Field Tested on Tanna
Cleaning your camera while traveling
can be a nightmare. Without a local
camera lab, how are you supposed
to keep your sensor clean? Dust is
an inevitable part of any camera
system where you change lenses.
But a new approach could make
this painful process a little easier.
Suck or Blow
No this is not the name of a new reality game show, it is the concept that has plagued optics since their inception. Its it better to remove dust through a vacuum or by using a blower? Since I am not, nor will I ever be, a camera repair specialist, I need simple cleaning tools for my cameras. Dummy proof cleaning is a huge advantage for me. When it comes to cleaning the lens elements or getting those pesky dust spots from the sensor, I do not want to pull out a manual for every cleaning. Most of the time, I am in a dusty location without a truly clean place in site. The conventional recommendation for cleaning your camera abroad is to use the hotel bathroom. The tile or stone walls will have a least amount of dust. But what do you do if you are not in a hotel and the bathroom is nothing more than a room with a toilet?
Following Mom’s Advice
My mother, as much as I would have denied it as a child, is a very sensible woman. While I was convinced that her cleaning techniques were designed to drive me insane, it turns out she knew what she was doing. Lets think about the difference between cleaning with a vacuum or cleaning with a feather duster or a leaf blower for a second. As a conceptual exercise, lets get out of the tiny world of camera sensors and step into the Living Room.
As a ten year old, I would have preferred to clean the house with a leaf blower. Its fun, interactive, and powerful. Once that blower is turned on, no piece of dust will go undisturbed. The only problem is after kicking up all the dust, the only thing I will have accomplished is moving it from one place to another. My mother never did allow me to use the leaf blower. In fact, she did not even like feather dusters. They were cute toys for the cats, the were not for cleaning? “Why can’t we use one?” I asked. She said because all it does it take the dust on the shelf and spread it around the room.
Fast forward twenty years and I am managing the completed construction of a multi million dollar New York apartment. I am throwing a fit because all of the new woodwork in the Library needs to be wiped clean. It was an argument I would have with professional cleaners on every job. NO Dusters! They only move the dust, they don’t clean s**t! OMG, I have just utter a sailors version of my Mother’s words. Damn she was right and “Sorry for cursing, Mom.”
It may have taken me twenty years to understand that when something needs cleaning it does not need dusting. Vacuuming is cleaning, dusting is for underpaid actresses in maid’s costumes. So when I was given the Green Clean Vacuum Cleaning Kit, it seemed like a perfectly logical solution to the traveling photographers nagging problem of dusty equipment.
What Does It Do?
We are all familiar with the Dust Off cans for cleaning computers or cameras, right? Green Clean Vacuum Cleaner does not look much different. It is a spray can with a little screw on plastic attachment and a small hose. Think of a tiny version of the hose the dentist leaves in your mouth to keep you from drooling. The huge difference is that the attachment allows the compressed air to work like a vacuum. When you press the release button on the can, the hose vacuums air with enough force to pick sand up off of the floor. I tested it on my finger first just to feel its strength. Its strong enough to lift a piece of paper, but not an entire book.
How Did I Use It?
When I was on Tanna (Vanuatu) I stayed in a wooden bungalow with woven bamboo walls. They room was not sealed in any way. One night I actually woke up and found a rat eating my bar of soap. When I shined my head lamp on him he ran out of the room. He escaped under the door. This should give you an idea of the porous nature of the building. As a result there was no dust free bathroom to clean my camera sensor.
One huge advantage of a vacuum system over a blower system is you can look your enemy in the face? When I use a rocket blower, the technique I was shown by the guys at Nippon Camera Clinic was the flip the camera upside down, so the dust “falls” to the ground after each blow. Only problem is you can actually see what you are doing, unless you lie on the floor and hold the camera over your head. With the vacuum cleaner, I set up a spot on the bed and used my Petzl camping head lamp. With the bright light I could actually see most of the dust spots on the sensor. Then, holding the vacuum hose just above the sensor (Note: don’t touch the surface of the sensor with the hose) I made a number of passes like I was mowing the lawn. Some stickier pieces of dust required a few passes until they were shaken loose. Then I traced the interior of the sensor cavity while I was in there. I figured, if I am cleaning up, might as well do a thorough job.
Why Did I Need This?
Tanna is a volcanic island in the middle of the pacific no paved road. Dust, sand, and forest pollen are everywhere. It is part of the charm of a remote location. The flip side of an untouched location is the dust. Its everywhere, literally. Whether its the odd passing truck kicking up dirt on the road or sand blowing through a coastal village, dust and I were united against my will for the entire stay. To compound this further, I was occasionally changing lenses between my Leica 28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/2.0, and 90mm f/2.0 (the 90mm was provided by Photo Village). There was no getting around the dust. After a few days of work, there were speckles showing up in the skies of my pictures. It was time to give the Green Clean Vacuum system a test.
Did It Work?
The Full Sensor cleaning kit comes with a can of air, its matching hoses, and pre-packaged wet and dry swabs. The swabs are pre-loaded with non-alcohol cleaning liquid, so all you have to do is open them and use them. But first I needed to vacuum. Its always a good idea to dust your sensor before cleaning it with any swabs. As it turns out the vacuum cleaned all of the visible dust from the sensor. I traced the edges of my lenses while I was at it. The test shots looked good. The dust spots were gone. I did not even need to use the sensor swabs.
Since I have been back in New York I had a chance to test the swabs and they worked quite well. A few passes with the wet swabs followed by the dry swap and the sensor was really clean. Now I cannot say it was Leica factory clean because I have never been to the factory. But as a practicing photographer it was cleaner than anything I have ever tried before and looked (under a lit magnification) to be dust free.
Things I did Like about Green Clean
- Its simple. I don’t have time to fuss with a complicated system while I am working abroad. I skimmed the directions and only read them in full afterwards. Its idiot proof.
- Its has many uses. Vacuuming is a superior way of managing dust instead of blowing. It turns out I can use the vacuum on the lens elements, on the inside of my Hasselblad body, and on negatives (particularly mounted slides). The hose is long enough to comfortably reach the rear element on larger Zeiss lenses.
- Its compact. Weight is always an issue when traveling. I packed this in my checked luggage and it added very little weight and was not a problem for any airport security. I would not take it as a carry on unless you want to get a serious lashing from the TSA.
- It did not break. The hose fits on to the screw top mount which keeps the whole system secure as you are working. When I was done, it broke down easily and went back into the bag.
- Its green. This one is compelling, but something I have no clarified yet. I can’t understand how something in a spray can can be called green. Its in an aluminum can (which is not green), has plastic parts (which may be green, green-ish, or not at all) and it releases compressed air. Hmmm…I still want to talk to Green Clean about this idea, but I like that they are at least sensitive to the idea of making a healthier product. My hunch would be that as their technology improves they will gravitate towards cleaner and cleaner options. When I think of my photography career as a whole, most of the process is an environmental nightmare. Happy to see that steps are being taken to improving the chemical compositions of some of the products. I am not looking for miracles. Its good to see a step in the right direction. Once I get some more info I will let you know.
Things I did Not Like about Green Clean
- It does not come with any travel case. I carried it in the cardboard box you would see on the shelf. Though they do make a travel kit, I have not seen it yet.
- The kit will not last forever. Ok, so this is wishful thinking. My Rocket Blower will never expire, but then again, it does not do the same job. The Green Clean is cheaper than a trip to the lab (the kit I took would about $99 and is good for about 5-10 cleanings) and its more efficient that using a blower.
- Its hardly available in North America. The company is based out of Austria, so its easy to get a hold of in Europe.
- My only question is the “green” label, but we will see how that flushes out.
I was not paid in any way to try the Green Clean System. I had never heard of them before they were introduced to me. But I think the product is heads and shoulders above alternative systems, which by the way cost about three times as much. I was given this kit free of charge, but for the $99 retail price I would definitely buy one.
Since I got back from Tanna, I have a few other products of theirs to test out. Why have I decided to test their other products? Because the kit I tried worked really well and I am considering offering them initially through the site, until they are available in shops in NYC and the greater US. What fun is it to read about a cool product and then hear, “Yes you can order it from Europe if you would like.” I wanted to save everyone the torture.
Does that make me biased towards them, yes it does. Just as I am biased towards Leica, Hasselblad, Gitzo, Ilford and all the other products that I buy for my photography. I like good quality products and none of the products I use, in my opinion, are perfect. But since people come to the site as a resource for trusted information, I only believe in vouching for products that I would use myself.
Here is another review to offer you a slightly different take on Green Clean: