Keeping Your Camera’s Digital Sensor Clean

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!