Thoughts on UV filters


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Jun 17, 2013
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After a long day at the track I packed it up for the night and headed back off to the Villa. I wanted to bring my camera inside to review the pictures of the day, and while in complete darkness, I walked around the car to the passenger side, grabbed my camera bag and proceeded to hurl the entire contents of the bag across the concrete pad I was parked on. Apparently in my haste to call it a night, i just set the body back in and didn't zip the bag back up.

All the equipment was fine, but I got a scare when I picked up my 17-70 which is my everyday lens. It rattled like I had shattered all the glass, but luckily it was just the UV filter completely smashed. Later the next day I found I lost another on my 55-300.


One part of me is thankful I had the protect filters on the lenses, but after reviewing Friday's pictures to Saturday's, you could see an improvement in image quality with the UV filters now removed ;)
Remember UV filters are very very thin glass, as a result they will shatter quite easily to a drop or heavy impact which would otherwise leave the much thicker glass of a lens unharmed (its more likely that motors or the focus adjustments within the lens would come to harm than the glass itself in the case of a heavy drop).

The thing is a UV filter, when it shatters, spreads glass everywhere - including right back onto the front glass of your lens; a result the "protection filter" can end up scratching up your front element even worse than if it had not been there in the first place.

UV filters are great for protecting against dust, water, sloppy watery mud, salt, sand etc.... - ie light particles or liquids. Against anything that will crack the glass they are likely offering little to no actual protection and might even cause additional damage. They are often pushed for "lens protection" at retailers, but that is partly because camera bodies and lenses don't have much mark up on their price - whilst a UV filter is often marked up very high (as a result they get a good amount of profit which they want). It's not an outright lie, but one has to be aware what protection you do actually get.

PS - high quality UV filters should have little to no effect on image quality, if you can see a clear quality difference between UV on and UV off that is a sign to get some better quality filters. I've even seen some very low grade UV filters cause AF problems.
I was well aware of all this beforehand. Having a UV filter on all my lenses is just something I've always done, for years and years now, as I tend to shoot in places where the lenses could get damaged more often than not and was something I was just told to do as a kid. But after noticing a clear difference in the image quality while scanning through my downloads of the weekend, I think I'm going to probably cease the practice. What I really could have benefited from was a good GD filter.

But yeah, cleaning off all the glass dust was not fun. One of the filter rings has clear signs of direct impact on it, so I'm just happy it abosrbed some of the shock and all the equipment still operates without issue.
I only use UV filters in situations where the large amount of UV light is likely to affect my film.

Otherwise I use a hood instead. They will absorb the impact just like a UV filter will, but the plastic or rubber of the hood is more likely to absorb the shock without scattering lens-destroying shards everywhere. I would suspect that there's also a much better chance of the threads not being bent afterwards.
What brand of filter do you use? After seeing the amount of crap welded to a Hoya filter after being anywhere near the sea, I would make sure I had one on expensive glass especially in certain situations.
If your indoors or anywhere there is little chance of flying abrasive dirt/grit, or even doing some street photography I wouldn't be too worried. Setting up on a tripod for some landscape you could just screw it off, I think of them as a transparent lens cap rather than a fit and forget addition to the lens.

Admittedly I'm still a noob but that's just my take on them, not like it's a huge job to screw it off.
A UV filter has questionable protective power physically. On the one hand, by shattering, it absorbs some kinetic energy and thus results in less of a shock to the rest of the lens (just like hitting and snapping a tree branch will "break your fall"). On the other hand, depending on what it falls on and how, that same shattered glass will then be potentially jammed into your front element scratching it.

Ideally, if you wanted a true "protective filter," then you would want a TEMPERED glass clear filter, one with more flexibility to absorb more energy, and one that if broken would form non-sharp pieces. However, I don't know of any such product. It may be impossible to make without really badly affecting image quality is probably why.

The UV is also another piece of glass that will very slightly degrade your images. But you'd have to be super human or use a perfect storm of terrible photoshop choices to ever see it from one filter.

And finally, the UV filter could vignette very wide lenses, and it reduces your ability to put on other filters without vignetting from stacking, or annoyance from removing and screwing back on filters constantly.

Overall: Bleh. Sort of a wash / no big difference overall.

A much better protection solution in most cases is a LENS HOOD. A hood will also bend and snap and absorb kinetic energy, it does not get in the way of the light, and unlike the UV filter, it serves an actual useful non-protective purpose of reducing lens flare and boosting contrast. Even a stubby little tulip hood is more than sufficient to protect your front element from smashing into things casually.

For these reasons, I strongly suggets you switch to lens hoods instead of UV filters across the board. It's not so much that UV filters are really bad particularly, so much as it is that lens hoods do all the same things, but more and better, and don't cost any more.

The only time I recommend a UV filter is in salt spray conditions or a dust storm or something. And even then, only if you wouldn't already be using some other filter anyway (like a polarizer)
I have always used a protection filter, eg uv filter, i read about a camera repair shop, the repair guy said he could always tell the lens that had a filter fitted all the time, as on the one`s that did not, the lens coating start`s to wear off after a few years of cleaning the lens.

Also if you just want to protect the front of your lens from knocks, buy a cheap filter and remove the glass.

I find myself using filters when I am in SUPER bright shooting conditions. I live in the desert so some parts of the day it is bloody bright here. I also will shoot of the back of my husband's BMW 650 and find that sometimes NOT having a filter with the glare of some of the cars and other objects I shoot the photos come out looking like they were past over exposed.
the lens coating start`s to wear off after a few years of cleaning the lens.
That's BS. First of all, who cleans their lens the dozens of times per year that would be needed to make this happen? I've cleaned the front of most of my lenses maybe 1-2 times over multiple years, total.

Second of all, you can't see stuff on the front element easily, because it's usually really far away from the plane of focus. If you're shooting at f/32 or something and focusing on something at near-macro distances, then maybe. Otherwise, dust and dirt and tiny flakes in the coating even would be invisible in photos, due to being so blurry as to not even be noticeable. Fun game: Take a 1/2" x 1/2" or so piece of post-it note and just stick it right on the front of your lens and take a normal photo at around f/5.6-8 of something 20 feet away or so at 50-100mm. You won't even be able to tell that there is a post it note. Now compare that to the concept of easily noticing a slightly different bit of coating...

The following image of the typewriter behind my desk in the hallway was taken with a pair of pliers right in front of the lens. Just like as shown in the second photo (but pointing at the hallway. Do you see a pair of pliers in the photo? Nope. If you can't notice a pair of pliers that take up 25% of the whole area of the lens, how would somebody routinely be able to notice a slightly worn off lens coating on a single element just from the image?

Ansel Adams: "Some photographers keep one of these [UV] filters on their lenses at all times, both for their UV absorption and to protect the lens.... Since filters may cause some loss of optical image quality, I suggest limiting this use to adverse conditions such as blowing sand or salt spray from the ocean." -- The Negative, 2011; Little, Brown and Company. I agree with Adams.
Ansel Adams: "Some photographers keep one of these [UV] filters on their lenses at all times, both for their UV absorption and to protect the lens.... Since filters may cause some loss of optical image quality, I suggest limiting this use to adverse conditions such as blowing sand or salt spray from the ocean." -- The Negative, 2011; Little, Brown and Company. I agree with Adams.

I keep a set of filters with me when I shoot. I shot off a old Fuji for 8 years. I LOVED that camera. But the reason I upgraded was because the poor camera literally had buttons that have stopped working. However, I have never had half the issues I hear from with some of the people who are using filters. Interesting to see how different it is for different photographers. I have found that shooting with filters here in the bright of the desert makes my photos not look so washed out and dull.

here's the other.

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