Aurora Camera Care - Sensor Cleaning Kit Review

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The Focus Pyramid

Back in 2014, about 3 years after purchasing my first DSLR (Nikon D60), I purchased my first full-frame camera, the Nikon D700. This was right around the time that the bokeh bug bit me. All I wanted to shoot were f/1.4 primes and the aperture rarely left that wide open position. Most of you know what I’m talking about, a good amount of portrait photographers go through the same phase. Some are going through it right now.

Luckily, I broke that habit and learned how to use my lenses more creatively. However, going through that phase taught me a very valuable lesson. It taught me the importance of making sure my lenses are calibrated to each of my cameras. Shooting wide open does look great, I still do it a lot today. The problem is, if you aren't nailing the focus, no amount of bokeh can save the shot. When shooting with such a shallow DOF and using auto-focus, it can become pretty frustrating if your images aren't sharp. I quickly learned how to calibrate my lenses.

I still find it surprising how many photographers don't calibrate their lenses. Whether they don't even know there's even such a thing, or they simply are too nervous to attempt it on their own, fearing they will mess something up. It's honestly impossible to make a mistake and mess anything up that can't be fixed with a little help from a call to another photographer who knows what they're doing. The tools you need are also very cheap. Back in 2015, I wrote an article for SLR Lounge that laid out the very easy to follow step by step instructions on how to go about calibrating your lenses to each of your DSLR cameras. I also gave a cheap alternative to the pricier calibration kits that were on the market at the time and worked great: The Focus Pyramid, which can be found here: FOCUS PYRAMID.

Click on the image of the focus pyramid above to read the SLR Lounge article on how to calibrate your lenses on your DSLR. If you aren’t already doing so, it’s a must and there’s simply no way around it. It doesn’t matter if you just bought a brand new lens or not, that DOES NOT mean that it’s calibrated. Most aren’t, and that’s because each and every camera is different. I wouldn’t shoot with brand new lens on any job without taking 10-15 minutes to calibrate it first. It’s very rare that a lens is spot on, so when you’re shooting wide open at f/1.4 your images are more than likely not as sharp as they should be.


Aurora Camera Care Sensor Cleaning Kit

Shortly after posting that article on SLR Lounge, the designer and owner of the Focus Pyramid, Joseph Cristina, reached out to say how much he appreciated me using his product and even more so writing the article. Over the years, I’ve stayed in touch with him and just about a couple months ago, he reached out to tell me about a new product. A product that typically scares photographers even more so than a calibrating kit. Even some of the most experienced photographers I know wouldn’t want anything to do with this product and for one simple reason, it involved touching your camera’s sensor.

Just the slightest whisper of this procedure can leave photographers feeling lightheaded and nauseous. For some odd reason. I’ve been cleaning my own sensors for as far back as I can remember. Why? Well, once I started shooting at higher apertures, I was able to see all the little dust spots that were from my dirty sensor. Once I found out the cost and wait time to get a sensor cleaned I decided to learn how to do it myself. It was either that or get a lot quicker with the spot healing tool in Lightroom.

 
 

The most popular product at the time was made by the company VisibleDust. They made a number of different tools to clean camera sensors. One of which was a spinning paint brush looking tool called the ARCTIC BUTTERFLY. The Arctic Butterfly? With a name like that what could go wrong?

Well, when I used the Arctic Spinning Bat Mobile, it touched the side of the sensor compartment and picked up some grease. Grease that would then be transferred onto my D700’s sensor. YES, Perfect! Exactly what I wanted to see. Not only did my sensor still have the dirt and dust, but it now had a grease smudge across it.

After tossing the spinning paint brush (which I have listed below) into the trash, I ordered the next product from Visible Dust, the “EZ Sensor Cleaning Kit". It says EZ right in the product name, how tough could this be right? This kit came with a few dry swabs on sticks and some small vials of liquid cleaning to apply to the swabs. The kit also came with swabs that were for drying. This was a huge pain in the ass. I had to be careful not to put too much cleaning liquid on the swabs and no matter how many times I used the drying swabs, there always seamed to be streaks left on the sensor that I couldn’t quite get off. I called Visible Dust and was told that I may have gotten oil on the sensor and would need to order a different solution. After placing a new order and waiting for it to arrive, I gave it a try and was able to finally get the sensor clean. Great, that would be the last time I used that product.

The next day, I threw all of the swabs and liquids into the trash. It was too much of a headache, let alone the added bonus of a brand new grease smudge that I had to figure out how to clean off. I would rather send my cameras out to get serviced then deal with this kind of nightmare again.

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If you’re looking for the easiest way to quickly rid your sensor of any dust that may be sitting on it, the Rocket Blaster does an excellent job. Especially, if it’s just dust on the sensor, which in most cases, that’s really all it is. The Rocket Blaster can easily blow the dust right off the sensor and you’re good to go. I use it at least once every couple weeks, just to make sure there’s nothing just sitting on top of my sensor that will leave spots on my photos when my aperture is stopped down to anything over f/8.

Giotto Rocket Blaster

 
 

THE NEW ACC SENSOR CLEANING KIT

When Joseph Cristina reached out to me about his newly designed sensor swabs, I told him straight up that I’ve tried a number of different ones and none were easy to use. He basically asked me to please give his product a shot and sent me a free pack to test out. As a disclaimer, I’ve been using a sensor cleaning gel stick over the past couple years. While it’s not perfect, it does do a much better job than any wet/dry swab I’ve ever tried and I told Joseph this. I received the packets in the mail and right before I left for my Savannah Workshop I decided to give them a try. I could have tried them on my wife’s Canon 5D MarkIV cameras but instead used my $6k Leica SL to test out the new sensor cleaning kit.

Once I opened the individual swab packs, I immediately knew these were a great design. Not only are they sized to match the sensor, but there’s no vial of liquid to make a mess with. These swabs were lubricated with just the right amount of liquid. No more than necessary, no less. I was a little hesitant being that it was the first time using this product, but I knew Joseph long enough to know that he wouldn’t be shipping me a bad product. I was right, he didn’t.

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Anytime I clean my sensor, I pull up this YouTube channel which plays a white screen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lgfq3LX34g.

I set the lens to manual focus and focus to infinity, set the aperture to f22 and take a photo. This will allow me to see whatever sensor dust is on the sensor. Now I know what the “before” photo of the sensor looks like so I can start the cleaning process.

My Thoughts

The ACC Sensor Cleaning Kit was very easy to use, and I was able to open the packs without any trouble. After applying the wet swab and swiping across the entire sensor to clean off any artifacts, I immediately applied the dry swab to soak up any remaining residue. The dry swab didn’t quite dry the sensor completely. It came close, but if you watch the video carefully you’ll be able to see the streaks that are still there after making two passes. I gave it a few more minutes in the hopes that the residue would dry and it did on its own. I re-attached the lens to take a quick test shot of the white screen and everything looked great. No streaks, no dirt or dust, and any artifacts there from the first shot were completely cleaned and off the sensor.

The Images below shows the dust/dirt that was there on the sensor before I cleaned it. Not too bad actually considering how much I’ve shot with this body over the past few months. I’ve seen them a hell of a lot worse than this, so this was good news! The third shot on the bottom is the one that I took after cleaning the sensor with the ACC sensor cleaning kit.

Once I took the test shot above, it was clear to see that the sensor was pretty clean and all the spots had been removed. Nice and clean again! While I do still like the gel stick, especially for my Leica camera bodies being that Leica recommends the gel stick as a sensor cleaning tool, these ACC sensor cleaning swabs do an overall better job of actually cleaning the sensor. These were the first wet/dry swabs that I felt actually worked really good and didn’t make a mess or when comparing them to my previous attempts with similar products, make things worse. Going forward, I’ll be using both. The gel stick for a quick clean and the ACC swabs once every couple months to get things really clean and back to looking brand new.

  • My one and only critique has to do with the wet and dry swabs looking exactly the same once they are out of their pouches. They are labeled with different colors on the individual packages, but as you can see below, once they are opened they look identical. As I was cleaning my sensor, I made two swipes with the wet swab, followed by two passes with with the dry swab. I gave it a few minutes to see if it would dry on it’s own and since there were still slight streaks I wanted to very gently run the dry swab over the sensor one or two more times. As I reached for the dry swab, I had to really look closely to see which was which. I would really like to see them make the wet and dry swab handles a different color, the dry having a tan handle to match its packaging and the wet swab to match its blue packaging.

Wet swab is on the left, Dry is on the right.

Wet swab is on the left, Dry is on the right.


Whether you have a full-frame sensor, cropped sensor (APS-C), or Micro Four Thirds, there is a separate kit designed specifically for each sensor size. To visit the store and purchase one of the sensor cleaning kits, please click HERE!


All the other products I’ve that have ended up in the garbage!

Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly Sensor Brush

 
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WPPI 2019 - Workshop & Photowalk

Jay Cassario Leica wedding photographer

Once again I’ll be heading back to the city that never sleeps for the once a year wedding photography event known as WPPI representing Leica Camera USA. This will be the third consecutive year that I’ll be teaching a workshop followed by a complimentary dinner, but it sold out before I had a chance to really even promote it.

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However, due to the workshop filling up so fast, I was asked to fly in a few days early and do a photowalk. Photowalks are a popular thing at WPPI and even though I’ve never attended one myself, I’ll basically be able to run it the way that I feel a photowalk should be run. WPPI will be providing models and we’ll be heading out onto the strip during the last couple hours of light. Just the way I like it.

I don’t know the total headcount yet for the photowalk, but this the first time that I’m promoting it so I would think that there are plenty of spots available. If you’re interested in joining me, you’ll have the opportunity to get your hands on one of the Leica camera/lens combos available free of charge to shoot with as well. Here is the link to register: https://photo.a2zinc.net/WPPI2019/Public/SessionDetails.aspx?FromPage=Speakers.aspx&SessionID=6988&nav=true&Role=U%27


WPPI 2018 Workshop Crew - Click on image to see the blog post!

WPPI 2018 Workshop Crew - Click on image to see the blog post!

The Savannah Workshop - Recap

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“Hands down, my absolute favorite workshop to date. Jay and the Leica Akademie brought incredible professionalism, knowledge on a wide spectrum of relavent topics, and gracious generosity to the whole weekend. This wasn’t a “sit back and learn” environment but rather a hands on microscope look into my own business, marketing, gear that I use, lighting, posing, the works. There was ample opportunity for asking questions during real time, hands on learning. I was so impressed. Based on previous reviews, I had high expectations going in to the weekend of learning but Jay’s workshop in partnership with Leica has completely upped my business game leaps and bounds ahead of all that I could have hoped for. It was worth it on every single level!”

- Kristen Catoe Photography

 
Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux with off-camera flash behind the couple to create the look of natural golden hour.

Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux with off-camera flash behind the couple to create the look of natural golden hour.

 

On January 11-13th, Bud Johnson and I hosted a Leica Akademie event in his hometown of Savannah, the 3rd of its kind that we’ve hosted together. This by far our biggest and most intensive, not only being three days long, but including a full wedding day walk through. Our most recent and last event that we hosted was in Lubec, ME so we wanted something a little different, and warmer so we went with Bud’s home town of Savannah, GA. The Maine workshop had been our most successful and most intense, until this one. We did our best to raise the bar on this one, and I definitely feel like we succeeded. Most of the photographers flew in from much colder areas from Philly to Oregon, so the warmer weather and bright sun was enough to get some fresh Vitamin D flowing through everyone.

I flew down a couple days early to get some scouting in along with making sure that all the little details were in place. Good friend and photographer, Eric Talerico, flew down early with me and we had got to do some good exploring around historical Savannah.


Personal Photos


Day One - Engagement Shoot

 
Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

 

Everything got started on Friday, January 11th, with a quick group intro followed by a mock engagement shoot in downtown Savannah. The group met up at the Pacci Italian Kitchen, where the workshop’s lectures and meals were held all 3 days. Everyone got the chance to hang out and talk for a little bit and get acquainted with any Leica gear they had taken out on loan to shoot with. It was cool to see the majority of the group testing out the Leica gear. Especially, the SL kits that were available since that’s the camera that I use for all my wedding/portrait work.

Leica rep John Kreidler giving a brief demo of the SL

Leica rep John Kreidler giving a brief demo of the SL

Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

From there we headed down to River Street where I walked the group through how I typically shoot an engagement session. I covered everything from posing to creatively using natural light (like the shot below) to how I use layers and foreground elements. Everyone got to shoot as much as they wanted while taking full advantage of the beautiful Savannah scenery and Spanish moss. We shot until dark then headed back to Pacci.

Shot with the SL + 75mm Noctilux while demonstrating one way to creatively use natural light and shadows.

Shot with the SL + 75mm Noctilux while demonstrating one way to creatively use natural light and shadows.

 
BTS photo of  Brad Krivit  using foreground elements in his shot with the  M10 .  Photo:  Eric Talerico

BTS photo of Brad Krivit using foreground elements in his shot with the M10.

Photo: Eric Talerico

 
Photo by  John Kreidler
Photo by  Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

 
Photo by  John Kreidler

Photo by John Kreidler

 

Once back at Pacci, everyone got served one of the best meals we’ve ever served at a workshop. I walked everyone through my sales and consultation strategy followed by some Q&A. We wrapped the night up with a talk by Bud on his marketing approaches.

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DAY TWO - Wedding Walk through

 
Photo by  Kristen Catoe

Photo by Kristen Catoe

 

Day two was all about walking everyone through an entire wedding day. Rather than putting on an entire styled mock wedding we kept it low key so that we could focus more on technique and approach. Any time you get a lot of wedding vendors involved with models for a large scale styled shoot, it becomes very easy to be distracted. While that may have given the attendees more portfolio shots, this workshop wasn’t about that.

Photo by  Ben Deibert

Photo by Ben Deibert

Photo by  Ben Deibert

Photo by Ben Deibert

After meeting at the Pacci, we went straight to the hair salon where our bride and bridesmaid models were getting their hair and makeup done. From there we drove over to an AirBnB that we had rented for the day for actual bride prep. We spent a couple hours going over how Bud and I shoot bride prep photos. How we use the natural light to capture real moments in a creative yet documentary style.

Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux shot wide open at f/1.2 demonstrating the different ways that I use window light.

Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux shot wide open at f/1.2 demonstrating the different ways that I use window light.

Photo by  Brian Cutts

Photo by Brian Cutts

Photo by  Brian Cutts

Photo by Brian Cutts

After eating lunch and wrapping up the bride prep portion of the day, we spent the rest of the day at the Bethesda Academy. A 650-acre property with a historic little chapel that serves as a wedding venue among other things, to which we had full access to for the rest of the day. Besides the beautiful little chapel that was perfect for this workshop, the property itself is stunning with that rural Savannah feel, covered in trees drooping with Spanish moss for as far as the eye could see. Exactly what we wanted all the attendees to experience and get to use as a backdrop for portraits.

 
Photo by  Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

 

Both Bud and I covered everything from groom prep with the groom and groomsman models to bridal portraits and lighting family/bridal party portraits inside the chapel. From there we went out onto the property and spent the rest of the time working with the bride and groom. I basically went through my thought process, posing, directing, using natural light and off-camera flash techniques. Everything that I could fit in before the sun went down. Everyone had plenty of opportunities to shoot and there were some pretty impressive shots taken by all of the attendees.

Bridal Portrait example inside the chapel - 20 image pano shot using the Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux at f/1.2

Bridal Portrait example inside the chapel - 20 image pano shot using the Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux at f/1.2

Test Shot (Before Photo) - Demonstrating how to create your own very natural looking golden hour when you don’t have any.

Test Shot (Before Photo) - Demonstrating how to create your own very natural looking golden hour when you don’t have any.

Test Shot (After Photo) - Demonstrating how to create your own very natural looking golden hour when you don’t have any.

Test Shot (After Photo) - Demonstrating how to create your own very natural looking golden hour when you don’t have any.

 
Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux shot wide open at f/1.2 utilizing the same technique

Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux shot wide open at f/1.2 utilizing the same technique

 
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Photo by  John Kreidler

Photo by John Kreidler

Photo by  Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by  Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by  Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by  Jay Cassario

Photo by Jay Cassario

After wrapping things up at Bethesda, we headed back to Pacci for dinner where I also did some image critiques and went over my post processing techniques. Afterwards, being that it was the last night in Savannah for most of the attendees, we went back down to the popular River Street and had some fun practicing some creative night portraits like the second photo below.

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Day THREE

 
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Day three was sadly the last day of the workshop, spent entirely at Pacci, cramming in as much material as possible. The day started off with an awesome breakfast served up by the amazing Pacci chefs while everyone got to talk about the day before. We covered a lot of Q&A regarding the day before, post wedding process with clients, album sales, and more post processing. We also had a guest speaker, Nicole Rene, come in and speak to everyone for a bit. Nicole is the owner of the Bridal Boutique Ivory and Beau, and also a wedding coordinator which is what she basically spoke about.

In the end, myself, Bud, and John (Leica) did our best to make sure that everyone had an amazing experience and walked away feeling that they had new techniques and knowledge that they could implement immediately.

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It was an all around successful workshop that I personally would say was the best event that I’ve held under the Leica Akademie sponsorship. One of the reasons that I really love working alongside of Leica as a partner is that I have the ability to setup and run these workshops the same way that I would if I were running them on my own. This allows me to create and design each workshop in its own unique way, making each one different from the last. Creating a unique experience that would ultimately be one that I would be happy with if I were on the other side as an attendee. As I spoke to everyone on this last day and reading the reviews afterwards, overall I’m very happy with how things went and only wish that we didn’t have an extra day to keep things going.

Thank you to Leica for everything they did to help me host this event, especially John Kreidler who came along with all the Leica gear for everyone use. A big thank you to all the sponsors involved, each of which are listed below. Finally, thank you to all the attendees. This was one of the best groups that I’ve had the privilege of working with since I taught my first workshop two years ago. I look forward to following your work and watching you grow this year and going forward!

If you missed this one, we’ll be holding another in January of 2020. If you’re curious what’s up next… well, the announcement will be coming soon!

Gallery of attendee photos


More Reviews

“As a beginner at photography, I was a bit intimidated and didn't know what to expect. Jay quickly made me feel comfortable asking even the simplest questions. Jay encourages dialog and is very open about his process. It was a great learning experience and has given me the confidence to begin building my own style and brand.”

- Brian Cutts

“I really learned a lot in the Wedding Photography industry. Especially while just starting out, this workshop really changed how I look at this industry and improved my grasp of creatively approaching these shots. I really enjoyed everyone I met and learned a lot about everyone else start in the wedding industry and the challenges they face. This all gave me invaluable insight into developing my own photography business and how best to approach the challenges I will face.”

- Brad Krivit


A Look Back - Favorite Wedding Photos From 2018

A handful of my favorite wedding and engagement photos from 2018. Click on the image below to be taken to the blog post on the Twisted Oaks website.

INSPIRATION - Valuable Lessons From Being Photographed Yourself

Being in front of the camera rather than behind it is an interesting topic for me. There were a lot of different directions I could have gone when I was asked to write about any lessons I’ve learned. I’m actually in front of the camera a lot being that my wife Sandi is a talented photographer who has shot weddings with me since day one. I grew up with a Mom who was a wedding photographer, so just like my son, I grew up being photographed more than most children. There’s also the few times that our small family of three have had other photographers take our family photos. With all of that being said, there’s a direction that I can go with this topic that most other photographers can’t. Being in front of a camera ultimately taught me the most valuable lesson as a photographer. It taught me that I had an interest in learning how to use a camera.

Continue reading by clicking the image below.