Can dust inside my lens affect image quality?

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The very likely answer is, no. The truth is that dust inside lens is pretty normal and to be expected since lenses have a lot of cracks and openings where air - and dust - can easily enter. Zoom lenses which extend in length when you alter the focal length are particularly vulnerable to this problem, since air gets sucked in every time you move the lens barrel.

Gladly, a little bit of dust inside a lens isn't going to make a difference, so it's not something we need worry about. It may be alarming to see the dust specks when you hold the lens up to a bright light, but it'll cost an awful lot of money to have a camera repairperson dismantle the lens and clean each internal element. And there's no guarantee that the elements will be properly aligned when he or she gives it back to you. So, unless the lens is coated with a dusty grey film of dust you shouldn't have any problems.

A great REAL-world example of how dust and particles affect image quality can be read here: http://kurtmunger.com/dirty_lens_articleid35.html

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