Equipment Etiquette: Lenses and Filters (Camera Lesson 23)

Summary: Ryan shows you how to properly handle and clean your camera lenses and your filters used for your different film looks.

Length: 8:19 minutes

Video Lesson


In this video we continue to learn how to properly handle and care for you camera gear by taking a look at how to properly clean your lenses and your filters.

Handling Lenses

Lenses are the soul of your camera system, which is why you need to treat them with respect, both in how we handle them and how we clean them.

As you take a lens from its case take the caps off–both front and back–and leave them in there. Lens caps are the easiest thing to loose on set, so if you always keep them in the lens case you’ll never have to worry about them disappearing.

As you hold the lens you will hold it with the front element down and cup it with one hand. Be sure to cup the lens–don’t touch the front element. (If you do touch the front element you will have to clean the lens.) With your other hand grasp the body of the lens. As you carry a lens you should always have two hands on it. As you go to hand the lens off to someone else you will place it in their hand, face down. They will cup the front element and then grasp the body. Do not let go of the lens until you have heard them say, “Got it.” At that point you know they have the lens and it will not drop to the ground.

I highly recommend that you follow this practice with every lens you use. Even though it may seem silly when using a small $500 SLR lens, if you develop good habits early then it will be second nature when you are using a more expensive cinema lens. And trust me the last thing you want to do is to drop a cinema lens that can easily cost $30,000.

When it comes time to mount the lens to the camera body, the body cap should already be off. You shouldn’t have to put the body cap on and off every time you change a lens. The lens change should be happening quick enough that you do not need to worry about the sensor. Now if you are in a windy, dusty, or rainy environment, then you’ll want to keep a hand over it or cover it, depending on the conditions.

As you mount the lens onto the camera body, hold it by the front element and guide it in with your other hand. As you do so make sure that all of the markings are on the smart side of the camera [left side]. That way they can be easily read by the assistant and operator. If you are using SLR lenses, this really isn’t an issue as there is only one way to mount the lens, so the marking will always be on the right side. If you’re using lenses that have a PL mount, then there are 4 different orientations you can mount the lens; so that’s where you need to pay close attention.

Once mounted, twist and lock the lens or the lens mount to secure it into place. Now attach your matte box, which becomes your lens cap when you need to protect the front element of the lens.

When returning your lenses back to their case, set the focus to infinity and the aperture to wide open. You do this for two reasons: first of all, by setting the lens to the extremes, you prevent it from getting damaged. If the lens gets jarred, bumped, or dropped for some reason it can create a dent in the aperture or focus mechanism. And that dent will prevent the lens from operating smoothly if it is in the middle of the focus scale or the aperture. If that dent happens at the extremes the lens will still be usable. The second reason is that by setting it to wide open and focused to infinity, when you mount the lens you get a viewable image right away.

Cleaning Lenses

Our modern lenses have ultra thin micro coatings on them, which are easy to damage and ruin. That is why the most common mistake it cleaning lenses too much. A lens only needs to be cleaned when it is smudged or visibly dirty.

The second most common mistake is using the wrong tools. If you have a LensPen, lose it. It is the quickest way to damage your lens. Lens pens can get dust and dirt particles stuck in them, and then when you go to wipe off a lens those particles can scratch and remove the coating on the lens. Another wrong tool to use is office grade canned air. Not all canned air is created equal. Some of it has additional chemicals that can strip and damage your lens coatings, so get the right stuff, which is Dust-Off. And you can pick that up from places like Film Tools.

Okay so now on to the proper method for cleaning your lenses. The first step to properly cleaning your lens is to start at the beginning with the least abrasive method and then continue on. Do not jump steps. If you do you’ll end up leave bigger particles on the lens which can damage the lens coatings. So begin by grabbing your hand blower or rocket and blow off any dust. As you blow the dust off, be sure to angle the lens and the blower so that the dust flies off the lens. Never point the blower directly down into the lens. If you do that, you can force dust into the crevasses of the lens and they can eventually end up inside the lens, which will effect the picture quality.

If your rocket doesn’t do the job, then it is time to go to Phase Two. This is where you use canned air. Just like with the rocket angle the lens and blower so that the dust flies off and away from the lens. Personally I also recommend using the 360 degree nozzle; this makes it a lot easier to spray the lens and it means that you don’t have to hold the bottle at an awkward angle.

Ninety-percent of the time, blowing off a lens with your rocket or the canned air is all you need to do. But if that still hasn’t done it now it is time to break out the big guns. This is where you use wipes and cleaning fluid. The wipes I recommend using are Kimwipes and the fluid I recommend is Pancro. While there are other options out there I have found these to be the most reliable and effective.

As you take your Kimwipe from the box, make sure that you do not touch the center of the wipe. If you do you’ll have to use a different wipe, as it is not a good idea to get the dirt and oils from your fingers on your lens. Now take the Kimwipe and fold it into quarters. Then from about 10” away give the wipe one spray of Pancro fluid. All you want to do is to moisten it, not soak it. It is also critical to point out here that you should NEVER use a dry Kimwipe on your lens and you should never spray your lens directly with the Pancro; that’s a good way to damage your lens.

So now with your moistened wipe, start at the center of the lens and wipe in a circular direction going outwards. If your wipe is getting dirty, use a new one to continue to clean the lens. Never reuse a wipe or you could scratch that lens with the dirt or dust you just cleaned off. If there is any Pancro left on the lens, lightly breathing on it to help it disappear; do not spit on it or let any saliva get on it.

At this point your lens should now be clean. If there are any particles of the Kimwipe left on the lens, just blow them off with your rocket. And you can use this same process to clean the rear element too.

Cleaning Filters

Your filters need to be treated with the same care that you lenses do. While most of the time, the filter is actually stacked in the middle between two pieces of glass or plastic, there are some filters that are on the outside. So if you develop good habits from the start, you’ll never have to worry about what type of filter you are working with.

As you grab a filter, always handle it from the edges. Never touch the center. If you touch the center, you can leave finger prints which can effect the final image or damage the filter. If you do touch the center, you’ll need to clean the finger print off as soon as you can.

To clean your filters you follow the same protocol that you do for lenses. So start with the rocket and move on up from there. The only difference is, when you are cleaning square filters with Kimwipes and Pancro, you wipe in an up-and-down motion. And circular filters you treat just like lenses and wipe from the center out in a circular direction.

Next Up

Now that you know how to properly handle your lenses and filters, it is time to learn how to tape a filter onto your lens for those times when you don’t have or can’t use a matte box.

As always, if you have any comments or questions, leave them in the comment section below. And then come join me in the next video.

Depth of Field, Part 1: How Aperture and ISO Affect Focus
Your Guide To High Speed, Part 6: Five Tips For A Successful Shoot
Your Guide To High Speed, Part 5: Lighting Six High Speed Sets
Your Guide To High Speed, Part 4: Common Lighting Problems
Your Guide To High Speed, Part 3: Camera Operation & Workflow
Your Guide To High Speed, Part 2: Frame Rate
Your Guide To High Speed, Part 1: Introduction
12 Crucial Questions Before Lighting Your Set (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 15)
Negative Fill: The Best Kept Secret (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 08)
3 replies
    • Ryan E. Walters
      Ryan E. Walters says:

      Great question. 🙂 While you are correct that in theory holding the lens with the lens mount up does invite dust onto the inner mount, in practice, I haven’t seen that happen much, if at all.

      The bigger issue is getting dust in the body / sensor. You want that sensor to be exposed to the “elements” for the shortest time possible. If you hold the lens so that the lens mount is down, when you go to mount the lens, you have to flip it around, which takes more time, than if you had grabbed the lens properly in the first place, and that opens up the opportunity for more dust directly on the sensor… So the idea is to minimize the amount of time that the sensor is exposed and to keep dust out of the body of the camera all together.

      Also, the environment you find yourself in plays a factor- if it is dusty, windy, rainy, etc, I’ll go to extra lengths to make sure that dust doesn’t get in there. I’ll place a hand over the lens mount while the lens is being handed to me, sometimes I’ll tilt the camera down slightly (if it is raining) to make it more difficult for particles to fall down into the body. I’ll cover the camera with an umbrella, cost, or something else to stop dust from blowing in there…

      The other issue with holding the lens by the lens mount, is that you are introducing another “movement” into the equation when you go to mount the lens. You have to flip it around. While that may not seem like a big deal, especially on a small SLR lens, it becomes a big deal when you start using cinema lenses, especially zoom lenses. That extra “flip” could potentially make you drop the lens, and dropping a cinema lens that costs anywhere from $5,000 – $80,000+ is a great way to never be invited back to set…

      So, I always encourage the proper way to handle lenses form the start. Even with small DSLR lenses. Get the practice down at the start, then when you use more expensive, and larger equipment, you’ll be set up for success and you will not have to re-learn a “new” way of doing things.

      Hope that helps. 🙂


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