It makes sense that a brand like STC Optics would make sapphire filters, yet most of the camera industry hasn’t done it. Brands across the tech world use sapphire glass. If you have an iPhone, you’ll know it’s supposed to be super durable. Similarly, if you use an Apple Watch, you know how indestructible your screen is. One of the most prominent uses of sapphire glass in cameras was the Leica M9-P. It’s one of the things that helped cement how durable that camera has proven itself to be (externally speaking, of course)! We’ve heard about Schott glass used in filters, but we rarely hear about sapphire. So I bought a few STC Optics sapphire filters to see how they hold up.
What are STC Optics sapphire filters?
It’s hard to make lens filters that stand out from one another. The Japanese and various other brands are notoriously secretive about saying much about the tech. And that’s because the brands all use the same glass from the same set of manufacturers. They’re also all using similar coatings but calling them different things. Stick around in the photo industry long enough, and you’ll learn that pretty much all glass in lenses and filters comes from maybe around five companies.
That’s one of the reasons why they haven’t made sapphire filters. Sigma went as far as doing ceramic filters — another material used in watches. The benefit is that ceramic can take scratches buffed out with thumb strength and polishing. They’re also pretty hard to break compared to other lens filters. But sapphire glass is even tougher to break and scratch. Take it from a guy who only buys watches with sapphire glass crystals.
The quality of the sapphire glass in STC Optics sapphire filters, watches, and your phone’s screen all differ. Your phone has an insanely thin piece of glass that doesn’t have any protection on it. That’s why we all use screen protectors and bumper cases — so that the screen won’t get cracked if it falls.
In contrast, watches have thick sapphire glass crystals. Those crystals are thicker than lens filters.
What makes the STC Optics sapphire filters so durable, though, isn’t just the sapphire glass — but also the aluminum ring that provides a friendly buffer zone. The ring isn’t as nice as B&W’s brass filters, but it’s still terrific.
Heading to their website, you’ll see that STC Optics sapphire filters aren’t cheap. In fact, they only make them in larger form factors. But they also make claims of some serious tech. For example, they speak to the durability of the metal filter ring. They also specifically list how many pounds of force the filters can resist. Their claims of 800MPa can’t be tested through conventional means by my research, but a few other claims can be tested.
STC Optics sapphire filters claim to have an anti-smudge coating. And it most likely does. However, my filters still surely got smudged. However, they were easily cleaned off with a microfiber cloth. I always carry one when I leave my apartment. Honestly, though, most modern lenses are too clinical for my liking. And a bit of smudging adds likable character to them, especially when you’re shooting into the sun.
The filters also claim to have a hydrophobic resistance coating on them. And this is indeed true. I couldn’t help but walk around Queens, NY, as fog and light rain peppered the air during New Year’s Eve. I mounted the STC Optics sapphire filter to my Canon RF 50mm f1.2 L USM and the Canon EOS R5. Mind you, I also have stopped using lens hoods for the most part and have moved back to only using lens filters. With this in mind, the STC Optics sapphire filter shrugged off any precipitation. When I say that, I literally mean that nothing got on the front coating, even as I tried to wipe it off and see.
The Longest Second of My Life
At one point, though, when cleaning the filter, I accidentally dropped one from around four and a half feet away from the floor. For a moment, my heart seemingly skipped a beat as I proceeded to live through the longest second of my life. I mean, I’d just spent all that money on the filter, and I was sure that it would break. But to my surprise, it was perfectly fine. Imagine the shock on my face!
How Does It Affect Image Quality?
The myth for years has been that lens filters affect image quality negatively. And by that, we mean that it degrades the quality of the image by softening the most minute details. But if you’re not pixel-peeping, this generally doesn’t matter. The best protection is a combination of high-quality lens filters and a lens hood. Notice there how we said high-quality lens filters. Many brands sell absolute trash, and many photographers want to go for the cheapest ones. But like all things in life, there’s a reason why the more expensive filters are so pricey. In this case, the aluminum filter doesn’t get stuck to the lens. Further, the glass is engineered to be thin and super protective.
Is the image quality affected? Well, here’s some token Chris Gampat brutal honesty. If you’re going to edit your photos or spend more time in post-production than you are shooting, it won’t matter. You’re probably going to crank the clarity slider or sharpness slider as you eyeball what looks good and what doesn’t. But if you want images that don’t truly need editing, the STC Optics sapphire filters do a fantastic job. Here I’m talking specifically to Leica, Fujifilm, Panasonic, and Canon users. Sony cameras often set you up for wanting to do a ton of post-production. But with other brands, you’re usually set up to get it right in-camera in the first place. And when walking around with STC Optics sapphire filters mounted to my Canon cameras and lenses, I did no editing except for lens corrections and an exposure adjustment here and there.
I’ve been moving away from using lens hoods as lenses, cameras, and lens hoods have become so big that I don’t want to carry them around anymore for fun. My former co-worker at B&H Photo, Zevi, used to do this and called lens hoods obnoxious. That was over 10 years ago, and I started out in photography using lens hoods and filters together. These days I use one or the other depending on whether or not I’ve bought a filter for that lens.
And if I’m using a higher-end lens that I really care about, I will most likely buy STC Optics sapphire filters in the near future, providing they cover the filter size. Otherwise, I’ve always found good manufacturing with products from Urth.