Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Is it worth getting a professional optical path clean?

Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I clean my own sensor, I've written about it before in this article about do it yourself wet sensor cleaning. Shortly I'm departing on a trip to photograph the wonderful Victorian coast as I do once each year. This usually means lots of sunsets, sunrises and long exposures. The sunsets and sunrises are often bright and are often shot at f/16 or higher. A dirty sensor isn't a serious problem in your day to day shots as the spots won't show up because you are likely shooting at f/8 or less. You might see them in really bright areas or long exposures, especially in the sky. However, when shooting at f/16 or above (smaller hole) there is less light so the dust bunnies occlude it making the spots show up visibly in your images. To achieve good results without spending hours in the editing tool doing spot removal you must have a clean sensor.

This time around I elected to not clean my own, partly because I'm out of swabs and my liquid is out of date and partly because the camera hasn't been properly cleaned since it was purchased. I could certainly have bought more swabs and liquid and cleaned the sensor myself but I wanted to get the machine cleaned properly and to be honest, the fee isn't that much more than a set of swabs and liquid.

One of our photowalk sponsors, VinTech Camera Repairs provides what they call an optical path clean where they clean the sensor, the image box, the mirror, focus screen and view finder. It costs a little more than buying a set of swabs and liquid but you do certainly get more than a clean sensor. It is important to clean all areas of the mechanism from time to time as cleaning only the sensor alone leaves dust and grime in the image box sitting on moving components which will find its way onto your sensor sooner or later.

I thought I'd give VinTech a try, especially since the provider I've used for service and repair in the past has drawn out their service times to two weeks unless you pay a rush fee. I contacted Marty by email and he was fine with me bringing the camera in the next business day. He said it would be an hour or two then I could have it back. Vintech is a small business so service and reputation are important to Marty.

Marty at work on a camera

I dropped the camera off to their workshop in the city in the art deco Mitchell House, Level 5, 358 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Marty greeted me and we chatted about the work and how I found them. He accepted my camera, documented it and the lens I was leaving him and the work I wanted done and explained the minimum service charge and in this case the cleaning fee and said it would be ready in about two hours and said he'd call me if he discovered any problems.

I set off to wander around the city and returned a couple of hours later after doing some phoneography. I now know how to reliably lighten my camera bag - take the camera out! 

On arrival, I paid the fee and retrieved my now clean camera, a quick check through the viewfinder showed just how much had been cleaned away. I could clearly see the the grid lines on the focussing screen again and the viewfinder was spotless. The inside of the image box was also spotless. Of course there is only one way to check out a sensor clean properly and that's photograph something bright at f/22 and take a look. When I gave VinTech the camera there was a microscopic hair in the top left image corner and approximately 25 large spots visible at f/11 and up and around 40 smaller spots visible at f/16 and up and countless visible at f/22. On testing I find that no spots are visible until f/22 where there are eight faint ones that I had to work pretty hard to find on the big screen. This is as clean as I would make it myself. There were no streaks or marks on the sensor (as often happens when you do it yourself requiring a re-clean).

Overall I'm very happy with the result and even happier that the clean has a warranty. VinTech offer a one year warranty on their work and offer to re-clean the sensor if spots show up in the near future - they will, they're inescapable. The service was very personal, it was great to speak with the technician instead of the receptionist. 

I should point out that I paid the normal retail fee for this and VinTech are not giving me anything to write this blog. I'm writing it support a photography oriented local small business that I've had good service from and supports our photographic community here in Melbourne.