If you own a DSLR today, there’s probably a good reason! To be specific, there are four excellent reasons to own a DSLR: They’re incredibly affordable, they’re highly dependable, and if you take good care of them, they’ll last a very long time. Last but not least, of course, there’s the optical viewfinder! The experience of raising a camera to your eye and seeing the real world is something that an electronic viewfinder can never replace.
Thankfully, DSLR technology has now achieved its highest potential, for the most part. This means that if you buy a DSLR today, not only will it last many years, physically, but it’s also unlikely to be obsoleted by a new camera.
This article is for every DSLR owner who wants to get the most out of their camera. I have two objectives for you: First, I want to remind the “my camera is my baby!” photographers that their gear was meant to be used, not put in a display case. Even beginner DSLRs are more “indestructible” than you think!
Secondly, I want to remind those “let’s see how close I can get to that tornado!” folks that their gear is not indestructible, nor are they… Be safe out there, take necessary precautions when necessary, and get home safe, with your gear…relatively unscathed?
So without any further ado, here are six tips to ensure that your camera lives a long and healthy (but exciting) life. These DSLR camera maintenance tips will ensure you get the most out of your gear!
How To Extend The Life Of Your DSLR
1.) A bit of water never hurt, just keep a dry cloth handy
If your camera is exposed to any type of moisture, don’t panic! Just wipe it down with a dry cloth as soon as you can. Rain, morning dew, and other types of non-salty moisture need only be wiped off with a dry cloth. However, saltwater splashes deserve a more thorough wiping with a damp cloth first. Keep this in mind if you have sweaty hands, too! Simply put, salt conducts electricity and makes water instantly bad news for any electronics it touches.
Personally, I’ve shot at the beach and near water many times, and have gotten rain/splashes/moisture on literally every camera I’ve ever owned. Some of my cameras were fully weather-sealed, others were entry-level DSLRs like Canon Rebels and the Nikon D5600 series.
Guess what? I never had a problem with water, except once when a wave totally splashed my Nikon D800. Unfortunately, the rubber gaskets covering the electronic ports on the side and bottom of the camera were both loose, and saltwater caused an electrical short. If I’d simply had the rubber gaskets firmly in place, my camera would have been fine!
2.) Don’t be afraid to switch lenses and learn to clean your sensor
One of my favorite little conveniences of owning a DSLR is that there is a shutter and a mirror keeping dust off the sensor! Plus, most DSLRs have automatic sensor cleaning. This means you can go quite a few months before needing to clean your sensor, even if you change lenses frequently.
In general, when changing lenses, keep your camera body pointed downward. As a side note, have a clean lens cloth handy and keep your lens’ front AND rear elements free of dust! Also, don’t freak out if you forget to turn off your camera before changing lenses, it’ll be fine.
With all that said, learning to clean your sensor is still a good idea. “Wet” sensor cleaning kits cost just $20-40, and it’s a very easy task. As long as you use a fresh swab and the correct liquid solution, your risk of causing actual harm to your sensor is almost zero.
At the very least, if you’re afraid to touch your sensor with a wet swab, get a “rocket blower” type tool. These will usually remove 99% of the dust that lands on your sensor. Do NOT just blow on your sensor with your mouth, however, the humidity on your breath will only cause dust to stick even worse to your sensor. Never use canned air blasters, either!
3.) Use the right cleaning tools for the job; retire them when necessary
The best tools I can recommend are a rocket blower and a lens pen. You don’t have to get the absolute most expensive gadgets, just use the right tool for the job. Always do the same procedure, too. Here’s mine:
- Air-blow the lens first to remove any major particles that might scratch the glass
- Use a brush for additional scratch-avoidance
- Use a lens cloth with a lens cleaning solution to wipe the surface of the lens glass gently; wipe until all cleaning solution residue (and any oils from your fingers etc) are completely gone
- Manually activate the sensor cleaning mechanism, if possible; repeat 3-5 times
- Air-blow the sensor, to remove any major particles that might scratch the sensor
- Make sure that the camera’s manual cleaning mode is correctly activated, (mirror and shutter are locked open, and the camera battery isn’t low) …use a wet cleaning swab to gently wipe the sensor; repeat with a dry swab until all cleaning liquid vanishes completely
It’s very important to perform cleanings in this order, otherwise, you may grind a little grain of sand into your lens or sensor.
On your lenses, f you prefer to use microfiber cloths or something similar, it’s usually a good idea to retire them after a while. ESPECIALLY if you work on the beach and the wind starts blowing; you’ll inevitably get a little sand in your camera bag! Let me put it this way: a new lens cloth costs a few cents or a few dollars, but replacing your front element or even a nice UV filter can be well over $100!
4.) Keep your DSLR batteries healthy
Lithium-ion batteries are pretty hearty things, they can last for many years if you take good care of them. I have Nikon batteries from 5 years ago that are still going strong!
One thing that people can forget is that it’s good to cycle your batteries up and down at least once in a while. In other words, if your camera/phone/laptop etc battery spends virtually all of its life with a 95-100% charge, it can effectively “forget” the lower percent range.
You probably have an old laptop that did this–it trickles slowly from 100% down to about 30-40%, and then suddenly it goes to 0% and dies without any warning!
The best way to avoid this is to let your batteries go all the way down to 10-15% every now and then. You don’t want to do it constantly, of course, but it’s still unhealthy if you literally NEVER do it! To complete this battery refresh, of course, be sure to charge your battery back up to 100% soon; don’t let it sit around forever at near-zero.
Also, if you have a habit of plugging your camera battery into its charger and then forgetting about it for a day or three, don’t worry! A couple of days sitting in the charger at 100% on “trickle charge” doesn’t hurt; name-brand chargers are designed to handle this situation rather well. However, you should store batteries off the charger if it’s going to be a matter of weeks or months.
NOTE: This advice was originally written between 2009 and 2015, as battery technology was evolving and improving. Today, in 2022, batteries have even better longevity. However, the same tips apply, especially with new technologies such as high-amp, and high-speed charging like USB-PD.
Personally, my favorite DSLR on the market is the highly modern Nikon D780, which can even be charged via USB, like most current mirrorless cameras; it’s a very convenient trick!
5.) Know the risks involving heat, cold, temperature changes, and humidity
Many photographers are afraid of super cold temperatures, or a light drizzle, but, actually, the biggest threat to your camera’s lifespan is probably heat and humidity! I’ve taken pictures in sub-zero temperatures with both sealed and un-sealed cameras and lenses, with no problems. I’ve seen cameras left out all night that grow frost in the morning, and they’re just fine after “thawing”.
The thing to watch out for is extreme or rapid temperature changes. If you’re shooting out in the snow and it’s time to go into a nice warm cabin, that’s when you must be careful. The warm indoors will cause condensation on your cold camera, which can happen inside your camera or lens, eventually causing fungus or permanent moisture marks on glass, or of course, messing with your camera’s electronics.
How do you warm up your camera safely? Simply keep your camera bag with you out in the cold, and seal your camera inside your bag before going inside. Let the camera and bag warm up slowly for 20-30 mins, and you’ll be fine!
Also, beware of this similar risk: in hotter climates, with indoor air conditioning, you risk causing condensation just by going from a cold air-conditioned room or vehicle outside to a hot, muggy summer morning. Especially those living in the American Midwest and South, where humidity is higher.
Going from hot to cold is actually not much of a risk at all, for those of you who are interested in thermodynamics. Either way, though, it’s advisable to expose your camera to humidity gradually.
And lastly, beware of extreme heat in places you might not think. Don’t leave your camera in a hot trunk, it can turn into an oven that is many degrees hotter than the ambient temperature. Doing this once or twice here or there won’t cause significant harm to your camera, however, some cameras will have their rubber grips start to peel off! Especially on Nikon DSLRs; working in the American Southwest, I end up having my (camera and lens) grip rubber fall off every couple of years or so. Especially notorious is the thumb rubber on Nikon pro DSLRs, but now also the Canon 5D mk3 CF card door has the same problem.
6.) Get your gear serviced every 1-3 years
This goes without saying, but a camera is a precision instrument. Service and calibration, even when things seem to be functioning properly, is a great way to ensure a long life for your DSLR camera. For the record, my own DSLRs racked up many hundreds of thousands of shutter clicks, each, and I only ever needed to have a shutter replaced a couple of times. (A shutter replacement is usually a quick $200-300 repair, if parts are still in stock for older model DSLRs.)
Aside from shutter replacements every few hundred thousand clicks, it’s usually just a matter of getting your autofocus and metering calibrated, getting the sensor cleaned professionally, and an overall checkup. If you do these things, your camera will live a long, healthy life. You might even get a mirrorless camera someday and your DSLR will still be chugging along!
Conclusion | DSLR Camera Repair & Maintenance
Whether you’re interested in a more traditional photography experience when you raise a camera to your eye to click a picture, or you’re just interested in owning equipment that lasts as long as you could possibly need it to, a DSLR is an excellent choice, as long as you take good care of your camera.
Thankfully, DSLR repair and maintenance is very simple, and rather affordable even when repairs are necessary.
Do you have any of your own tips or reminders that have helped prolong the life of your DSLR camera? Please do share with us in a comment below!