How to clean camera lens quickly

Matthew James Oxlade
Updated on

We’re not made of money, and we can’t afford to get our camera lenses professionally cleaned every time there’s a smudge or unknown splodge on the front-element. Knowing how to clean camera lens is important after you’ve made such an expensive investment in your hobby or professional career.

There’s a few things you can do to clean your camera lens quickly, which is particularly important to do frequently when you’re doing music photography in a photo pit.

Why you need to know how to keep your camera lens clean

Dirt, or a dirty front element on your lens, is the most common issue that leads to poor image quality. Whether you’re carrying a DSLR camera, or a smartphone, smudging happens and you need to clean your lens often.

Any smudge or piece of dirt on the lens surface will make your image less crisp and clear than it otherwise would be. It’s important to keep it clean before, during and after the shoot. In most instances, the lens will stay relatively clean unless you’re shooting in a dusty or messy environment.

When I photograph bands, the crowd often kicks or throws waterbottles or beers around. The liquid that hits my lens can create a smudge once its dried, and cause other image degradation issues during the show. There is nothing worse than having a great shoot and then after transferring your photos to the computer, that they are blurry or dull from the lens being dirty.

How to check if your camera lens needs cleaning

You can easily check for dust particles and smudges, but it’s something you should do before you head out with your camera.

Here’s how you can do a dirt-check on your camera if you have the time before a shoot.

Step 1 – Focus infinity

First, set your camera to manual focus and set the focus to infinity. If you’re not sure how to do that, simply move the focus ring to the infinity symbol. Pretty straightforward. You need to focus on infinity because we want to make sure that all pieces of dirt and dust will appear on the photo we take to check it.

Step 2 – Photograph a plain wall

Aim your camera at a flat, plain surface and take a photo. I find I get the best results from photographing a plain white or off-white wall. If you’re outdoors, take a photo of the blue sky if it’s a sunny day. Any consistent surface will also show the dirt well. Try to avoid photographing any surface that is too bright or too dark because it may make it difficult to spot the dirt.

Step 3 – Check the photo

Either check the photo on the camera’s LCD, or transfer the photo to the computer and take a look. Zoom around the image on any areas that show dust or haze. Look for spots or soft areas of the image where the colour appears more dull than other areas in the image, or there is some other abnormality.

Step 4 – Clean it!

It’s time to clean. All good, in most cases, it’s really easy.

What cleaning gear you need

Cleaning your camera lens is really easy with the right tools. Fortunately, all of the tools you can use are super cheap. They often have substitutes you can use that you might already have around the house for other purposes.

All of the below cleaning tools won’t damage the lens elements and are super simple to use.

Tool 1 – LensPen

This tool is my favourite cleaning solution while I’m on-the-go. A LensPen has two ends and is shaped like a pen. On one end, there are detracting bristles that can be used to wipe away loose dirt and dust. Once you’ve wiped away the dirt and dust from your lens, switch to the other end of the pen to finish the job.

Use the carbon cleaning end and wipe the lens in a circular motion. I never use any cleaning liquid because the LensPen does such a great job. I always have one or two in my camera bag.

Tool 2 – Microfiber cloth

Microfibre cloths are my second preference for cleaning my camera lens quickly. I normally have a cleaning cloth in my pocket that I pull out if anything (normally liquid at shows) gets on my lens. I wipe in circular motions just like I do with the LensPen.

Tool 3 – Air Blower

A few puffs of air can be all you need to blow away some of the loose dirt that sits on the front of your lens. Air blowers are super cheap at around $10 from most camera stores, and come in different sizes.

How to clean camera lens

I mentioned above how to use some of the tools, but there is one thing you should always do when cleaning your camera lens – take your time.

Clean slowly with only as much pressure as you need to wipe it off. Use circular motions, and don’t forget to go slow!

An example of why you should learn how to clean your camera lens
During this Dune Rats show, the humidity really affected the front of the lens. The front of the lens was clean, but it still needed a microfiber cloth wipe every song or two. Those sweeping lens flares are from the humidity causing fogging on the front element.

How do I keep my camera lens clean?

You can’t fully avoid putting your camera in for a professional clean. Here are three ways you can minimise the need to pay for a professional clean.

Tip 1 – Use a lens filter

Get a high-quality lens filter like the Hoya Pro 1D to cover the end of your lens. I like the Hoya Pro 1D because they don’t degrade the image like other lens filters do. If the front of your lens becomes damaged, you just need to get a new filter.

Tip 2 – Clean before and after shoots

Keep your gear clean by cleaning often. The longer dirt and grime sits on your lens, the harder it is going to be to get it off.

Tip 3 – Use your lens caps

When you’re not using a lens, put the lens cap on both ends. If the lens is attached to the camera body, put the front lens cap on. Even if you store your camera in a camera bag when it’s not being used, take the extra second to put the lens cap on.