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Thursday, May 16, 2013

HOWTO: clean your camera sensor

You love your compact camera, but lately there is a big dirty blurry dark spot on the screen, and on each photo! Your camera is ruined, you're condemned to buy a new one. Unless... This is a tutorial to get rid off it.

You love your compact camera. It just fits in your pocket so you always have it with you. The photos look very good on your web photo albums, and even prints have a fair quality. For the type of every day life photos that you are doing, this is just perfect.

But since last week you get a big dirty blurry dark spot on all your photos. You can easily see inside the lens a fair amount of small dust. How did it get there? And more importantly how to clean it out?

That big dirty blurry dark spot on my photos, damn it!

You asked the local photo shop, they will charge you nearly half the price of the camera itself. When you bought it, not even two years ago, you thought that it will last a good five years, at least. But now it's ruined. Is there a way I could do it myself? How do one clean inside a lens? I read on the Internet that shaking it could solve the problem.... or with a vacuum cleaner... does this actually work?

That's not it.

The dust that you see inside your lens is so small that it has basically no effect on the photos. The dirt that produces such big spot is on the image sensor. The sensor is the element of your camera that turns light into digital information. It's the retina of your camera. It is a very delicate piece of hardware. But actually it is relatively easy to clean it yourself. You just need to know what to do.

OK, so how to clean it out?

You need

a dirty camera
a clean workspace
a set of cleaning tools
a set of small screwdrivers
a small box to hold small parts
a good youtube video

Because you don't want to add more dust, you need a clean working space, and tools. As cleaning tools, I am using painting brushes. A large soft one and a small harder one. To hold small parts I used a tupperware lid. A bit of patience and soft steady hands will help too. The next section will tell more about that good youtube video.

1. Get dismounting information

The biggest challenge is to know how to dismount the camera. Compact cameras parts are tightly packed together inside the box. Some parts are screwed, some others clipped together. You need to know what to remove, how and in which order. When you know this the operation is quite simple.

Technical manuals are usually only available to maintenance companies. But there is a fair chance to find this information on the Internet. The best is if you can find a video of the dismounting process.

Try to find the exact same model. Otherwise look for the same brand, and the same line of products. But that's may not be completely important, because most compact cameras are mounted in a very similar way. You could try your luck at google video search, or directly on youtube.

In my case the camera is a "Sony Cybershot DSC-HX5". I could find a video by looking for "sony cybershot DSC-HX5 cleaning sensor"

As you can see, the video that we found is not of very good quality, especially the person keeps his hands over what he is doing. But it is still a very useful video, as the essential information, is which part to remove and in which order, what to unscrew, what to unclip. If you get this, bingo, that's all the information you really need.

2. Dismounting and cleaning

Ready? First remove the wrist strap or it will annoy you all the way. Remove also the battery and the memory card.

First remove the wrist strap

Then unscrew the visible screws and remove the parts. Keep small parts safe in a box. I use to place the parts in a way that reminds their location on the camera, so it is easier to remount. At the same time that I am dismounting the parts, I brush away all visible dirt.

A Phillips 000 screwdriver
First part unscrewed
Second part unscrewed
Keep small parts safe and in order

Now unclip the back frame (on the screen side). It may seem that the front frame would go away, but really we must remove the back frame. I needed to leverage in the lower right corner of the frame, with a small flat-bladed screwdriver. Then unclip the screen frame (not the LCD panel!).

Unclip the back frame
Unclip the screen frame

It now reveals plenty of more screws of all colors, black, copper, silver. But we will unscrew only two last screws. There is a brushed metal block in the center, held by two screws. The sensor is just behind.

The camera sensor is just behind the silver door

Now we will access to the sensor.

Be careful that your environment is dust free, and be careful where you put your fingers to not leave greasy marks.

Once you open the sensor box, you see on one hand the sensor, thankfully it is completely clean. On the other hand we see the last protection for the sensor: the red-ish layer (actually it is green), and a small black frame to prevent the layer to touch the sensor. We clearly see a big dirt spot, and smaller dust bits.

The last protection layer for the sensor
The camera sensor

We drop out the protection layer and wipe out the dust. You can see the guilty dirt spot on the right side of the photo. The parts are so small and thin that, to manipulate them, I use a small painting brush.

Sensor protection and dirt spot
Manipulate with care!

That's it!

3. Remounting

To remount the camera, just follow the same process backward. Don't tie the screws too hard, it's not a car! Make sure that you clip clipped parts correctly by pressing firmly (but gently).


BEFORE (10:27)
AFTER (11:47)

We can clearly see that the big spot is gone, and even some smaller ones. It took me 1 hour and 20 minutes by going slowly and taking photos. To do it again it would not take much more than 20 minutes.

(The difference in background on the two pictures is because on the first one it is my laptop's touchpad, and on the second photo it is a white sheet of paper.)

See the full photo set, at flickr.

You can enjoy your camera for a few more years :)


  1. Thanks for this great tutorial! Hopefully it will save a lot of cameras with this kind of problem :)

  2. Well done!

    That camera already survived a screen replacement... right? Tough one!

    1. it was a friend's camera. Mine has had the same issue for a long time, though not as bad. I just cleaned it, finally.

  3. tu es prêt pour changer les cœurs!

  4. I completely dismounted and cleaned my Lumix TZ7 today.

    After many years of usage there has been more and more dust, not only on the image sensor, but also in the lens. I already cleaned the image sensor 2-3 times in the past as described in this tutorial, but recently it seemed that this was not enough. The camera was regularly failing to focus. I believe that the accumulated dust in the lens reached a point that disturbed the focus module.

    In addition, a short trip to the beach last summer had a catastrophic effect. Obviously a fair amount of thin sand grains got inside and was blocking the zoom mechanism. It regularly failed to activate or just refused to get out (or to retract) when switching the camera on (or off).

    There are plenty of tutorials for dismounting completely a Lumix camera. For my TZ7, the video "How to strip and clean a Panasonic Lumix TZ series lens" from Graham Houghton was particularly useful.


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