Sensor Cleaning and dust on the Nikon Z 6

I have quickly learnt that sensor dust on the Nikon Z 6 is going to be more of an issue than on previous cameras.

It does make sense of course, a large full-frame sensor, exposed and very close to the lens opening, however it is still a frustration. I suspect most Z users are working with zoom lenses more than primes, likely the very popular 24-70 f4. However as I prefer primes, I accept I will be making more lens changes than most and therefore will be more susceptible to a dirty sensor.

I am cautious when changing lenses, to do so quickly and in a clean environment. Generally a quick blast of air with a bulb blower clears the few specs that appear from time to time, however for the first time since buying my Z 6 just under six months ago, I had a stubborn spot in the centre of the sensor that was pretty noticeable and given the position, was often difficult to remove effectively in post production.

Nikon Z 6, Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S  - at f/16 the central dust spot is very visible

Nikon’s official guidance, to operate the “clean image sensor” function from the setup menu failed to clear it, as did the dust blower on this occasion. The easy and manufacturer recommended option would be a trip to Fixation in Vauxhall, a Nikon Authorised service centre who offer a “while you wait” clean for £66. Given my experience that the camera does seem susceptible to dust, the cost and inconvenience of doing this every few months seemed high, so I decided this was something I should be doing myself.

Some basic research pointed to the Visible Dust brand being high quality and trusted - a good range of well thought out, tried and tested products. £34 and a day later my Visible Dust EZ Cleaning Kit Plus arrived from WEX. Visible Dust do a range of wet sensor cleaning products - combining three different fluids and two different swabs. The kit I chose seemed to be the most general purpose, green swabs with the VDust Plus liquid, described by the manufacturer to remove “stains of unknown origins, water and most oil stains”.

The kit comprises a basic sensor brush that I haven’t used, a small 1.15ml bottle of fluid, sufficient for the five swabs also included. The MXD-100 Vswabs are a shaped piece of plastic wrapped at the tip with soft microfibre type fabric with width matching the sensor size. It does feel expensive for what’s actually in the box, but put in perspective for what’s likely to last over a year - one clean every few months - it’s not really costly and I certainly wouldn’t risk cheap no-brand alternatives.

The cleaning process is very quick and simple, especially with the ease of access to the sensor, presumably significantly easier than with a DSLR. The instructions advise “gentle pressure”. Given that this was my first time cleaning a sensor, I was very careful to use enough pressure to provide consistent positive contact, but not enough to begin to bend or flex the plastic swab handle. End result as expected was a clean sensor and a working camera.

Thinking further about sensor dust with mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, I do have two closing comments. Firstly, I think I have been spoiled by my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II - I have never had to clean the sensor - clearly the self-cleaning function is highly effective; in contrast the Nikon Z 6 cleaning function fails to remover dust specs that even a quick light blast with a bulb easily clear - the built in cleaning function seems fairly ineffective. Secondly, I fail to see why the shutter isn’t designed to close over the sensor when the camera is switched off - this single change would significantly limit exposure of the sensor to dust, moisture and other foreign objects; this seems so obvious and I can’t think of any disadvantage except perhaps a start up delay of a fraction of a second.

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