UV Filters: Do They Degrade Image Quality?

B+W UV Filter

UV filters, do they degrade your image quality, or are they actually useful? This is a question asked by many, and often answered  in many different ways. My goal is to provide you with a meaningful answer based on my experience. The big question is, should you spend your money on these filters or skip them all-together? Read on for my opinions.


Fact or Fiction: UV Filters & Image Quality

In my experience UV filters have become less important in the digital age as digital sensors are not sensitive to UV light, with film it was (or is if you’re still shooting film) actually somewhat necessary for removing the haze in your images. The sad truth is that UV filters are primarily something that retailers try to bundle with the camera kits they sell you to make additional profit. You will often see them labeled as a “protector” filter as well, how much this actually protects your lens is highly debatable .

Shattered UV filter

So why then would one actually purchase a UV filter? Well one major reason, and in my book the only reason, is for lenses that are weather sealed but need a filter in place to complete the seal. Lenses such as Canon’s EF 16-35mm f2.8L II or 17-40mm f4L have a front element that moves back and forth depending on the zoom setting (focal length), it does not extend past the front lip of the lens, but without a filter in place, this front element is exposed to dust and the elements. Aside from this very specific reason, I have no interest in placing more glass in front of my lenses. If you’re going to buy a filter, at least buy a good one, I recommend something like the B+W F-PRO filters as they have brass rings (which won’t bind in cold weather) and high quality glass. If you skimp out and buy a cheap $10 filter for your lens you will absolutely be degrading the quality of your images. In this example from Reddit user: EvilDoesIt we can see how a cheap UV filter has blatantly degraded the quality of the image. The best way to think of it is that it would be like shooting through a dirty window.

Filter comparison
Top: Quantaray UV filter / Bottom: B+W UV filter

So, we’ve got some ideas, now lets break it down and look at the details:


  1. Camera stores will try to sell you a filter, they will sing its praises and usefulness. Don’t buy into it.
  2. Digital sensors are different than film. UV light does have an affect on film, but not on digital, thus eliminating the NEED for a UV filter in digital photography.
  3. UV filters are NOT protector filters, if they were, they would be built differently.
  4. UV filters add extra glass in front of your lens, if you put cheap filters in front of your expensive lenses you are ultimately limiting the image quality output of your lens.

Why would you use them?

  1. If you’re the kind of person that puts a case on your phone the first day you get it
  2. If you’re clumsy and think the impact to a filter will save your lens. (Hey it might, you never know)
  3. If you work in really rough conditions it actually is a good idea to have a filter on to spare your front element.
  4. To complete a weather seal (#1 best reason to use one in my book)

Why many don’t bother.

  1. Because digital cameras clearly don’t need a UV filter.
  2. Because extra glass in front of your lens can degrade your image quality.
  3. Because they use a lens hood for protection (smart move).
  4. Because they don’t use their cameras in any kind of “weather”.
  5. Because they get “it”. (What’s “it”? Well… if you have to ask…)

In the end, it is your choice as to wether or not you’ll affix a UV filter to the front of your lens, and they can have their uses, but I personally choose to not bother unless it’s one of the rare instances where it will actually help.

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