Zen and the art of lens-cleaning

In a moment of wee-hour clumsiness, this morning I left a giant greasy thumbprint on my favorite lens. Don’t panic: I have a UV filter over the front element. But still

So I turned to The Internets for some lens-cleaning advice.

First, I found a blog post on The New York Times: “… even something as simple as wiping a lens can be done the wrong way, with disastrous results,” warned the author. Gulp. Roy Furchgott provided lots of good advice: Avoid using toilet paper. Try denatured alcohol. Beware of canned air.

All of the advice seemed sensible, until I read the comments. Clearly there’s more to lens-cleaning than even The New York Times can explain.

Then, I turned to Digital Photography School. They’re always reliable for good, common-sense tips—and they didn’t disappoint. Except that their top methods involved rinsing and wiping. I couldn’t help but think, “Disastrous results!”

So I turned to Photo.net for a blow-vs.-wipe tie-breaker. But instead of finding dire warnings about the dangers of improper cleaning, I was stunned by the first two sentences:

Remember that your camera is just a tool. Don’t pamper it.”

In a wonderful zen-like fashion, the author went on with a meditation about a photo he’d shot at the bottom of a canyon:

For the entire six hours, sand blew down from the top of the canyon and into a $20,000 Rollei 6008 system. Was there a sickening grinding sound when I focused my $3000 50mm lens for the next few months? Yes. Did I have to send the camera back to Rollei USA to be cleaned? Yes. Did the camera get stolen in Philadelphia a couple of years later? Yes. So it really didn’t make sense to obsess over the camera, did it? We can still enjoy this picture even if that 6008 has disappeared. If the camera had been pampered, it would just be in that much better shape for the crook who is using it now.

The article concludes with a handful of photos the author wouldn’t have gotten if he’d been “too prissy” with his cameras.

I admired his attitude, but I couldn’t quite relate: When it comes to my cameras, I find it hard to maintain a Zen non-attachment.

I thought of the times I’d worried about removing a camera from its bag and subjecting it to dust …

… smoke …

… extreme temperatures …

… insects …

… moisture …

… more moisture …

… and potential falls.

But none of those disasters ever happened.

In a way, today’s photography lesson is a metaphor for life: You shouldn’t be so afraid of damaging you camera that you never take a picture. And you shouldn’t be so afraid of failing or dying—or whatever—that you never actually live.

So I’m off to clean my lens.

I think I’ll live dangerously and use my shirttail.


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