I can’t remember where I read about UV filters being used as insurance for lenses. However, since then, I’ve always had one on each of mine. Even for the lenses on my smallest 1-inch sensor cameras. There are few things worse in photography than having to replace a lens you broke because you dropped it or it smashed against something in the field. And while a UV filter can’t protect the entire lens from damage, it can certainly save the front lens elements on many occasions. The lens body protects all the other lens elements, so why leave the front element exposed to potential damage?
For the purpose of this article, which addresses the benefits of protective filters for your lens, I’ll be considering UV and clear filters to be the same. I’ve seen polarising arguments over the use of UV filters and their purported degradation of image quality. This is true if you use filters that don’t come from reputed manufacturers. Why add cheap glass over an expensive lens and then complain that the image isn’t sharp enough? Some argue that adding any clear or UV filter over their lens reduces sharpness. If you pixel-peep enough, then yea, you’d probably see some loss of sharpness.
Can You Really Tell If An Image Was Taken Using UV Filters?
But the average person viewing an image on their computer monitor can’t tell the difference between images taken with a UV filter and without. How much of a stickler for sharpness do you really have to be to not want to use a protective filter on your lenses? On more than one occasion, I’ve bumped my lenses while working outdoors, and the UV filter saved the front element. (And I’m someone who treats my camera gear like a baby, often mollycoddling them a lot more than most people would.) My most recent accident with a lens further cemented my belief that everyone’s camera lenses should have UV filters on them. Treat filters as insurance – it’s a lot cheaper to replace a UV filter than a broken lens.
What Happened To My Lens?
Barely two months after I purchased a new Nikon Z 24-120 f4 S lens, it suffered a tragic fall from my camera. It appears that I hadn’t locked the lens to the camera mount properly. It fell head first, straight onto the rough pavement outside the parking lot where I’d parked for a morning photoshoot. My heart sank, and my wallet screamed as the sound of cracking glass filled my ears.
I picked up the lens off the ground tenderly. The germaphobe in me was nowhere to be found. The UV filter in the front had cracked into multiple pieces, and glass dust was everywhere on the front element. I don’t even think I had an air blower in the backpack that day. I delicately tried to get broken glass pieces off the filter ring. It wasn’t easy to do this while trying not to get any of the glass dust on my fingers. I was sure my lens was a goner.
Snap, Crackle, Pop
Something sounded loose inside the lens. “There goes the autofocus motor,” I thought to myself. Over the next four to five minutes, I gingerly picked out pieces of glass from the filter thread. Then I looked closely at the front element. There was still some dust on it, but the UV filter had served its purpose: no damage to the lens elements whatsoever. The UV filter had taken the brunt of the impact by the looks of it. For probably the second or third time in my career, a UV filter had saved my lens from damage and/or breakage.
I tried taking a few pictures on the street. There was some light squeaking of the AF motor at first, but the focusing was accurate. No noticeable back or front focusing. I couldn’t swap lenses for the day’s shooting as I didn’t carry another one. The 24-120 was the only option I had for the day. But it worked like a charm. This speaks volumes about the sturdiness of the lens itself. However, it would have been an entirely different story if the front of the lens itself had been smashed.
It’s Not Just About Breakage
The less you expose your lens to the elements like dust, sand, rain, humidity, and beach air, the longer the coatings it has will last. I’m always worried I’ll accidentally scratch my lenses if I touch them, so it’s a lot of peace of mind for me to just have to deal with cleaning the filter in front of it. Also, the slimmer they are, the fewer chances there are of vignetting if you plan on stacking other filters like CPL or ND filters on top of them.
Buy A Good One. You Won’t Regret It
We’ve written about the effectiveness of clear filters as insurance before. You don’t have to get an ultra-expensive one. UV filters were previously used to cut out ultraviolet rays from images. Over the years, lens technology improved, and the digital era was ushered in; UV rays weren’t as much a problem as before. Where I lived, clear filters weren’t easy to get, but UV filters were plentiful, so that’s what most of my lenses sported when I began digital photography.
If you can purchase clear filters, you don’t necessarily have to buy the most expensive one you can afford. But please don’t buy a cheap one thinking it’s just insurance for your lens. It’ll end up making your images look hazy and soft. I had to chuck out a UV filter just last week. It was from a company that is fairly reputed in the photography industry, but I may just avoid their products from now on. A few of theirs I’ve owned have begun to display streaking across the filter’s coatings. Plus, the one I put aside began scratching too easily.
If you’re planning on purchasing a clear or UV filter to safeguard your lens, here are some on Amazon you can browse through.
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