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11-08-2012, 06:11 PM   #1
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Basic Cleaning of Lenses

I am a noob with a very basic question: How do you clean a lens, front glass and back glass? (Not taking it apart) I only know the "breathe on it and wipe with a soft cloth or lens cloth" method. I keep a very well-worn piece of soft t-shirt in my pocket and camera bag at all times for this purpose.

I avoid commercial lens cleaner, having read that it is not good. I also avoid the "lens pens" at the stores. I'm super-afraid to scratch my lenses.
Also, how to clean fingerprints from a lens? Thanks.

11-08-2012, 06:15 PM   #2
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Don't do the "breathe on it" method. Your breath can have quite a bit of stuff in it.

Use a lenspen.
11-08-2012, 06:22 PM   #3
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I use a Giottos Rocket Blower to get rid of stray dust.
Buying one of those was probably one of the best photography-related decision that I've made in my life.
11-08-2012, 06:34 PM   #4
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Hi Tim,
The rule I follow is "Don't Touch"
I still have my first lens , a Pentax -M 1:2 50 mm purchased new in 1980 (32 years)
It was always capped and a UV filter was used except for occasional night shots.
It has been used industrially, in rain, snow, at the beach etc , always with a filter.

The lens was only ever blown with a bulb blower and never touched on the glass.
Still in almost perfect condition.

The Super Takumar service manual recommended cleaning a fingerprinted lens surface with a cotton or linen cloth totally devoid of starch with a mixture of ether and alcohol rato depending on humidity.
Sometime when i purchase an old lens I just use isopropyl alcohol with a cotton bud ( Q tip), trying to avoid the fluid running under the glass circumference.

11-08-2012, 07:22 PM   #5
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Having seen quite a few second hand lenses with very fine scratches on the front element, I'm not keen using cloths on their own.
Personally I:
1. Uses a blower (sometimes blower brush) first to dislodge as much dust as I can. Wiping the coarser dust can lead to scratching pretty easily.
2. I like the Wet + Dry lens tissues myself (I use Evitio). These are sealed so that you are not introducing any dirt. Just wipe with the wet tissue and dry with the dry one.
3. I tend to not clean the lens more often than I really need to and typically would use the blower / brush several times before I need to wipe. A lens hood can help keep dirt (and fingers!) off the lens.

Oh and one more thing.... I agree that blowing / breathing on the lens can cause more dirt than its removing (the sort that needs wiping to remove).
11-09-2012, 01:33 AM   #6
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I use the alcohol / Q-tip method for when I have anything nasty on the lens. A lens pen any other time. I also keep a handful of those cheap lens cloths you can pick up at Walmart (Zeiss eyeglass wipes) in my bag for when I'm out and about and can't get at the Q-tips to dislodge something. I don't even unfold the cloth, I just verrrrry gently dab/swipe at the offending blob of whatever and it usually will work well enough to allow me to continue on my way until I can properly clean the thing.

EDIT: You'd be surprised just how filthy your lens can be and still take decent pictures. Just because it may look ugly to you doesn't mean it will make ugly photos. Its the rear element (safely hidden away by your camera body) that you need to watch out for mainly as far as causing ugliness to creep into your images. The front could literally be cracked in two or shattered and you'd never notice in the final results unless you were shooting directly at a light source or something.

EDIT II: Basically, ask yourself 'Will whats on the front of my lens possibly damage it by being there? Am I getting poor quality images as a result of whatever is on the lens?" If the answer is no to both, you can skip cleaning it.

Last edited by Sagitta; 11-09-2012 at 01:39 AM.
11-09-2012, 03:37 AM - 1 Like   #7
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The never ever touch method is not necessary and if you have finger prints and such, you have to clean it off.

QuoteOriginally posted by timmijo Quote
I avoid commercial lens cleaner
Well, avoid Windex (high water content), Ajax (abrasive), Pledge (wax and polymers). However, some camera specific cleaners will work to certain degrees. It is more the cloth that will need to do the "heavy lifting".

QuoteOriginally posted by timmijo Quote
...I keep a very well-worn piece of soft t-shirt in my...
Not a good material. Cotton cloth even if worn and fuzzy is going to have loose dirt and grit that will move around and get reapplied to the surface of the lens and scratch.

For years I've used a microfiber cloth designed for photographic optics... not the stuff for car windows or household mirrors. For example, Pentax sells a microfiber cloth last time I looked, but you just need one that is made for fine optics like rifle scopes, telescopes, microscopes and cameras lenses. Microfibers will hold tight the dirt and will not easily release them. Even if they say it will wash off in a laundry it actually won't completely come clean. I will use a Microfiber cloth for about six months to a year and then stop using it and just replace it for a new one instead.

For heavy grease, Eclipes optical cleaner is a Methanol based cleaner and will evaporate very fast... don't use it with PEDC*PAD as that stuff scratched my lenses. If is great for when you need to use a good damping amount on an area.

Careful using cotton based products like "Q-tips". If you must, it is best to get it very damp... no need for dripping wet... with a cleaner first and then use it. Dry is bad, as it will mean the fibers are too stiff and dirt will not be enfolded by the fiber, but just get dragged around and scratch the surface.
11-10-2012, 06:38 AM - 1 Like   #8
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Best advice is to avoid getting the lens dirty, and clean only when needed. Today's lenses are more resistant to scratching, but it's hard to get a lens as clean as "new" - so try to keep it that way.
Yes, you can still get good pictures with a dirty lens, but it still has an effect. Decades ago camera tech Norman Goldberg wrote he was demonstrating lens testing, using his "reference" Summicron to show how good it was, and the MTF came out significantly worse than usual. He found one fingerprint on the lens, and cleaning it restored the performance. But most pictures don't exploit the sharpness potential of a lens, so we don't notice the effect in normal use.

11-10-2012, 03:55 PM   #9
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I have to agree with most of the responses here.

When I bought my first film SLR way back in the dark ages the salesman who sold me my first camera and lens insisted on a clear "filter" to protect the front lens element. Over nearly 40 years of use I ave replaced those low cost filters a time or two, but still have the lenses with the original front elements in new condition.

I am completely anal about keeping the caps on both ends, and never touch the elements at either end of a lens with a finger. Since making the change to DSLR photography I still use some of those older film lenses, and their performance has been flawless.

In my early days as an amateur photographer I found myself in the local camera shop looking over a table of clearance items. For $1 I bought a bundle of 200 packets of envelopes of lens cleaning tissue, each envelope having 50 sheets. That purchase turned out to be a lifetime supply of cleaning tissue. I also picked up a 2oz bottle of Kodak lens cleaning solution. Since I only use a drop or two each time I clean a lens, and I don't over clean, I still have about 1/2 a bottle left.
11-10-2012, 05:52 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Racer X 69 Quote
For $1 I bought a bundle of 200 packets of envelopes of lens cleaning tissue, each envelope having 50 sheets. That purchase turned out to be a lifetime supply of cleaning tissue. I also picked up a 2oz bottle of Kodak lens cleaning solution. Since I only use a drop or two each time I clean a lens, and I don't over clean, I still have about 1/2 a bottle left.
Yup - I'm still using my supply of Kodak lens tissue and lens cleaner!
11-10-2012, 06:11 PM   #11
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Blow dust and dirt off with a bulb blower, not your breath and leave the t-shirts for your body not your lenses.

I recommend a high quality lens pen, primarily for the retractable soft brush. The graphite pad end is guaranteed not to scratch but I rarely use it anyway. For anything the blower or brush won't get (rare,) I use the Hoodman Lens Cleanse wet/dry packets.
11-15-2012, 07:16 AM   #12
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Thanks for your answers; I am nowhere near a camera store, even if there were still such stores around. Any suggestions about online shopping for lens cleaning supplies?

Last edited by timmijo; 11-15-2012 at 07:16 AM. Reason: misspelled a word
11-15-2012, 07:29 AM   #13
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There are places like Amazon or any of the Online camera sources, but with Amazon you can read the reviews of how good or bad the item is.

Purosol, Zeiss, Clarity... etc.

The basic thing is the cloth or tissue and always important with a reasonable amount of lens cleaning fluid...reasonable being, don't drown the lens. In fact, spray or drip on cloth or tissue rather than directly hose the lens element.
11-15-2012, 08:07 AM   #14
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If you are in the US, the gold standard on-line source for photo gear is either B&H Photo or Adorama. You can also find a lot of good equipment at good prices via Amazon, which contracts out some purchases to other sellers, including Adorama. I usually check all three and compare availability and price before ordering.
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