Review: Sensor Cleaning & the Arctic Butterfly

One of things I've done poorly so far is clean my camera's sensor. It seems as though I keep finding new ways to screw it up. I started with a Delkin kit that seemed complete. It includes a loupe with a light to view my sensor, several swabs & cleaning fluid, and a little USB-powered vacuum cleaner. Quite honestly, I didn't really trust the vacuum cleaner. A quick review of the Internet confirmed that many people thought the same thing; this is not something you want rubbing up against your sensor.

Unfortunately for me, the sensor swabs didn't work out well at all. I took a relatively clean sensor with a few specks of dust and turned it into one full of streaks from too much liquid on the swab. Most of the articles I read claimed this was a common newbie mistake – too much fluid. Just use less and try it again. OK, I tried that. Even with one drop, it was still smearing. I surrendered and took it to the camera store and let someone better than me clean it. $35 and he did a great job.

I learned about the VisibleDust Arctic Butterfly from KelbyTraining.com (I think it was also on D-Town or Photoshop User). It seemed like a good idea, so I bought it. The idea is reasonably simple; it spins around to charge the brush fibers so they pick up the dust (it's like a Sesame Street experiment with static electricity). That's when I discovered it does something else. It smudges my sensor.

Smudge of Shame

This is the darkest exposure from the HDR I did of the AT-AT in Disney's Hollywood Studios. The smudge seem to show up better against the dark sky, rather than the brighter exposures. This is what I got from using the Arctic Butterfly.

I took my camera back to have it cleaned, but the same guy who did such a great job before told me he couldn't clean this one. The smudge isn't on the surface of the sensor, but under the AA filter (or so he hypothesized). The net result is that I need to send it elsewhere to have the sensor cleaned, either back to Nikon or a repair shop. It's usable, but I just have to clone out this stuff on every image.

Having just now learned of this issue, I searched the Internet and found several threads describing this problem. The Arctic Butterfly apparently smears the lubricants in the edge of the sensor and gives this result. This means I've spent more money on another piece of crap that I'll never use again (like the USB vacuum cleaner).

I don't have a good replacement solution yet, but I can't advise anyone to use this brush knowing the results you'll get. Avoid the VisibleDust Arctic Butterfly.

UPDATE: I contacted Southern Photo in Orlando to describe the problem. The good news is that he tells me you can't get lubricant under the AA filter. It could be something resolved as easily as a more detailed cleaning process for about $45. The bad news is that it could be a damaged sensor. That would cost me roughly $450.

Damn you, VisibleDust.

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