A Clean Lens is a Happy Lens

One upon a time, I went to a car show and sometime during the day I scratched the front element of my (expensive, for me) Canon EF 10-22mm EF-S lens. This wasn’t the first time I’ve done something this stupid but I hope it will be the last. Here’s a few tips from the trenches to save you an expensive repair or worse yet, you that was my first time, replacement.


When it comes to caring for photo equipment, there seem to be three kinds of photographers: The first group includes my friend Bunky, whose idea of cleaning is to lick his lens and wipe it off with a pulled-out shirttail. This is the same guy, who drove nails with a 200MM lens. Maybe he’s trying to give his equipment that patina of wear often seen on equipment sported by globe-hopping photojournalists. This first group of people are the Oscar Madisons of photography.

At the opposite extreme is (obviously) Felix Unger. His or her equipment looks as if they never use it. There is no brassing on body corners, no dust would dare land on their lenses, and they never leave the house without a full supply of lens cleaning tissue and fluid. Between these two extremes lie most of us, but I will confess to some Unger-like impulses about caring for my photo equipment.

1287677959000_475184Some shooters don’t like to clean their lenses, feeling a little dust won’t hurt anything. Their concern is that the more you clean a lens, the more likely you are to scratch it. According to experts I spoke with, the biggest mistake photographers make when cleaning lenses is they don’t blow them off first. Often the lens is covered with is a microscopic layer of dust that quickly turns into fine grade sandpaper. To remove this layer of grit, you should blow off the glass or give it a light dusting with a soft brush. One technique I learned in art school was to blow off the front of lenses with an ear syringe. A rubber ear syringe costs pennies, never runs of out air and was always environmentally friendly.

screen-shot-2017-03-06-at-10-34-58-amThe next most useful cleaning tools are lens tissue and cleaning fluid like Purosol All Natural Lens Cleaner and for my Singh-Ray and Cokin optical plastic filters, I use Singh-Ray’s RayVu Optical Cleaner. When cleaning your lenses, don’t douse your lens tissue or, worse yet, front element with cleaning fluid. It’s highly viscous and can find its way into nooks and crannies on your lens or front filter and can cause problems with repeated abuse. Instead place a single drop or two on a piece of lens tissue (or whatever) and gently swirl in a circular motion. Be careful there when cleaning older lenses from companies such as Leica and Rollei. They may not have multicoating or even a single coating, which helps in hardening the glass.

61g-wbiilyl-_sl1500_I like to use a LensPen for cleaning smudges. It has a retractable natural hair brush that’s useful for knocking off chunks of dirt, or whatever, from your photo gear and a soft chamois-like tip on the other end for removing smudges. Its carbon based cleaning compound reduces electrostatic charges that can attract dust to a lens surface and replenishes itself after each use. Since it doesn’t require cleaning fluid or lens tissue, a LensPen creates no trash.