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How to Protect your DSLR Lens & Image Sensor

17 Apr Posted by Matt in Guides |
How to Protect your DSLR Lens & Image Sensor

The lenses on DSLR and compact system cameras are bigger and generally more exposed than those on compact cameras, making them more likely to pick up dirt and dust.  Dirt can be a real problem on either your lens or your image sensor, resulting in patches and marks on your photos.

DSLR Sensor Dust

Dust appears as dark marks - Photo: Wilder Kaiser

Over time picking up a bit of muck on your lenses is inevitable (and something you should clean off when it becomes a problem), but you don’t want to cover your lens in any more filth than is strictly necessary.

Looking after your camera’s image sensor is even more important, as cleaning this is a much more delicate job that most photographers won’t want to embark upon themselves.  Most camera shops will be able to clean a dirty image sensor for you, though it can be reasonably costly.

Top Tips for Preventing Dirt on your Lens and Image Sensor

Following our simple tips below can help you avoid the perils of getting dust and dirt on your lens and inside your digital camera. Aside from the UV filters all the tips below will cost you nothing to follow, and could save you a tidy sum in lens/sensor cleaning, or worse replacement lenses.

Be careful when changing Lenses

The most common time for image sensors to pick up dust is when you’re changing lenses. Help minimise the chances of dirt affecting your pictures by avoiding lens changes in dirty or dusty environments where possible, and by pointing the camera downwards whilst you change your lenses over (it’s much less likely that dust will travel up into your camera than down onto it).

Use a protective UV Filter

If you want to add an extra layer of protection to your lens, then consider buying a UV filter for each of your lenses. You should leave the filter attached permanently (rather than buying one filter and moving it between your lenses) for maximum protection. Whilst the filtering out of UV light won’t yield much tangible difference to your shots, having an extra piece of glass on the front of your lens means that should you scratch it at least you only need to replace the (much cheaper) filter and not the lens.

If you are going somewhere inherently dirty then using filters can have another advantage too; not only will they be easier to clean (as you can remove them), but also you will be able to carry multiple filters and change them over if needs be.

UV filters vary quite a lot in price, with the very cheapest being next to nothing.  However these can suffer from poor optical quality so we recommend going for a middle of the range filter at around £20/$25, unless you are using a very expensive lens in which case a pricier model may be justified.

The jury is still out to some extent on whether UV filters are a good idea, with some photographers arguing that an extra layer of glass can reduce image quality.  If you avoid the very cheapest filters (the ones that tend to come from China and Hong Kong on sites like Amazon for just a couple of dollars), then you shouldn’t notice any impact in image quality and will be thankful of having one on your lens if/when you scratch it!

Muddy Motorbike

Sometimes dirt is unavoidable!

Use the Lens Cap

When you’re not taking photos, make sure you remember to put the lens cap back on your lens – it’s all too easy to pick up muck, scratches, and scuffs if you walk around with your lens exposed to the elements, especially in busy places or harsh environments.

With a compact camera you are normally blessed with an automatic lens cover that opens and closes as you turn the camera on and off, and which will close automatically after a certain period of inactivity.  Having a lens cap you have to put on manually can make new DSLR users slack, so try and remember to put the cap back on when you’re not using the camera for an extended time.

That’s not to say you should be covering the lens after every shot – you’ll still want to be ready to shoot as quickly as possible a lot of the time, just don’t leave your camera on your desk with the lens cap off for hours at a time.

Keep a Lens or Body Cap on the camera

When you store your camera, be sure to either leave a lens attached to the body (with a lens cap on of course) or use the body cap that came with your camera to ensure no dust can get into the image sensor.

Store your camera properly

If possible it’s best to store your camera in a place where dust won’t be an issue – either in a camera bag, in the box it came in, or in a drawer or some other non-exposed area.


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