Holding a lens worth a couple thousand dollars in your hand and being asked to clean it can be daunting. You might be scared to scratch it or fingerprint it. Maybe you don’t have the right supplies. Or you may have no clue how to even approach cleaning a lens (Hint: using your t-shirt won’t work).
One of the questions I get a lot from readers is how to clean a camera lens properly. While I can’t claim my method is “the way” to clean a lens, it has served me well in my career so I decided to share it with you in my first ever video post.
What’s in this video?
- The best tools and supplies for cleaning lenses
- How Rosco lens tissue can scratch a lens
- When you should remove a lens to clean it
- A dirty Minolta Super 8mm camera
- And more
If you all enjoy this video and find it useful, let me know in the comments and I will make more video posts.
How to Clean a Camera Lens – Transcript
For those who would rather read the info from the video rather than watch it, here is a transcript:
Today I want to go over something with you that I get a lot of requests for and that is how to clean a lens.
Maintaining equipment is one of the biggest responsibilities of any camera assistant and lenses are going to be some of the more expensive pieces of gear that you end up dealing with. So knowing how to clean one properly, and do it well, is going to be vital to your success as a camera assistant. Now this is my way of cleaning a lens — it is by no way definitive — there are certainly alternative methods. But this was taught to me on a feature film and it works for me, so I’d like to pass it on to you today.
You’re going to need a few tools to do this and I have them right here and I’m going to go over them with you right now:
The first is you’re going to want a flashlight. Preferably something small. This is a Mini Maglite that I have. You’re going to want it small so that you can either hold it in your mouth, rest it on your shoulder, or under your chin so that you can free up your other two hands to work.
The next thing you’re going to need is some lens cleaning fluid and I use Pancro. Pancro is a brand. It’s a brand that I trust, that I consider the standard, and that many other AC’s I know use. This isn’t to say you can’t use another type of lens cleaning fluid, but just make sure that you’re researching into it and finding one that is of a good quality instead of just saving a few bucks. Basically, make sure that you’re not putting something cheap on a lens that is worth a couple grand. You don’t want to be skimping in this area.
The next thing you’re going to need is some lens cleaning tissue and for that I have Kimwipes. The other major brand is Rosco and just a quick note about Rosco: it comes in this little flipbook style. The problem with that is that you can have it sitting in your ditty bag, or in your toolbag, and dirt can collect inside of the little flaps since the book is open. So make sure that if you are using Rosco lens tissue that you have it in some kind of Ziploc bag or other type of pouch sealed away. I use Kimwipes because it comes in this box and so the wipes end up being a little more sterile.
The last thing you’re going to need is some compressed air, or a bulb blower, or a brush. I like to use Dust-Off Plus with this nozzle that extends everywhere so that you don’t really ever have to be tipping the can and risk some freon coming out.
I don’t own any still lenses or cinema-style lenses, so what I’m going to show you how to clean today on is actually my father’s old Super 8 camera — the Minolta XL Sound 42. And it has a lens (fixed-lens) on the end of it that is sufficiently dirty that I think will suit our purposes today of me showing you how to clean one.
So let’s go ahead and do that.
I’m going to go ahead and take the cap off of it. This is a fixed lens camera so I can’t actually remove the lens, but I would definitely take the lens off if I was going to be cleaning it thoroughly. Now if I was just going to be spraying it or using a brush to take off a little bit of the dust, I could probably leave it on the camera. But anytime I’m using fluid, I want to take the lens off. This is why it’s best to do in the mornings or at lunch when the lenses are already off the camera.
So what you’re going to do is you’re going to take your flashlight and you’re going to set your lens up. And you’re going to just shine your flashlight at an angle so that you can see how dirty it is. What you’re looking for is whether or not there’s dirt or dust on top, or if there are smudges — basically, what is the extent of the dirtiness. Normally I would put my flashlight in my mouth or rest it on my shoulders so that I could work with both my hands, but since I’m talking I’m gonna go ahead and set my flashlight down.
The next thing that you’re going to want to do is take your compressed air (or your blower, or your brush) and we’re gonna remove that first layer of dust just resting on top. With canned air, you want to spray two quick little spurts just to make that there is no chemicals that are gonna come out. Another important thing is whenever you are removing dust from the lens, that you tilt it down so that the dust falls onto the ground or wherever instead of inside the optics of the lens where it can really do some serious damage. So I’m going to be pretty liberal with this dust-off just because I want to make sure I get all the dust off of it.
[Spraying lens with Dust-Off Plus]
Now I can set that aside and then I can take my flashlight and check to make sure that I got all the loose stuff off. If I didn’t then I would keep spraying until I did. But I did get all of it.
So next we’re going to take the Kimwipes. I’m going to take one wipe. If this has been sitting in your toolbag for awhile you maybe want to throw away the top one just because it’s gotten dirty. But I’m going to fold the wipe into quarters. Then I’m going to take my cleaning fluid and I’m going to do a downward spray — just like this.
[Sprays fluid on Kimwipe]
And that’s just to make sure that this doesn’t get too wet. Never spray your lens fluid on the lens itself; always on the tissue and never do it too much. One spray is just enough.
So then what I’m going to do is I’m going to take the wet side and go in tiny circles from the inside of the lens to the outside. I’ll do that about once or twice. I’m going to apply a little bit of pressure, but obviously if there are more smudges you should apply more pressure.
I’m going to flip over to the dry side of the tissue and do the same thing. You never want to wipe a lens with a dry tissue, but since I did get the lens a little bit wet we’re really just drying it off.
So then you would go back to your flashlight to check the lens. If there are still smudges or dirt, repeat the steps as necessary, but this is looking pretty clean so I’m going to go ahead and put the cap on. If this lens was off I would do the rear element as needed, but since I can’t, I think were done.
I hope that was useful to you and if you have any questions feel free to contact me. Also, please sign up for the free exclusive newsletter that I send out through The Black and Blue. You’ll get some great exclusive content that I don’t give out on the blog. Lastly, if you have any tips or advice of your own on how to clean some lenses, feel free to leave a comment and let us know. You have a lot to teach the rest of us and I love reading your comments and learning from them. So thank you!
[End of video]