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Lens Cleaning 101
Old 06-11-2006   #1
mike goldberg
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Lens Cleaning 101

This may sound basic, but the task has to be done right.

My beloved Olympus 35 RC had a spot at the edge of the front element, of the Zuiko 42mm f 2.8 lens. Tho' it did not really disturb picture taking, I couldn't live with it, and paid good money to replace the front element.

So then, what are the best ways to clean dust and oil smears from fingers... on lenses & filters?
We find our Destiny on the road we take to avoid it.
~ Carl Jung

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Old 06-11-2006   #2
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The same way it's always been done - use lens cleaner fluid and lens cloth. blow or brush off any dust particles first.
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Old 06-11-2006   #3
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I won't touch my lenses. It costs $10 for a pro at a camera shop near me to clean the lens and then I put a quality UV filter on the front. You might want to consider having a tech do the job...


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Old 06-11-2006   #4
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Some things not to do with regard to lens cleaning:

1) Don't use pressure (press down hard) when cleaning. You can clean through lens coatings.

2) Lens coatings on the rear or inner lenses are frequently softer than the coatings used on the front or external lens face. Even light cleaning can leave swirl marks or remove coating entirely.

3) Dust left on a lens surface is an abrasive. Cleaning with microfiber, cotton, or any other type of cloth can become effective sandpaper when the dust is put into solution by the cleaning fluid. Blow off as much dust as possible.

Now, a couple of other things to remember. A really large scratch, visible to the naked eye, is much less damaging to a lens' quality than a thousand micro-scratches that are generally caused by enthusiastic cleaning and can only be seen with magnification. An enlarger lens makes an excellent loupe (not 'lupe' or 'loop' if you please - sorry, spelling police here). With an enlarger lens and a small flashlight, you can examine any camera lens thoroughly. Without something along these lines, you cannot - simple as that. The naked eye will fail to detect serious problems with a lens caused by over or incorrect cleaning.

Having said all this - I've seen some really cruddy looking lenses that still produce outstanding photographs. I admit wanting to have pristine optics, feeling deep inside that only the very cleanest lenses will do - but the evidence is very much against me in 'real world' terms.

So I use lens cleaning solution (which I strongly suspect is just a form of alcohol) and q-tips (very carefully) and micro-fiber cloths (not all are created equally) to clean my lenses. However, I often let them sit around and get filthy, so I'm an idiot that way. Sigh.

Simply put - a very light careful touch, no matter what you do, is probably best.

Best Regards,

Bill Mattocks
Immanentizing the eschaton since 1987.
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Old 06-11-2006   #5
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Use a blower (canned or squeeze type) to remove big particals. Then get some clean white facial tissue (no scents or lotions) and optical cleaner.

Spray some on the tissue and wipe the lens. Fold over the tissue, spray and wipe again.

Very simple, very effective and always works. If you're in the U.S., Eckerd drug store sells optical cleaner for a very reasonable price. If you don't have optical cleaner, Windex will do -- it won't damage the lens coating.

I have cleaned a very large number of lenses in this manner and have never scratched a lens. And some of the lenses were disassembled and were bare lens elements.
-Mike Elek
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Old 06-11-2006   #6
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I use lens cleaning tissue and lens cleaner. Perhaps the composition of the lens cleaner fluid has changed over the years because I don't recall having the thin residue layer I get now in the 60's when I started. But that layer is easily removed after the initial cleaning by an application of breath and a new clean tissue. Most of my lenses have a UV filter in front of them or are covered with a lens cap when not in use so cleaning does not come up that often.

I used to be very pickey on the subject until I worked with a commercial photog here in Tucson in the 80's. The best photographer ( in both the technical and artistic sense) I have ever personally known . I was his assistant. We worked in medium and large format (6.45cm,4x5" and 8x10") split about 50/50 between studio and location shooting. At no time during the 2 years I worked with Don did he ever clean the lenses of his cameras. Or even blow the dust off. Granted neither one of us ever stuck a big thumb print on any of the lenses . They were dusty most of the time. And his results were spectacular. The chromes looked great on the light table and looked great in the magazine or brochure when printed.

I am not that laid back about it and I carry a small brush to clear any dust on the lens that I find. But I know that it really does not make much if any difference in the final result.

The above is of course not true in the darkroom.
Leica IIIa w/Summar 50mm f-2, Zorki 2c w/Industar 22 and 61 50mm, Yashica Electro 35 GS, Minolta x-700(2)w/28,50, 28-85,28-200mm, Minolta 7000 w/28-200mm lens, Mamiya C-3w/105 and 180mm, Rolleicord 1V w/80mm f-3.5 Zenar, Mamiya 645 w/ Mamiya f-4 210mm, f-3.5 150mm,f-2.8 55mm,Vega f-2.8 90mm, Mamiya f-2.8 80mm, Omega View cameras(2, "E" and "D") Schneider Zenar f-6.1 210 mm and Super Angulon f-8 90 mm, Graflex Crown Graffic w/ Optar f-4.5 150 mm, Minolta Z-1 Digital.

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Old 06-11-2006   #7
back alley
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i do as zeissfan does, except that i use a microfibre cloth, made or sold by pentax. they are larger and feel smoother.

i also use 'formula mc' from the filter connection - www.2filter.com -, the stuff is fantastic.

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Lens Cleaning 102
Old 06-11-2006   #8
mike goldberg
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Cool Lens Cleaning 102


Hi... Mike here in Jerusalem.
I want to thank you for your interest and the great variety in your replies. Since yesterday, I've been lucky enough to get some information locally, from those who know, in this part of the world.

The suggestion of "old underpants" is delightful, and I'll have more to say about that below.

Let's look at some VARIABLES. For the time being I'll stick to the front element of the lens, which is exposed to dust, grease smears from fingers and weather. It makes sense to carry a REAR CAP for protection of the rear element, when changing lenses.

So, we have:

- front element + coating
- filter
- lens shade

- lens housing }
- focusing ring } I mention this 2nd group primarily for one reason...
- f stop ring } KEEP THEM CLEAN.
- lens mount }

Let's return to the front end of the lens.
First BLOW AWAY the dust with a blower. Dust can be abrasive. I can imagine Jorge's cleaning operation after the sand storm shots!

The guy with the cotton underpants wasn't so far off! What follows, applies to DRY CLEANING of the lens, with NO solutions. I have been advised to use an old, worn, 100% COTTON T-shirt... that has been washed many, many times. It shows serious signs of wear, and you're ready to throw it out. No-no-no!... that cloth has more mileage in it. The microscopic roughness of the fabric, when new, has been worn off. So, cut it up into smaller cloths, about the size of the cleaning cloth one gets with new glasses, even a little bigger.

Then GENTLY clean the front element. Then BLOW AWAY any dust again. Remember, this is DRY cleaning.

The subject of filters, I'm afraid... opens an entirely new & different Thread, and that is: Degredation of the image when photographed through another air-glass surface. As a working Photojournalist, ALL my Nikkor lenses had Skylight filters, and most had lens hoods. My buddy in Jerusalem, Ruben, does not like filters over his optics, unless absolutely necessary.

If you are filtering a quality lens, then get the best filter money can buy.
So, how to protect an UNfiltered front element?

More advice from the Middle East: Have the appropriate METAL LENS SHADE for each & every lens. More than once, the bumps and dents that my lens shades sustained, saved a lens. My Leitz 90mm Elmarit f 2.8, has a Leitz 39mm UV filter, and the metal Leitz reversable lens shade. Heavy2stars, a Seller on eBay, has a wide variety of lens shades & stepdown rings [again, thanks to Ruben for this resource].

Now here's an inovative solution, again, from a man who works with a lot of cameras: Find or design lens caps that go over the front of the lens shades! Let me tell you, that after spending 75- bucks to change the front element on my Zuiko 42mm f 2.8, that is precisely what I did.

How then, to avoid "lens cap photography?" I've marked the INSIDE of the homemade lens cap, with Typex white marks on its INNER edge, so they can be seen through the viewfinder.

Well, that's grist for the mill of LENS CLEANING 103! My buddy Ruben feels that wet cleaning of a lens is akin to a "mini-surgical procedure." This I know: When I've cleaned lenses with solutions and lens tissues, there was invariable streaking.

I have found the individually wrapped, wet Zeiss Lens Cloths to be quite good, yet , there is still the likelyhood of streaking. The link below was the first one that showed up in Google, for the Zeiss Lens Cloths.


OK, keep it clean guys; thanks for your replies, and thanks for listening.
We find our Destiny on the road we take to avoid it.
~ Carl Jung

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Old 06-11-2006   #9
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Old cloth diapers, once the original owner is potty trained, make fine polishing cloths indeed. They also make a nice bench cloth when working on comeras. Avoid scratches and tiny screws don't bounce. With our youngest passing thirty, my stash is rather depleted now. Liked them better than used underwear.

That said, I now clean lenses (and not very often) with a micro fiber cloth I got from a reputable camera shop (not the freebe that you sometimes get with new glasses). Keep it in a zip lock and don't use it to clean my glasses; only lenses. Sometimes a dab of windex applyed with a q-tip (uae the q-tip once and throw it away).

I have heard it said that the thing to use was undied silk. Same as you use to wipe the blood off your Samari sword without maring the ancient mirror like polish.
Old enough to remember when I couldn't afford to buy the stuff I've bought on Ebay...
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Old 10-19-2006   #10
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I paraphrase from the 67 page B+W filter catalogue.
1. Use a blower brush for the big stuff.
2. Spit on it.
3. Wipe off gently with a microcloth in circular motions towards the center.


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Old 10-20-2006   #11
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When you buy a 2nd hand lens you may need to clean it.

Air dust it first, a can is ok if you cannot operate a bulb blower. A can can cold shock a lens and can deposit condensation in high humidity, (perhaps even on inside if you are unlucky).

Some lenses (say 5%) will have a solid residue that looks like real damage, if you are really patient with a qtip or cotton bud and water based lens cleaning fluid you may be able to remove this! Without any rubbing or friction, dampen the qtip and dab at the residue, a pack of 100 qtip is cheap... I think many people spit on them and dont remove the residue. I have bought lenses really cheap with this sort of 'damage' - one was perfect afterwards tusk tusk.

If the residue is close to the edge you are exposed to ingress of liquid which will mean lens spanner time, or off to repair person, to remove.

The lens rings are not water tight, rain needs a filter or brolly (umberella), - person friday with gulf brolly or tripod and threaded flash brolly.

Before you use anything to rub i.e. clean a lens, anticipate that the dust is quartzite sand because some of it will be, and sand can scratch even a modern hard and slippery coated lens.

When you get your 2nd hand lens as good as it is going to get, stick a hood or a hood and filter on it and leave it there. Don't clean the lens again. if you need to change filters be really careful.

A new lens does not need a clean, only a hood.

Then stick a cap on the hood a snap in or a push on will do, if the hood is rubber and does not have a thread mount then sell or frisbee, or replace the filter when it is damaged. The snap in generics caps will remove black paint from some hood interiors but standard black board acrylic or even the precursor blackboard paints (if thinned down) will have as black a finish as the OM's.

Your shelf queens need to each have a hood...

If you need to change a lens dont try it, Billy the Kid, fire exit style, stop, sit down, if necessary on ground, and if you drop the lens make sure it wont land hard, some lens have no rear element protection, normally expensive ones like 21mm Nikons etc, learn to juggle three ball but dont try it on lenses.

In life you are going to drop a lens, but there is no point in finger printing them and cleaning them and finger printing them and cleaning them, etc.

So the answer to how to clean a lens is to use Oscar Wildes advise to those about to be married, 'don't'.

For the last 13 months I've only used a Kiev (or Contax), apart from folders, Fed's, Zorki's, M2, etc.,... and a digital to record dismantle sequences...
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Old 10-21-2006   #12
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BTW: Is alcohol considered hamrful to lens coatings?
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Old 10-21-2006   #13
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Originally Posted by HansDerHase
BTW: Is alcohol considered hamrful to lens coatings?
Use only aged single malt scotch 12 years or better....seriously, I would avoid straight alcohol as a lens cleaner.

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Old 10-21-2006   #14
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BTW: Is alcohol considered hamrful to lens coatings?
Don't take this as gospel but I don't think so. First I blow the dust off. Then I use straight isopropyl rubbing alcohol with tissue or microfibre. Then I "polish" the streaks off by breathing moisture onto the lens and very very gentle wiping with microfibre or soft cotton cloth. I practice a lot but only on one side of the uv filter.
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