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VisibleDust announces trio of new sensor cleaning products  
Sunday, September 24, 2006 | by Rob Galbraith

VisibleDust has taken the wraps off an upcoming addition to their line of digital SLR sensor cleaning products. Called the Arctic Butterfly SL 700, it's a more compact version of the Arctic Butterfly 724 self-cleaning/charging brush the company introduced back in May 2006.

The SL 700 is the third new product from VisibleDust in recent weeks. In August, they rolled out the HDF Sensor Brush, a more densely-packed brush attachment for the Arctic Butterfly 724. Also unveiled were two types of Corner Swabs for wet-cleaning guck out of the corners of a sensor. Here's a rundown of Visible Dust's trio of new particle fighting tools.

Arctic Butterfly SL 700

The SL is for slimmer, and that's what the Arctic Butterfly SL 700 is - a combination of brush head, smooth contoured handle and spinning motor that takes up less room in a camera bag than the Arctic Butterfly 724.

VisibleDust trimmed the size by powering the SL 700 with a single AAA battery (vs two AAAs in the 724), utilizing a smaller DC motor and by shortening the length of the brush head's metal ferrule. The result, as you can see in the photos below, is a noticeably sleeker device.

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Views of the Arctic Butterfly SL 700: Shown with the Arctic Butterfly 724 in upper right. Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Though they are similar products, the Arctic Butterfly SL 700 and the 724 differ in five ways worth noting:

  • While both clean and charge themselves through rapid spinning and vibration of the brush head, the slower rotational speed of the SL 700 means that it must be spun for about twice as long to prep it for use. For example, Visible Dust recommends that the 724 be spun for three cycles of five seconds at the outset of a cleaning session, then for one cycle of five seconds between swipes across the sensor's cover glass. The approach is the same for the SL 700, only the times double: three cycles of 10 seconds to start, followed by one cycle of 10 seconds between swipes. Fariborz Degan, President of Visible Dust and the lead designer of most of the company's products, says that as long as the spinning time is extended as described, the SL 700 will be prepared for cleaning just as effectively as the 724, despite the latter's faster motor.

  • The SL 700's brush head, though it's about the same width as that of the 724, contains somewhat fewer bristles. Based on our initial use of it, this doesn't seem to have much impact on the SL700's cleaning ability, relative to the 724. Both are very good, while both are one notch down in effectiveness from the excellent Sensor Brush 16mm.

  • While the new HDF Brush Head will attach to both the SL 700 and 724, only the latter model has the horsepower to spin it at cleaning/charging speeds. As you'll read ahead, this isn't necessarily a factor to fret about.

  • While both feature a brush cap design that snugs securely in place for transport, the SL 700's sliding battery cover slips off too easily. Gaffer tape, anyone?

  • The Arctic Butterfly SL 700 is expected to sell for about US$60 (CDN$65.95), vs the going rate of about US$90 (CDN$99.95) for the Arctic Butterfly 724 now when ordered direct from VisibleDust.

VisibleDust's Degan says the target market for the Arctic Butterfly SL 700 is photographers using entry-level, smaller-sensor digital SLR cameras, including new models such as the Nikon D80, where the SL 700's lower price and size might make it a more desirable option. The company will probably sell plenty of units to this group, but regardless of the camera you use, or the dimensions of its sensor, we're of the opinion that the SL 700 represents a strong alternative to the 724 for field cleaning of a sensor's cover glass. It's smaller, cheaper and offers about the same cleaning power. Which is to say that, like the 724, the SL 700 offers a really good balance between portability and dust-removing power, but at a lower price.

Our recommendation would be to opt for the SL 700 for cleaning in the field, then funnel the US$30 price difference into a Sensor Brush 1.6X kit (with the spinning SD adapter if your budget allows). That way, you'll be armed with a very good location cleaning tool in the SL 700, and an excellent cleaning tool for the studio or home in the Sensor Brush. The SL 700 is slated to ship in the third week of October 2006 direct from VisibleDust, and soon after that from its network of retailers. It will be available in red, green and blue handle colours and case.

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Higher Fibre Diet: The HDF Sensor Brush. Click to enlarge. (Photo by Rob Galbraith)

HDF Sensor Brush

Earlier this year, we asked VisibleDust for a version of the Arctic Butterfly 724 with more bristles. Why? Because we like the self-charging/self-cleaning action of the 724, but wanted to combine that with the best possible brush. Our experience with the original, wooden-handle Sensor Brush is that more bristles add up to a quicker, more effective cleaning session, almost no splaying of the fibres when it's spun vigorously and minimal risk of accidentally dragging the brush tip out of bounds inside a full frame Canon digital SLR, which can result in nasty cover glass smears.

So, what we wanted was the convenience of the Arctic Butterfly with the great particle-lifting characteristics and overall handling of the Sensor Brush 16mm model in particular.

The HDF Sensor Brush is VisibleDust's answer to our request. Unfortunately, it's not quite what we'd hoped for. Regular readers of this site will know we're big fans of the company's products, but this new offering falls short. While the HDF Sensor Brush has two to three times more bristles than the Arctic Butterfly 724's standard head, they aren't distributed evenly from centre to edge and aren't particularly resistant to splaying. In fact, the two HDF Sensor Brush heads we've tried actually splay worse than the standard brush head, which only increases the risk of things like goo smear because it's not possible to carefully control what the fibres touch inside the camera.

In theory, the HDF Sensor Brush should be a better brush head for the Arctic Butterfly 724; as designed, this is the rare VisibleDust product that we can't recommend. We're going to keep on using a mix of Arctic Butterfly units in the field, and Sensor Brush 1.6X kits with an SD spinner back at the office.

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Views of the HDF Sensor Brush: Pictured at top left with the standard brush head. Pictured at right is (left to right) the standard brush head, HDF Sensor Brush and Sensor Brush 16mm. Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The HDF Sensor Brush is shipping now direct from VisibleDust for CDN$45.95 (about US$41.50 as of this writing), and will begin to appear on retailer shelves the week of September 25, 2006.

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Tight Quarters: VisibleDust Corner Swabs. Click to enlarge. (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Corner Swabs

Rounding out what's new from VisibleDust are Corner Swabs. This product, says Degan, was developed in direct response to customer requests. Time and time again, says Degan, the folks at VisibleDust would hear from photographers who'd carefully swabbed away stubborn deposits from the sensor cover glass, only to be left with small particles in the corners that defied removal.

The result is two different types of Corner Swabs: DHAP (orange handle) and Ultra MXD-100 (green handle) for two different types of material to remove.

DHAP is for non-oily guck, and is meant to be combined with VDust Formula liquid. Ultra MXD-100 is meant to tackle oily residue, usually combined with a dab of Smear Away to get rid of most of the oily material, followed by another Ultra MXD-100 Corner Swab and VDust Formula to complete the operation.

We've not used the Corner Swabs yet, but have had positive, albeit limited, experience with the other swabs in the DHAP and Ultra MXD-100 lines. Both types of Corner Swabs are now shipping now direct from VisibleDust; a box of 16 swabs is CDN$29.95 (about US$27 as of this writing). They will begin to appear on retailer shelves the week of September 25, 2006. VisibleDust will be exhibiting at Photokina 2006 from September 26 to October 1 in Cologne, Germany.

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