Dodging Dust Bunnies

Keeping Your Camera Sensor Squeaky Clean


Peter Pickering

3/6/20244 min read

Street photographer
Street photographer

A Perennial Problem

Now, dust might seem like a modern problem, but let me tell you, it's been a thorn in the side of photographers since the dawn of the craft. Back in the day, when film was king, dust was the enemy at every turn. It could sneak into your camera and ruin your film, it could settle on your negatives while they were drying and leave unsightly marks, and don't even get me started on what it could do in the darkroom. One stray speck on your enlarger's lens or negative carrier, and you'd have a dust bunny blown up to monstrous proportions on your print.

So, you see, dust has been playing havoc with photographers for donkey's years. It's a perennial problem, but with a bit of care and attention, it's one we can manage.

The Modern Dust Dilemma

Alright, let's have a chinwag about one of the peskiest problems in today’s digital photography - dust on your camera sensor. It's a right pain, and can muck up your photos if you're not careful. But don't fret, I've got some tips to help you spot it, avoid it, and clean it up.

Spotting the Dust Bunnies

First things first, how do you know if you've got dust on your sensor? Well, it's a doddle really. Dust on your sensor will show up as dark spots in your photos, varying in size. You'll usually spot them most clearly against a clear sky, but they can pop up anywhere in your image.

To get a full view of these pesky intruders, just take a photo of a clear, cloudless sky at f/22. When you look at the photo, you'll see all the dust bunnies in their glory. They're a right nuisance, but at least they're easy to spot.

The Editing Option

Now, you might be thinking, "I'll just edit them out later." And yes, you can often remove dust spots when editing, but let me tell you, it's a right faff. It's far easier to prevent them in the first place.

In-Camera Dust Solutions

And here's a bit of trivia for you. Did you know that some cameras can map the dust on the sensor and automatically edit it out of your photos? Clever, right? And some cameras even have a feature that vibrates the sensor to dislodge dust. But how effective is it, you ask? Well, it can help with loose dust particles, but it might not shift the stubborn ones. So, it's a handy feature, but it's not a magic bullet. The best way to deal with dust is still to prevent it getting on your sensor in the first place.

Avoiding the Dust Invasion

Now, onto prevention. If you're using a fixed lens camera, you're in luck. These cameras are sealed units, so dust can't get to the sensor. But if you're using a camera with interchangeable lenses, it's a different story.

The more often you change your lens, and where you change it, the more chance of dust getting onto your sensor. So, try to limit how often you swap lenses, and when you do, try to do it in a clean, dust-free environment. Easier said than done, I know, especially when you're out and about, but it's worth a try.

Cleaning Your Sensor

If you've got dust on your sensor, you might be tempted to clean it yourself. But hold your horses. Cleaning a camera sensor is a delicate job, and it's easy to do more harm than good if you don't know what you're doing.

You might see cheap sensor cleaning kits online, but I'd give them a wide berth. They might seem like a bargain, but if you're not careful, you could end up scratching your sensor or leaving smears, which is a whole other kettle of fish.

In my book, it's best to leave sensor cleaning to the professionals. Yes, it might cost a bit more, but it's worth it for the peace of mind. After all, your camera is a precious piece of kit, and it deserves to be treated with care.

Lens Dust

Dust on the lens elements does not cause the same kind of dust spots, or "dust bunnies," as dust on the sensor. This is because the dust on the lens is not in the plane of focus when you take a photo.

While dust on the lens can potentially degrade image quality, it usually has to be quite significant to have a noticeable effect. Small dust particles on the lens are typically out of focus and spread over too large an area to form distinct spots in the image.

However, large smudges or fingerprints on the lens can cause noticeable problems, such as softness or a loss of contrast in the image. Similarly, if there's a lot of dust on the rear element of the lens (the one closest to the sensor), it could potentially cause issues because it's closer to the plane of focus.

In general, it's a good idea to keep your lenses clean to ensure the best possible image quality. But small amounts of dust on the lens are usually not something to worry about too much. Dust on the sensor, on the other hand, can cause noticeable spots in your images and should be addressed.


So there you have it, a quick guide to dealing with dust on your camera sensor. Keep these tips in mind, and you'll keep those pesky dust bunnies at bay. Happy shooting!

© Peter Pickering 2024