A Clean Lens is a Happy Lens

by | Aug 26, 2019

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

When it comes to caring for photo equipment, there seem to be three kinds of photographers: The first group includes an old friend in Maryland, 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 Nikon 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’s no brassing on body corners, no dust would dare land on their lenses and they never leave the house without a full supply of camera and lens cleaning products. Between these two extremes lie a third group that includes most of us but I will confess to more than a few Unger-like impulses about caring for my photo equipment.

How I made this shot: I photographed this Saab Sonett II in Vail, Colorado using a Canon EOS 40D and EF 10-22mm EF-S f/3.5-4.5 lens (at 17mm) with an exposure of 1/100 sec at f/14 and ISO 200.

Some 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 several optical experts I spoke with, the biggest mistake that 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 using an ear syringe. A rubber ear syringe costs literally 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. 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. This fluid is highly viscous and can find its way into nooks and crannies on your lens or front filter and create problems with repeated use. Instead place a single drop or two on a piece of lens tissue and gently swirl in a circular motion. Tip: Be careful when cleaning older lenses from companies such as Leica and Rollei. They may not have multicoating or even a single coating, which helps with hardening the glass.

I like to use a LensPen for cleaning lens or filter smudges and I keep one in each of my camera bags and backpacks. A LensPen has a retractable natural hair brush that’s useful for knocking off chunks of dust or whatever from your photo gear and has a soft chamois-like tip on the other end for removing smudges from lenses. The carbon based cleaning compound it uses 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.

PS: Yes, LensPen is one of this blog’s sponsors but I have been using their products for more than 20 years, long before I had any of my blogs.


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