By Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP
On first glance, the FireFly sensor cleaner might not look different from any other device that shoots puffs of air onto your sensor. But don’t let that fool you. NRD, the company that designed this product, specializes in static elimination. In theory, the FireFly works much like those ionizing air purifiers that you can buy at the gadget store in your mall. When you have the FireFly unit turned on, any air that passes through the device will be ionized. And when you use the ionized air to clean your sensor, it’s basically neutralizes the static charge, allowing dust particles to “fall” off your sensor.
The FireFly sensor cleaner ships in two pieces, which I found allows for more convenient storage. The air chamber portion comes with a yellow rubber cap, which you can see is still on in the image below. It goes without saying that before assembling the FireFly, you’ll want to remove the cap.
To assemble the FireFly, simply insert the air chamber unit’s connector piece into the appropriate receptacle on the other half of the FireFly, and then twist to lock into place. Once assembled, the FireFly looks something like a stage two rocket ready for takeoff.
To use the FireFly, you will need to lock up the mirror in your camera, and place the camera body in a face-down position. This will allow gravity to take care of any dust that is dislodged when you begin cleaning your sensor. The directions that come with the FireFly recommend mounting your camera body on a tripod, but if you’re out in the field, you could always have your assistant hold it for you. Once the camera is in position, you simply depress (and hold) the power button on the air ionization device, and then squeeze the air chamber several times to send a few puffs of air onto the sensor.
For my before and after comparison, I pulled out a camera body whose sensor had not been cleaned in quite some time. You’ll see in the image below that the sensor was quite dirty:
After cleaning the sensor using the method described above, I visually inspected the sensor (yes, I have good eyesight!), and determined that the FireFly did a sufficient job of removing all the dust. I then flipped the mirror down, took my “after” frame, and was quite surprised to see that the sensor was somehow still dusty. After a few more test runs, I had a revelation—maybe the mirror and the inner chamber itself were so dusty that when I flipped the mirror back down, more (new) dust settled on the sensor. So, I did one final round of testing. This time, I used the FireFly to clean the mirror, then locked the (now clean) mirror up to clean the sensor (and inner chamber). From the image below, you’ll see that this method worked quite nicely.
Since the FireFly cleans your sensor without actually touching your sensor, you don’t have to worry about voiding your manufacturer’s warranty (if that is of concern to you). On the flip side, because it does not physically touch the sensor, it is only able to remove dry particles such as dust. Any oil or grease spots on your sensor will remain despite your best efforts to puff them away.
While using the FireFly, I came to see the benefit of having a dry sensor cleaning technique. It’s less invasive than using sensor swabs, for example (not to mention it eliminates the whole warranty issue), and while it doesn’t remove oil or grease, how often do you really get anything besides dry particles stuck to your sensor? In my experience, most of my daily (or weekly) sensor grime is just dust, nothing more. Having the FireFly on hand has allowed me to do a quick sensor cleaning before sessions. It is much more flexible than the alternative wet swabbing technique, and certainly quicker than sending your camera out to an approved sensor cleaner. Plus, since the FireFly neutralizes static charge, it seemed to help the interior chamber of the camera become a little less of a dust magnet. This benefit might allow you to get away with performing sensor cleanings on a more infrequent basis.
Overall, I was impressed with how well the FireFly performed. My one suggestion for improvement would be to change the design of the power button. Personally I would have preferred an on/off switch that didn’t require constant depression in order to operate. But that’s being picky, I know the “push and hold” power button was implemented to ensure efficient battery usage.
If you are looking for a device to help keep your sensor dust-free—without voiding your warranty—then you should consider the FireFly sensor cleaner. The FireFly retails for $199 and can be purchased directly from NRD (www.nrdfirefly.com), or from Adorama.