Dust is just Part of the Game

About a week after I bought my first Contax 139Q in the 1980s, I noticed a speck of dust in the viewfinder. It wasn't there at first but appeared out of nowhere. And it bothered me.

So I took the Contax back to the camera store and asked them if they could do anything about it. They used a blower bulb to try to remove it. Fortunately it dislodged and blew away... until the next particle arrived soon there after.

"Dust on your mirror has no effect on the picture," they told me.

"I know. It just bugs me."

"Well, you might have to get used to it. Dust is just part of the game."

And indeed they were right. Years later, I've mellowed in my battle against dust. Yes, I still see it on the viewfinder screens of film cameras that I'm testing. And I do deal with it on digital sensors too. But I'm no longer losing sleep over particulate matter. And you shouldn't either. 

I've put together a list of things that I've learned about dust. And I thought you might find some of this helpful.

  • Dust on an SLR viewfinder or mirror will not appear on the film image. The mirror raises during exposure allowing for a clear path of light from the lens to the film.
  • Never use anything other than a blower bulb to remove dust. I use Rocket Blasters at my studio when reconditioning film cameras and working on digital bodies. If you touch the surface of a mirror or viewfinder screen with anything other than clean air, you will make it worse. And before you know it, you will have a mess on your hands that you cannot fix. Don't even think about using a lens brush. Blower bulb only.
  • Dust on the back of a lens has more of an effect on the picture than on the front optic. In my work for TheFilmCameraShop on Etsy, I've seen far too many good lenses come across my workbench that were ruined by over aggressive cleaning. Clean your optics by blowing off the surface with a blower bulb, then gently finish with a microfiber cloth. Avoid cleaning back elements unless really necessary. And if you need the front glass perfectly shiny, then I recommend putting a high quality protection filter over it and clean that.
  • Learn to ignore dust in older camera viewfinders. Almost every SLR that passes through my workbench on its way to TheFilmCameraShop has dust showing in the viewfinder. I blow out anything that will budge, then leave it alone. All of my personal film cameras show dust in the viewfinder. That's the way it is. But I haven't made any of them worse by trying to clean them with cloths and fluid.

If you've only bought new cameras your entire life, then you've probably come to expect perfection. Nothing wrong with that for new gear. But classic cameras are like classic cars - part of the charm lies in their quirks.

Love them for what they are, and they will provide you with joy and great images.


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