Tiny Tips 16: Always Use a UV Filter

Last Updated on December 19, 2014 by Susheel Chandradhas

A UV Filter is an important part of every photographer’s kit. This may seem like a no-brainer to any sufficiently advanced photographer reading this post, but to the beginners: take note: this is a very important part of your equipment. Or should be.

Why Should you ‘Always’ use a Ultra Violet filter on your lens?

Because filters protect your photographs, your lens, and your investment in photographic equipment. UV filters primarily filter out the invisible UltraViolet light that causes ‘haze’ on film (and some dSLR sensors), but their broader list of purposes includes:

  • Protecting your lens from dust and flying sand
  • Protecting your lens from scratches (I’ve seen some bad scratches avoided because of this filter)
  • Protecting your filter mount from getting bent
  • Saving your lens by sacrificing itself (filters are housed in aluminium frames, these are soft and absorb impact well even though they’re not meant for this purpose)
  • Preventing Sea Spray (and salt) from getting into the lens (for this purpose alone, buy a UV filter)

Some people say that a UV filter reduces the quality of the image that you take. They’re referring to an extremely high level of quality that is not required by most people on this planet. If you want to ensure that your image quality does not deteriorate, simply get a good quality filter and keep it clean.

Remember to get one for each lens that you have. When you’re out taking pictures, don’t take them off unless you absolutely have to.

Has a UV filter saved your equipment? Let us know in the comments.

Buy UV Filters on Amazon

27 comments Add yours
  1. Kieffer: I agree wholeheartedly, and thank you for that illustration.

    Cheap filters are a plague upon this planet. Except when you want to use a bit of Vaseline on them: to convert them into soft-focus filters.

    Thanks for that addition.

  2. I agree with Kieffer, cheap filters are only going to cheapen the image quality. You can expect to pay upwards of $50-$100 (depending on the thread size) for a good UV filter — which is still cheaper than a whole new lens.

    I only have one UV filter and it lives on my zoom lens that I don’t use anymore. I probably should get filters for the other ones, but I tend to rely on my lens hoods for fending off the big bumps and scratches. So yeah… lens hoods are useful for more than keeping out stray light.

  3. Brian,

    Yeah, lens hoods are good for this too, but I’ve seen a (careful) photographer have his lens jabbed with a metal rod (accidentally) by his kid. Good thing that he had a UV filter on. It saved the lens.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Well, I’m part of the group that do not use UV filters and I do think they bring down the quality. Sure, if you are in a environment where you are likely to get salt sea spray och sand or something, then put on a UV-filter but for the most cases the best protection is to use the lens hood.

  5. Roger,

    Your images speak for themselves…

    Do you find that by not using a UV filter you have to be extra careful with your lenses?

    Given a stressful situation with the potential for the lens getting scuffed, but also demanding your highest quality images, would you rather go without the UV filter and be extra careful or would you rather use a UV filter and be more involved in the photography?

    I’m just wondering about your thought process when making such a decision…

  6. I had a UV filter on my prized lens when I slipped and fell on the ice – it landed on concrete and the filter absorbed the impact. I still credit the filter with saving the lens from cracking.

  7. One of my kids pulled my dSLR off a picnic table, and it fell lens first towards the ground. The soft aluminum frame of the UV filter saved my Sigma 10-20mm Ultrawide.

    I am pleased I got that advice in the early days of my dSLR journey.

  8. I with Roger on this as I don’t “always” use a UV filter. Except in the case of adverse conditions, I only use a filter (UV or any other) specifically for the purpose of the image I’m attempting to capture.

  9. Cheap or otherwise I take the risk without. I just don’t like the idea of putting two more glass surfaces on my expensive lenses. When I reach a lull in shooting the lens cap goes back on the lens almost religiously.

    UV is a great investment for most, when you’ve reached a certain level and you’ve got insurance on your gear and can afford the occasional gear replacement – I recommend taking it off. Recently while taking about $4k of gear waist high into the ocean to shoot surfing I was asked why I do it. My reply is always ‘If you’re constantly rubbing it with a diaper you’re not shooting, get out there, the camera is a tool – take care of it but realize that all tools wear out eventually’.

    -John

  10. John,

    You’re right about the two glass surfaces, of course, each reflecting more light than any of the coated surfaces in a high quality lens… But have you actually observed a degradation in quality with a UV filter on? If so, how important was it to your client that the degradation ‘not’ be there?

    Pro shooters need to have a different perspective on the issue of using a UV filter, after all they are getting paid for the highest quality possible. However, there are some differences in opinion even there.

    Ultimately, it ends up being a decision that each photographer needs to take individually, but one that beginners need to be made aware of.

    Thank you for your perspective.

  11. Susheel, absolutely right about the decision – some will want it, some wont.

    As for the degradation by two different surfaces? Probably none at all if you REALLY look at the shots side by side. Would certainly be something to test for those on the fence about it. In addition to quality concerns, there is also a greater risk of flare by adding a filter, but really, how often are you on that fine line between flaring and not when you think ‘Wow, I wish I didn’t have this filter on my lens’. Probably close to never.

  12. John,

    Your point about testing is very true… Photography is all about testing what works for your technique. Some like the flare; some dont. Some like image degradation, grain, spots on film, dust and others like their images to be almost true representations of the actual scene.

    To each his own…

    Everyone else, what do you think?

  13. This is a reply to George Kravis’ question:

    Regarding your article on UV (haze) filters; I’m aware of the attributes you mention, but I’m wondering about one factor. In filtering out the UV rays, which are at the blue end of the spectrum, wouldn’t that tend to bias the color of your images toward the warmer end? And what about flash? I’ve noticed skin tones to be warmer than natural when I left the UV filter on. Removing it seemed to eliminate that effect. Your comments would be appreciated. G.K.

    George: UV filters cut ‘haze’ by filtering out UV light alone. Human eyes are not sensitive to UV radiation by itself (this is why we call it invisible radiation, just like Infra-Red radiation), but film and some sensors are…

    I suspect that what you’re seeing is because of a low quality UV filter (or maybe you’re using a sky-light filter, which also cuts haze), because while UV filters are a very very pale yellow, it should not make any difference in your photographs.

  14. I always used to have a UV filter until I realized how much even a good filter takes away from the contrast. I always use a lens hood which protects from almost all the situations mentioned,

  15. Ok, I am going to be the contrarian here about UV filters. Here’s why:

    1. Most of the “broken filter saved my lens” stories are misleading; the UV filter breaks because it is directly mounted on the filter ring, which bears the brunt of the blunt trauma when a camera falls. Actual front lens elements are usually mounted and secured in a completely different way and are much less susceptible to damage.

    2. Uncoated filters are cheap and can cause extra flare or loss of contrast. Why are you paying for a multicoated lens and putting a cheap uncoated filter on it? If you spring for the $50-100 multicoated filters and you have 4 or 5 lenses, you have basically just spent $250-500 on filters. You could have purchased an extra lens for that coin.

    3. On professional video and film productions, where the lenses can cost thousands to tens-of-thousands of dollars, you will not see “protective” UV filters anywhere. Why do you think that is? (When I ran a equipment facility for a film production company, the only filters we stocked were polarizers and color-correction filters.)

    4. It’s quite possible for a broken filter to damage the front lens element if the glass is pushed inward with any force.

    5. I used to sell camera gear. The cost-of-goods on a filter is ridiculously low compared to its list price. We frequently made more money on selling the filters than we made on selling the cameras. At the time I used all the arguments elsewhere in this story to separate consumers from their money.

    6. Most modern digital cameras already have UV filters for the sensor.

    I don’t use UV filters except if I am in a particularly camera-hostile environment, like blowing debris or sand.

  16. Always? No brainer? Sufficiently advanced? These are not things associated with UV filters.

    Sometimes, when adverse conditions call for it. Blowing sand, sea mist.

    Lens hoods actually improve IQ, while even the best UV filter is going to, at a minimum, induce flare. What’s your recommendation for the kit lenses? Cheap filter? You’ll degrade already questionable IQ. Expensive? You’re paying enough to replace the lens.

  17. I love UV filters, in one of my travels to Peru I had an accident dropping a Leica M5 with the lens attached, with the UV filter in place and the lens hood wich in Leica is made out of metal, the result a dent in the lens hood. Anyhow the whole equipment was sent to Leica in New Jersey after I came back home to Colombia, just to make sure nothing happened to the camera and lens.

  18. So if UV filters may have an impact on picture quality what about a polariser filter……..no mention of any impact of picture quality yet this is also another piece of glass attached to the front of an expensive lens

  19. no , camera is not a tool…. it;s a friend ;a best friend to most of us ; and a uv filter goes a longway ; its a defensuve guard for ur camera lens ….go ahead …by one //// i have a hoya uv multi coted …… nice

  20. UV filters should ALWAYS be on your camera lens! A few months ago I was removing my messenger lens back from my car. My Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 fell out of my bag, lens first and onto the hard concrete of my garage. I heard a shatter and my heart stopped! I said a few words that I can’t repeat, picked up my lens and thought I shattered my lens. Low and behold I only shattered the UV filter that was PROTECTING the lens. I was super lucky. My only expense was purchasing a new filter! 🙂

  21. I find that many websites hail the use of UV filters, if for nothing more than protecting your camera. In my opinion that is just so much foolishness. A lens cap will probably do the trick for protecting the lens….. but….

    If you’re out on a boat and sea spray is in the air, then a UV filter will not likely stop the salt from reaching the interior of your camera, primarily through small slits and pin-holes in the body and lens. Probably a similar situation on a beach.
    …. Barry

    1. Barry,

      Thanks for your opinion. I respect it, but differ. A lens cap will not protect your lens if it’s not on. And the lens cap is off the camera for the entire duration of a photoshoot – the time when a lens or camera is most vulnerable.

      If your camera is not weatherproof, you should not take it out in a situation where it can be affected by salty sea-spray. However, even in this situation, a UV filter will protect the front element and it’s blooming from the corrosive salt-spray that could harm it. I stand by my recommendation to use a UV filter at all times, except when you need the very best image quality.

      Others choose to use a lens hood, and I feel that this is also a good option if you have a sturdy metal or plastic hood.

      Susheel

  22. Yup i was shooting San Francisco at night and I dropped my Canon 16-35mm 2.8 about 18the inches. It was enough to scuff up the lens cap and the UV filter under it. Took the fall for my lens which os just fine 🙂

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