Whether to use a uv lens filter or not is one of the biggest debates in the world of photography, and probably bigger than the ongoing debate of whether Canon or Nikon is best. Yep, to use uv filters or not to use uv filters, is a huge question.
At the end of the day it comes down to personal preference and opinion, however I am firmly in the “Always use uv filters” camp, and I always have been. I have a uv lens filter on every one of my camera lenses, except for my Canon 8mm – 15mm fisheye lens, and the only reason this particular lens remains uv lens filter free is because the glass is convex and there are no screw in uv filters available for it.
A uv lens filter, typically known as a haze filter, is designed to remove stray uv rays of light, reduce haze and increase saturation. Whether a uv lens filter actually works as a haze filter or not is debateable, but I don’t use uv filters on my lenses for this reason. Oh no, I use uv filters for protection.
The front element of a lens is fragile and easily damaged. If you get a speck of dirt on the front of the lens and are a bit heavy handed with the lens cloth in wiping it off there is a real chance you could scratch the lens which will ruin your photographs, and if you scratch your lens no amount of photo editing will recover the pictures.
Placing a uv lens filter on the front of the lens serves as a barrier and stops the fragile glass element from getting dusty or dirty. UV filters are tougher, more durable and can take a lot more punishment than the glass element of a lens, therefore you don’t need to be as careful with cleaning and stuff. That’s not to say you can go gun-ho using uv filters as they will still scratch, it’s just that they can withstand more than a lens’ glass element.
With a haze filter attached to the front of your lens there is another surface for the light rays to penetrate on the journey to the camera’s sensor, so image quality is obviously going to be affected. I am under no illusions that using a haze filter isn’t going to affect my photos and there is a reduction in image quality. The thing is, the reduction in image quality is so slight that you have to go pixel peeping to see it, or print the photos to bill board size.
When I first started out using uv filters I conducted a test and took the same image, with the same settings with and without a haze filter and then compared the results on my computer. Sure, I could see a difference, when the two photos were side by side, but the difference was so miniscule that I was more than happy to accept the tiniest reduction in image quality for the benefits of using a haze filter.
The way I see it is, uv filters protect the glass element of the lens and I would much prefer to scratch and damage a uv lens filter and buy a replacement than cause irreversible damage to the front element of my expensive Canon l series lenses and have to replace one of those. In the big scheme of things uv filters are inexpensive and the reasons to use them make buying, and using them, a no brainer to me.
UV lens filter saves the day!
I strengthen my case for using uv filters by telling you about a recent episode I had a few months back. During the festive period I was on a “shooting Christmas lights” work shop in a local city. It was a cold, drizzly night and the weather was appalling. I don’t know how I managed it (I am usually so careful with my photography equipment) but I managed to drop my camera and (expensive) Canon 24-70 f2.8L lens from around a meter and a half (fortunately I was in the crouching down and not standing up) and it struck the pavement with a large “thud”. I picked the camera up to survey the damage and I was horrified to see the front of the lens was badly cracked. On closer inspection I removed the uv lens filter and was overjoyed to see that the haze filter had taken the brunt of the impact, and “lost its life” in doing so, but the front element of the lens was intact and didn’t have a mark on it.
If I did not have a haze filter on my 24-70 the lens would now be in the bin, and I would be majorly annoyed and starring down the barrel of a bill for a few hundred bucks. Fortunately, I did have a uv lens filter on it and no harm done, other than a few minor scratches on the lens barrel.
Buying UV filters
cheap uv filters available from Amazon and ebay. The really cheap uv filters are typically made out of cheap materials, thick and significantly reduce image quality to the point where it is noticeable.
All of the uv filters on my lenses are made by Hoya, and I am more than happy with them. Hoya uv filters are tough, durable and thin, and the reduction in image quality is minimal. Hoya uv filters are available in all sizes, so there is a Hoya uv filter for every type of lens, other than the very few with convex front elements (like my fisheye for example).
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.