I’ve stressed time and time again here on How-To Geek: the lens is as important, if not more important, than the camera to which it’s attached. If your photos are blurry because there are smudges on your lens, there’s nothing you can do to fix it in post. Even cleaning up dust spots is a pain. With that in mind, let’s look at how to keep your camera lenses clean.
Keep the Lens Cap On
If you’re not using your camera, keep the lens cap on. If your lens is off your camera, make sure both lens caps are on. It’s really that simple: keeping the lens caps on your lenses means they’re not exposed to all the dust particles in the air and you can handle them without fear of your grubby fingers leaving smudges.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should jealously protect your lenses, only removing the lens cap when you have the perfect shot lined up. Lenses are surprisingly durable—so long as you don’t practice your field goal technique with them—and, as we’ll see, easy to clean. If you’re wandering around a city taking a few photos, your camera should be on and the lens cap off. It’s just that while your camera is sitting at home or in your bag, you should leave the caps on.
Think When You Shoot
Dust and smudges are going to come from two sources: the outside environment and you. If you think a bit about where you’re shooting and how you handle your lenses, it’s much simpler to keep them clean.
Seaspray is notorious among landscape photographers for its ability to smudge a lens. A small droplet lands on the front element and, even if you wipe it away or the water evaporates, it leaves the salt behind. It’s a matter of a second to wipe it clean, you just need to think to do it.
If you’re working in a dusty, wet, or otherwise particle filled environment, ignore my advice above about lens caps and keep them on. Also, avoid pointing your lens directly into the wind/spray/whatever until you’re ready to start shooting.
Similarly, when you’re changing lenses or otherwise handling your camera, don’t touch the front element. Just keep your dirty paws away from the glass and it will stay clean! You also shouldn’t leave an exposed lens sitting facing up: dust particles in the air will settle on them.
Carry a Microfiber Cloth
Most landscape photographers own more microfiber clothes than underwear. They’re really cheap and super handy. If there’s any dirt or smudges on your lens, just grab a cloth from your bag and give it a wipe down. If one cloth gets dirty, just grab another. After I have my camera set up for a landscape shot, I normally give the lens a quick wipe down just in case.
Pretty much any microfiber cloth will do. I’d suggest buying a heap of them—like this 30-pack on Amazon for $19—and treating them as near-disposable. Toss a few in any bags you own, leave one in the car (it’s also good for cleaning your sunglasses), and otherwise just keep them available. Every so often run them all through your washing machine.
Do the Occasional Thorough Clean
No matter what you do, your lenses will occasionally need a decent clean. The good news is it’s really simple to do and you only need a few things: an air blower, soft brush, microfiber cloth, and lens wipe or lens pen.
The process is easy:
- Use the air blower, microfiber cloth, and soft brush to clean away any particles that are sticking to your lens.
- Take the lens wipe or lens pen and, starting from the center of the lens element, rub circles outwards cleaning away any smudges.
- The final step is to take the air blower and brush and give the inside of the lens caps a good clean too; there’s no point cleaning your lens if the lens cap is just going to throw dust right on top of it as soon as you’re done.
Keeping your lenses clean requires very little effort and your photos will look better for it. You should also consider cleaning your camera’s sensor—although that process is a bit more involved.