Self-Iso Project: Tips on how to safely clean your lenses

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After months of seclusion, things are beginning to ease up and most of us can’t wait to get back outside and start shooting again. As the end to self-isolation draws nearer, now’s a good time to get your lenses prepped for their first venture outdoors in a while. People take different approaches to this, but here’s a tried-and-true checklist for cleaning your glass and keeping it as pristine as possible.

Easy does it

The first rule of thumb is to undertake this job sparingly. It’s not something you need to do often or even routinely. Lenses are expensive and our favourite copies are irreplaceable. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than accidentally inflicting a permanent scratch or tarnished coatings caused by overzealous cleaning. Lenses can tolerate a bit of dust without visibly impacting image quality, but large accumulations, noticeable smudges and things like dirt and crumbs need to be addressed immediately.

Bulb Blower for cleaning lenses

Use a bulb blower

Blown away

The first step is to use a simple bulb blower to remove unwanted dust, and sometimes that’s really all you need to do. The beauty of this step is that you do it without making any real contact with the glass, but avoid using your own breath to achieve the same thing. Invisible specks of saliva can adhere to the coating and do damage over time, and breath can also potentially contain spores that find their way into the barrel where dreaded fungus can sprout.

Brush it off

If that doesn’t work, the next step is to use a brush – preferably one with camel-hair bristles or something similarly soft – to gently remove any remaining deposits. Use the sidelong breadth of the bristles, not the pointed tips, to whisk them away and avoid damaging the glass or coating. It’s best to point the lens downward when doing this, so that dust falls away and doesn’t get trapped at the edge of the lens.

Matin Microfibre Lens Cleaning Cloth

Matin Microfibre Lens Cleaning Cloth

Use a cloth

Bigger jobs may require the use of a soft microfiber cloth. Never use a piece of clothing or any other material that hasn’t been designed for this purpose. Make sure the cloth is completely clean, wrap it loosely around your finger and rub the lens in a concentric motion as gently as possible, starting in the middle of the lens and working your way outward toward its circumference. When you wash the cloth afterward, don’t use detergents that can leave traces on the material and damage coatings when used again later.

Clean sheets

Tiffen Lens Cleaning Tissue

Tiffen Lens Cleaning Tissue

If oily fingerprints are the issue and a cloth doesn’t do the trick, try using a piece of lens tissue and lens-cleaning fluid. Never use facial tissue, paper towel or any other form of tissue paper not specifically designated for use on camera lenses. Place one small drop on the tissue (not directly onto the lens) and gently rub the smudge away. Again, only use a fluid meant for camera lenses. Even fluids used on reading glasses can damage a camera’s lens and its coatings.

In closing

The rear lens is better shielded from the elements and less likely to need cleaning, but if dust, grime or fingerprints do appear on them, this will have an even greater impact on image quality, so be sure to check them and follow the above steps as required. Interior lens elements can sometimes pose bigger challenges, including haze and the abovementioned fungus, but unless you feel confident disassembling and reassembling a lens safely, this is a job best left to qualified professionals.

Zeiss Lens Cleaning Kit – Vistek Canada

Zeiss Lens Cleaning Kit – Includes Lens cleaning solution, dust brush, microfibre cloth, 10 moist wipes, professional lens care user manual and air blower, all in a fabric belt bag.

Cover Image Credit: James Pond on Unsplash