** 2016 Update! **
I have uploaded a short, easy-to-understand video showing how to clean your camera, covering lenses, your focusing screen, viewfinder, mirror and sensor. Check it out!
We've all had this problem before - we look through our viewfinders and what we see isn't good. Dust everywhere, sometimes even small fibres & hairs! Occasionally the problem persists after we take apicture and we can see them on the final image too - if this is a case it's likely your lens or your sensor that is dirty. It's easy to test whether the problem lies with your camera or your lens, simply remove the lens and take a photo; if the spots are still present the problem is your camera, if they disappear it is your lens.
Though you can clean your lens quite effectively yourself using a soft cloth or brush, I'd definitely recommend sending your camera back to the manufacturer when the problem is on your sensor.
Another scenario is that you see dirt & dust through the viewfinder but this DOESN'T show up on the final image. This short guide covers this second type of dust problem, that of dust on your mirror or focusing screen.
Although you do this cleaning at your own risk, it's very safe if you follow the simple steps and you can avoid wasted time & money by self-cleaning yourself.
- Get yourself a suitable tool for cleaning. I can recommend a Lenspen but for this job you can use any soft brush. Small makeup brushes are ideal - just make sure they are brand new & clean! A soft, clean cloth is also useful, or a cottonbud/cuetip.
- Begin by cleaning the viewfinder on the rear of the camera using your cloth. Although it's very unlikely you would see any dirt on the rear viewfinder it's always worth keeping it clean. The rear viewfinder is pretty sturdy so using your cottonbud or cloth to wipe clean is fine.
- Next remove your lens to reveal the internal mirror. You can see in the image below there are tiny white dots visible on the DSLR mirror - they are specks of dust.
- Use the lenspen/brush to gently brush the whole of the mirror. Make sure you brush from back to front, you want to be brushing dust OUT of your camera not deeper back into the body!
- Once you've cleaned the mirror, take another look through the viewfinder to check if it's clear - if yes, stop now, reattach a lens and take a test shot to be sure.
- If it's still present, remove your lens again and this time turn the camera upside down - in the image below, you can see the focusing screen above the line of yellow-white plastic with a thin strip of foam. In real-life your the focusing screen will look like a white-grey piece of plastic and if you look carefully you'll see the tiny focus indicators which you see when you look through the viewfinder. The focusing screen is recessed inside the camera body whereas the mirror is a lot easier to access.
- Be very careful! Using a delicate action and your soft brush - not a cloth - gently sweep over the surface of the focusing screen, again brushing out of the camera. Check your viewfinder and repeat if necessary. Make sure you do it with the focusing screen facing down so gravity helps pull the debris out of your camera. I've placed the camera horizontally in the image below so you can see where I am brushing.
- If you complete all of these steps then any light-to-moderate dust on your mirror or focusing screen should have been removed. If it still persists you likely have "stickier" material on there and at this point it's best to send it back into the manufacturer for a clean.
- Remember - only use the cloth/cottonbud to clean the rear exterior viewfinder. Use a soft brush only when cleaning the mirror/screen. Do not try to clean the sensor itself like this!
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