Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: Until then, Mogwai waits.
The Long Version: I was recently given a few new toys to play with. In an earlier review I tested the Green Clean lens wipes, and soon I'll take a look at a wet sensor cleaning system; now we're splitting the difference with their general dust-removal tool. Green Clean "Hi Tech Air and Vacuum Power" canisters cleverly use the Venturi effect to drive a vacuum cleaner with compressed gas; although it's no more intuitive than a propane-powered refrigerator, it really does work. While it has lots of potential uses, these cans are included in their sensor cleaning boxed kits.
The Green Clean vacuum has a real advantage over an air blower – they'll escort dust from the premises without introducing any new contaminants. It's reasonably powerful, being able to pick up grains of table salt, but it still needs to be fairly precisely targeted. This has obvious limitations, but then again there must be a reason why we don't just use our household vacuum cleaners on the insides of our SLRs.
Suction is through a flexible tube with an (optional) rigid attachment, and the air is drawn through a cylinder with a filter at the top and a collection chamber below. The filter is easily cleaned by taking it off of the nozzle and gently blowing through it – human-powered – which I needed to do after I went after some little dust bunnies. The bunnies lost, but on pain of marital discord I won't be sharing that particular video.
Alas, there's still no panacea for sensor dust: often the dirt is simply too stubborn to respond to subtle persuasion. My D700 had sat unused for most of the summer, and uncleaned since last year, so it was the obvious target for a little love. The Green Clean vacuum did take some fluff off of the sensor, but I was discouraged to see that it left most of the little specks behind. Perhaps that's because it's ragweed season, and pollen particles are sticky; perhaps it's because the self-cleaning sensors that most current cameras have will already knock off the debris that's willing to be moved. I'm not such a hard-core reviewer that I'll intentionally re-dirty my sensor, so instead I'm waiting for nature take its course.
In the winter static replaces pollen as the main dust culprit. Look for an update then – but ultimately nothing beats a wet cleaning with swabs for degunking. That's unfortunate, because I really wish a non-contact method would be enough, but it does give me a subject for another review or two. Life's a barter system.
The gas canisters for the Green Clean vacuum have a threaded nozzle that I haven't seen before. It stands to reason that these cylinders are at least somewhat standardized, but I haven't found the right search terms and haven't brought one of the cans to a hardware store to show the helpful salespeople. Being able to source generic replacement cans might be cheaper than the original, but probably not; it would certainly help any travelling photographer to be able to find them locally in case the TSA doesn't have a good sense of humour. While the evidence isn't conclusive on that last point, I won't be packing these the next time that I fly.
The hazard warnings on the back of the can are pretty unambiguous. The propellant in these cans is R-134a, aka tetrafluoroethane, which – to damn with faint praise – seems to be somewhat less eco-apocalyptic than most aerosols. Like fabric softener, it's not something to rejoice in, and the less it's used the better. Even for those of us who don't think that we're massively screwing up the environment, "use only in well-ventilated areas" really should be synonymous with "use sparingly". I'm not convinced that the brand name is well suited to this particular product, to say the least.
So the problem that I have with the Green Clean vacuum is deciding when it's worth using it. It's not cheap, either financially or ecologically, so what it cleans needs to be pretty important. As a sensor cleaner it won't cause more problems and it's great on the easy stuff, but like all non-contact methods it won't remove dirt that's welded on. That happened to be most of the specks that were on my D700 and GH1 sensors, but other cameras, environments, and seasons could be very different. Regardless, I'd never skip straight to the wet cleaning without exhausting all non-invasive options first.
For mundane jobs that merely need 'pretty good' results I'll keep using my Rocket Blower. Blower bulbs are handy little things, but when I try to clean my camera sensors with one I invariably end up with what an economist would call a negative improvement. For the times when I need non-negotiable dust removal from a small and delicate area, whether it's sensor cleaning or when I'm scanning the family Kodachrome archive, the Green Clean vacuum would certainly help. I can't yet say for sure that I'll spend my own money to buy one, but I can guarantee that some day I'll be stressed out in the middle of a sensor cleaning session and really wish that I had a little vacuum cleaner handy. What can I say? C'est la vie.
Added: New York-based photographer Adam Marelli has reviewed the Green Clean vacuum under much more actively dusty conditions than I've ever faced. He also sneaks in a quick look at the sensor swabs, which is still on my to-do list. More here: Adam Marelli Photo.
The Green Clean products used in this review have been provided at no cost by the North American distributor for evaluation. However, anything that isn't consumed in the product testing is returned, and there is no financial relationship or incentive involved. But as always, the usual `thewsreviews disclaimer still applies.
last updated 31 aug 2011