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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

A Negative Review

No matter where I look, I always read glowing reviews about the Visible Dust products used to clean digital camera sensors. Since one of the nice aspects of having a blog is to have a platform to voice one's own opinions, I think I will take the opportunity to do so by making some statements that, perhaps, many will disagree with. I know that most people have had excellent results with their Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly sensor brush, but some folks might like to hear a differing opinion before making a relatively expensive purchase.

Let me state that I absolutely hate sensor cleaning and therefore only do so when the need is more than a trivial one. I have always used the 'wet method'........the so-called Copper Hill method. It isn't any fun, and, personally, I find that it takes many attempts sequentially to get the sensor relatively clean. I also believe, as the Copper Hill website espouses, that it really is easy to do and difficult to harm the sensor. I have done it many times and removed even stubborn spots, cleaning relatively vigorously without any problems (of course, I can't guarantee you will have the same success).

But the Arctic Butterfly seemed to hold so much promise, seemed so.....well, easy and clean, and received so many glowing reviews that I thought my days of sensor aggravation were over. I was wrong.

At first, I got excellent results. But then, after one uneventful sensor cleaning, I found a nasty, gunky looking smear over a portion of the sensor that was worse than any piece of dust could be. After several vigorous wet cleanings it was successfully removed. Needless to say, I was quite concerned and assumed that somewhere along the line the brush had gotten contaminated. I cleaned it using the suggested method, but the brush actually broke (the original versions were made of quite thin and breakable plastic...this has been replaced in the newer versions with a much sturdier build).

Working under the assumption that I had contaminated the brush, and assuming that I could clean my camera's sensor quickly and safely with the product, I went and bought another. This time I got the current version which is much more substantial in build. The first clean was perfect, but the second swipe (which I did right after the first to get off some leftover particles) left me aghast. Again, I found the same nasty looking smear across the sensor that required quite a bit of wet cleaning to remove.

I took a deep breath once I got the smear off. I stepped back and checked out the Visible Dust website. It does clearly say that some cameras have manufacturing oils in the 'box' that encompasses the sensor and that they suggest first cleaning the box with a swab they sell in order to avoid just what had happened twice to me.....smearing oil over the surface of the sensor.
The only problem is that, to the best of my knowledge, I had never touched the brush to the inside of the box, as I had attempted cleaning extremely carefully. The only part of the 'box' that the brush had touched was the ridge of metal right at the very edge of the sensor on either side. And since the most amount of dust tends to collect at the edges of the sensor, touching this little ridge of metal with the brush can not be avoided. It also is a spot that I would not cavalierly clean with a large 'Chamber Clean' swab as it would be impossible to do so without also swabbing the sensor, a purpose for which this product was not made. Use in this area would also risk transferring oil to the sensor.

So, yes, the Arctic Butterfly can be used to quickly and painlessly clean the sensor BUT, on certain cameras, it can also, though far less frequently, make a mess of the sensor. The main reason I bought the brush was to take it on trips where I can't do a leisurely wet clean. These days that means any trip that requires airplane travel. So what would I rather have in those isolated circumstances, a 95% chance of a clean sensor with a 5% chance of a huge oil smear that I don't have the ability to clean, or a dusty sensor requiring a cloning job in Photoshop? I choose the cloning work any day.

In short, I think there is a real risk to the brush and I have totally given up using it. Let me make clear that, to me, this seems a potential problem with any dry brush cleaning method, not just the Visible Dust product. Let me also say that I recognize that the Visible Dust website does clearly state that this can be a problem and does also offer a potential solution. Nonetheless, and going against everything else that I have read on the internet, I give this product which, in my opinion, is quite overpriced, a big thumbs down. I know that this oil smearing problem has occurred to others as well.

Anyone want to buy a minimally used Arctic Butterfly? Mine is up for sale. Really.