How Scratch-Proof Is a Camera Sensor?

Most photographer's anxiety levels shoot through the roof if they leave their camera sensor exposed for more than a few milliseconds. Question is, how much abuse can our sensors really take? Don't try this experiment at home, kids.

I have to admit that I fall into the camp of feeling anxious when my sensor is not guarded by a lens or a body cap. For me, it's more to do with foreign bodies entering the camera and causing unnecessary sensor cleaning than actual sensor damage itself. If you shoot in more dramatic circumstances, then the risk of something happening increases, but do we need to be so cautious?

This week, Arthur Reutov explores this very subject by testing how scratch-proof a camera sensor is. In this instance, Reutov abuses the sensor from a Sony mirrorless camera by exposing it to many of the items it could come into contact with while out in the field. Dust, dirt, oils, and a knife are the things that the poor sensor in question is exposed to in this experiment. While the test in the video is more extreme than many of our cameras will hopefully ever have to experience, it's interesting to see how much the sensor can actually take.

The video also shows some good techniques for cleaning your camera and how gravity and a dust removal tool can be your best friend when trying to not scratch the surface of your sensor. The tool featured is something I have never used myself, but for such a small investment, I think it would be worth adding one to your arsenal. A replacement sensor would cost significantly more.

Do you wrap your camera in cotton wool? Have any sensor cleaning techniques or horror stories? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Paul Parker's picture

Paul Parker is a commercial and fine art photographer. On the rare occasion he's not doing photography he loves being outdoors, people watching, and writing awkward "About Me" statements on websites...

Log in or register to post comments

Horror story for the customer:

A number of years ago I worked at a very large photo retailer. One day a very angry customer who we had never seen before brought in a Nikon D3s for sensor cleaning. Their demeanor was very angry but at least the customer wasn't directing it at us. So while I was getting ready to check the camera in, the manger walked up and looked at it, took off the body cap and triggered the shutter in Bulb mode, all in front of the customer.

There was a 1/2 inch long gouge across the center of the sensor and when the customer was shown it, they got even angrier. We asked if they knew it was there and when the camera was handed back to them they loudly said "Ok, FINE!" and stormed out of the store.

Their horror story continued, I'm sure.

Great to see there not too delicate. I would have liked to see sand though I feel it's the most likely abrasive to get in your camera. Also would have been great to see the sensor installed and what the results looked like.

I started cleaning my own sensors when the local camera store started charging $60 to do it, and they didn't even do a good job. When I got my Hasselblad X1D there was no way I was going to let those clowns touch it. The medium format swabs are expensive and so are the Smear Away & Sensor Clean solutions, but after you do it a time or two, it's really easy. Saves a ton of time and money, and I can do a dozen cleanings for the price of two at the shop, plus I know it's done right.

10 minute video, makes its point but compresses nicely to "just get the crud off, any way that works".

I own a D600, so I had to learn how to clean my sensor every month or so... It's not so hard, if you're gentle...

I always check for sensor dust before I leave home and keep some tools in my bag just in case...Including a knife :P

The Visible Dust Quasar is AWESOME!

Spent $2,000 to replace my sensor after two different camera stores used those lollipop cleaners that stick to the surface and pull off dust. I had some oil on the sensor (from the cameras internal box) and they tried to clean it with the lollipop. The lollipop left goop and a sticky mess. I sent it to Canon for cleaning and it was so bad they had to replace the sensor. Canon charged you $2000 to fix that and you're complaining somebody gummed up your sensor? I accidentally destroyed my sensor AND my shutter on my D600 and Nikon charged me $370 to fix 'em and ship that sucker back to me...

I would recommend the VSGO cleaning swabs and liquid. Think it was the same pack shown in the video. I have a better solution for day to day use in my video.

Probably most of the readers know how to check it, but anyway: Put your lens to a f-stop of f/16 or smaller and take a shot to an evenly lit brighter surface (the sky e.g.) and then check out for dark spots on your image. The smaller the f-stop, the better you'll see it.

But make sure your lens is spotless clean before you needlessly blame and then risk the sensor.

That thumbnail gives me anxiety!