The basics and fundamentals in caring for your equipment
The first recommendation is that with basic and common sense care we will have the perfect equipment for years.
If we buy a camera and we do not take it out for fear that it will break down, we will be wasting money and we will not enjoy taking photos.
It is preferable if the equipment breaks due to intensive use, no one is free from an error or bad luck, but do not be obsessed with security measures: apply common sense, knowledge of the equipment and basic precautions .
That said, cameras and lenses are delicate (and expensive) devices, we will try to avoid risky situations or the most frequent mistakes.
The most immediate care has to do with physical protection (bumps and falls)
- Always carry the camera in a sturdy, padded backpack or bag . Each item of equipment has to be individually separated to prevent them from colliding or rubbing against each other inside the backpack. Be careful with the buckles and hardest parts of the backpack, which can scratch the equipment (special care with the lenses, for example, always keep with their covers)
- Whenever possible, carry the camera around your neck with the strap (or with a harness or wrist strap ..) to prevent it from falling to the ground if it slips out of our hands for any reason.
- Be careful when we leave the camera on a table. A careless fall from a height can damage it. Also be careful to leave the strap hanging since it can get caught and we can throw the camera.
- Be careful with the objectives when we leave them on a table , if we place them horizontally they can roll and fall.
- If we use a tripod, secure the tripod well on the ground with the legs wide open and secure the camera well to the tripod. Some more objective camera setups can be very heavy, the center of gravity is too high, and an accidental bump can cause the entire equipment to tip over. Be careful with the strap when working with a tripod, we can accidentally hook it and throw everything down.
- Do not leave the camera or equipment in direct sunlight for a long time . Ultraviolet rays and heating cause plastic materials to degrade, they can suffer deformations, etc.
- If you go out to photograph accompanied by small children or pets you will need an extra dose of care and patience 🙂
Prevent entry of dust and dirt
In cameras with interchangeable lenses (reflex and EVIL / mirrorless) one of the enemies is dust, splashes or any external element or dirt that can reach the interior of the camera, especially that stains the sensor.
- Keep the sensor exposed as little as possible . Always the camera with a lens attached or with the protective cap.
- If we have to change the lens, try to do it in an environment free of dust (and of course rain or splashes, avoid any external element that can enter the interior of the camera).
- The change of objective has to be done quickly but calmly (not to avoid the entry of dust, in the rush we drop a lens or damage something, and the remedy is worse than the disease).
- When we change the lens, try to place the camera with the sensor facing downwards . If the lens or the camera itself has dust on its outside (which is very likely) we will prevent said dust from falling into the camera.
- Of course, never touch the sensor or the internal elements of the camera with your fingers.
Cleaning lenses and optics
- Do not touch the lenses with your fingers . Even with perfectly clean hands, fingers leave a greasy mark.
- When we remove the lens, immediately place the protection caps , both the front and the rear.
- Clean the lens with microfiber chamois and a specific cleaning liquid ( we’ll see that below ). Don’t wipe the lens with your shirt or the first thing you catch. Don’t breathe on the lens to clean it .
- The front lens of the objective is in contact with the outside, therefore exposed to dust, splashes and dirt in general. One option is to use an ultraviolet filter , which is screwed on to the lens and minimizes the entry of dust and can avoid the occasional scratch. If you are a beginner, I would recommend using it until you get practice with managing the objectives, cleaning them, etc. Later you can do without these filters or place them only in situations with a lot of dust or the possibility of splashing
- One item that can be useful as protection is the lens hood . In the first place, it acts as a physical separator between the front lens and the outside, and it can avoid any bumps or scratches. And secondly, if we drop the camera, it provides additional protection (although in this case it will be more a matter of luck that something does not break)
- Moisture is an enemy of the targets since it allows the development of fungi inside. In addition the lenses include electronics inside, which does not get along very well with humidity.
- Store the lenses at home in a padded backpack or individual padded bags in a dry and protected environment . You can add anti-humidity bags in the closet or backpack where we leave the equipment.
- The coastal environment tends to lead to a more humid environment and also the saltpeter from the sea can be harmful in the long term for both electronics and optics because the salt crystallizes in the camera and lens. Simply when we have the equipment at home, we will have to find the driest place possible and use the anti-humidity bags if necessary.
The beach in general is a relatively hostile environment because sand (which ends up mysteriously reaching every corner of the team), dust blown by the wind, humidity and possible splashes, and saltpeter from the sea combine. It does not mean that we do not do photography on the beach, but if we do it continuously it would be interesting to use a sealed camera and lens.
The lenses of the objectives have on the outside a series of coatings (coated / multi-coated) of special materials that are used to reduce reflections, correct chromatic aberrations, etc. For this reason, when cleaning, we must not only avoid scratching the lens glass, but we must also be careful not to damage these coatings by abrasion or by using inappropriate chemicals .
Manufacturers recommend not using your breath (the typical way to clean glasses with mist and a handkerchief) because the saliva itself contains acids that can be harmful to coatings in the long run. This is surely an exaggeration, but considering the price of the lenses, why are we going to risk it if it costs very little to get it right?
What are we going to need?
- Manual air blower (rubber bulb)
- Brush or brush with very soft hair. It is preferable to have two or more brushes and reserve one only for the optics, and the others to remove dust from the other elements of the camera and the lens.
- Optionally a cleaning pencil-brush ( lens pen )
- Specific liquid for lens cleaning
- Microfiber chamois, for example the one used to clean glasses. It has to be very soft so as not to scratch the lens and it should also not release lint
The first and most important thing is to remove the largest and hardest particles, since if we wipe directly, those particles of dust and dirt act like sandpaper and scratch the surface of the lens.
- Prepare a work table with sufficient space and a clean environment . We wash our hands to remove dirt and grease.
- Blow into the air, without pointing towards the target, with the blower a few times to remove any dust that the blower itself may have inside
- Blow the blower across the target . First, for example, the entire exterior with the lens protectors in place. And then we focus mainly on the outer lens, which is the one that accumulates the most dirt. We place the part that we are blowing facing downwards, so that the particles fall towards the table
- We use the brush very gently to remove the dust from the lens and the front. We always place the surface we are cleaning facing downwards. Keep in mind that the rear lens and the contact area usually also accumulate some grease from the internal mechanisms of the camera: use a different brush to clean this area and the external part of the lens, and a brush only to the optics (the same for the suede), so we avoid that the grease goes to the lenses.
- Now we have removed the largest and hardest particles we can clean with the liquid and the microfiber cloth . We slightly moisten an area of the chamois with the cleaning liquid ( never apply the liquid directly on the lens ) and pass the cloth over the lens, gently and making circles from the center to the outside or the other way around, to cover the entire surface. .
- We now use a dry area of the chamois to dry the lens, following the same procedure with circular movements and gentleness.
- Grease stains (for example, if we touch the lens with our fingers, the typical ‘finger’ with a fingerprint) are usually the most difficult to remove, you just have to persevere a little with circular movements.
- Take the opportunity to blow and clean with the brush also the protective plastic caps of the lenses, both the front lens and the rear lens, as they tend to accumulate dust.
Cleaning with the brush pencil (lens pen) . These pencils have two parts: a soft hair brush on one side and a small soft velvet surface on the other. The advantage they have is that we can carry it in the backpack in case we have to clean the objective lens when we are out.
The procedure is similar. If we do not carry the blower, we simply clean very gently with the brush to make sure that no large particles remain. And then we apply the velvet part of the pencil, with a smooth circular motion as we would do with suede. In the case of grease stains it may cost a little more, since we do not use liquid, but it usually works quite well.
To clean the exterior of the lens, we can use a brush with harder bristles, such as those used for example for some hair clippers or razors. We can also use a chamois cloth moistened (only slightly moistened) with water. It is important that for cleaning the external part we have the front and rear lens protectors in place, to prevent dirt from going to the lenses.
For cleaning the filters we can follow the same procedures as for the objectives. Filters are usually less delicate, but in any case it costs nothing to follow the same process.
External cleaning of the chamber
To clean the camera we will simply use a soft hair brush (preferably a different one than the one we use for the optical part) to remove dust and dirt, especially in the area of buttons and dials, which is where it usually accumulates the most.
If the camera has become more dirty or if we have been in an environment where it may have picked up saltpeter, we can wipe with a cloth or chamois slightly moistened with water (not wet, only moistened)
For the LCD screen, we can use a similar procedure to cleaning the optics.
For the optical viewfinder, we can use the lens cleaning liquid applied with a stick.
Sooner or later dust or dirt particles end up inside the camera and some of this dust will settle on the sensor.
Most interchangeable lens cameras have some self-cleaning sensor system, they usually vibrate the sensor or apply ultrasound to it so that the particles detach themselves.
With a bit of luck we will never have to clean the sensor manually, because it is a somewhat delicate process. But it may happen that one day we find a small stain in the photos, which would correspond to a speck or stain on the sensor itself. Keep in mind that it can also be due to the objective.
How do you know if the sensor is stained or has any particles attached? . To detect possible spots we will put a lens with the diaphragm as closed as possible and with the lowest ISO. We can take a photo of the blue sky, a white paper or some smooth surface without texture, of light color. Spots or particles will appear when enlarging the image as small, darker circles, usually slightly blurred.
Another option is to set a high exposure time, 2-3 seconds, and take a photo of a white wall by moving the camera. In this case, if perfectly focused spots appear, they correspond to the stained areas of the sensor, everything else will appear blurred.
To verify that it is the sensor and not the objective, we can test with a second objective and see if the points coincide in all the tests.
There are several procedures for cleaning the sensor. Keep in mind that the surface of the sensor is very delicate and cleaning has a certain risk of damaging the sensor, some procedures more than others, some sensors are more delicate than others. If you don’t want to risk taking the camera to technical service .
If it is only dust spots, probably the easiest and safest method to do it yourself at home is by using gel bars or pencils such as Eyelead SCK-1 . These bars are made of a gelatin to which the sensor dust adheres and then the dirt is removed on an adhesive paper that the kit brings.
IMPORTANT : You should bear in mind that some sensor models such as Sony mirrorless sensors (NEX, Alpha .. series) have a coating that adheres too much to the gel and causes gel particles to remain on the sensor. Therefore, do not use in those Sony cameras and before using it, check the internet to see if your specific camera could have a problem. In any case, the method involves less risk than cleaning with a chemical product, alcohol, etc.
This method is only effective for removing dust or particles . If the sensor has a grease stain it probably won’t remove it. If splash or moisture condensation has reached the sensor, together with the dust in the environment, it will make the dirt more resistant and stick, and it will probably not be removed with this dry cleaning method either.
Do not use the gel stick to clean the mirror or any other element of the camera because it can break or misalign something.
If the gel bar is stiff or very hard (it does not behave like a somewhat sticky jelly) it will surely be damaged and should not be used.
If you don’t want to use this procedure, you can try blowing the sensor with the manual air blower , but keep in mind that it may happen that part of the dust inside the camera goes to the sensor. That is, we may remove some specks and others appear. Possibly by repeatedly testing with blowing and automatic sensor cleaning we will be able to eliminate these particles without having to physically touch the sensor.
There are other cleaning procedures with special liquids or isopropyl alcohol , but we must be sure that the sensor coating is compatible with the cleaning chemical that we are going to use. As a last resort, for grease stains or very sticky specks, there would be no choice but this cleaning with liquids or taking the camera directly to technical service if the sensor stains are visible with the naked eye in our photos and we do not want to risk it.
With current Lithium Ion (Li-ion) batteries, it must be taken into account that complete discharge is equivalent to spending a charge cycle and each battery has a limited number of complete charge-discharge cycles. Therefore, if we completely deplete the battery we will be reducing its useful life .
To give you a reference, a typical Lithium Ion battery can have an average life of 300-500 cycles at 100% DoD ( Deep of Discharge – depth of discharge, that is, 100% DoD is to charge to 100% and discharge to 0 % ). While it would reach 1200-1500 cycles at 50% DoD, that is, if we recharge it before it reaches 50% charge.
Shallower discharges mean longer service life. Logically we will have to find a balance that is practical and that gives us some autonomy without having to carry a lot of spare batteries.
The rule would be to keep the load above 20% whenever possible (we are not going to give up the photo of the century for not respecting the 20% rule, but it is a good practice). And recharge whenever we can. It is preferable to carry at least one extra extra battery to replace when the main one runs out .
If we are not going to use the battery for a while, the ideal is to store them with a charge of around 40%. This is usually tricky. What is important is to remember not to leave them unloaded or with very little charge for a long time.
Li-ion batteries do not like extreme cold or extreme heat. They work poorly in extreme cold, but high temperatures are more harmful to them . Therefore avoid leaving them in the sun or keeping them next to sources of heat. Some cameras overheat for example when recording video for a long time continuously, it can reduce the life of the batteries in the long run.
If you see that the battery fits very tightly into its receptacle in the camera, that is, it costs more than usual to remove or insert it, it may be because it has been slightly deformed, and that it has been damaged or is about to. Do not use that battery since it could happen that it gets trapped in the camera and you would have to take it to the technical service.
In any case, it must be taken into account that the battery is still a consumable and that as we use it its performance and load capacity will decrease. If it is not damaged, there will come a time when its carrying capacity will be so small that it will not be worth using.