Are UV Filters on DSLR Cameras Pointless?

If you are like me, you have always bought a UV filter for each of your lens because that's what you are supposed to do, right? With today's lenses having built-in UV protection and high quality coatings, are UV filters even needed anymore? Check out this video by Karl Taylor as he weighs in on his personal thoughts about UV filters.

In this video, Karl questions whether or not UV filters are really necessary with today's DSLR cameras. He touches on why UV filters were needed for film cameras and how they aided in correcting blue color cast in the shadows. He does a side by side comparison of an image with the filter and one without.

I tend to feel the same way as Karl. If you invest in high quality glass and you take care of it, I don't really see a true need for a UV filter. If I'm going to purchase a filter, I want it to fulfill a need. I have, however, seen some images where having a filter on a lens has saved the front glass from being damaged, so having one for protection is justifiable. I guess it's all just a matter of peace of mind.

What do you think? Are UV filters just an expensive way to protect the front of your lens, or do you feel they are still a needed piece of equipment? Should you purchase a cheap filter and take it off every time you use your lens, purchase an expensive one that you can leave on that won't degrade your image quality, or just not use one at all?

 

[via Great Photography Tips]

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21 Comments

Ryan Mense's picture

My view is that today the UV filter market is completely aimed at taking advantage of the beginner photographer. Their product descriptions are usually filled with half-truths, stuff that is valid if you were shooting film - but they neglect to tell you that part. They also stress how UV filters are going to protect your lens from inevitable breakage that will occur if you don't use one, something that a beginning photographer who just dropped a lot of money on their new hobby will probably eat right up.

David Vaughn's picture

No kidding. When I first bought my 70-200mm as a fledgling photographer, the camera shop I was in insisted I buy an expensive UV filter to go along with it. I did since according to the salesperson it would be a total scratch magnet without it.

Of course, I only realized that I was swindled several years later when I knew better lol.

You need to check out Roger Clark's site. He has performed testing that shows a real image quality loss when you use a UV or other protector filter.

Michael Rapp's picture

If the whole point is whether there's quality loss or not due to UV filter, then the whole point of those filters have become pointless.;-)
I agree with Karl here, the filter doesn't do anything to improve the image. In fact, I have another 2 glass to air borders to worry about and keep clean, unless they do something bad to my image.
Protection of the lens? Hmm, used to do that when I was shooting film, quite practical, too, get 2 for one. But in the last 20 or so years I still have to come across a thus damaged lens.
And if I'm shooting welding or anything of that kind I'd hide the camera and myself behind a huge sheet of plexiglass. Or more distance. Anything that can damage a lens may in course damage yours truly as well...

TImothy Tichy's picture

Protection? Um.......no. U.V. filters break much more easily than the front elements of modern lenses. Just because something breaks the filter doesn't mean it would have damaged the front element.

I'm not worried about breaking the lens it is there to prevent a scratch on the lens. I was a photojournalist and conditions in the field can be very tough. A studio photographer shouldn't bother with one or even a wedding photographer. But if you are going to be hit by a football player or showered by a fireman's hose it is worth the money.

With all due respect (and I truly mean that), I disagree with each comment made thus far, and, if I am understanding the author's stance on filters, the author himself. However, keep in mind, the following is just my personal experience/opinions derived from it.

The reason I disagree is simple. I work in a camera shop. I see, practically every day (we are a larger camera shop) if not once every two days or so, someone come in with a damaged lens/lens filter. More often than not, having the filter on truly protects from sending that lens in for a $300+ repair. I have worked in the field and in camera shops for over 15 years, and those sad stories keep coming my way.

I know that this is a really long response and I do apologize for that, but my personal opinion is if you are going to make the investment in a lens (yes, I said investment), then protecting that investment should be an easy choice. For the person on a budget, I say "When you damage the lens right when you need it, will you have the budget for a repair/replacement?" When you get down to it, UV filters come in many tiers & prices, so spending $20 (or even $50, which is what I think he said in the video) for the filter for your brand new, $2200, Canon L glass is probably a bad idea. Spend the extra $70 (usually that price for a top quality B+W) to protect that $2000+ investment. A [high quality] UV filter does not affect the image in the least. In relation to the investment cost of the lens itself, I often tell people "it is an inexpensive, albeit not 100% effective, insurance policy". Just because you take care of your equipment, that doesn't mean that the world will. There is always a drunk 'Uncle Bob'.

I live by that, and buy UV filters for each lens I own.

TImothy Tichy's picture

I've seen UV filters break, on the lens, in the camera bag. I've seen filters break in situations that wouldn't have fazed the lens itself. You simply can't equivocate a broken filter to a broken lens. In situations where the lens breaks, you can bet your bottom dollar that the filter would have gone long before. Just because someone broke a lens, doesn't mean a filter would have prevented failure. A while back there was a video posted on YouTube of a guy taking a 1/2 pilot tipped drill bit and dropping it through a tube and onto the front element of a lens; both with and without a filter. The filter gave way pretty easily, while it only scratched the lens. I've seen someone take a hammer to the front element of a 50mm lens. The lens held up fine. Care to imagine what would have happened to the filter?
I wonder how many people have broken a lens filter, and then said "oh my god! the filter saved my lens!!". Yeah. Just like that pair of lucky socks helped your boy win the big game.

Front elements are very, very tough. U.V. filters tend to be very delicate, thin, flat pieces of glass. While useful for completing the weathersealing on some lenses, or to use in abrasive situations where you'll be dealing with flying sand and mud; as impact protection for the front element they are more harm than good. Once they break (and they can break from a lateral impact that wouldn't even touch the front element) then you are dealing with very abrasive shards of glass rubbing around on your front element. Meanwhile your'e still dealing withe the flare and doubled reflections that can be caused by the filter.

I do not wholly disagree. However, like I said above, filters are an inexpensive, albeit not 100% effective, insurance policy. I would rather let the filter take the damage it is supposed to take and replace it ($50), than not have one on there and know that (should I drop/whack/or otherwise damage) I will absolutely have no protection, costing me a very expensive repair/replacement fee.

I am not trying to equate the damage that would cause a lens to break, and the damage that would cause a filter to break. [sidenote: **please do not take this as an agressive/offensive statement** - Equate, not equivocate, is what I am presuming you meant to say when you said "You simply can't equivocate a broken filter to a broken lens."] I would never equate a broken filter to a broken lens. One is worth a maximum of $50 dollars of one's hard-earned money, and the other is worth much, much more. When broken, both are worth [close to] zero, thus I would rather chance taking the smaller loss.

As I said above, I have been working in shops that people bring their damaged equipment to for a long time. Many, many more times than not, a UV filter broke just like it was supposed to, and all I had to do was remove the broken filter and put another on there. I absolutely HATE when the opposite happens (UV Filter did not make a difference, or they did not have one on there), because when that happens, I have to tell people how they are about to pay $200+ on a repair, or potentially much more for a replacement lens. That is not fun news to break. I prefer the smile that comes when they realize the small investment into the UV Filter just saved their valuable lens. Now, ask me how many people, upon realizing the UV Filter saved their lens, say "nope, I do not want another filter, they obviously break so easily. Just take that one off, and I will chance it from here on in."

Wow, when I looked up from typing I realized this is another really long post. Sorry about that.

Chris Adval's picture

my protection would be a lens hood, or good insurance if that covers the damage.

I agree. A lens hood offers great protection, and accidental coverage (or personal insurance that covers equipment) is, in my opinion, a necessity. However, I tend to have a UV filter on my lens, as well as a hood, simply to add one more barrier that keeps dust out. That dust, when it accumulates, can sneak into the lens (usually when you go to clean it, ironically enough). Yes, I know, it is not that big of a deal, but I like my gear to look nice 8 years or more into owning it (especially the expensive ones). If it looks rough, I want that to be from excessive use :)

Mario Gonzalez's picture

Even though i don't use one, i have had my lens scratched with a lens hood. Had and engagement shoot at the beach and a water bottle got in side my lens hood and the sand put 2 light scratches on it.

Raymond Casey's picture

I think that it is great news that a good UV filter does not make any difference to an image :-)

I use B+W MRC UV filters on most of my lenses – they are not cheap but very good.
The main reason I use filters is to be able to dry and clean them when photographing in bad weather or in dirty conditions. When it is raining, I normally have a towel around my neck (under my jacket) to dry and clean my lens. I would not want to do this directly on the surface of my lens. The same goes for photographing sports like sailing, surfing, motocross, football etc. BTW, it can also rain at weddings :-))

Lens hoods definitely do help to protect lenses but they do not always keep the lens clean and dry.
I have scratched a filter and I am glad it was not my expensive Canon 70-200 f2.8L II Lens.
My motto is: if you use filters, only use very good ones. Cheap filters can ruin your images.

Cheers and happy Easter from a filter user in Germany :-)))

Raymond

Michael Kormos's picture

I dropped my D800 with 24-70mm on pavement while shooting in Death Valley last year. The sound pierced through my heart like a thousand needles. The edge of the 24-70mm hit the pavement, and took most of the blow. I had a B+W UV filter on that lens. The metal ring of the filter was badly dented, and the glass cracked. It took a bit of effort to get the filter off, but the lens was unharmed. Without it, the plastic barrel would've no doubt been gone, with the front lens element no better off.

Strangely enough, I'm not even a big fan of filters. That 24-70 was the only lens of mine that still had it. A lens hood would've probably done a good job too.

BTW, one thing to note about UV filters is that they can create ghosting/flare issues. Many portrait lenses (like the 58mm f/1.4G Nikkor) have recessed lens elements, which helps control flare when shooting with strong backlight (like I do). Slap on a UV filter, and you've just attracted more stray light than needed.

John Skinner's picture

I'm on a 4 sided fence with this.

I recommend people starting out in photography that are just starting to buy better lens models to BUY them, myself, I have never used one. I've always been in the school of thought that it DOES offer some front element protection. BUT, with that said... I've seen a slight nudge up against a front element cause $1000's in damage, and I've seen a nudge crack a UV filter, and because it had a sharp point or an edge, also cause damage where it might not have otherwise.

When shooting for news coverage in the street during inclement weather, I'm feeling better about microfibring a $40 UV every 5 minutes than the front element of my 24-70. So a few arguments to be made for both sides of it.

Kim Brown's picture

With all due respect to the author, this subject has been covered so many times by so many others, why write yet another?

Dudley Didereaux's picture

You want to protect that expensive glass? Put the goddam HOOD on it! ;)

I've never thought of UV lenses as instrumental (i.e., image/color correction.. I'll take care of that in post). For me, UV filters are just an additional layer of protection for my glass.
Yes, i use hoods as well, but even with hoods, UV filters are useful. Once I was shooting a country dirt road that allowed for a very nice composition when a guy in a bike drove by. The bike's rear wheel shot a couple of small stones, one of which hit me in the chest and the other came straight into the front of the lens. The UV filter shattered but the stone didn't make it to the front glass of the lens.

If I hadn't been using the UV filter, the front of a 1200 dollar lens would have taken the hit. Yes, if the stone had been bigger (or come at me a little bit faster) it would've gone through anyway, but in that case the filter was all it took to save the glass

RUSS T.'s picture

I aint a scientist, nor am i an authority on most stuff we talk about.
BUT a good quality UV filter, gives me piece of mind. Helps me worry a little less about the front end of my lens.
SO I use them.

I disagree. UV filters do serve a good purpose. I do not like putting glass in front of an expensive lens, which is already multicoated to deal with UV light; however, where a UV filter does come in useful for protecting your lens is when shooting in a sandstorm, which we get quite often here near the beach on the west coast of Scotland. While I take very good care of my camera and lenses, sand can be very damaging to the multicoating and front glass of your lens when it blasts in strong winds. £30 is money well spent to protect a very expensive lens from ruin in sandstorms. Having a UV filter in your pocket ready for any weather conditions - dusty, sandy etc. - that could damage your lens is a forward- thinking precautionary measure.

I disagree. I too take very good care of my cameras and lenses. UV filters, however, do serve a good purpose protecting your lens' multicoating in sandstorms, which we get often here near the beach on the west coast of Scotland. Sand blasting against your multicoated lens is very damaging. UV filters also provide protection in dusty conditions, building sites where pneumatic chiseling and drilling is going on. £30 is money well spent to protect very expensive lenses. To have a UV filter in your pocket is a forward-thinking precautionary measure for unexpected, or unusual conditions. When it is safe to use my lens without a UV filter attached, then I remove it.
Fair-weather photogtraphers and the sunset brigade need not worry about damaging their multicoated glass on their lenses, but for those of us who really put our cameras and lenses to work, a UV filter is priceless.
There appears to be many beginners on here who undervalue the UV filter, including the guy in the video who clearly lacks experience, yet feels he is somehow qualified to give advice on the usefulness of UV filters.