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Out Darned Spot!

Cleaning lenses is something that goes along with being a photographer. Personally though, I'd prefer not to have to and do everything I can to keep them clean in the first place. That means keeping a lens cap on when not in use, and keeping a lens hood on when the cap is off. It means paying attention while shooting to minimize the chance of getting fingerprints or other stuff on the font element, and of course it means not eating a messy lunch while photographing.

When your lenses do need cleaning, my advice would be to keep things simple.

Regardless of what else you do to clean them, the first step should be to use an ordinary camelhair blower brush to get rid of any dust. Using any sort of cleaning cloth on your lens without getting rid of the dust first is a good way to some day find that you've scratched the coatings on the front element. If spots remain on the surface, I generally just breathe hard on the front of the lens and use a simple micro-fiber cloth to wipe it off. The Lens Pen, available here ( and elsewhere, is another lens cleaning option that works well.

If you do have to resort to using lens cleaning fluid, do so carefully. Put a few drops of the fluid on a lens tissue and then wipe the lens in circles from the center towards the edges. Never put fluid directly on the lens to avoid any risk of it seeping down into the lens if you overdo it by accident. The best general purpose lens cleaner I know of is Eclipse from Photographic Solutions. For really nasty grease stains, a product known as ROR (Residual Oil Remover) is good but powerful; use with care.

If you've been doing any shooting around salt water or in other corrosive environments, be sure to clean your lenses soon afterwards. This would also be one circumstance when I would seriously consider using a UV or other "protective" filter to keep the lens clean. Doing so all the time though is counterproductive since then you would just end up cleaning the filter all the time instead of the lens.

Many people actually over-clean their lenses. I have known people who, operating under the assumption that cleaner is better, clean their lenses repeatedly while shooting. This seriously raises the risk of doing damage during the cleaning process. Even without any dust, if you rub hard enough often enough you can actually rub the coatings off your lens.

Well taken care of, modern lenses will last a long time. Kept clean they can take some great images, and the best way to clean them is to not get them dirty in the first place.

Date posted: January 19, 2003


Copyright © 2003 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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