning for digital cameras.  What I didn’t say at the time – I was really hoping I would be cleaning my sensor for the very last time because I was going to begin testing a prototype product that would protect the sensor from dust.

Well after one year I’m beginning to think I may never need to clean my sensor again!  I love this product!  Unfortunately, it hasn’t been available to the public until recently so I  had to wait until now to write about it.

So the product is called Dust Shield and is made by Dust-Aid, the company that makes the great cleaning products I wrote about in my Sensor cleaning post.  Effectively the product is a clear optic filter that is placed over the opening to the camera’s chamber sealing off the chamber and sensor.  This product has a number of advantages – some not so obvious:

  1. The main advantage is clear – by sealing off the chamber I am able to prevent dust from ever reaching the sensor.  I should add, before installing, I went to great lengths to completely clean the chamber including the sensor and mirror – otherwise every time the mirror flipped up and down I was afraid it would just reposition existing dust, possibly onto the sensor.
  2. When working in a dusty environment the camera is still going to pick up dust, but now it lands on the Dust Shield instead of the sensor.  The selling point behind the Dust Shield –  it is far easier to replace the shield then clean the sensor.
  3. But here is an advantage I didn’t anticipate.  What I found is dust was far less likely to show when on the Dust Shield.  I believe this is because the dust is now landing a fair distance away from the sensor, it just doesn’t create ugly black spots like it does when it lands on the sensor.  I’m always surprised at how little spots or scratches on filters aren’t viable on the final image – I believe the same principle is at play.
  4. When it does get dusty, the Dust Shield is far easier to clean then the sensor – usually a couple of puffs from a hand held blower and I’m good to go.

Of course I know what everyone is thinking – what does it do to image quality?  I gotta admit, I was skeptical.  Having spent some $8,000 on one of the finest cameras available, and a bunch more on top quality lenses – I did not like the idea of now adding a piece of film to the image path.  My photos are our sole source of income, I just can’t  sacrifice quality no matter how convenient!  I had to be sure image quality didn’t suffer – here is my review.

I felt the best way to really test this product is with my absolute sharpest combination of equipment.  So I mounted what I think is my sharpest lens, my Canon 100 macro, on my best camera, a 21 mp Canon 1DsIII.   I used the two second timer with mirror lockup with a  f-stop of /8, – probably about as good of a combination as I could get.  I then mounted the whole thing on a monstrous Gitzo 1548 tripod, placed a bean bag on the camera and photographed a dollar bill taped to the wall.  If I couldn’t detect softness with my best setup, then I’m not going to see it with say a lessor camera or with a softer lens like the 100-400.

Full frame version of the dollar.

Full frame version of the dollar.

For reference, here is the full-frame version of dollar.  The red represents the area in which I cropped a 400×600 area of the image with the results displayed below the jump.

Without Dust Shield.

Without Dust Shield.

With Dust-Shield

With Dust-Shield

I didn’t do any post processing –  not levels, curves or sharpening.

Looking at the results, if anything, I felt like the version with the Dust Shield was just as sharp if not possibly slightly sharper.  Now there is no way it could be sharper, I believe this appearance is because the “With Dust Shield” version is slightly darker.  In the 10 minutes I messed around with installing the Dust Shield for the first time, I lost some ambient light, but I wanted to keep both exposures equal at 1/30 of a second so it came out a bit darker.  If I was to do this test again, I would use flash as my main light source and eliminate this variable.  Maybe for some reason the “with Dust-Shield” version has more contrast which would also give the appearance of a sharper image.  Irregardless, this test was good enough to convince me!

Now for the bad news.  Currently, the Dust-Shield is only available for the Canon 5D and 5D II.  I understand they are planning on adding new versions soon.  I don’t have any more myself so I unable to do any further testing because I don’t want to remove my only Dust-Shield.  In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit but  I miss placed my samples  and have been using the same Shield for over a year now.  It is safe to say, when more become available, I will be ordering more!

Comments 39

  1. Dave Griffin

    Very cool indeed. I had heard about this idea a while ago and had not seen any reviews so far. As a 5D Mk2 video shooter I’ve become very interested in this because removing dust spots from video footage is a LOT harder than photographs (and I’ve had a couple of commercial shoots where I had to do some post-processing dancing to mitigate a chance dust devil.)

    Thanks!

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  3. Jim Goldstein

    I’d be interested in a 1Ds Mark III dist shield. I remember reading about this on their site a while back and was concerned about the impact on image sharpness. Great write up and test. Are the crops above 1:1 crops… no resizing?

    Anyhow now all I need to do is wait to either test and/or buy.

  4. Carl D

    Hey Ron,

    Is it just me or is your dollar bill missing the left 3rd? That thing’s worth nothing.

    Sounds like a cool product .. and it certainly doesn’t seem to affect sharpness at all, from this test. Hope they can get it going for Nikon cameras.

    Any idea on price?

    Cheers

    Carl

  5. Moira Pomeroy

    If it’s that good – and it certainly seems to be, from your testing – then Canon and Nikon need to get their behinds in gear and build something similar into their cameras. Lease the technology from the inventor or whatever, so the little guy don’t lose out. But it’s time to stop the messing around: digital doesn’t need the dust drawback, and neither do we.

    I’ve shipped my camera to Nikon twice to have the sensor cleaned, and both times it took at least ten days to get it back. I even asked about driving to their SoCal repair facility, to see if I could get it cleaned that day (I was willing to get up at 4am, drive, and be there when they opened at 7am – if I can do that for a sunrise, I can do it for a spot-free sunrise!) I was told no, they don’t do same-day cleanings or repairs of any kind. And no, they couldn’t guarantee that if I dropped it off one day, it would be ready the next. How ridiculous is that? To add insult to injury, the last time I shipped it off, it came back with a huge speck of dust on the sensor… the old ones were all gone, I’ll grant you, but for heavens’ sake (literally)! Luckily it was removed easily with the blower, but still.

    I think the camera manufacturers need to take more responsibility for this.

    Nice write-up, Ron, and thanks for sharing.

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    Ron

    @ Jim – yes those are full sized slices from the original tiff, they weren’t re-sized, it is a 100% view. I’ll let you know if hear of the 1Ds III version becoming available.

    @ Carl – I started by photographing the whole dollar bill, but couldn’t open it in Photoshop. I thought that was an urban myth, but it isn’t.

    @ Moira – I feel you pain and frustration! Did you see my link near the top on cleaning your sensor – you might give that product a try, it works pretty well – and beats being without your camera for 10 days!

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    Ron

    @ Carl – For the 5D I see he is charging $20. Not sure if that is for one, or more.

    @ Dennis – I hear you!

    @ Richard – I kept the shutter speed the same. The two look fairly close in exposure, but if I switch between the two images while looking at a histogram – the “mountain” of exposure data for the “with Dust Shield” does shift a little to the left. Changing the exposure even just 1/3 of a stop probably would have shifted the exposure even more. But, with flash I could have kept the exposures identical.

  8. David Taylor

    Hey Ron – this is VERY interesting, good thing I have a 5D mk 2! 🙂
    The only concern I can think of that wasn’t addressed in your test is lens flare. This is essentially adding an “element” even though it’s not changing the light path. I wonder how these will do when the sun or another light source is in the frame.

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    Ron

    Thanks Dave – Good question. In the past year I have been using it, I haven’t noticed any increase in lens flare, but I haven’t specifically tested it either.

  10. Art Frailey

    Has Pop Photo did a test on this? Sounds like something thy would have already done.
    I can’t find anything in my mags about it though.

    Looks like a good test you done. But if the final photo was darker, doesn’t that mean
    there was somewhat less light comming into the camera? If you had used a flash, I
    would say you would have gotten the same results. After all, flash is about 98% as
    consistant as daylight.

  11. Art Frailey

    I want to also add, if ther was a difference in actual light intensity, you could have used an
    off camera exposure meter to make sure the exposures were identical. With doing this,
    thre is no way to know if the light was the exact same, unless the exposures were taken very
    close together.

  12. Pingback: DWF » Blog Archive » Never Clean Your Camera Again!

  13. Steve Cooper

    Shill – one who pretends to be an objective buyer of a product or service in order to lure others to buy said product or service………………Websters New World Dictionary

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    Ron

    Have you tried the product Steve? I’m guessing not, but then again, it is so much easier to just make a personal attack.

    I have nothing to gain from this product – I received a few samples early on and can’t even get them replaced. I don’t receive any kick-backs, commission,s I’m not an affiliate – nothing, I won’t make a penny from this product or company.

    Furthermore, I didn’t write this to help a friend out – Ross and I have never met in person, and only began exchanging emails when he asked me to review his cleaning product.

    For me, the only benefit is being one of the first to share a new development with my readers.

    The one think I have said to every person on Twitter who ordered to product is “let me know what you think” I’m interested in reading more feedback on the product or my test results. I’m not interested in personal attacks.

  15. Steve Cooper

    Ron,
    I did try the Dustaid platinum and it made my sensor a mess. As to this shield, the comparison pix Dustaid has on their website has the sharper one WITH the shield and the fuzzier one without. This is an optical impossibility, no? Or is it just BS?
    When you Google Dustaid, this is a prime example of the reactions to their products:
    http://www.photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?t=813645

    But I do commend you for leaving my comment here, and for answering it directly.
    Regards,
    Steve C.

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    Ron

    Steve,

    I looked around on the DustAid – Shield website and can’t find the samples you are talking about.

    I followed your link and read the all the comments on the forum – lots of strong opinions from a bunch of people who have never used the product. What does that tell you? One person suggests using a lens cap instead? The internet is overloaded with opinions from people who have never tried the product – just wait until the next camera announcement.

    I know of at least 4 people who have now ordered the product, and I have asked them to share their experiences – although I think your mind it already made, I do hope to share or have follow up comments from other actual users.

    Ron

  17. Steve Cooper

    Ron,

    I believe you missed the point of that thread. Those people were discussing the “concept” behind the shield plus the reputation of the company regarding their other products. Like I mentioned in my previous post, there is an utter vacuum of postive reviews on the internet about any of dustaid’s products. Personally, I’ve been using the VisibleDust products ever since my nightmare with the platinum.

    When dustaid makes a product specifically for the 5D (which is what I shoot), it does not stop air and dust from entering the chamber through all of the other seams/ports and openings in the 5D body. The camera came out in 2005 and it is NOT weatherproofed like the current Canon models, i.e. 7D. Air is continually being introduced into the chamber through these other ports, and this is happening while the lens and the shield are mounted onto the body. So it may be stopping dust at the lens mount, but there’s no way possible it is cutting down on the lion’s share of dust entering the chamber, not to mention bits of debris generated by moving parts in the chamber, behind the shield. Most people swap lenses very rapidly to avoid dust entering the body, I know I do.

    The sample pictures were on their website in the past, don’t know why they removed them. As for Dustaid’s reputation on the internet and through the professional photographers I come in contact with everyday, as far as their whole product lineup – no comment.

    Ron, if you’re happy with their products, then that’s all that matters. Thanks for your views and for allowing me to explain my position here which was previously misconstrued. You are a fairminded person.
    Kind regards,
    Steve

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  20. Scott

    Ron, I’m confused. You stated that the product was currently only for the 5D and 5D II, but you somehow did your test with a Canon 1DsIII. Did they produce one specifically for your camera or, if the stock Dust-Shield fits the 1DsIII why don’t they market it as such?
    Best regards,
    Scott

  21. Tim Newton

    Hi Ron,

    After reading your review (thanks!) when you first published it, I filed this away in my memory with the label “if I ever have sensor dust issues”. Well, the future is now here, and I’m thinking about giving the Dust-Shield a try for my 5d2. Could you tell me if you still use and recommend this product?

    BTW, I continue to lurk on your blog, and always look forward to seeing your photos. Your work continues to delight and inspire! 🙂

    Thanks, and best regards,
    Tim Newton

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    Ron

    Hi Tim,

    Good question. I wasn’t able to replace the one in my Canon 1Ds III, I had a prototype, but once it was gone, they didn’t produce any new ones for that camera. I replaced that camera with a 7D and 5D II this fall, and just started noticing dust. I now wished I had purchased new ones right away before this happened, especially now that I’m shooting some video where dust it much harder to deal with. So I do plan to order some for my new camera.

  23. Warren

    @Tim

    I installed a Dust Shield on my 5D shortly after Ron wrote this entry. The original Shield is still installed but will soon be coming off… for a couple of reasons.

    Primary reason is ‘dust’ starting to show on the sensor again. I guess this is to be expected because 1) the Shield is not an airtight seal on the shutter box and 2) there are moving parts in the shutter box, and deeper in the camera, that will wear and shed ‘dust’.

    The second reason is scratches on the backside of the Shield from the mirror hitting it. I installed the Shield very carefully per instructions and cannot remember doing anything to position the Shield so the mirror would hit it, but apparently it does at least sometimes. Could be the Shield flexes back at temperatures greater or lower than the temperature when I installed the Shield. I don’t know. The scratches are pretty uniform across almost the full Shield width. I cannot see any impact of the scratches on photo quality. There has to be some but it is not visible to this pixel peeper and his tools.

    I’ve attempted, without success, to communicate with Dust-Aid about the scratches. I’ve sent email, via their web site e mailer, complete with photo of the scratches. I have left a message on their phone recorder during west coast normal business hours. I have received no response to either. This makes me wonder about the longevity of Dust-Aid?

    Tim, I now have the same dilemma as you, whether to order a Dust Shield or not.

    Cheers!

    Warren

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    Ron

    Hi Warren,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I didn’t get any scratches in mine, but then again I was using a different camera. I am interested in hearing about other people’s experience with the product especially with the 5D II.

  25. adophgraphy

    This product when first announced stated on the packaging that it was for the 1D series cams. Then, I guess, they had a change of heart and thought it best to go for the mass market, so instead they now advertise it as being for the 5D series cams (or perhaps they thought 1D/1Ds owners are too conservative to use this kind of product).

    In actual fact, there is no reason why this Dust-Aid Dust Shield cannot be used on ANY Canon full frame camera ………… in fact it can be; I am trialing it on a Canon 1Ds.

    As for the mirror touching the Dust Sheild, as reported here by one user, I have not found that to be an issue (yet; I have it for just a few days).

    Looking at how refective/shiny it appears to be, I was concerned that it might cause issues. I tried a quick test by pointing my camera at a bare bulb in the ceiling which is very bright (92w tungsten) and sits in the middle of a black light fixture/casing (this should be something of a torture test as the distance between camera and light is 7ft/2.2m, which is quite close). The bright light didn’t seem to cause any ill effects; I was looking for evidence of reflection of the light bouncing off of the Dust Sheild and for evidence of increased purple fringing or flare, and I found none of these things.

    I haven’t done a contrast test yet. But will do in a few days (I will simply use the same lens on a different camera body and compare the results).

    It is interesting to note, as I recently discovered, that Sigma have used a similar mirror box chamber cover on all of their DSLRs for some time now, including their latest flagship SD1 (the difference being that the Sigma thing is, from what I can gather, made of glass).

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    Ron Niebrugge

    adophgraphy Thanks for the feedback. Makes sense that if they fit one full frame, they would fit them all. I hope it works for you – the 1Ds was sure a dust magnet!

  27. Adophgraphy

    Further testing
    ==========

    Further to my comments above, I have been doing a few tests and I don’t notice any contrast problems.

    However, doing my torture test (as outlined above) I am getting the impression that the Dust Shield is causing focusing problems, purple fringing on ocassion (depending on the angle of the shot) and a softness across the image around the bulb.

    I am gonna do a few more shots to see if I can confirm one way or the other.

    This may not be an accurate test, as I am testing the Dust Sheild on a 1Ds Mark II versus using the same lens on a 1D (original; 4Mp, CCD sensor, thin AA filter) that doesn’t have the Dust Sheild. However, I feel that things like veil of softness I appear to be getting and purple fringing are issues that can be fairly tested between the two cams. I guess the ultimate test will be to test on the same cam with and without the Dust Shield.

  28. Adophgraphy

    Hi Ron,

    Just curious, are you still using the product?

    And if so, have you done any further testing of it since this original review of yours was posted?

    Thanks in advance.

  29. Adophgraphy

    Phase 1 test completed
    ================

    I changed the lens and this time it didn’t appear as though there were any focus issues (I suspect it’s an issue with the lens itself and perhaps the way the Dust Sheild interacts with that particular lens).

    I can confirm that there isn’t a hit on contrast, well certainly nothing that I noticed.

    But I do feel that the Dust Sheild is, at least on this torture test of mine, introducing a certain amount of purple fringing/blooming.

    Now that I have some reference shots, I am going to, in a few days, shoot the 1D with a Dust Shield in place and compare it to the ones I took without the Dust Shield (i’ll leave the one on the 1Ds in place for now as it will work out cheaper for me to throw away two Dust Sheilds if I don’t like them, than to have purchased three if I find after removing the one on the 1Ds that I actually like the Sheild).

    Perhaps, if you are interested, I can send you a copy of the test images I have taken up to now, for you to look over and see if you come to the same conclusions as I have so far.

    Regards,
    Adophgraphy

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    Ron Niebrugge

    Hi Adophgraphy,

    Thanks for the follow-up reporting. I haven’t used them since I sold my Canon 1Ds III and replaced it first with a Canon 5D Mark II, and now a III. Dust isn’t near the issue it was one the 1Ds bodies. In the rare case I do run into a dust issue, I use Dust Aid Platinum to clean the sensor. I have had my two 5D III’s for over a year now and haven’t needed to clean them once – even after a dusty trip to the desert this spring. Thanks again!

  31. Adophgraphy

    FINALLY
    ————

    These comments are a follow up to my previous posts above.

    I have now had time to make a further assessment of this product.

    To cut to the chase, I have removed it from my 1Ds Mark II.

    The reason? It interferes with focusing.

    1) Contrast

    As pointed out earlier, I could see no negative hit on contrast whilst using the Dust Aid Dust Shield.

    2) Purple Fringing

    I had a suspicion that the Dust Aid Dust Shield was introducing purple fringing but upon closer scrutiny that wasn’t the case; it did however, on occasion, appear to accentuate purple fringing that was already there in out of focus regions.

    3) Focus Accuracy

    At least on my camera, and testing in the manner I did (*), the Dust Aid Dust Shield has a negative impact on focus accuracy.

    When accurate focus is obtained, I could not tell the difference between a “naked” shot and one in created by a “clothed” (Dust Aid Dust Shield) camera. The problem was that at random, but far too frequent, occasions the camera simply wouldn’t focus accurately when the Dust Aid Dust Shield was in place. Now the thing is, if I looked at the Dust Aid Dust Shield images in isolation, and without staring at them carefully, it was difficult to tell something was amiss; but as soon as one compared a “naked” shot, it was clear that something was wrong (the “naked” shots had a crispness to them at the focal plane whilst the Dust Aid Dust Shield shots lacked that crispness, and looked slightly out of focus)

    (*)Test methodology
    Firstly, I shot all images in JPEG. Yes I know, I know!!! But all images were shot with the same JPEG settings so any differences between the Dust Aid Dust Shield shots and the “naked” shots will not be affected by JPEG processing.

    As pointed out earlier, one of my tests was a torture test which consisted of shooting at a bare bulb in the ceiling which is very bright (92w tungsten) and sits in the middle of a black light fixture/casing (this should be something of a torture test as the distance between camera and light is 7ft/2.2m, which is quite close). In addition to this, I focused on subjects in the room that were between 3ft and 13ft/3.9m.

    I focused using the extreme left, extreme right, uppermost, lowermost and central AF sensors.

    I used two cameras, a Canon 1D and a Canon 1Ds Mark II and used two lenses which are the 50mm f1.8 and 100mm f2; I used the lenses wide open and stopped down one stop.

    When testing a system I tend to test it in the manner in which I would use it. Therefore, all shots were taken hand held; however, I took over 150 shots (so that large sample should eliminate any issues of poor hand holding technique or any other variables that some might suggest invalidate the results).

    4) Visual impairment

    Whilst I had the Dust Aid Dust Shield attached to the Canon 1Ds Mark II, I got the impression that the Dust Shield was somehow making the view through the viewfinder less clear/detailed.

    When I removed the Dust Shield my suspicions were confirmed.

    My camera has a 1.25x viewfinder magnifier attached (I like a big bright view!) which results in a viewfinder magnification view of 0.8875 (compared to the current viewfinder king, the Canon 1DX, which has a viewfinder magnification of 0.76). This means that at the close distances at which I was testing (e.g. a jumper at about 8ft/2.74m) I could for example clearly see the loose fibres and fluff on the fabric with the 100mm lens when I obtained focus. That kind of clarity appeared to be a little blurred to me when looking through the viewfinder with the Dust Shield attached; when I removed it, the clarity returned.

    It’s likely that I would not have noticed this affect that the Dust Shield was having had I not had in place the viewfinder magnifier.

    5) Analysis/Commentary

    Had this Dust Shield resulted in a few random mis-focused shots I would have kept it in place. However, the mis-focused shots occurred too frequently for my liking.

    I am a portraitist, so I tested the Dust Shield by taking shots at the kind of distances and apertures that I would normally be working at. I would hazard a guess that a landscape, wildlife or sports photographer shooting subjects at greater distances and using smaller apertures and different focal length lenses may not encounter the focusing issues that I did, so it may well be worth it for such photographers to give this product a try.

    Certainly, in dusty environments where one might be changing lenses regularly (e.g. a photo-journalist in a war zone, or a shooter on safari) this product could turn out to be a great thing to have in the kit bag (although, I have taken it off of my camera and thrown it away, I have kept an unused/new Dust Shield on stand-by for future use if needed). As a side note, I have decided that my new preventative cleaning regime will consist of simply raising the mirror without entering sensor cleaning mode (so that the shutter curtains remain closed), and use a bulb blower every now and then to blow out any debris that there might be within the mirror chamber (hopefully this will prevent debris finding it’s way onto the sensor and reduce the number times I have to tackle cleaning the sensor itself, which is a pain in the butt on a full frame DSLR).

    One of the things that immediately concerned me was that it is difficult to get the Dust Shield to sit perfectly flat. I theorized that if the Dust Shield wasn’t sitting flat it may bend light rays in undesirable ways and perhaps there is an element of this problem which is causing the focus to be thrown off (well, thrown off under the circumstances in which I tested). The interesting thing is though, as I pointed out earlier, that Sigma have used a similar mirror box chamber cover on all of their DSLRs for some time now, including their latest flagship SD1 (the difference being that the Sigma thing is, from what I can gather, made of optical glass and is of course more rigid and therefore flat).

    I hope this info proves useful to others.

    Regards,
    plevyaodphy
    Adophgraphy

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