Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
Remember that your camera is just a tool. Don't pamper it. You can
always buy a new one. If you leave your camera in a closet, it will
never get dirty or broken, but you won't have too many great
photographs to show for yourself. Many of the best photographs can
only be taken under conditions that will render your equipment wet
and/or filthy. That's life.
The photo at right was the result of spending six hours at the bottom of
a canyon in the Navajo Nation. For the entire six hours, sand blew down
from the top of the canyon and into a $20,000 Rollei 6008 system. Was
there a sickening grinding sound when I focussed my $3000 50mm lens for
the next few months? Yes. Did I have to send the camera back to Rollei
USA to be cleaned? Yes. Did the camera get stolen in Filthadelphia a couple of
years later? Yes. So it really didn't make sense to obsess over the
camera, did it? We can still enjoy this picture even if that 6008 has
disappeared. If the camera had been pampered, it would just be in that
much better shape for the crook who is using it now.
Basic lens cleaning tools are a blower, a microfiber cloth, and lens
cleaning fluid (my favorite: Zeiss). Try to blast dust off the lens with the blower or
canned air. Finger prints can be removed with a circular wipe of the
new miracle micro fiber cloth (my favorite brand is Pentax because it is
nice and thick; about $6). Persistent dirt should be removed with lens
cleaning fluid, of which the safest is probably Kodak. Always drip
the fluid onto the cloth and then wipe the lens; never put fluid
directly onto a lens.
Even if your lenses don't look dirty, every few months you should give
exposed surfaces a cleaning with Residual
Oil Remover (ROR). Even if you were able to protect your optics
from all environmental sources of filth, there would still be crud
condensing on your optics as camera bag plastics outgas. It is tough to
verify ROR's claims, but the optics do look visibly clearer after an ROR
treatment and the $4.50 price won't kill you.
If you are going to use an expensive lens in a dusty or wet environment
and don't want to obsess over your equipment, keep a B+W UV filter on
the lens and count on replacing the filter every year or two.
Don't even think about cleaning the mirror in your SLR. Maybe, just
maybe, you could consider using a handheld blower to move a few dust
specs off, but canned air is too powerful. Technicians clean mirrors
with some kind of special viscous fluid and will often do it for free
at camera clinics run by shops or conventions. Mirrors have very
fragile surfaces and I wouldn't dream of getting near them with a
standard lens cleaning solution or cloth.
Remember: the dirt in your viewing system isn't going to show up on
Modern TTL flash systems have numerous contacts and if you don't clean
them every now and then with a pencil eraser or something, you can be
fairly sure of getting intermittent failures.
The Camera Body Sensor
One of the things that is great about digital SLRs is that you can
change the lenses as necessary for different projects. During those
lens changes, however, there is a risk of dust falling "onto the
sensor." In fact, the CMOS or CCD sensor is covered by a color filter
or a clear glass plate, so really the dust has fallen on something that
is covering the sensor. Nonetheless, you want to be careful and
non-aggressive at this point, because if anything near the sensor is
scratched, the camera needs to go in for professional service.
This is the time to get out the owner's manual for your camera. Make
sure that the battery is fully charged and then follow the instructions
to flip up the mirror for "sensor cleaning mode". If you can't dislodge
dust using a simple hand-squeezed blower, consider visiting a camera
repair shop. If you're impatient or intrepid, you might want to try a
sensor swab wetted with Eclipse fluid (instructions included with the kits).
The Camera Body Exterior
Camera and lens bodies are fairly well sealed against dust and moisture.
So you don't really ever have to clean the exteriors of your equipment.
On the other hand, if you don't want the dirt and crud that is on the
camera body to work its way into your camera bag and from there onto an
optical surface, it is probably worth wiping off the body with a soft
cloth. Slightly dampening the cloth with plain water certainly won't do
any harm, though I imagine that this wouldn't be Canon or Nikon's