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Our chief photographer shares his insights.

By Earl Nottingham

The Basics of Lens Cleaning

It’s one of the most basic yet overlooked aspects of taking a good photograph — a clean lens. So often, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of taking a picture (f-stops, shutter speeds, composition, lighting, etc.) and fail to notice the fingerprints or other materials that may be residing on the surfaces of the lens and filters, just waiting to ruin an otherwise beautiful photo.

At a minimum, a dirty lens or filter will degrade image quality by lowering contrast, imparting an overall muddy look to the image. At worst, it can produce unwanted light flare, especially noticeable in strongly backlit scenes — it’s similar to looking through the dirty windshield of a car into the setting sun.

The cleaning of any lens surface should be given the same care that you would use in cleaning the cornea of your eye. Using the following gentle and progressive cleaning sequence will help ensure that your lenses will be crystal clear without scratching the delicate optical coatings.

First, use canned air or a bulb type blower to remove any loose sand or grit from the lens. Using a cloth or tissue first will only grind in any abrasive particles.

Next, use a soft camel-hair brush, the edge of a lens tissue or special lens-cleaning cloth to gently “whisk” away any particles that were not removed by blowing with air. Caution: Use only tissues and cloths made for optics. Never use paper towels or clothing.

Finally, using a new lens tissue or unused portion of the cleaning cloth, gently wipe any fingerprints or smudges from the surface. In most cases, stubborn spots can be removed by the moisture of a soft breath onto the lens, followed by wiping with a tissue or cloth. Avoid using liquid lens cleaners as they have a tendency to work their way into and dissolve the cement that holds the lens elements solidly in place.

And if you use interchangeable lenses, you might also check out the rear elements. They are notorious for getting fingerprints on them when the lenses are changed.

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