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Lately the internet has been abuzz with talk of DSLR cameras having a host of dust issues and cleaning this dust is quickly becoming an industry in and of itself. Indeed, the internet is rife with tutorials and blogs on how to and what the best technique is new products for cleaning sensor are coming to the market in ever increasing frequency. Indeed, cleaning digital sensors has become an integral part of the DSLR experience. Simply gauging the number of threads here in Nikonites it's clear that cleaning sensors is a popular topic and most of us have either cleaned them ourselves or have paid someone to clean them. But whether or not you've cleaned them yourself or had them cleaned, the one thing in common is the exorbitant price that either route requires. Indeed, the small, cloth tipped plastic swab costs around $6 apiece and the alcohol based solution runs around $5 per fluid oz. My guess is that a single swab made in China costs approx 8 cents to make which would translate into a 7,500% profit based on the swabs alone and I imagine the alcohol solution is double or triple this profit margin.

Sensor cleaning products represent a new and expanding market place and considering such an enormous return on investment these products can bring in it would be hard not to want to get a piece of this market. Curiously, concurrent with this newly developing market, there seems to be an increase in dust problems with the newly released camera. While dust issues are have always been a factor in digital photography, there certainly seems to be more dust appearing on these newly produced cameras than there ever was in cameras manufactured just 5 yrs ago. For instance, my D70s went 7 yrs before needing cleaning whereas my D800 has been cleaned several times since purchasing it in August of last year. And now with the release of the D600 by Nikon, this crescendo of dust related issues has hit an all-time high.

This brings up an important question - can this escalating sensor dust problem be part of a greater conspiracy to further part buyers of high end cameras from the money in their wallets? Clearly buyers of these cameras are spending more money on their camera bodies than before so it should follow that these same individuals would be willing to spend more money maintaining their cameras creating a large pool of potential profits for any business selling cleaning products to this newly created market.

Is it possible that Nikon (or any camera maker) is turning a blind eye to elevating dust issues or at worst designing cameras that increase the development of dust issue in an attempt to increase their bottom line? Many businesses invest in companies that offer accessories to their main product, wouldn't Nikon naturally want a piece of this expanding market? If Nikon had invested money or is a silent partner in sensor cleaning companies, would they willingly allow this information to become public? Moreover, would such an investment represent a conflict of interest by Nikon towards the buyers of Nikon products?

Now I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist and I'm certainly no Oliver Stone of photography, but it occurs to me that Nikon has been struggling with their profit margin and that owning, partially or fully, could easily increase their overall profit margin. And if Nikon does indeed own any interest in these cleaning companies there would be a certain amount of motivation to ignore this dust problem and, at the very worse, design cameras to be more prone to dust than earlier models.

So what do you think? Is this pattern of increasingly dusty sensors part of a conspiracy to fleece camera owners or just a by-product of modern DSLR? Or is there no pattern of dustier sensors and what we're seeing is yet another aspect of a more and more people using social media giving the illusion that modern DSLR's even have a dust problem?
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  1. Rick M's Avatar
    I wonder if we see it more due to the increasing resolution? I think the accessory market is booming as DSLR's became more popular and affordable over the past 10 years. Nikon must be taking a hit on D600 sales as their user ratings all over the net are lower than average due to the dust issue. I think it's accidental, but these accessory companies are really "cleaning up" . Now if Nikon comes out with a new dust removing tool for $300 (only that cheap after the $200 instant rebate), I'll be worried.
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  2. crycocyon's Avatar
    No the dust if it is on the sensor will show up independent of the resolution of the camera (unless the dust particle is much smaller than an individual pixel and they generally are not). So higher resolution per se won't mean being able to see more dust.

    I personally don't think it is a conspiracy by Nikon. Otherwise they would not add dust-off mechanisms for their sensors as well as dust-off reference photo feature.

    The sensors build up, store, and release charge so that can attract dust (which itself is charged). As sensors get larger, and higher resolution, there could be more charge and therefore more dust being attracted. But the D600 is an exception since the issue was I think with something in the area around the mirror that was yielding dust during mirror movement. So that is an issue coming out of the factory versus exposure to ambient dust. I don't actually recall reading something about a dust issue with the D800, and if there was a widespread issue I think we'd see more mention of it on the forum here?
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  3. stmv's Avatar
    I did notice the continued decline in rating with each generation of camera release. and more with the cameras made outside of Japan.

    when almost a quarter of the reviewers are reporting serious issues, it makes you wonder.

    I remember when the D300 or D700 came out,, it was almost 100% postitive reveiws..

    but as corporations cut back, move production off shore, are we seeing the results?
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  4. Dave_W's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by crycocyon
    The sensors build up, store, and release charge so that can attract dust (which itself is charged). As sensors get larger, and higher resolution, there could be more charge and therefore more dust being attracted. But the D600 is an exception since the issue was I think with something in the area around the mirror that was yielding dust during mirror movement. So that is an issue coming out of the factory versus exposure to ambient dust. I don't actually recall reading something about a dust issue with the D800, and if there was a widespread issue I think we'd see more mention of it on the forum here?
    I was thinking something on these lines after I wrote this blog, that perhaps there's a voltage difference between the newer sensors vs. the older sensor such that newer sensors are have more static and therefore attract more dust. The nice thing about this theory is that it would be independent on sensor size. This is pure speculation on my part since I've no clue whether these sensors have more voltage or not. But such a change might explain the difference between older digital cameras vs. newer one.
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  5. stmv's Avatar
    if anything,, the voltage is dropping with each generation. so,, I doupt the charge is any different. but the shutter design has changed, so,, its more like mechanical engineering issues.
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  6. crycocyon's Avatar
    As I understand it, photodiodes build up charge and convert that to a voltage, then reset. So the more photodiodes, or the more photodiodes per unit area, the greater the overall charge buildup. CMOS sensors may be using less power each generation based on their efficiency, but the charge accumulation per unit area or over a larger area will lead to overall greater charge for dust particles to be attracted to. As you know, an analogy would be rubbing a comb on a cloth and then your hair sticks to it. Bigger comb or more teeth means hair sticks better.

    But I agree that there is something in the lightpath leading to the sensor that is showing mechanical wear or resolving itself from use after factory assembly that is yielding particles that stick to the sensor.
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  7. STM's Avatar
    Honestly I have never had a dust problem with the D700 and because I only use primes I am changing lenses constantly. Which cameras seem to be the biggest culprits?
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    Updated 04-16-2013 at 03:06 AM by STM
  8. Dave_W's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by STM
    Honestly I have never had a dust problem with the D700 and because I only use primes I am changing lenses constantly. Which cameras seem to be the biggest culprits?
    So far it would seem that the D600 is the king of this dust/oil issue. So far it's just speculation that the spots are oil instead of dust however I've not yet heard a definitive call of these being oil. It could also be highly static-charged particles that are clinging to the "sensor". Beyond the D600 the D7000 had its share of dust/oil issues. I was forced to return my D7k for shutter/mirror box replacement around 5 months into it.

    And you're also right about the D700 and although dust certainly can get on the D700's "sensor" there is very little talk or complaints about it being overly dusty. I was into my D70s a good 6 yrs before I had spots and a quick turn of the blower removed them all. So this does seem to be an ever progressively worse issue.

    Then again, do we know if resolution is playing a role in the seeing of these particles? Might that be another potential reason the newer cameras are showing so much dust/oil?
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