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Thread: My take on the use of UV filters

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    My take on the use of UV filters

    We've all heard the UV filter debates before, but I decided to produce an article on my blog explaining dispassionately and hopefully objectively the reason why the use of UV filters isn't such a good idea.

    At the risk of igniting debate (and let's keep it civil if it does go that way), I have reproduced it here.

    Hopefully it will be beneficial to those who aren't sure where they stand on the use of UV filters.

    Some disclaimers:

    It's to be remembered that, while I have kept as objective as possible, the views set forth are simply my own views from the perspective of someone who is in the "anti-filter" camp. I have used logic to support my stance on the use of these filters.

    Some people will agree with my views, and some people will not agree. The reader can decide, so without further preamble, here it is:


    The UV Filter Debate

    The debate about the use of ultra-violet (UV) filters (or not) is one of those issues which polarises (pardon the pun) the photography community.

    There have probably been more arguments over use of UV filters than there have been Canon vs. Nikon skirmishes.

    My own position on the use of UV filters is well documented and places me very firmly in the “against” camp. I do not believe UV filters are necessary or beneficial, and I specifically will not use them.

    To explain why, I’ll firstly explain why people might buy these filters. The two main reasons are:

    1. to filter out UV light; and
    2. to protect the lens.

    Filtration of UV light might be one reason for the use of such a filter, but in the digital age, and unless you’re shooting at high altitudes, it’s not necessary to use a UV filter, as digital sensors are nowhere near as sensitive to UV light as film.

    The second reason concerns “protection”, and I use the term very loosely, as I do not believe a UV filter provides effective protection for a lens.

    Firstly one must define what sort of protection is desirable. A person might use a UV filter in a protective capacity to prevent any or all of the following:

    1. dust;
    2. moisture;
    3. fingerprints; and
    4. impact.

    Let’s look at each of the above undesirable elements and assess the effectiveness or merit of a UV filter for that form of protection.

    1. Dust

    I do not consider dust to be a problem. It blows off. In as much as dust can land on a lens’s objective element, it can also land on a filter. Either way, it’s going to be necessary to remove dust in order to clean the glass.

    2. Moisture

    Like dust, water can be removed from a lens’s objective element. It wipes off. It doesn’t harm a lens, and when shooting in inclement weather or conditions that would otherwise cause water to contact a lens (eg, sea spray), there is going to be some time spent wiping water off glass.

    Some Canon lenses specifically require a filter (the type of filter is not specified) to complete the weather sealing capability of the lens, as the objective element moves as the lens focuses or zooms. One such example is the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens, whose objective element moves as the focal range changes, but this movement is within the lens’s outer barrel; in other words, the lens’s entire structure does not change in length, but the recessed lens does move along the inside of the barrel’s construction.

    3. Fingerprints

    Some people might use a filter to avoid getting fingerprints on a lens. Again, fingerprints can be removed. Personally, I have never found fingerprints to be an issue; I simply don’t get them on my lenses, and as I’ll discuss later, there are more effective preventative measures.

    4. Impact

    This is the clincher. Many people buy UV filters in the believe it will protect their lenses from impact. What sort of impact?

    The scenarios can vary widely, but let’s look at an extreme example.

    Firstly, there’s the dreaded lens drop. People drop lenses. I’ve done so myself. A UV filter offers absolutely no protection whatsoever from an accidental drop. Simple physics explains why.

    In most cases, the objective element is recessed into the front of the lens, ironically due to the need to provide a rim for the mounting of screw-in filters. With the exception of a few lenses (ultra-wide rectilinear lenses and fish-eye lenses), the objective element does not protrude beyond the rim. In the case of ultra-wide rectilinear lenses and fish-eye lenses, these protruding elements are protected by an in-built, non-removable lens hood.

    In the unlikely event that a lens were to hit the ground face-first, it would be even more unlikely for the objective element to strike the ground or an object on the ground. In terms of probability, it is more likely that some part of the lens barrel will strike the ground, owing to the fact that there is far more surface area comprised of the barrel.

    Now, in the rather unfortunate event that a lens did strike the ground or something on the ground at such an angle for the objective element to make direct, blunt-force contact, what would a thin sheet of glass to do protect it? Absolutely nothing.

    The filter would smash, and the lens it was intended to protect would still bear direct impact. Furthermore, the shards of glass from a shattered filter would quite possibly scratch the fine coatings on the objective element. That’s not a situation I consider acceptable or sensible.

    It is also to be remembered that the objective element of a lens is far thicker and far tougher than the glass in any filter. It would take significant force to crack an objective element.

    As I mentioned above, I have dropped a lens. A few years ago I dropped a reasonably heavy lens from waist height onto bitumen. Now, the lens was wearing both its front and rear caps, but the damage the entire unit sustained was very low, and surprisingly so.

    The part of the lens that actually hit the ground (after which it bounced and rolled away) was the side of the barrel, towards the front. There was a minor dent to the exterior of the barrel. The fact that the lens was wearing its caps made no difference, but I’d prefer caps on than caps off.

    Naturally there was no UV filter on the lens. Had a filter been present, the shock force of the impact would likely have shattered the filter and left shards of glass in direct contact with my lens’s objective element.

    One last issue to consider with the use of a filter in this scenario is that if the rim of the filter strikes the ground, it will almost certainly be deformed, and may be impossible to remove, as the impact can compress the metal of either the filter’s rim or the lens’s filter threads, thus permanently damaging them.

    Impact can also take the form of less-brutal contact with glass, such as a tree branch or some other object still coming into contact with the lens, but not with the velocity of a drop or a flying stone thrown up by a passing vehicle. My belief, as I will explain further in this article, is that hoods offer more effective protection.

    The Negative Effects of Filters

    While the use of a UV filter can demonstrably be shown to be useless at best, or ineffective at worst for protection, there are also some negative consequences that arise as a result of using filters: image quality degradation.

    Image quality degradation is more often the result of using cheap, non-coated UV filters, but I have seen first-hand image degradation when the filter was a Hoya HMC (Hoya Multi-Coated) filter, so even the better filters can still produce undesirable results.

    The first negative side-effect is a loss of contrast and sharpness. There are examples on the Internet showing the same scene captured with and without a filter, and a visible loss of clarity is apparent in the image captured with the filter attached.

    The other issue is flare and ghosting when shooting at point sources of light. This problem is likely to be encountered at night when shooting streetscapes and cityscapes, which often feature bright sources of light (eg, street lights or building lights) in the darkness.

    This is what happens:

    Light from the distance point source enters the lens. The light reflects off the lens and falls upon the inner surface of the UV filter, from which it in turn reflects back into the lens. The result is ghosting and flare. Utterly undesirable.

    Multi-coated filters generally reduce this, but as I mentioned, I have seen it occur even with a multi-coated filter. In January of 2010 I took a friend from Queensland to shoot the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, and while we were there, another photographer was also shooting night scenes. Her images weren’t turning out well, and when we removed the filter and she took the same photo again, the image quality visibly improved.

    Based on that first-hand experience, I would not endorse the use of any UV filter when doing night photography in locations where there are point sources of light.

    My Approach

    I stated early in this article that I do not use UV filters. I believe they do not offer adequate protection, and have seen that they can degrade image quality. I do not consider either situation acceptable.

    What I instead advocate and practice is the use of lens hoods when shooting, and lens caps when not shooting. These provide far more protection than any filter.

    Lens hoods do three things:

    1. reduce stray light hitting the lens at oblique angles and thus causing flare;
    2. increase contrast as a result of keeping angular ambient light out; and
    3. keep the objective element well away from hands and other foreign objects.

    If a lens is dropped, the hood or barrel (as described earlier) will be more likely to take the hit. In most cases, lens hoods are made from plastic, so they will flex when they come into contact with a hard surface at significant velocity. This cushioning, much like a car’s shock absorber, absorbs the force of the impact far more effectively than the rigid surface of a filter rim or the lens barrel itself.

    Lens caps are simply essential to protect the front and rear elements of a lens when it is not in use. Dust, moisture, fingerprints and blunt-force impact are all kept well out of harm’s way when caps are attached.

    It would be remiss of me to neglect mentioning Hoya’s HD (high-density) line of filters. These have up to four times the breaking strength of a normal filter. Videos on YouTube show people deliberately slamming these into the corner of benches to demonstrate the strength of the glass.

    While I have not seen these filters, they certainly have more merit than a regular UV filter for impact protection purposes, but I still believe that direct impact to the objective element of lens resulting from a drop would have velocity which exceeds the strength of the HD filter’s glass. I’d trust my hoods before I’d trust a filter.

    So, hopefully this article provides some insight into what UV filters can and cannot do — mostly what they cannot do — and also explains my philosophy behind refusing to use these filters on my lenses.

    In parting, the advice I would offer to anyone who would still use a filter is this:

    1. buy the highest quality filters available;
    2. remove the filters when shooting night scenes with point sources of light;
    3. do not rely on these alone as protective devices; and
    4. use lens hoods and lens caps.

  2. #2
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    Nice article. Well the old comment "been there done that" applies for me. Only been with camera for about 18 months my filter experience was all bad. I have a old thread on AP when I asked for help as I struggled with sharpness with shots. As the thread went I tried different suggestions then someone posted a comment on filters. I removed my UV filters and there was a very noticeble omprovement. I should mention that though name brand filters they where the cheaper model. I have replaced my filter with a hood ever since. So to cut a long story short, my opion is you have hit the nail on the head. If this was a conversation we were having, my reply would have been - Exactly.
    Last edited by mikew09; 29-07-2010 at 7:27am.
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    I'm with Xenedis on this.

    I stopped using them about a year ago after a friend's lens was damaged almost certainly because of the use of a screw on UV.

    It was mostly about it shattering, deforming the rim - getting stuck and the act removing the threat, damaged the casing around the lens.

    I carry around (in my bag) a UV lens if a circumstance arises where I may feel I need one - but haven't come to that yet.

    Scotty
    Canon 7D : Canon EF 70-200mm f:2.8 L IS II USM - Canon EF 24-105 f:4 L IS USM - Canon EF 50mm f:1.8 - Canon EF-s 18-55mm f:3.5-5.6
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    (Xenedis) So do you use a filter on the 16-35/2.8 lens?... considering your prevalence for seascapes?

    The Nikon 80-200/2.8 AF-D is another lens that requires a filter to complete the sealing of the lens as it has an open front also.

    My mistake was to not keep a spare filter on it at all times. I did have a system where the polariser was kept on it most of the time, but that was when I only had one to share around three lenses, so I almost invariably forgot to keep it on the 80-200/2.8 far too often.
    I remember member SeeSee made comments on his 80-200 when he first acquired his(before I got mine), and he commented that his lens has 'too much' dust inside it from brand new. And so i checked mine and it was crystal clear(for the most part).. but upon later inspections it became obvious that dust was slowly building up inside the lens.
    That's only an issue if you shoot (even partially) into any light source where the dust can reduce contrast that the lens is really capable of producing.

    In a mostly seaside environment, I would have the UV(or polariser or screw on ND) on all the time on such a lens to stop seaspray from entering into the lens. Cleaning it off the front element is a non issue due to the ease with which it cleans off, but eventually having a hazy finish on any of the inner lens elements is something I'd rather not have to deal with... both getting cleaned and using the lens.

    The only other benefit I can see for using filters as protection(from the elements) is as someone else pointed out once:
    if you're at a seaside(or desert) shoot and the conditions are such that your front lens element is getting dirty regularly(which can happen quite quickly) and this is a time critical shoot, eg. paid models quickly fading light, etc.. even though it's easy to wipe a front lens clean it is much quicker to replace a dispensable filter and maintain a quicker workflow.
    In such circumstances, if I had to choose between shooting through a clean UV filter or a lens with a dirty/hazy front element, I'd prefer the clean UV filter.

    but in saying that.. I have no UV filters that fit any of my current lenses. I have one that doesn't fit any of my lenses tho! ... don't know how to put it to best use yet, but I'm sure I'll find a use for it soon
    Nikon D800E, D300, D70s
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    {Tamron}; -> 17-50/2.8 : 28-75/2.8 : 70-200/2.8 : 300/2.8 SP MF : 24-70/2.8VC


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    I wonder what will happen to all those UV filters stacked on the display shelves in all those camera stores around the world if the majority would embrace this practice?
    "The greatest camera in the world is the one you hold in your hands when shit happens." ©2007 Raoul Isidro

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    wow, ive never considered whether UV filters are good or bad, thanks for the useful analysis
    Darren
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    Ausphotography Regular bobt's Avatar
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    An interesting article .... and I can see the logic behind it. I still use UV filters mainly because I feel that it is possible to scratch a lens when wiping it, or accidentally bumping it - and I think that scratching a replaceable UV filter is cheaper than any other options - especially when the lens is worth $1600 !!

    It's the same reasoning that I use for covering my LCD with a transparent film - it saves small scratches, and I can easily replace films on the LCD or a UV filter at little cost.

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    Really informative article, Thank you!

    I don't use any filter on my lenses. i guess because my lenses are not worth 1000+ dollars and If I would use a filter I would use a good one which costs too much for me hehe.

    Edit: How much do I have to spend for a proper lens protecting filter?


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    This was a very interesting read. I've just bought a couple of clear filters for two of my lenses (the 100mm Macro and the 10-22mm). In the case of the macro lens I thought it might help protect it from and bumps and scratches if I'm in amongst bushes etc and for the 10-22mm it was to help keep it away from prying hands at school when I'm taking photos - it seems like the first thing the kids do is reach out and touch the lens.

    I do have lens hoods for both, although the 10-22mm doesn't seem to offer much protection. I made sure I bought B+W filters, but I'll be removing them if there's any sign of an effect on images. Will most likely only use them in situations where I think its needed, rather than all the time.

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    I don't use UV filters any more. However, I have scratched the front element of my 18-135mm lens (the kit lens) because I didn't put the lens cap on. (It's only a small scratch - doesn't show up in pictures - and the lens isn't my favourite anyway. ) I now make sure I use the lens caps, but will still not put a UV filter back on.
    Regards, Rob

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    New to posting.. everyone seems to have varied opinions here.
    If I'm honest, truly honest, everyone of my 5 lenses has one on it in my bag.
    (not to say they don't come off - generally to replace with another filter)

    But the reason is (like a lot of people perhaps and especially those new to photography) I don't consider any of my lenses as a keeper yet. Not really attached to any of them.
    Focal length yes - actual lens no.

    Everything i own will be sold eventually.
    If I was buying second hand I would like to read "filter on since new" as long as it was removable.

    I'm probably not as careful as i should be with stuff.
    I'm not precious with my gear. I know I will always lose lens caps no matter how much i think it is in my pocket.
    I treat most UV filters as lens caps when I'm in a hurry changing as i only have one body.
    (rear cap on - chuck in bag or on ground if in a real hurry)
    I have a UV on my macro because i never look where I am in and around the bushes, and the lens has the unfortunate job to clear the way for the flash when I'm not careful or I'm excited and chasing something around.

    Agree with all of the above though..
    I notice I use my 11 - 16 naked a bit more these days
    Time and a place for everything for me.
    I just need to learn to be more careful with gear - all the time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by arthurking83 View Post
    (Xenedis) So do you use a filter on the 16-35/2.8 lens?... considering your prevalence for seascapes?
    The only filters I use on my 16-35 are GNDs (almost always), NDs and very rarely a polariser.

    I have a Lee creative filter system, and for most of my seascapes one or both of my GNDs are in front of the lens -- not for any protective purpose, but for balancing exposure.

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    Interesting read, Looks like the UV will be coming off my 10-20, I guess if they were needed they would come with one I use a Kit lens with no filter and peope always ask how I get the images so sharp, Maybe thats the answer - Bill , Just remembered , Dont use one on the "Nifty Fifty" either , Sharp as !!
    Canon : 30D, and sometimes the 5D mkIII , Sigma 10-20, 50mm 1.8, Canon 24-105 f4 L , On loan Sigma 120-400 DG and Canon 17 - 40 f4 L , Cokin Filters




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    I do have UV filters for all my lens but in most cases I do remove them to replace them with others such as ND & Polarisers. I would like to think they offer some protection as I did drop my camera and 18-270 (only 3 days old) in a camera bag from my boat to the roadway clumsy sod that I am. I nearly cried as I heard the tinkle of glass as I picked the bag up but was overjoyed when I removed the shards from the UV filter and unscrewed it to find no damage to the lens or the camera. Maybe I was lucky on that day and the Gods blessed me but I still use them and am now very wary where I put my gear down.

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    I use a high quality UV or protective filter when doing seascapes (I cleaned a huge amount of salt of my filter after my last trip) but in normal climates I try not to use them..

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    thought I posted this, but at work, hiding the screen so I musn't have pressed reply..
    Two things for people thinking about removing a UV filter if used for protection from personal experience..

    1 - I have used scratched filters (a bad macro experience ) and scratched lenses.
    To get either of these to show up in an image I needed a huge DOF to get this to show.
    And at this setting I was also showing sensor dust as well. (a side problem to Macro DOF).
    Regular aperture and it wont / wouldn't show..

    2 - If your wondering how strong the protective coating on glass is we have used / abused 14 G9's at work since they were released.They are used in all conditions including heavy rain / dust / whatever and they will sit on a monopod for 10 minutes in a downpour. They are always just cleaned / wiped with a dry hankie. No blower first, no fluid, generally abused. In the last couple of years not one has any visible lens damage at all.
    The qualities of these lenses and their coatings is nowhere near as good as any expensive lens.

    That being said I have Hitech GND's and ND's and sensor dust will show before I can get imperfections showing on the image when looking for big DOF in a 'scape photo . So i really don't have a problem using a high quality clear UV on my lenses.

    Like I said I'm not very precious with my gear. (twice i have had to clean out my tripod mount with a compressor to get the dirt out of it) Anyways I have gotten off the track.
    Short answer for me is lenses have really good protective coatings...
    Sensor dust shows at about the same time as a lens mark will...
    And i really should take better care of my wide angle when it's naked.. (big DOF)

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    i've got a 3mm gauge on the front element of my 35mm lens. Just got a quote to fix it...$1 200. Here is an extract from the email I received:

    "sorry fort he delay in answering, but the mail passed several colleagues here in our house. First of all => Scratches on the front-element do not have any influence on optical performance. The replacement here in our workshop as a ballpark figure

    labor charges approx 280 Euro

    spare-part(s) approx 220 Euro

    plus 40 euro shipping charges."


    I still refuse to use the UV filter, unless I want to cut down on UV. My fault for leaving my camera on my desk for my 3 year old to play with.

  18. #18
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    No Filter, Cap and hood now-a-days.
    Back in my film days I used UV filters
    regards, Kym Gallery Honest & Direct Constructive Critique Appreciated! ©
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    yep, can't beat a lens cap and hood for protection, and they're usually free when you buy the lens.

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    Ausphotography Veteran rwg717's Avatar
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    I must say, an extremely well written article which presents the arguments in perfect contrast, food for though me thinks!
    Richard
    I've been wrong before!! Happy to have constructive criticism though.Gear used Canon 50D, 7D & 5DMkII plus expensive things hanging off their fronts and of course a "nifty fifty".

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