Copper Hill Images
CCD/CMOS Cleaning Tutorial

Welcome to the home of the "Copperhill" sensor cleaning method. We hope you learn a few things in this tutorial and have a little fun in the process. Once you get a grasp of the basics, please browse through our store where we offer only the BEST sensor cleaning products available.
BUT FIRST - check your sensor right now for dust. Take a shot of the clear blue sky stopped at f/22 (do not blow out the highlights). On your camera's LCD, zoom in to the image to around 100% then use the scroll-wheel to inspect it. Any fuzzy dark spots you see are dust specks. Surprised?

FAQ: Why should I worry about dust on my sensor?

1) A heavy buildup of dust will cause a loss of contrast in your images and will show up as spots in your light backgrounds.

2) If you shoot landscapes, macro or portraits, dust will appear in your photos, even stopped down to f/5.

3) Time & money - sending your camera in to the manufacturer every time dust builds up to a major degree will find you without your camera for 5 to 10 days at a time and will cost anywhere from $35 to $75 for each cleaning. A $29 cleaning kit should last you at least 4 years.
NOTE: Chuck Westfall of Canon USA has made this point on numerous forums and has recommended this CopperHill tutorial and products as one of several effective solutions in the marketplace.

4) The dust-shakers in the latest D-SLRs are a hit-or-miss proposition, some units seem to work a little better than others. Most of them can move the loose specks around but all of them are totally useless against chamber lubricant.

5) CHAMBER LUBRICANT - the new bane of D-SLRs. Manufacturers are using more and more lightweight oil on the moving parts and when you take a shot, it sometimes gets splattered on your sensor's surface. And once you have a buildup of this lubricant, it only follows that loose dust specks will be cemented into this goo. So it's not just a dust problem, it's a dust/lubricant problem.

6) Cloning out a spot or two in Photoshop is no big deal, but when we're talking about dozens and dozens of spots, you WILL spend a great deal of time with the repairs. Landscape, portrait and macro shooters especially need to have their images dust-bunny-free, and this need is amplified further if you are a professional.

The "Copperhill" Method

If you are reading this now, you probably know that an imaging sensor is a fabulous dust magnet which needs to be cleaned regularly. These filters (anti-aliasing or low pass on a CCD, IR dichroic on a CMOS) are mounted on top of the actual sensor chip with a small gap of airspace between the two. When people refer to "sensor" cleaning or swabbing, it is these filters that will be wiped with a swab, and not the actual CCD or CMOS. Other than making your light background images look like a case of chicken pox, a moderate to severe accumulation of dust particles will cause a noticeable loss of contrast in your images. That's why keeping your sensor dust-free is so critical and necessary to D-SLR photography.

There are two kinds of dust particles you'll have to deal with: loose specks that will just move around on the sensor, and "super-stuck" particles, which have the same characteristics as dried-up bug-splat on a car windshield. There are many theories as to how they become this way (the dust specks, not the bugs), including internal condensation along with temperature and humidity changes. What has become even more of a PITA to us is the already alluded to chamber lubricant.

The major D-SLR manufacturers are notorious for selling brand spanking new cameras, pre-loaded with dust. You must try to stay calm, though, because if you send it back and get a second one, the odds are overwhelming that it too will be just as dusty. OK, so let's go to the user manuals. The recommended procedures in most user's guides are actually humorous in how ineffective they are. After doing exactly what was specified, including the oh-so-elegant-and-ever-so-dainty "POOF" from a bulb blower, we could hear the dust-bunnies laughing. We sent our first D-SLR back to the manufacturer for cleaning, and when it returned, it had the exact same number of dust specks as before, 28, to be precise, but they were nice enough to have rearranged all 28. Here's how one manufacturer sent a camera back after a cleaning:

Hearing from others who had the same results with Nikon, Canon, et. al., we realized that this would get us nowhere fast, so we set out to find a good working method of self-cleaning the sensor. In our relentless search. we came across a method which utilized home-made or pre-made sensor swabs, along with methanol. These particular swabs are wrapped with a special lint-free cloth and the tip is moistened with a few drops of methanol. This liquid makes the dust particles stick to the cloth for removal; a dry cloth will only push the dust around the sensor. In addition, methanol turned out to be the greatest weapon against the dastardly "chamber-lube".
, man!!!! we immediately knew we were onto something.

As you work your way through this tutorial, what we've already touched on will be explained and illustrated in great detail, so don't worry if this is all new to you right now. The important point to keep in mind is that your D-SLR, along with all of your lenses and accessories, are quite a sizeable investment. Sensor maintenance will require you to choose the tools and method necessary to protect the performance of your camera and the integrity of your images - it's a VERY IMPORTANT DECISION.

Sky_Blue.jpgCheck how much dust you really have by shooting the sky stopped at 22, then view the image at actual pixels in Photoshop. You can also view the test-shot right on your camera's LCD monitor by zooming in to 100% and scrolling across the image. If you don't have a daytime sky available now, click on this thumbnail and follow the directions below the image. This test is every bit as reliable as shooting the sky, and you can do it anytime of the day.
Another way to check for dust is to use a tool like a sensor loupe. This magnifier allows you to keep your test shots to a minimum and speeds the whole process up nicely.

At the end of this tutorial, we hope you will be much better able to decide which tools and method to use when you're ready to clean your sensor.

NOTE: Here's a great example of how the CopperHill system works. The first camera had never been cleaned beforehand and the second was a brand new 50D right out of the box. Click HERE.

THE PERFECT SWAB! The SensorSwipe has been redesigned with an "hourglass" figure to work in conjunction with our QuikStrips, which in turn makes it the easiest swab to prepare and the most efficient swab to use. Just drape the QuikStrip over the tip, attach with tape or a rubber band and you're ready to go. The tapered head allows you to get right up to the sidewalls. There is NO other sensor "wand" with this design and there is NO other company selling QuikStrips.HERE

If you are running Capture NX2, you know it is an awesome software for NEF files. But if you don't have the time required to experiment and gradually learn the intricasies. I have found the perfect compliment for NX in two eBooks - "The Photographer's Guide to Capture NX (1 & 2)". You'll go from the basics to advanced applications along with an included group of settings to use for portraits and landscapes. These e-books pick up where your NX user manual leaves off and ushers you into a professional image editing workflow. Click HERE.


You are here >Introduction
#2 - A Close Look
#3 - Preparing a Copperhill Swab
#4 - Swabbing Illustration
#5 - Important Points
#6 - Tips & Links


Many thanks must go to Dave Etchells for the following comments. As far as digital cameras go, you will not find a more knowledgeable guy on the internet, along with a great imaging-resource in his

I just wanted to say a hearty "thanks" for your excellent SensorSwipe sensor-cleaning product, and your incredibly detailed and useful website detailing the "Copper Hill" cleaning method. In a market dominated by absurdly overpriced products and ludicrous advertising claims, it was such a relief to find your simple, elegant, cost-effective method and products. The SensorSwipe kit worked exactly as advertised, the first time, and the excellent tutorial material you provide made the whole process straightforward and worry-free. I don't often make unqualified recommendations regarding a product, but I'm happy to do so for SensorSwipe: Literally every digital SLR owner should have a SensorSwipe kit and learn to use it. Congratulations on a great product, and thanks for your dedication in making it available at an affordable price. -
Dave Etchells, Imaging Resource.


Diligently keeping a clean sensor may be considered "anal-retentive" by many D-SLR users, and that's fine. But we think it makes perfect sense to let these incredible sensors do their work without any interference from dust and crud. And if you don't mind 10, 20 or 30 dust specks on your sensor, one day you may wake up and have 100 to deal with, which will require dozens of wet swabbings to clean up. Think of it as "D-SLR Hygiene". If you try to keep your lens as clean as possible at all times, why on earth wouldn't you do the same for your sensor? The choice is yours.



"I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member"............Groucho Marx

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