Do I need to use a UV filter on my DSLR lens?
The answer in short is NO you don’t need to use a UV filter. That said I do use and have filters in my camera bag. In this episode of “Exploring my gear” I explain why I don’t use a UV filter all the time and why they still has a place in my bag.
Does a UV filter really make a difference?
UV filters are without doubt one of the most popular filters on the market. Before DSLR cameras came along photographers found traditional film very sensitive to colour.
When I was at school we were taught that the colour spectrum is split into red, green and blue layers. The blue layer just so happens to be particularly susceptible to ultraviolet light. In images with excessive UV light a blue-tinted haze may be captured on the final image. Modern film, however has evolved and is designed in a way that the effects of UV light are almost eliminated.
The advancement of DSLR
DSLR cameras and equipment is constantly evolving. Cameras and lenses have hardware and software controls, including filters and coatings. All this helps to stop everything between Infrared and UV light from having huge negative effects on images. With this in mind an additional layer of glass from the UV filter doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense at least not for the purpose that it was actually designed.
Protecting expensive lenses
Although I do not have loads of photography gear and equipment what I do have has been a huge investment. Cameras, lenses, tripods, accessories and did I mention lenses all add up to thousands of pounds. Modern lenses are well constructed and calibrated expensive pieces of kit. Due to the expensive nature of gear and equipment most photographers want to protect lenses from damage. Protection is big business for camera retailers and manufacturers, this is essentially one of the main reasons why UV filters are so popular.
UV filters have become the go to way of protecting the end element on a lens and is most likely a photographers first choice in protecting the front element of a lens. The thin, circular piece of glass fit’s over the front of your lens, helping to protect it from scratches, smudges and physical damage.
Do cheap filters degrade image quality?
Just like the quality of glass in various lenses, filter quality can differ considerably depending on the manufacturer and purchase cost. Whilst you can buy a cheap filter on eBay which will protect the lens more often than not it will without doubt degrade the quality of an image resulting in softness, additional flaring and overall disappointment. That said some of the most expensive filters available will also produce very similar results.
My preferred method of Protection is a lens hood. Lens hoods are often supplied with a lens and are plastic extensions designed to prevent flaring from the sun or bright lights however, they also do a great job at preventing physical damage to the front of a lens. If your lens didn’t ship with a hood or you have lost the hood that came with the lens I would recommend replacing it at your next opportunity.
Here’s the exception though…
In my spare time I like to shoot motorsport. Shooting dramatic low angle shots behind fast moving cars often risks small stones and other objects travelling towards the glass at high speeds. In these situations a lens hood won’t cut it and I take the additional step to protect the lens by using a…. you guessed it, UV filter.
Unfortunately lenses come in differing sizes so there is no one filter suits all option. The most common filter sizes for the diameter of DSLR lenses are 49mm, 52mm, 58mm, 62mm, 72mm, and 77mm. Obviously a 77mm filter won’t fit on a lens with a 72mm thread however you can sometimes use an adapter, but that can introduce other problems.
My go to UV filter is the Hoya HMC UV range which I find offers a perfect balance between cost and image quality. This range of filter is available in sizes from 37mm to 86mm in diameter.