Not all camera assistants (AC’s) do this. I’ve certainly had DP’s, directors, and even other AC’s comment when I clean the camera: “Oh wow! Taking this seriously, huh?”
To which I respond: “If you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right.”
The Advantages of Cleaning the Camera
There are several advantages to giving the camera a good cleaning:
First, it increases the chance of the camera staying in working order by limiting the amount of dirt, dust, or other contaminants that may end up jamming mechanical pieces, electronic circuitry, or adding wear and tear to the body.
It also makes the camera easier to work with the next day: Clean monitors are easier to watch, buttons won’t get stuck, and cooling fans will operate more efficiently with less noise.
Secondly, it shows others that you take pride in your work and pay attention to detail. Professional camera assistants know that the camera is the life-blood of their department and treat it with the requisite care. It will also impress production that you acknowledge their investment in the equipment — even rentals.
Finally, speaking of rentals, keeping your equipment clean helps build a good relationship with the rental house. They notice these things. After all, they’re the ones who have to clean it if you don’t. As an AC, having a good relationship with rental houses is essential for when you run into emergencies, need a favor, or simply want to get a cheaper rate.
Keeping Your Camera Clean with Three Simple Steps
So, feel like cleaning a camera yet? To do so, you’ll need a few things:
Most of these tools you should already have in your toolkit. If not, you can skip the orangewood sticks and Pancro and find the other materials at most hardware or big box stores.
Once you have the tools ready, you can get to work with these three steps:
Step 1. Use Orangewood Sticks to Pick Away Any Stuck Dirt
Orangewood sticks are great as an all around tool, especially when it comes to cleaning cameras.
Use the sticks to get inside tight areas like gaps around buttons and pick away any dirt. Think of it as flossing for your camera. Because the sticks are made of soft wood, you don’t have to worry about scratching something as you would with a piece of metal.
But don’t be too aggressive with them and only use them if you notice major chunks or you need to reach deep into a crevasse that can be reached by the camelhair brush (see next step).
Step 2. Use the Camelhair Brush to Sweep Away Any Dust
With the camelhair brush, lightly sweep along the camera’s body to remove dust, dirt, and other specks that have accumulated on it.
Alternatively, you can use Dust-Off. Most surfaces are OK to use compressed air on, but it is not always recommended for every camera type because you could force dust into unwanted areas (such as electronic circuitry). If you are unsure you should consult the camera’s manual which usually has a section devoted to cleaning it.
I prefer to use a camelhair brush anyway because I can be more precise with it and I find it relaxing at the end of a long day.
Step 3. Clean Whatever Glass Areas with the Microfiber Cloth
Monitors, displays, and the electronic view finders (EVFs) all have sensitive glass material that can get fingerprints, smears, or dust on them. With a microfiber cloth, you can clean them without worrying about scratches or damage.
If there are especially dirty areas, dab a bit of Pancro on the cloth to provide moisture and a cleansing element. Do, however, make sure this is OK in the camera’s manual. In most cases, it should be (Pancro is the recommended cleaning product for RED), but there are exceptions.
For technique, wipe the glass surfaces in a circular motion and apply pressure from your finger to lift any stuck pieces of dirt.
Repeat as Necessary
Give your camera a good once over and go back to any areas you may have missed. When I’m on set, I always carry a bandana and use this part of the process to wipe away the camera with it for aesthetic purposes.
Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go!
After wrap is the best time to clean the camera before you pack it away or prepare for a walk-away.
Somedays this will take a few minutes, while others (like when you shoot in the desert) will take a little bit longer. The days it really needs to be done are usually the days it will take the longest.
But the important thing is not to rush — if you’re going to make time to clean the camera, do it right.