Your camera's lens is its window to the world. And that window gets exposed to just about everything -- wind, dirt, moisture and fingerprints.
Without a clean lens, image quality may suffer. Particles might create spots in your pictures, and smudges can warp light into streaks and colors that look fun but also ruin most pictures. Using correct processes is key to cleaning your lens effectively without causing streaks, or worse, scratches that permanently mar lens quality.
First, you'll want to remove excess dust and grime from the lens. Do this carefully and slowly to prevent scratches. Using a clean lens brush, tilt the camera lens downward and lightly use a circular motion to loosen debris, letting it fall to the floor. Use a few puffs of air from the brush's rubber bulb to push dust away, too.
The line where the edge of the lens meets the lens casing tends to trap dust more tightly. Gently work your brush into this edge to make sure you've dislodged the majority of dirt.
Check your work. If you tilt the camera lens toward a light at an angle, you'll be able to see whether or not you've removed most particulates. Usually you'll see a few stragglers that need more attention. Never wipe the lens if you see particulates on the lens surface, as doing so may gouge the lens.
After you've dusted off the lens, you can go to work on smudges and other oily residues. For this task, you'll need lens cleaning tissue, which you can buy at almost any store that sells cameras.
Before you wipe the lens, understand this cardinal rule -- the lens must always, always be moist before you wipe, otherwise you may cause scratches. The easiest way to moisten the lens is to simply open your mouth and breathe on the lens. Not only is this easier, but it's less messy and often just as effective as cleaning fluid.
Once the lens is fogged over, gently wipe the lens with fresh tissue paper using a circular motion. Repeat for stubborn smudges.
You can use the same process to clean any filters you might use for your camera. And don't forget to clean the lens cap, which tends to trap dust that eventually winds up on the lens, too.
Some people advocate the constant use of clear filters to protect lens surfaces, especially when using expensive SLR lenses. Doing so will certainly protect the front lens element from scratches and dirt, but filters (especially cheap filters) do negatively affect image quality, so you'll have to consider that tradeoff.
As you can see, keeping your camera clean doesn't take a lot of time or money -- just a bit of diligence on your part. Keeping dirt to a minimum will maintain your camera's performance and resale value.
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