Should I Use a UV Filter on My Lens?

UV filters are the most common filters sold with every new camera purchase. You have probably heard that UV filters protect your lens from getting scratched. This is certainly true, but do you know what their real purpose is? 

Should I Use a UV Filter on My Lens?

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Film Photography and UV Filters

In film photography, using a UV filter was a necessity since the filters blocked unwanted ultraviolet light from hitting the film. Without a UV filter, the image suffered haziness and fogginess, especially in blue hues.

Digital Photography and UV Filters

Since modern digital cameras have built-in UV filters on the sensor level, the need for UV filters is minimal today.

It is a common belief that UV filters reduce chromatic aberration or color fringing, but I have never seen with my own eyes any proof of that.

Based on my experience, if a lens is purely built, no filter can correct the color fringing it produces. And if UV filters do reduce chromatic aberration, the reduction is too insignificant to make a difference in image quality. 

Today, the only function that UV filters offer is protection. There is very little difference between a clear protective filter or a UV filter.

This is often a topic of debate in the photography community because there is no clear consensus about the use of UV filters in digital photography.

Different photographers approach UV filters differently.

We can separate most photographers into three groups depending on how they use UV filters.

  • Group 1. Some photographers never use protective or UV filters because they believe that adding an extra layer of glass in front of an expensive, state-of-the-art lens can potentially degrade the quality of the image. We call these photographers “the perfectionists.” 

  • Group 2. Photographers who belong in the second group use UV and protective filters only when necessary. For example, if you attend the Burning Man festival in the desert, you will typically clean the front element of your lens around 100 times each day. The sand and dust can potentially damage your lens.

  • Group 3. The final group of photographers are those who attach a UV or protective filter immediately when they purchase a lens and never remove it. The logic here is that the risk of damaging the lens far outweighs the minimal degradation in the quality of images and, as a result, is worth it in the long run. 

How I Use Protective Filters

For a long time, I belonged to the first group of “perfectionists” and refused to use the protective filter. I thought that using the lens hood was a much better option to protect my lens from any potential physical damage.

What changed my mind was my frequent travels to the West Coast of the United States. Because of the strong winds along the coast, I realized that the saltwater mist is always in the air even when it is not raining. Constantly wiping the front elements of any lens can easily cause damage especially when salt residue is present.

At this point, I have protective filters for all my lenses but, most of the time, they stay in my bag. I only attach them when necessary. Before hiking along the coast, I always attach the filters to my lenses the night before. I also make sure all my lenses are protected with filters before I drive through Death Valley.

Fujifilm Xt2 + Fujinon 10-24mm + ProMaster Protection Filter

Conclusion

Should you use UV filters?

There is no right or wrong answer here. Each photographer must decide for themselves whether or not to use a filter. Ask yourself this question: Is sacrificing image quality worth the risk of potentially damaging the front element of your lens? If your answer is yes, then apply the filter.

In the long run, it does not matter whether or not you choose to use UV filters or not; what matters is the quality of glass you choose. If you have a high quality lens that cost you around $1,000, it makes no sense to stick a $10 filter on the front of it. Some photographers use the 10% filter rule, which states that your protective filter should cost approximately 10% of what you paid for your lens.

I’m curious... Do you use UV filters? Share your answers in the comments below.

  • Charles black says:

    I used to but apart from the protective aspect – as you say ‘when needed’ – I consider filters are a greatly increased risk of flare which messes up or softens a picture. This is proved by comparing pictures from my camera with my partners which has a similar lens but with filter.

    There is also the cost aspect – I object to the exorbitant sums charged for ‘good’ filters (you say 10% of the lens cost – but look at the difference between the complicated and complex lens compared with a single bit of glass in a holder).

  • Al Hughes says:

    I used to use them all the time. In fact, I once dropped my 5DMarkII on the floor and the UV filter on the front of my 24-70mm lens was smashed to bits but the lens remained unscathed. It was the cost of good filters that has led to my discarding the idea and sticking to my lens hoods for that protection. I haven’t had the opportunity to test that theory (nor do I want it) and I’m much more careful with my equipment these days. However, if you can afford the high cost, they do protect your gear from disaster.

  • Lutfi Ali says:

    I used to put them on but after a few tests on image quality with and without them on, i decided not to put them on unless really necessary. There is a big difference in IQ without the filters.

  • Do I use filters to protect my lenses on the road: yes.

    Are they expensive: yes (especially the variable ND ones).

    Have I experienced any additional flare/ghosting: no.

    Have I had to replace my filters: yes. Three times when they were shattered due to impact, and probably a dozen times due to deterioration (my careless cleaning and sand/grit/wear).
    But that was over several decades (no, I’m not telling you how many).

    However, it’s good to remember that dirt on your lens (front or back elements) is A LOT less of a problem than dirt on your sensor…

  • Yes, I always stick UV filter as protection. Hardly notice any impact to image quality!

  • My experience with a dropped lens made a believer in protective filters. Filter was smashed, front element was unmarked once I carefully removed the glass shards from the threads on the front element. Needed a “puffer” and a very soft NEW toothbrush

  • Glenn Larsen says:

    I use filter for protection. Years ago with my film camera I took a night long exposure picture of the Hale-Bopp comet over a church and left the uv filter on. The photo was ruined due light reflection off the filter. A life lesson there.

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