Keeping a lens clean – The best lens cloth?

As a professional yachting photographer the thing that always makes me smile, is going into a camera shop and seeing the bewildering array of devices, cloths, blowers, brushes and gizmos designed for cleaning lenses.

Having a clean lens is important for the overall sharpness of the image. A smear on the lens can cause an area where the image appears out of focus. A drop of water on the lens will appear as a small blurred circular area, when all around it is sharp. On the water, I’m constantly making sure my lens is clean, as it’s not worth taking any more images when water lands on the lens. These images never go any further than the trash folder on my computer. So it’s easy to see where the proliferation of methods stem from.

I’m sure all these wonderful systems work in the comfort of home. However, on a yacht or rigid inflatable boat (RIB) in a gale with, water coming at you from all angles, the only method I use is a chamois leather and UV filter.

If you don’t want the Ultra Violet filters to affect the quality of your images, the bad news is that you’ll have to spend some money. I currently use B+W filters, but as a teenager, I can remember wincing at the price of a professional Canon filter for my 80-200 f2.8 zoom lens. It’s still on the front of the lens now, sitting above my office desk, 20 odd years later. Back in 1993, £77 seemed a lot of money to a teenager who had recently discovered the delights of beer, however, it’s worked out at less than £3.90 a year and seems good value.

But back to lens cleaning. Clean lens, clean pictures. Blurry lens, blurry pictures. With a UV filter one can afford to take less care to ensure the front of the lens is really clean, no need for Dr Dave’s magical lens cloth, any soft cloth, will do. Although if you will follow my lead make sure the cloth won’t leave fluff over the front of your lens or inside your lens hood.

The great thing about using a chamois leather is that it absorbs water, be that rain or sea spray, which inevitably finds its way to the front of your lens. If boy-racers will swab down the paintwork of their pride and joy with one you know a chamois is non-abrasive. If more proof is needed I have been using them all my professional life.

While cleaning your filter, there is one thing you must remember though. Always clean your filter in a clockwise direction. No matter where you are or what you shoot always clean the filter in a clockwise direction. Is cleaning in a clockwise direction better for removing water? No. Does cleaning in a clockwise direction reduce static? No. Is there some secret code between photographers who clean in a clockwise direction? No, it’s just simply because by wiping in a clockwise direction you are always screwing the filter onto the lens. Wipe in an anti-clockwise direction and you run the risk of unscrewing the filter and watching it drop off, at best to the ground onto something soft and forgiving, at worst over the side!

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