June 20, 2012

UV Filters Are The Devil!

One of the most asked questions in photography by all levels of photographers is, "Should I use a UV filter?"  My answer is always, "Maybe."

When I stepped into the big leagues and started using a DSLR several moons ago, I used a UV filter on my 18-55mm kit lens.  My photography peers suggested it was good to have for lens protection.

Let's take a step back for a moment to discuss the history of UV filters.

UV filters were used in the ancient film days to block ultraviolet light from hitting the film, which in turn would reduce haze.  Fast forward to digital photography where UV haze is a non-issue and the only purpose a UV filter has is physical lens protection.

While extra front element protection is always nice to have, I rarely use a UV filter to protect my lenses.  There are many reasons for this:

1.  I don't like the idea of adding an inexpensive lens in front of my $2,500 Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II.  To me, that's like putting a set of $100 Walmart tires on a $100K Ferrari.  It's silly!

2.  The UV filter lens quality will be sub-par compared to Canon and Nikon's lenses.

3.  The front element (and the lens in whole) is far more durable than you think.  Don't be afraid to use the camera equipment the way it was intended to be used – in your hands, not in the camera bag.

4.  I use a lens hood to block stray light, reduce flare, and protect the front element.  UV filters can only do one of those tasks.

5.  There is very little risk of front element damage in every day photographic use.  Be cautious of your environment, use a lens hood, and you should have no issues.

6.  UV filters at all prices can increase flare, glare, and ghosting.  "Wait, I just spent $50 for that UV filter and I'm reducing image quality?!" Yep!

Take a look at the image at the top.  I have a Hoya HMC Super UV filter ($45) and a Tiffen UV Protector filter ($11) in the same window light.  The Tiffen produces extremely strong glare, which in turn will make its way into the elements of your lens and reduce image quality.  The Hoya HMC Super also shows some glare, but it's less prominent.  Image quality will still be reduced.

With all of that said, I tend to throw the higher quality Hoya HMC Super UV filter on my lenses when I'm photographing in environments with an increased risk of projected dust and dirt.  This includes horse races and rodeos, motocross and other dirt-based motorsports, and portraits at the beach.  In any of these cases, the dirt or sea spray can be thrown into the lens hood.

If you photograph in any of these environments regularly, decide if the added expense is worth the increased protection and reduced image quality.  No matter what environment you photograph in, be sure to pick up a Canon or Nikon lens hood.  Don't bother with cheaper alternatives.  I'll save that discussion for another day though.

Do you use a lens hood or UV filter?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.  I would love to continue this discussion.


  1. We have always used super cheap UV filters (of which 3 have broken and my lenses have not) and no one on the planet could tell it was on there. Having an element that close to the lens itself will make an indecernable quality difference. If you like em, use em, if not, don't. :)


    1. Zach, thank you for your input. You raise a very solid point. I won't argue with you because I'd much rather be out photographing than running tests.

      If you are comfortable using inexpensive UV filters on your dreamy 85L, I respect that. I prefer to be skinny dipping though.

      Let's get together at WPPI U, Las Vegas, next month and chat over a meal.


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