Throckmorton Texas mammatus clouds at sunset

Ask James – UV Filters

Hey James,

Do you use ultraviolet lens filters to protect your lenses?Pete. Flowermound, TX

I stopped using UV filters on my lenses around 4 years ago. There are certainly some advantages to using them, but they don’t outweigh the disadvantages in my opinion. The main advantage to them—the reason most photographers buy them—is protecting your lens. My friend Mike Mezeul uses them, especially when shooting sports. He took a hockey puck straight to his 70-200 when shooting a Dallas Stars game and the puck broke the UV filter instead of the lens. They also prevent scratches from regular wear and tear on your lenses. But…that’s about it.

When it comes down to it, UV filters are adding an extra layer of glass between your subject and your sensor. And it’s a layer of glass that wasn’t ever supposed to be there. If you then start adding ND filters and graduated ND filters, you’re just adding more and more.

Camera stores really push UV filters when selling lenses. If you want to know why, just follow the money. They make very little profit on cameras and lenses themselves, but profits on accessories is what really makes them money. So if they can sell you a UV filter for each lens you buy, their bottom line will be happy.

The biggest mistake I see amateur photographers (and some pros) making with UV filters is putting a $50 UV filter on a $1,200 lens. If you have top of the line glass, and you insist on using a UV filter, you need to invest in top of the line UV filters. Otherwise you will be sacrificing image quality by screwing the filter onto your lens.

The deal breaker for me was a wedding I was shooting years ago. I was shooting portraits with a Canon 85mm prime with a top-o-the-line UV filter on it. I started noticing weird reflections in my images from light sources. There would be reflections of traffic lights, light bulbs, things like that. When I finally put two and two together, I took the UV filter off and the problem was fixed.

Another downside is that with just about any UV filter, you will at least have some loss of image quality. I don’t have the side by side test images available, but I’ve done the tests in the past and you can just as easily do them yourself. Chromatic aberration is worse, and overall image sharpness is worse with UV filters. All in the name of saving your lens from a scratch or two that will likely never show up in your images.

I view my lenses as tools. They are meant to be used and constant use is going to eventually end in a scratch here and some wear and tear there. It’s just part of it.

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