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Photography Gear Maintenance Tips
I thought it would be helpful to run through some photography gear maintenance tips that can help you keep everything in good order for as long as possible. Pretty well all the important 'maintenance' type things I do are small and not time consuming. But that said, not doing them would produce a large, time consuming and expensive problem. So the following are all well worth sticking to. Let's take a look...
Cleaning the sensor:
The process of changing lenses on a DSLR camera inevitably results in stray bits of dust finding their way inside the camera body and on to the image sensor. Often, these will be so few/faint as to not detract from your image (or be easily deleted in post-production). But they will reach a point where something has to be done.
Because the sensor is such an expensive part of the camera, it can be pretty terrifying going anywhere near it if you've not done so before! I began by sending my first DSLR off for a professional clean every time sensor dust built up. But, fortunately, I realized that was an unnecessary expense, thanks to a handy tool: the squeeze bulb blower.
Squeeze bulb blowers (also variously named 'rocket air blowers', 'squeeze duster hand pumps', 'dust blowers' etc.) are a very simple device comprising a soft rubber pocket of air which, when squeezed, propels air down a thin plastic tube that is released at quite high pressure. Here's how to use them to remove sensor dust:
1. Take a test shot. Aim the camera at a neutral space (like a white wall) and select a narrow aperture, then take a shot. Upload the image to your computer and zoom in to 100% to get a really clear impression of how many of the offending dust specks you have to deal with.
2. Enter your camera' menus and select 'mirror lock-up' mode, or 'sensor cleaning mode'. Search your manual to find out exactly where this setting is located. The reflex mirror will flip up, exposing the sensor (it will fall down again when the camera is turned off).
3. Angle your camera downwards - so that dust falls out not back in - (attach it to a tripod if you find it easier) and carefully move the point of the squeeze bulb blower towards the sensor. Begin pumping air on to the sensor to blast away those unwanted specks of dust. Don't be afraid of propelling the air quite hard, and keep it up for about 30 seconds, but do take lots of care not to knock against the internal parts of the camera.
4. Always return the blower to the little pouch it comes with. You don't want it to become covered in dust for obvious reasons! Take another test shot and check out the results. Go again if needs be.
5. If this doesn't do the trick, you have the option of purchasing a sensor cleaning kit, which includes swabs and cleaning fluid. Personally, I'm much more comfortable sending my camera off for a pro clean than taking the risk of physically wiping the sensor myself. Any mistakes could become horribly expensive.
Squeeze bulb blowers might not cost much, but they're one of the most handy little accessories to have.
Keeping the body clean:
It's worth taking five minutes now and again to give your DSLR body a quick clean. Bits of dust, grit or sand can meander their way towards the inside of the camera if left for too long. I simply take a dry tootbrush and very gently work around the crevices and openings to dislodge stuff. I then take a cloth and just wipe the body all over, before using a microfibre cloth on the LCD screen.
Keep an eye on rubberized grips:
Many camera bodies include rubberized sections to make for comfortable holding. These can slip out of place and sometimes be just about impossible to slot back in. Don't be tempted to slap any old glue on the camera, as this will likely damage the rubber and surface underneath.
I have a very small section of rubber that has come away from the body on my camera. I simply chose to use some strong black tape to secure it back in place, which has worked perfectly. I know that others do this too. Were the rubber on my camera to become worse, I would send it off to be rubberized again by the manufacturer, who would use the proper glue and do a professional job.
The most obvious point to make about keeping lenses in good order is to store them with the lens caps and pouches that they came with. Lenses tend to accumulate dust, for which the squeeze bulb blower is a good solution some of the time. I usually blast both ends of whatever lens is attached to my camera when I have finished cleaning the sensor.
But sometimes dust can become more stubbornly attached, and a microfibre cloth is a great piece of kit to use for this purpose. Just breathe gently on the lens and wipe away the 'mist' until the lens looks clean. For really annoying bits that get stuck around the edges of the lens I use a 'lens pen', which is basically a very soft brush.
Whilst using a lens, some people advocate attaching a UV filter as a protective measure. This has plenty of merit, as all that a UV filter really does is to eliminate haze, so it will not impose a certain effect on all your pictures. I use a UV filter on some of my lenses, but I don't think it is actually imperative to do so all of the time.
Microfibre cloths are a must have. They are invaluable for cleaning lenses and LCD screens quickly and effectively.
If you are a compact or bridge camera user, you will probably be using rechargeable AA's. That's fine, and there are no special tips for these. If you do not use recharegeables, it's well worth doing so because you will spend a small fortune replacing disposable ones (especially if you use a bridge camera).
DSLR's make use of lithium ion batteries, and there are a few useful tips to bear in mind for prolonging the life/increasing the performance of these:
- Try not to let the life drain fully from your batteries before charging them.
- Lithium ion batteries actually like to be charged a lot, so don't worry about lots of repeat charges.
- Don't undercharge, by removing the battery from the charger before it has reached full power.
- Don't worry about 'overcharging', the power will be cut off when the battery is fully charged and no damage is done.
- Don't needlessly drain battery life by attaching your DSLR to your computer to upload images. Buy a card reader.
- Have 2 or 3 batteries on rotation, not simply so that you have back up on a shoot, but to reduce the batteries' workload.
Memory cards come with little hard plastic cases, which are ideal for storage. Don't store memory cards loose in your bag - keep them in their plastic cases. The most important tip for keeping cards working properly is to delete images by formating the card, rather than via the computer or by going through them one-by-one. This totally resets the memory card and reduces the chances of losing images in the future.
So select your 'keepers' from a shoot on the computer (where you can see them better), rather than deleting unwanted images in the camera. Then, having selected them, go back and format the card. When you remove the card from your computer make sure you follow the correct steps for ejecting (differs for Mac/PC).
The biggest hazard for tripods is dirt, mud, sand, salt water etc from outdoor shoots. These kinds of things can work their way inside the tripod, into the locking clamps, the head and the tubes. If it gets really bad it can make the locks very stiff, or even stuck.
I use my tripod a lot for landscape pictures, especially on the beach. After each use I give it a rinse down and wipe with a cloth. This gets the worst off and is better than nothing, but usually things remain stuck in certain places.
So from time to time it's a good idea to dissemble the legs by unscrewing the bolts and wipinf everything down with some WD-40. Get hold of a toothbrush and have a good scrub around in the locking clamps too, where sand and grit always seems to get lodged.
When you know that you are going to be shooting on a really sandy, wet or muddy location, it can be worth taping plastic bags around the legs up to the point of the bottom clamp. This means you always have to keep the lower section of the legs extended, but it can save a headache.
If you do find that a particular shoot a caused quite a lot of grit to build up in the tripod, do not fold it up until you have got home and rinsed it down. Folding up a dirty tripod only serves to push the dirt deeper into crevices and gaps.
Camera bags might not seem like the sort of thing that need regular cleaning. But since all of your kit is stored in them, it's a pretty good idea to keep them in good order!
Remove all of your equipment and take out any velcro compartments. It's often amazing just how much grit can accumulate at the bottom of bags. Shake it all out and give it a wipe with a dry cloth. You could even use a vacuum cleaner if you're in a serious cleaning mood!
These are the basic photography gear maintenance steps that I do regularly. It's important to keep on top of them, because a stitch in time...etc. I hope you found the article useful; please share any thoughts about it in the comments...