KEH Blog


Digital Media Card Tips

No matter which type of card (CF I&II, SD, XD, SM, MS, etc.) your camera takes, it's a good idea to format it on a regular basis. While it may not happen often, these little cards of information can fail & reach the end of their life if used a lot. To keep your card in good health, format it in the camera from time to time.  This clears up the card and erases all of the data. Of course make sure that you have downloaded and saved onto a computer all of the files on the card before formatting. Some older cards & cameras may also show error messages if the card is not properly formatted to that camera.

Each camera menu is different, but you can typically find the formatting function in one of the last sections in your menu (usually marked with a wrench symbol & yellow in color), and also in the menu when you're in "playback" mode. If you can't find it, refer to your user manual. All you have to do is select "format" and hit your enter or set key and confirm.

A few other things to remember about cards is to keep them in their little plastic cases when not in the camera body. This protects the small connection holes/contacts that transfers your data from camera to card, card to computer, and protects the shell of the card itself.

Also, when putting in and taking the memory cards out of the card slot, both in a camera & in a card reader, be gentle! There are little pins on the other end that can be easily bent. If the pins get bent too many times the pins can also break off. If either of these things happen, you won't be able to use the camera or card reader until you get it repaired.

The most efficient & reliable way to download your digital information. Why use a card reader instead of just plugging your camera into the computer to download? It's a safer transfer, downloads faster, takes up less space on your desktop, doesn't need batteries, does not use the cameras battery power and you don't have to dig for the correct connection cord. They are inexpensive and plug directly into your computer via USB or FireWire. 

Camera Killers: Dust and Fungus

There are a few things that can "kill" your camera equipment, both in function and value...

The first "killer" is DUST. While keeping your camera & lenses away from dirt & grime sounds like common sense, it's not always the case. Even if you avoid specifically dusty areas, it is inevitable that dust will still creep in to every crevasse it can. The most important part to keep dust out of is your digital cameras sensor. Some ways to prevent this (as much as possible) are: If there's no lens on your D-SLR, it better have a body cap on it! Always keep the internal parts of your camera protected. It's best when changing lenses to do it when the camera is off, and to hold the mount slightly downward as you're changing. Also, if your other pieces of equipment are dusty (like your lens) it can easily transfer to your image sensor. So, also keep everything as dirt & dust free as possible.

You can purchase compressed air cans which give a nice swift blow of air onto whatever you're pointing it at. There are also bulb blowers which are easier to transport in a camera bag, are inexpensive, and are an easy way to keep those nasty little particles away.

Another "killer" is FUNGUS. Fungus likes to creep into lenses when you least expect it. On normal fungus levels, it is very hard to spot unless you know exactly what you're looking for. But the thing about fungus is, it doesn't stop growing. Over time it will etch the glass in a lens to the point of no return. Fungus is especially a problem in humid climates... and I don't just mean the rainforest... If you live near a body of water, or a place where it rains on a fairly regular basis, your equipment is susceptible.

In addition to keeping your equipment properly stored, I suggest silica packs. These can be purchased in large sizes that can be re-activated by cooking it in the oven (best for larger spaces or multiple pieces of equipment), or for a temporary (& smaller space), the little packs that come in shoe boxes can be thrown into your camera bag as well. I also use these in my print boxes for preserving old photographs.

What will a lens full of fungus actually do, you ask? Well, aside from being icky and causing possible health problems, get too much in there and your images will no longer be sharp, but soft in focus.

Keeping Things Clean

An important part of camera & lens maintenance is to keep them clean. Below are a few cleaning tool options including a fabric lens cloth, a disposable lens cloth, & a lens brush. The last two items you probably already have in your home  (an eraser and a Q-tip).
Sometimes the contacts on your camera and/or lens get may not see anything, but it can cause connectivity problems so that your camera may not recognize your lens. An easy way to clear this up is to rub the contacts with an eraser. You can also do this on battery contacts, charger contacts, or anywhere else that you see those little metal spots. If you are rubbing contacts inside the lens mount of the camera, be very careful not to get any eraser crumbs inside the camera, they could get under the mirror and get stuck on your sensor which will cause spots on your images. You can also rub the contacts with a Q-tip that has some Windex on it.

For cameras or grips that use AA or AAA batteries, and has been stored for a length of time, it may have corroded batteries. In this case, an eraser or Windex may not do the trick. You can use regular white vinegar on a q-tip and rub it on the corroded areas.

To clean your lens glass, a lens cloth works fine for minor marks like a finger smudge. For more intense jobs, first blow the glass element off (with canned air or a bulb blower) so that there is no harsh particles like sand or dust on it- it could scratch the glass during the next step if it's not first removed. Then, take a Q-tip with some Windex on the tip and gently wipe the glass in a circular motion, and then dry it with the other dry end of the Q-tip.

Windex may also be used on the camera body & the outside of the lens itself if there are scuffs or dirt, but prevention is also key!

Smoking near your equipment and storing it in smoky places is also a big no-no. The smoke gets in to all the little nooks and crannies and can not be removed. In addition to a smell, and possible internal damage, smoke leaves a brown coating on equipment that is very hard to get off.

Protecting your equipment will help in keeping it working better and for longer, as well as to retain it's value come trade-in time!

If you have a dirty sensor, you can take either of these approaches: 1) send it to our Repair Center for a professional clean, or 2) purchase an at-home sensor cleaning kit available HERE. Our Repair Center also offers preventive maintenance on all 35mm, digital SLR cameras & camcorders. The preventive maintenance includes: cleaning inside & outside of the body, replacing light seals, checking all functions (including meter, lens, circuitry, etc.) make any minor calibrations, & we will also clean the sensor on digital cameras.

Troubleshooting Light Leaks

There are a few different issues that can cause light leaks. If you're unfamiliar with what a light leak is, it is basically a space on the camera that allows light to "leak" into the inside and therefor over exposing the film. It will sometimes cause a white or red area on the film/print that shouldn't be there. If the leak is bad enough, it can fog your entire image.

One of the main causes of light leaks is bad light seals. In most 35mm and medium format camera, the seals are made up of a foam padding. The foam deteriorates over time. Foam is typically found around the entire back door of the camera, above the mirror, and around the focusing screen and prism (in cameras with detachable prism housings). In some cases, the foam may have been replaced by a rope type seal, which holds up better over time.

To check and make sure your foam is still good, it's simply a matter of stickiness and/or brittleness. First, check to see if the foam padding is still there. Then answer these questions: Is there little black specks falling out from the inside of the camera? Does the foam look moldy? Is there a sticky black substance around the edge of the door? If you answered yes to any of those, then your foam is bad. Having the foam replaced is a fairly inexpensive job, and can be done at most camera repair shops.
The red lines indicate where light can seep in through. Around the perimeter of the camera back, there should be a solid strip of foam. The shutter blades in the middle may also cause exposure issues if they are broken.
Foam padding at the hinge of the back door to a 35mm. This foam is bad, as it has some mold on the surface, is flaking away, one strip is missing, and is starting to stick.
Foam pad in lens mount above mirror

In medium format backs, there is also a type of light seal that may cause fogging of your film. These seals are not easily seen and not as easily fixed. Other things that can cause light leaks include casting cracks in the camera body, and holes in large format bellows. Casting cracks are thin cracks in the body of a camera. These happen most often around screws that have been tightened too much, if there is impact damage, and near delicate, small parts. Bellow holes can be seen if taken into a completely dark room with a flash light. Insert a flash light gently into the bellows and go slowly along all edges. If you see even the tiniest spot of light, it will effect your image. Neither casting cracks or bellow holes are easy to fix and usually must be fully replaced. In some cases, the bellows may be patched.

The only case in which a light leak is usually wanted, is when shooting with a Holga.

It's a good idea to check these things on a fairly regular basis, and super important to check if you've had the equipment sitting around for while, especially if it's been stored in a garage or attic. The temperatures and weather conditions cause the equipment components to break down must faster than if it were properly stored.

Sensor Check

Sometimes you may see obvious spots on your images that are a dead giveaway that you have a dirty sensor. But, if you tend to shoot with a wider aperture, you may not have noticed it so much. Here's a quick and easy way to check and see if your digital camera sensor is dirty and needs a cleaning.
Above, some light spots of dust on a sensor. This was shot at using an aperture of F1.8.
Above, lots of dark spots of dust on a sensor, shot at an aperture of F22.

To check you sensor like image 2, put your camera on AV/aperture priority mode and stop down your aperture as small as it will go. Then, point your camera at a clean, blank, white wall (or sheet of paper) and take an image. If you have any visible spots on your image, that are in the same spots on both test shots, then you probably have a dirty sensor. If your camera has a sensor cleaning function, then run the in-camera cleaning. If not, or if the cleaning does not remove the spots, you may need an at-home cleaning kit, or to have a professional clean it.

Some other instances when you might see spots, but it might not be actual dust: damage to your lens itself, or a damaged sensor itself. The best thing to do would be to check with a repair shop if you're having issues. The KEH Repair Center offers professional sensor cleanings, lens cleanings, preventive maintenance care and much more!

Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes it is impossible to remove every single speck of dust. So, if it's full of spots like the circled image above, have it cleaned. If there's one tiny, faint spot, it probably isn't worth the cleaning and may not even be able to be removed. This is why preventing the dust in the first place is extra important.


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