Protecting Your Lenses With UV Filters: We Review the Urth Plus+ to Settle the Argument

Protecting Your Lenses With UV Filters: We Review the Urth Plus+ to Settle the Argument

If one argument gets photographers riled, it’s whether one should protect the front element of a lens with a UV filter. Should we instead use a lens hood? Let’s settle the argument with this definitive answer by testing an Urth Plus+ pro filter.

Last week, I bought an Urth Plus+ UV filter. I use their ND filters and am impressed with their optical qualities. Historically, I had used their UV filters too. My reason for stopping was partly because a one-time camera company representative told me that the front elements of their lenses were much more robust and, consequently, had greater resistance to damage. However, I see OM Digital Systems – the camera brand I use – and Nikon, Canon, and Sony are all manufacturing their protective filters. If the lens manufacturers sell their own protectors, there must be a reason. Should I start protecting my lenses with filters again?

The History of the UV Filter

Back in the days when film cameras ruled, we used to fit skylight filters to our lenses. The filters had a very slight magenta hue and would counter the blue cast that would show up on film when shot in daylight. There were two common types: 1A and the slightly darker 1B filters. One would choose a stronger UV filter if shooting in conditions with intense UV light, such as at high altitudes.

These filters had a secondary function: they protected the lens’s front element from damage.

With the arrival of digital cameras, arguments started to break out. Firstly, digital sensors were not prone to the ghosting haze caused by UV light on film. Secondly, the auto white balance in cameras is outstanding, so the blue cast from the sunlight is automatically corrected. Then thirdly, and this is where the controversy stems from, it was argued that the increasingly improved resolution of both sensors and lenses meant that lower-quality glass placed in front of the lens would degrade the image quality. I wanted to prove or disprove this theory, so I put a UV filter to the test.

The Arguments for Using a UV Filter

I have real-life examples of why using a filter is a good idea:

  • I do a lot of shooting on the beach. One night, I was shooting a fireworks display by the sea and noticed the lens had spray droplets on it. I carefully dabbed them off to continue shooting but still scratched the front element; sand must have been present too.

The first clue that I had scratched the lens was the unexpected flaring I could see in the images.
  • A couple of years ago, I bought a legacy Zeiss lens attached to a camera for very little money from a market stall holder. The person at the stall told me the lens was broken. I like experimenting with old film equipment, so I bought the camera without looking too closely at it. It cost the equivalent of around $7. When I got the camera home, I discovered it was just a smashed UV filter. That sacrificial piece of glass had done its job and saved the lens.
  • I was shooting an evening event, and a child was interested in my photography. Always keen to encourage youngsters, I let him look through the viewfinder, and he immediately pressed his greasy fingers to the glass. It was my fault; I should have instructed where to hold it. But cleaning a filter would have been much quicker than carefully de-greasing the lens, which was out of action for the rest of the shoot.
  • A relative of mine is a wedding photographer. He bought a new pro lens for his camera, and on the first shoot he used it on, a bridesmaid sprayed it with hair lacquer.
  • Additionally, a UV filter can help to cut through the haze on a summer's day.

Those are the reasons I started using high-quality UV filters to protect the lenses. At the time, I didn’t carry out any measured image-quality comparisons, but there seemed to be no difference between the images I shot with the filter and those without.

Filters Can be Faulty

I once did buy a filter that produced strange artifacts in the photos. This was particularly noticeable with any out-of-focus balls of light. They had pronounced lines running across them.

It transpired that the UV filter was faulty, as can be seen in the lines running in the bokeh.

I contacted the manufacturer and sent them photos demonstrating the issue. They said it was a manufacturing fault and sent me a replacement. That solved the problem. The replacement was better. But, looking at my back catalog, my newer equipment and the Urth Plus+ filters give better results.

Recently, I visited a Facebook photography group I sometimes drop into. Someone was complaining about the image quality of their new lens compared with the one they had borrowed. Looking at the sample shots, I could see ugly artifacts like those I had observed. I asked the photographer if they had fitted a UV filter. They said they had. It was a Tiffin, so it should have been good quality. Removing the filter solved the problem. She bought another, and that showed no issues at all. Clearly, UV filters can suffer from manufacturing faults like any product.

This was shot with a Gobe UV filter before they changed their name to Urth. The sparkling water in the bokeh is much cleaner than in the previous shot.

Do Lens Hoods Offer Better Protection?

Many photographers swear by using lens hoods instead of UV filters. Hoods are designed to stop sunlight from falling on the glass from an oblique angle, which can fog your images and cause unwanted flaring. They can protect the lens’s front element against impact, falling rain, and accidentally rubbing against clothes. Furthermore, they are not adding a layer of glass in front of the lens, which might affect image quality.

Lens hoods can offer some protection but not necessarily that much, especially tulip hoods designed for wide angle lenses.

However, like UV filters, they are not designed for those additional protective purposes.

Many quality lenses are made so that the part that holds the front element in place will sacrificially shear off in an impact, thus protecting the rest of the lens. It acts like a crumple zone in a car. A lens hood increases the leverage making this more likely. I have had it happen. Moreover, hoods don’t offer perfect protection for the front element. Someone I know dropped a camera onto a rock. Despite having a hood fitted, the glass still cracked.

For me, it has not been an either/or debate. I’ve used both. Previously, I have replaced scratched filters that have protected my lens from damage, and I invariably have a lens hood attached to the lens, which has offered some protection too.

The Filter Tests

I chose the best-quality Urth Plus+ filters for this experiment. I like Urth. They are an environmentally positive company, which is essential for me. They plant trees in rainforests with every purchase; over a million have been planted so far.

For comparison, I also acquired some cheaper filters. Some I was given, and I bought a couple too.

To start the tests, I mounted my OM System OM-1 fitted with the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens on my tripod overlooking the water with the sun reflected on it. I shot in aperture priority at f/5.6, so I would get a constant behavior of the lens. I dropped the lens out of focus, underexposed, and photographed the sunlight sparkling on the water, as this would highlight any optical defects.

I started with the cheaper K&F Concept, Hoya, and Kood filters. In the resulting images, concentric rings appeared within and around the balls of light. Then, a slight softness was apparent when I focussed the lens on subjects. The drop in image quality is sufficient for me to conclude that I would never use them.

Shot with the Hoya filter in place. Note the concentric circles in the balls of light.

The concentric cirles were less pronounced with the Kood filter, except around the circumferance. Although shot with the same settings as the previous photo, the change in size of the light balls was due to the changing wind disturbing the water differently.

The K&F Concept filter showed very pronounced parallel line patterns within the bokeh and some very slight green fringing.
So how about the more expensive filter?

Using the Urth Plus + (professional standard) UV filter, I could see no difference in image quality between having the filter fitted and not.

The out-of-focus balls of light were broken, which was to be expected because the water moved organically, and the reflected light was uneven. However, there was no repeating pattern or banding visible. In later tests, I pointed the lens at an out-of-focus LED, and the result was clean. Not so with the cheap filters.

This example was shot with no filter fitted to the lens.

This was shot with the Urth Plus+ UV filter fitted to the lens. The bokeh appears far smoother than when using the other filters.

In later tests, I pointed the lens at an out-of-focus LED, and the result was clean. Below, the first image was with no filter, and the second, on the right, with the Urth. I shot this handheld, hence the slight difference in size. The LED in the photo is rectangular, which accounts for the horizontal lines just visible.

On my first day of testing, the sun was constantly disappearing behind clouds, so the light levels frequently changed. Consequently, other comparative tests were difficult to make. However, images shot with and without the Urth filter were as sharp as each other.

The above two seascapes were shot a few seconds apart. The one on the right was with the filter fitted. the slight changes in the lighting were due to the fast-moving clouds. Later tests showed no color changes when I added and removed the filter.

In the above slider, the left-hand image has the filter fitted.

The flowing morning, the weather was calmer, and I managed to shoot some images with the filter on and off the lens. There was no change in the white balance. There was no additional lens flare when pointing the camera almost directly at the sun.

The tiny amount of lens flare visible at the base of the left-hand nearest post was no more pronounced with the filter fitted.

Back home, I tested the exposure against a plain white wall because the daylight was rapidly getting brighter when I shot the sunrise. The exposure was identical both with and without the filter.

What I Like and What Could Be Improved

The tests finally assured me that it is worth having a good quality filter attached to the camera, and the Urth Plus + filters are that. I could see no difference between using the filter and not.

They come nicely packaged in a metal tin and plastic-free, recyclable cardboard. There is a lens cloth included with the filter. Remember to look inside that box for the code to enter on a website, so Urth will plant an additional five trees on top of the five they grow when you buy the filter.

The filter itself comprises a solid yet slender metal mount. The German-made B270 Schott optical glass has a 30-layer coating.

I cannot think of anything other than positive things to say about the filter. If you shoot with professional standard glass and want to protect it, I recommend using this filter.

I could not say the same for any of the cheaper filters I tried. I must add that I didn’t test the more affordable filters on entry-level lenses. For those shooting on a budget or even using vintage glass, then would they be okay? This experiment didn’t prove that one way or another. Perhaps I will acquire an entry-level camera with a budget lens for testing that.  

I would like to hear about your experiences and see your tests with and without the filters you use.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Ivor Rackham earns a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer. Based in the North East of England, much of his photography work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography.

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Previous comments

Good point, particularly for those whose stable of lenses is more limited and who do not have a lot of overlap and redundancy in their lens collection.

Once I was hiking and when scrambling up some boulders my camera swung on the shoulder strap and smacked into a pointed rock face. The filter was smashed but the lens was unhurt. As it was a fairly wide lens with a fairly shallow hood I don't think it would have been protected without the filter in place.

Oh, and it was a Canon 17-40L and the manual states that it requires a filter to be water resistant. My old Olympus WR lenses did not require filters for that purpose.

Thanks, Otto. You are not the only one who has had their lens saved by the filter.

What!!! This discussion has really become silly. He damaged his lens when the camera was slung from his shoulder while scrambling over rocks! Now that is a surprise! Rather than screwing on a uv filter then taking a big risk how about taking proper precautions like putting the camera back in the bag when moving over that kind of terrain. Using that story as some vindication for your own uv filter argument is really clutching at straws.
In my opinion uv filters for most shooters are a waste of money. People spend huge sums in lenses only to screw, in most cases, a cheap piece of glass with questionable optical qualities in front. As it’s been said small scratches on front elements so not degrade image quality. In the case of a bad accident there is a thing called insurance.

Also to say this article settles the argument is rather presumptuous and hugely inaccurate. The best you can say is you expressed your opinion and that’s about it.

Filters are much thinner and more brittle than lens elements. They're much easier to shatter than most front elements.

Just because a filter smashed into pieces does not mean that the front element of your lens would have done the same. But all of that shrapnel from the filter can certainly scratch the anti-reflective coatings on the front of your lens.

One thing you didn't mention, I guess because it didn't happen for you, a filter can cause the autofocus to fail. I was very surprised when this happened but it is highly reproducible. It only happened to me at long telephoto settings.

On lens hoods, I once had a rubber one. The idea was that you could collapse it back, but if protection is your intent it would be a great shock absorber.

That's fascinating. When I have used filters, I've never had that happen. Were there any sepcific cirucmstances where you found it happened? I'll try to reproduce it. (Although, if it is a camera-brand related problem, I might not be able to.) Thanks for sharing that.

I use the collapsible rubber lens hoods. I much prefer them to the rigid factory hoods. Why? Because I can just push them back when I put the lens in a bag, so that it doesn't take up any extra room. For me, the purpose of a lens hood is to keep light from hitting the front element from the side and causing weirdness in photos, and has nothing to do at all with protecting the lens. Lenses don't need to be protected in my opinion, because it doesn't matter if they get scratched or not.

>$500 for front element replacement vs $100 filter is reasonable insurance

But I have used my lenses HARD. I take them out in nature where there is sand, rain, snow, rocks, salt water, etc. And I have never taken any care to protect them from anything. I don't even put lens caps on them - just toss them in the bag or the seat of the car with no cap and no filter. And yet I have never truly damaged a lens element in all that time.

Sure I have scratches on my front elements, but who cares? Couldn't care less about a few scratches on the glass here and there. It's just like a car - dents and dings and scratches don't matter at all. Unless something affects the actual function of a piece of gear, it doesn't matter.

I buy ALL of my gear used, often heavily used, and if a lens has scratches on the glass it doesn't matter to me at all. I will not hesitate to buy a lens with scratches on the front element and use it that way for years.

So for me to spend $100 on a filter would actually be a waste of money, not "reasonable insurance".


But I understand that to some people, lenses are more than just tools to get a job done. Just like to some people, cars are more than just a way to get you from point A to point B.

So I have no issue with other people wanting to protect their front elements if keeping gear in beautiful condition is important to them. I just have problems with the erroneous mindset that if a lens gets scratched and dirty that that is a functional problem because it isn't.

Yup, it's an interesting debate. I've found that scratched front elements have degraded image quality, as per my fireworks image above. But, that was also a wide angle lens. I guess you shoot mainly with telephotos, so perhaps scratches don't show up so much.


I hardly ever shoot with true wide angle, but I do plan to get one or two wide angle lenses, a 15mm and a 25mm, this summer. I hope this doesn't mean I have to take care to protect the front glass because that wouldn't fit my modus operandi at all.

My 24-105mm zoom has a big scratch plus many small scratches on the front element, and when I shoot it at 24mm (which I don't do often at all) there is no perceptible degradation in image quality at all. Hopefully that will be my experience with the 15mm and 25mm lenses when I start using them.


It always amuses me when reviewers conclude that filters reduce image quality based on their experience with low and midrange filters. This is especially true when they choose not to reveal the specific filters used in their tests, thereby preventing their viewers/readers from essentially peer reviewing their results. Jan Wegener was recently guilty of this on his otherwise excellent YouTube channel.

You are right, there is definitley a different between the lower quality and higher quality filters.

Don't (some) sensors have a glass cover so obviating the UV block function of a UV filter? And wasn't that needed only for film?
In any case, filter geometry becomes critical at large sizes where parallelism of top and bottom and with the sensor is required to a high degree.

Yes they do, but my understanding is they don't entirely block out all the UV light. However, the main reason for people using them is to protect the glass. Thanks for the comment.

It’s a nonsense argument. Some will and some won’t. Frankly, I’ll use a filter to protect the lens. It’s not exactly difficult to remove it if I find it’s affecting my shits is it.
A little extra reassurance doesn’t hurt.

I agree!

Well done. My only quibble is that there is no need for a UV filter that by definition filters UV light. I prefer a filter that is completely neutral, with no light filtrations. The filters I use are the Nikon NC filter (which I have used for decades) and the newer, more robust, Sigma Ceramic WR filters.

Yes, most manufacturers produce their own neutral filters. I hope to test some of those in the future.

"If the lens manufacturers sell their own protectors, there must be a reason."

Just because manufacturers sell their own external flashes doesn't mean an external flash is required or even appropriate for every use case, does it?

If I'm in a dusty, sandy, salt water spray, industrial or similar environment I find "protective filters" useful.

If I'm shooting in a theatrical or athletic setting with small bright light sources inside the frame I find them nothing but a source of ghosting.

I've shot with hoods and no filters almost exclusively for well over a decade and my lenses' front elements are still just as pristine as the day they were brand new. That includes over 250,000 frames taken from the sidelines of American football in all kinds of weather and basketball courts with my 2010 vintage EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II. It's never had a protective filter on it. The hood has plenty of scratches, rubs, even paint marks. But the glass is spotless.

If one is shooting in a relatively safe and sterile envionment, then not using one is understandable.

Is it also understandable that not everyone is concerned with keeping their front elements pristine, even when shooting in brutal conditions? If you saw the way full time pro sports shooters and photojournalists treat their lenses, maybe you would understand that there are a lot of really good photographers who do not care about scratches on the lens or a bit of damage to the coatings.

Thanks for this, Ivor.

I don’t think this debate will end, with valid (if occasionally a little acerbic) comments all around. I’m of the view that I will do anything to protect the US$3000 lens on my camera, including accepting an infinitesimally small potential loss of quality (something I have frankly not observed in my own setup) or an equally small colour cast which I am going to address in Lightroom anyway. I also use a lens hood when appropriate.

For what it’s worth, I always used to use Hoya - my first camera, an EOS 50e film body, had one on and I just stuck with that over generations. Now I have several Urth filters: obviously quality is exceptional, which is the ticket to the game, but I really like their approach to sustainability.

That's really interesting, Mark. thanks for taking the time to reply.

while i will not go as far as accusing the author of deliberately deceiving the readers, it's painfully obvious that his testing mechanism is very flawed. i don't expect a fully controlled lab test (Roger Cicala did that already and he aced it)..but why would you test this in an environment where light is constantly changing and moving water _with_ reflections? and arrive at a conclusion Urth as the best? lol wat.

Thank you for signing up, especially to make that comment. We do real-world tests in environments that we usually shoot in. I usually shoot dozens, if not hundreds, of photos when I test gear, so the ones that appear here are a fraction of the number I shot over different days when testing these filters. I chose the water because the reflections clearly showed up the flaws (or not) in the filters that would be visible on phone screens, which is how most people browse the net.