The Best Sensor Cleaning option I have ever seen

I usually save product reviews for my Newsletter, but in this case, I have found a product so useful that I just have to get the word out right here on the blog. Get ready for some serious gushing because I am going to praise this product like few others. I would like to introduce you to the Sensor Gel Stick (see image below). Now I know sensor cleaning is not a very exciting topic, but for those that are serious about photography and especially for those shooting video with an HD DSLR, cleaning your sensor is a huge deal. I have spent way too many nights cleaning my sensor at 1 AM for the next day of shooting on an assignment. When you are exhausted and bleary eyed, having to do a wet cleaning several times to get your sensor clean for the next day of shooting is pretty much the last thing I want to be doing.

Before I get into reviewing the Sensor Gel Stick, let me give you some background on my experiences cleaning DSLR camera sensors. I have been shooting with digital cameras since 2003. I started out with a Nikon D70 and very quickly realized that I would have to learn how to clean my cameras sensor in the field if I wanted to continue shooting digital. The reality is that you can’t always send your camera back to the manufacturer to have them clean the sensor. My experience has been that if you do send your camera back to Nikon, Canon, or whoever made your camera, to have them clean the sensor, it will usually come back with just as much dust on the sensor as it did when you shipped it out. The reason for this is that there is dust in the shutter chamber that can and will fall onto the sensor as the camera is bounced around in shipping. Aside from that scenario, I have had to clean my sensors while on assignment where sending it back to Nikon just wasn’t an option. Hence, I have been cleaning my camera sensors since 2003.

I have used just about every product out there. For years, I used VisibleDust products like the Arctic Butterfly brush, the Sensor Brush and all of their wet cleaning solutions. While their products work well, they are quite expensive. Since I clean my camera sensors often, i.e. before every assignment, I tend to go through a lot of sensor swabs and solution. Before I got my Nikon D800 and D4, the VisibleDust products were working just fine for me. But with the D4 and D800 there seems to be a lot more oil around the edge of the sensor, which can massively complicate the cleaning process. With these new cameras, I opted to switch to Sensor Swabs and Eclipse cleaning fluid last year in order to cut down the massive expense of cleaning my cameras sensors.

I also had a very frustrating experience last summer cleaning my Nikon D800. While cleaning the sensor with a Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly brush, I accidentally pulled some oil from the sensors edge onto the sensor. This had happened to me before so I just grabbed my wet cleaning kit and used some swabs and Visible Dust’s Smear Away solution to remove the oil. After a few tries with the Smear Away and some other solutions I could not get the sensor completely clean. I tried everything I knew and the oil just kept moving around on the sensor. I tried cleaning the sensor over twenty times and I used up over $200 worth of sensor cleaning supplies. To say I was frustrated would be a major understatement. And this wasn’t my first rodeo cleaning sensors. I had never had anything like this happen while cleaning camera sensors and I had done hundreds of sessions cleaning my camera sensors. After hours of working on the camera, I ended up sending it back to Nikon to have them clean it. Mind you, this was before a major trip that I wanted to take that D800 on. I ended up taking just my Nikon D4 and no backup camera, which was not optimal. Luckily, it was a personal trip, but still, I wish I would have had the D800 on that trip.

[Note: Nikon did do a great job cleaning the D800 sensor and the entire camera. It did come back with a bit of dust on the sensor but I have since learned to live with a bit more dust on my sensor than I used to with my older model cameras. I must say that it seems Nikon has put more oils around the sensor on the D800 and the D4 than they have with past camera models. I don’t think it is as bad as the stories I have heard with the Nikon D600, but as my experience above might indicate, it is an issue with these new cameras. I never had any issues with oil on the sensor with my Nikon D2x or D700s.]

Getting back to the Sensor Gel Stick, when I saw the blog post about the Sensor Gel Stick on the F-Stoppers website, I was very much intrigued. I had never heard about a sticky gel “sensor stick” before and trust me I had done some serious research after my epic sensor cleaning session with the D800. Seeing that Nikon, Canon, Leica, Pentax and many other manufacturers use this same product to clean sensors when you send the camera back to them was all I needed to hear to give it a try. I watched the video on the Photography Life website before I ordered the gel stick and I watched it again before using it on my own cameras. I will say that pressing a sticky gel stick to my camera’s sensor seemed a bit sketchy at first, but seeing a Leica technician do it in the video on the F-stoppers blog helped me get over my reluctance.

My first test was to clean my Nikon D4 sensor. As you can see in the image below, my camera sensor was quite dirty. Before this cleaning, I had just returned from a big Red Bull assignment and apparently the sensor got quite dusty while changing lenses in the windy conditions and mounting the camera on the helmet of a skydiver. Click on the images below to see a larger resolution version of the images.

Above is an image of my Nikon D4 sensor before it was cleaned with the Sensor Gel Stick. As you can see, it was quite dirty. There are huge chunks of dust on the sensor and some of these were also oil spots. Click on this image to see a larger high-resolution version. For a note on how I created these images showing the dust spots on the sensor, please read the last few paragraphs of this blog post.

As you can see in the above image, after one cleaning 99% of the dust was removed from the D4's sensor. There are still a few dust spots on the sensor but for a 20-second cleaning this is phenomenal. The last few remaining dust spots were removed with a second targeted cleaning with the Sensor Gel Stick. Click on the image to see a higher resolution version of this image. For a note on how I created these images showing the dust spots on the sensor, please read the last few paragraphs of this blog post.

As you can see, with one 20-second cleaning the Sensor Gel Stick removed almost all of the dust spots (that were huge I might add) on my Nikon D4’s sensor. There were still a few small dust spots on the sensor after this first cleaning but those were easily removed with another cleaning, where I targeted those areas specifically. Just to be clear here, the cleaning time to get my sensor this clean was less than one-minute. With previous dry or wet cleaning options (as described above) it would easily take 15 minutes or longer to clean my sensor – and that is the best case scenario. With the D4 and D800, I would rarely get the sensor clean with one cleaning using my old wet and dry methods. Another great thing about the Sensor Gel Stick, aside from how well it works, is that it is very difficult to drag oils out onto the sensor because it can’t really get into those areas in the first place. It can also remove oils as well as dust so it has you covered even if you do somehow get oil on your sensor.

So, I am obviously smitten with this product. Is it the perfect solution? Well, it is a great solution but it isn’t perfect. When I cleaned my D800’s sensor, it did a similarly awesome job but I did have to do a wet cleaning to get the sensor fully clean. So, don’t throw out your old methods of cleaning your sensors but I do highly recommend this product and it will save me a truckload of money when it comes to cleaning my camera sensors. At $39.99 per Sensor Gel Stick, this is a hell of a deal. They will last quite a while from what Nasim at Photography Life says, and since it was $45 per box of 12 Sensor Swabs, $40 for the Sensor Gel Stick is looking mighty cheap. My thanks to Nasim and Photography Life for bringing this product to the USA. When I ordered my Sensor Gel Stick a few weeks ago they had over 900 in stock. Now there is a note on their website that they are out of stock on this product so it is obviously popular. You can watch a video of Nasim talking about the Sensor Gel Stick and demonstrating it below.

[Update: I just found out that the $39.99 price was an introductory price and that the price has gone up to $45 for the Sensor Gel Stick. Nonetheless, it is still a great deal and very much worth the money.]

As this product is highly popular, I would suggest putting an order in right now on the Photography Life website. You won’t regret it. This is now my go to sensor cleaning tool and I am overjoyed that we now have a decent way to clean our sensors that is quick and easy. This might just be the best tool to come on the market since the digital camera. I know that is a big statement but it is ridiculous that we have to go to these lengths just to clean our camera sensors. In this day and age of high-tech gadgets, Nikon and Canon should have a wiper blade, or some such device built into every DSLR, that automatically swipes across the sensor and cleans it perfectly with the push of a button. Until that happens, the Sensor Gel Stick is the best tool I have yet found to get your sensor clean.

Before I wind up this blog post, I also want to detail how to check and see if your sensor has dust issues. First, set your camera to aperture priority at the lowest ISO setting possible. Then set the aperture on the lens to the lowest setting, i.e. f/22. Take a photo of a white piece of paper filling the entire frame with the paper. Note that the camera doesn’t have to focus here since we are imaging the sensor, not the paper. I usually turn the autofocus off. You will end up with a gray image since the camera’s exposure meter will make the white paper gray. Now, take that image and download it to a computer, open it in Photoshop and select Image > Auto Tone from the top file menu. Selecting Auto Tone in Photoshop will automatically adjust the levels so you can more accurately see what is on your sensor. This is the technique I use and have been using for ten years or more to see what is on the sensor. The Auto Tone will show you way more dust spots than you can see on just that gray image. I will say that the demonstration shown in the above video and on the F-Stoppers website is sub-optimal for checking your sensor and how much dust is on your sensor. You really need to use the Auto Tone feature in Photoshop to see everything on your sensor when cleaning it.

  • Mark Vanderkam - Thank you for sharing such detailed information! I just got a d800e and am getting a Sony A7r, having recently moved from shooting mostly slide film. Digital sensors are a whole new beast to me, and you give me hope that the beasts can be tamed!

  • Jean-Paul Boudreau - David, thank you for sharing this. It does seem like the most sensible way to clean a sensor. Will try it.

  • Jon - I’ve got a few spots that are ‘welded’ on to my D4 sensor. I’ve tried everything except sending it in to serviced by Nikon. Even multiple wet cleanings, and the Dust-Aid silicone block won’t get those dust particles off… Any suggestions? I’m guessing that the Dust-Aid silicone block is equivalent to the Sensor Gel Stick.

  • mike thomas - thanks for the review and mentioning the sensor cleaning stick.

  • Michael Clark - Jon – I would say send the camera to nikon. I have never seen a dust spot that wouldn’t come off with a wet cleaning. If a wet cleaning won’t take it off then I would be surprised if the gel stick can remove it. I would send it back too Nikon and tell them the issue.

  • Lauren - Thanks so much for this tutorial. I’m trying to follow your instructions but I’m running CS3 and there is no auto tone. I’m getting weird results using any of the other options. Any suggestion what I might use instead? There is auto tone in Lightroom but I’m not seeing any change to the file.

  • Michael Clark - Lauren – Basically you just need to apply a level adjustment and pull the white and black sliders in towards the ends of the histogram, which will be a spike in the middle of the levels window. This is essentially all the auto tone feature is doing. Hope this helps.

  • Susanna Pershern - I feel so much better knowing I am not the only one having issues with oil with the D800. And the gel stick is on it’s way. I am ridiculously excited by the possibilities.

  • Martin Phelps - I bought one of these (a genuine one, from Eyelead in Germany), and used it once, exactly as instructed, on a Nikon D4. It pulled up a piece of the IR coating on the sensor. I sent it to Nikon UK for repair. I now have a repair bill for £1440, despite the camera still being in warranty. Nikon won’t honour the warranty, and say I shouldn’t have been cleaning my sensor. They also claim no knowledge of the product and David Phillips – head of Nikon customer services in the UK – says they don’t use any Eyelead products and have no connection with the company (despite a lot of people claiming that Nikon use Eyelead in their service centres). So, Nikon have washed their hands of it, and Eyelead claim the problem was with manufacture of the sensor on the D4 and not a problem with their product. Eyelead have offered a replacement Gel Stick – an offer which for obvious reasons I’m reluctant to accept.

  • Michael Clark - Martin – Wow, that is a horror story. I am very sorry to hear of this. I have had no such issues with the Sensor Gel Stick. Maybe they changed the stickiness of the gel stick since I bought mine. And I know of hundreds of photographers that clean their sensor on a weekly basis so it isn’t an issue of cleaning your sensor yourself. That is pretty terrible to hear how Eyelead dealt with it. Very sorry to hear about this.

  • Maciej Markiewicz - After reading those great reviews of this product I bought it earlier this summer. Unfortunately I had a crazy idea of taking it with me for a photo trip and even worse using it on my Sony A7R. The result was much much much more of spots on sensor and even worse square traces left by this stick. $ days of shooting on a remote location results are a horror of removing the spots … if this is possible. As I did not take with e my wet cleaning set it was a nightmare when I was thinking about the risk of not being able to remove these traces back home. Very poor if existent service. No replies for emails. The third email I got a reply … saying sorry, what is your camera and please send us a picture … Ok I did that and for a week no reply. I decided again to push and the same person replied that it was because of his business journey somewhere … Come on is there only ONE person in this company replying emails from customers !!! Never use that product again !

  • Michael Clark - Maciej –

    Hello. There have a been a few report soy issues with the Sensor Gel Stick. And I know that the USA distributor, who is just one guy as far as I can tell, put a warning up about using the Sensor gel Stick on Sony cameras. Maybe he put that up after your issues. I think they make a Sensor gel stick specifically for Sony cameras now.

    I have been using mine trouble free since February and still love it. So, I am very sorry to hear of your issues with it. I have no association with the Sensor gel Stick – I am just a satisfied customer.

  • Snorre Arctander Pettersen - I have just received a sensor gel stick. My camera is an Canon 5D Mark III , and after looking at Your video I`ve try to clean the sensor. In Your video the sensor stick should stick when it`s pressed softly to the sensor.
    The first thing I did was pressing the gel stick to the sticky paper and then to the sensor. There was littel “klick” the first time when I lifted the stick up form the sensor, but just the first time. What did I do wrong, or is it enough to clean the gel stick once before starting to clean? Is the sensor gel stick dryed out, or do I have to do something else to get it more sticky?

  • Michael Clark - Snorre – I don’t know what happened. I do not sell or make the Sensor Gel Stick. I just did a review of it. The video is from the distributor here in the USA. I don’t have any affiliation with either of them. I would direct your questions to photographylife.com.

  • Joe Fontanta - The customer service offered by Nasim at Photography Life just plain does NOT exist. If you try to contact them about any issues with your order or product do NOT expect a response.

  • Michael Clark - Joe – Sorry to hear about your experiences. I would suggest putting a comment on his website.

    Once again for everyone reading this and posting here. I have no connection with Nasim or the Photographylife.com website. Complaints posted here will not get to Nasim.

  • Steven Barajas - Just bought mine going to use it on my D800 can’t wait

  • Michael Delman - If we’re looking for debris on the sensor, not anything in front of the sensor, why does it matter what aperture is used? If anything, it seems like using a small aperture would result in being able to see more debris that’s in or in front of the lens, which might obscure debris on the sensor itself. In fact, wouldn’t it be better to take the test shot with no lens on the camera?

  • Michael Clark - Michael – Good point. I was also ways told by those that taught me to use f/22. I am not sure that it matters. I haven’t tested it out.

  • Mikhail Konovalov - The dust particles are not on the sensor surface itself but on a cover glass in front of it. It has certain thickness (fractions of mm to whole mm depending on the camera) and that’s why on stopping down the particles appear more distinct. It’s pretty easy to see for yourself, so no need to take anyone’s word for it.

  • Michael Clark - Mikhail – Well said and good point.

  • Neil Emmerson - Anything … and I mean anything which takes the pain out of the removal of dust from the sensor has to be good. Reading comments there are obviously issues here and there.
    It might be helpful if Canon/Nikon,etc.. could offer a solution to a photographer thousands of miles from a service center with a complete edit of images to retouch before an editor (lets say Getty) will even look at them.
    From my side the sensor system is deeply flawed but then I spent 16 years with film and in effect a beautiful clean new sensor for every frame shot. I started digital at the launch of D1X (havn’t a clue when that was) and sensor cleaning has filled me with a ‘back to school after the summer holidays dread ever since. So if you’ve covered your sensor with oil or your images are looking like someone threw a bucket of cement into your camera then step back and practice deep breathing or just go for a beer and park the problem until you are extremely calm and have a few hours to spare. Then whatever method you use will I am sure serve you better and you will have it sorted in 15 mins or so.
    I’ve watched the video and I’m getting a sensor gel stick: and it might all go wrong but I will try it out close to ‘help'(Fixation in London for me) and not in a Land Rover in the middle of the Gobi Desert.
    PS my solution to this painful issue: multiple camera bodies: all the same and never take the lens off (Canon 1DX: 70/200 2.8: 24/70: 85mm 1.2). I hope this might help someone.

  • Dima Kuts - I’ve used Gel Stick (bought from PhotographyLive.com) to clean sensor on Nikon D750. Was not able to remove some spots and send to Nikon Service for cleaning (camera still under the warranty).
    It cost me ~$600 to replace sensor. Will not use it anymore and will switch to wet cleaning. Sensor on D750 gets dust really quick – much quicker than my old D90.

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

*

*

T W I T T E R
L I N K S