When Was the Last Time You Did This Maintenance on Your Gear?

When Was the Last Time You Did This Maintenance on Your Gear?

The ancient axiom "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" has long been regarded as wise advice. My father always said, "better safe than sorry," which saved me more times than I can count.

These sayings could not be more true when it comes to caring for expensive equipment, especially if your livelihood depends on it. This article is not one that simply implores you to "clean your camera gear." Like professions that inspect their equipment to prevent failures (like airline pilots), you should also perform specific maintenance and inspection actions on your equipment.

Cleaning Tasks

Sensor Cleaning

Sensor Cleaning is a task that many photographers regularly perform, primarily because they see the need for it while editing their images. Even particles that are too small to see with the naked eye can leave spots on your images. Sensor cleaning is always a balancing act between cleaning too often and dealing with a difficult spot to fix in post. You don't want to clean too often, as that increases the chance of damaging something. If you aren't comfortable with cleaning your sensor, have it done professionally when your sensor spots become challenging to remove in post-processing.

A note on blowers: Last year, I checked my sensor for spots, found a few, then attempted to use a blower to remove them. I failed miserably, depositing more dust onto the sensor than was initially there. Looking into the blower, I found that it had filled itself with dust from my camera bag. If you're going to store your blower in your camera bag, make sure it's in a plastic bag or has a cap over the nozzle.

A good rocket blower is a must, however don't forget that they must be kept clean also.

It should also be noted that you should not clean your DSLR mirror or focus screen as they are very easily damaged and leave that for a professional service company.

The second most common maintenance task many perform is lens cleaning. Most photographers clean the elements with a brush, wipe, or blower. You should also occasionally clean the electronic contacts on the lens and the lens flange. The lens flange is the closest thing to the body opening; any debris on there can easily make it's way to the sensor.

While you're at it, clean the lens cap. I've often watched people clean the front element on their lens and then pull a dirty lens cap out of their pocket and slap it on the front of the lens.

Card slot dust and debris can occasionally cause card read errors. This problem is rare with SD cards, but CF cards have small holes that can easily pick up debris and cause card insertion or reading issues. It doesn't hurt to blow dust and debris from the card slot occasionally.

Viewfinder cleaning is another obvious maintenance task that is better to perform at home when you have cleaning materials. Often we notice this in the field and have to use just a lens cloth. Never use your shirt, fingers, or anything cotton, as these can scratch or leave marks on the glass. 

It doesn't make much sense to clean your camera, only to place it back into a dirty camera bag. It would be best if you regularly vacuumed your camera bag to remove anything that could damage or dirty your camera or lenses. While cleaning your bag, it's an excellent time to evaluate what you have in your bag, and if you really need it.

Regardless of whether you have a budget tripod or expensive "pro" tripod, they always need maintenance. Cleaning the areas that slide or rotate can significantly extend the life of a tripod. A good cleaning can also reduce the likelihood of transferring grime to your camera or lens.

Inspection and Prevention Tasks

Not only can it be inconvenient to find something that needs repair while out in the field, but you're also less likely to notice it when you're busy shooting. 

Strap connections are one of the most common causes of cameras crashing to the ground. An improperly attached strap or a worn connection can be a game-ender. Inspect your buckles, clasps, rings, and other items to ensure they are in proper working order.

This is one of my old wrist straps that has seen a fair bit of use. When you see signs of fraying or wear, it may be time to replace it.

Inspect doors and latches to ensure that there are no loose screws or hinges. Don't forget to check your tripod for loose screws as well. Now is an excellent time to not only make sure all of the screws are tight but that you also have the correct tool in your camera bag in case you need it in the field.

If your lens has a weather seal, check that it is not damaged. A friend of mine recently noticed that his Sigma weather seal was damaged. If you depend on the weather seal and its damage, it could prove to be quite expensive.

The tiny weather seal on some lenses is vitally important, but easy to forget to inspect.

Don't forget to inspect your camera weather-sealing also. The battery door and memory card door seals could be damaged if you're not careful, or could simply get worn out. While you're inspecting your camera, check for loose or missing screws along with the condition of the tripod socket and tripod plates if you have one installed.

Camera straps can be an expensive point of failure. If your strap has leather portions, scrutinize them as leather can often give way without the normal fraying that is usually easily visible with synthetic materials. While you're at it, make sure your camera bag straps, zippers, and clasps are in good shape.

Conclusion

Not only will regular maintenance prevent even worse damage to your gear, but it also helps with resale value. I would be that almost everyone has seen a lens for sale that has grime in the groves of the rubber lens rings. It may only take a few seconds to notice a problem that could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to fix later.

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7 Comments

Lee Christiansen's picture

Remembering of course that many cameras have a direct line of sight through the card slots to the sensor, (or to put it better, they may not be air tight) - so a blast of air to clean the slots may often deposit a nice chunk of dust on the sensor.

mike d's picture

Remember that 2nd or 3rd backup flash or trigger set that you only pull out once a year? Make sure you didn't leave the batteries in it, especially the cheap ones that came with the unit. I always use rechargeable AAs, but some gear uses other sizes. Pull out even fresh batteries and use a ziplock bag or battery case. This way, even if they leak, they don't destroy equipment.

Mark Harris's picture

And rarely-used items with Li-on batteries - charge them twice a year so they don't discharge completely and die. I do mine when I change the clocks.

Jan Holler's picture

Check the clock battery of your camera (like Nikon D pro bodies, Canon 1D and 5D) every second year.

Kirk Darling's picture

Inspection, yes. "Periodic cleaning," maybe not. Clean when inspection discloses dirt.

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

My DSLR hardly ever but my mirror less almost every other week