Cleaning the sensor on a Nikon D40: a ‘Heath Robinson’ approach

I went out on my scooter and found some excellent high ground to take a few shots. When I got home, excited to see them, I was very disappointed to see they all had a black spot in the same place. Here’s an example – you can see the blemish  in the centre-top of sky (if you look really carefully you’ll see there’s one on the left-hand side, too, about half-way up):

Black spot from sensor dust

Black spot from sensor dust

It’s easy to edit this culprit using iPhoto, Aperture or Photoshop for example. But I wanted a clean sensor. I went into the camera menu and locked the mirror and had a look. The sensor seemed to be covered in a grime, with a few bits of noticeable dust stuck to it. I read that this might be caused by the lubricating fluid in the camera, or atmospheric conditions. That’s it. I’m going to clean it, I thought.

At first I used a cloth I got with my spectacles along with their cleaning fluid, but I noticed that this left some lint behind and only removed some of the grime. So, I used a fake chamois leather, cutting down a piece or two to fit. I soaked a small piece in, ahem, vodka and buffed the sensor with with that, attached to the end of a blunted wooden kitchen skewer. Heath Robinson has nothing on me.

I wasn’t drinking the vodka at the time, in case you’re wondering why I might do such a crazy thing. I used an airbrush to blow the dust away, and some sellotape rolled into a ball to remove some of the lint from the housing, lint that I probably put there in the first place. I took some shots of the blank white wall, and some others outside at different exposures and so on, and – eventually – they looked fine. Phew.

It was touch and go for a while. But after spending hours disconnecting the lens, cleaning the sensor, blowing air into it, reconnecting the lens, taking some trial shots at different settings and plugging it into the Mac to get the photos visible, it looks as good as new. I did this forty million times by my last count, or it feels like that. Now, I’m not recommending you use an airbrush, vodka, or any of the methods I’ve used here: it’s your call, and if you’re worried, get a professional to do it.

Right, I’m off for a White Russian, since I’ve got most of the ingredients to hand.

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