UV Filter or No UV Filter: Can You Tell the Difference?


Some photographers refuse to place a UV or clear filter, or any other type of photographic filter, in front of their lens—worried about sacrificing image quality in the name of a layer of protection. It’s a fact that the more glass elements that light has to pass through, the greater the chance that the light is bent, altered, or degraded in some way. This fact is what keeps some photographers from using UV or clear filters on their lenses—the search for the ultimate image quality.

Note: This article was originally published 10 years ago. The text and images have been updated, but many comments below are from the original article.

However, you cannot deny the protective benefits of a UV filter from fingerprints, dust, smudges, etc. I have even dropped a few lenses and had the UV filter shatter, but the front element of the lens remained untouched. Did the filter, in paying the ultimate sacrifice, protect the lens? No one knows for sure. Regardless, I am glad that the potential loss was only felt by the relatively inexpensive filter and not the lens itself.

So, can you see a visual difference in two identical photos—one with a UV filter and one without? We’ve done the test for you!

Let’s take a look and see the results….

Example: Here are two images from a FUJIFILM XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR lens. The first image is from the au naturel lens and, in the second image, the lens sports a Heliopan 62mm UV SH-PMC filter.

The two images were captured as raw files and processed identically.

100% crop.

200% crop.

Can you see a difference between the two images? I cannot.

Even when we do some serious pixel peeping at 200%, the images look identical.

While I encourage all photographers to use a UV or clear filter on each and every lens that they own, there are times I have removed my UV filter when out shooting to avoid lens flare that was happening at the UV filter despite the filter’s multi-coating. Why wasn’t the lens itself flaring? Possibly because the UV filter, positioned at the far front of the lens, was getting hit by light waves directly at the “right” angle.

Other websites have concluded that most high-quality UV or clear filters will not have any effect on image quality, but some inexpensive filters may. Regardless, I feel that a quality UV filter is an almost mandatory addition to your lens.

What do you think of the filter debate? Let us know in the Comments section, below!


I’m a belt and suspenders guy and cringe at the thought of damaging the front element of any of my lenses. I will only use high quality filters and feel they have little if any effect on image quality.  I also always use lens hoods to help too. This article makes me feel better about that belief. 

Hi Gary,

Belt and suspenders...or black tie....we can all benefit from UV filters (and know that they can be removed if the situation dictates)!

Thanks for reading!



This is a GREAT article and I really appreciate the effort that was put into it. That said, I love seeing them side by side. I DO see a slight difference. Without the filter the picture looks a hair sharper. That said, nothing a tiny bit of sharpening in Lightroom couldn't account for. I've been a full-time pro for 16 years, and I do use a front filter. I like the front filters when I shoot weddings because I'm constantly changing out lenses and I don't have to worry about scratching my front element (I don't use lens caps). After multiple years, my front filters were pretty hammered and I did replace many of them.

Sometimes when I'm working to get a flair just right, I do take of my filter. In-short I see it as a lens cap I rarely have to remove.

The flip, I have two associates who don't use UV filters. They figure if they scratch their lens they'll send them in and have the front element replaced. Completely opposite philosophy then mine.

In the end, it seems like potato - or potato - all personal preference.

Hi Steve,

Sorry for the delay in replying and THANK YOU for the compliment on the article!

A UV filter can save the day, but it will rarely, if ever, ruin a photograph.

You make an excellent point about removal as well. There is a reason they aren't permanently mounted!

Thanks for reading!



Many Pro photographers won't use them UNLESS in a harsh environment like dust, blowing sand, salt or sulfur.  I keep them for those instances- photographing hot springs in Yellowstone- all my UV filters were damaged and tossed.  Lenses were fine.  

Hi Frank,

RIP to your UV filters! I do know many pros who use them regularly, but, yes, there are some that employ them only when needed!

Thanks for reading and chiming in!



I insure my lenses with Valuable Personal Property insurance, sometimes called a Personal Articles Floater, which is all risk coverage with no deductible. Never made a claim but it's comforting to have. Anyway I never use a UV filter, though I have some. I do use a polarizer filter often. I never damaged a front lens element, or a filter, in 50 plus years of serious amateur work; perhaps I'm careful enough, or just lucky. That said if I plan a photo walk in foul weather location, I might put a UV filter in my camera bag. Cheers.

Hi Steven,

Great pro tip! Insuring your photographic gear is very important, and rarely done!

Thanks for sharing your experience and luck!



There is an even more important advantage to using a filter: weather sealing. When shooting in harsh weather conditions, I have found that a UV or clear filter does a great job over time at keeping your lenses from developing mold inside. Good lenses have a rear weather seal (rubber gasket) that keeps the connection with the camera body protected. However, lenses have many ways in which moisture can get inside. One of them us through the front of the lens (if you have ever serviced a lens, you know). It may seem like a trivial measure but in my case it has made a significant difference.

Hi Ignacio,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience! You have another good reason to use UV filters!

Thanks for reading!



I was hoping to be proven wrong, but I honestly see a slight edge of sharpness and clarity in the BEFORE images. Very subtle but it's there. Is it a meaningful difference, probably not. 

Hi Larry,

Thanks for reading and your comments. There is a pixel-peeping difference...barely. In a print, on a phone, or on a screen at normal size, you'd never really notice it!



Someone debates that it is not worth a $50 filter for the $200 lens.  I think it is worth an expensive good coating filter for some cases. Old and cheap lenses are usually coated with fewer layers or poor coating, creating a vignetting and flare unless you see these as a bonus or special effect.  The latest filter technology provides super-multi-coating to correct some vignetting and flare (especially under direct sunlight); dust and water repellants coating is also more convenient than you cleaning the front element of your lenses.

Hi Jacka,

I heartily agree! An expensive lens deserves a higher-cost filter, while an inexpensive lens can enjoy the added protection from an inexpensive filter.

Regardless, all lenses can use protection from dirt, dust, fingerprints, and more.

Thanks for reading!



If you want to spend more money, have fun. These days all lanses are coated on the front element as well as a couple of other elements. I tend not to shoot into the Sun and/or reflective surfeces. I don`t decide on using a filter based on the price of a lens since I usually buy used lenses because you can test them as see right away. The money I have saved on used lenses over 25 years paid for my 24Mp DSLR, at $1,500.

I have used filters that cost less than $10€ for more than 20 years and see no difference since I make small changes in a Pgm.

Also, the cheaper filters are also multi-coated. The newer filters boast nano-coating, which means a much smaller/finer coating,

but that is based on reflection. For reflection(s) I use a polarizing filter, but very seldom.

All comments are about use as a protective filter, but there is UltraViolet block too.

Hi Fernando,

Great point! At B&H, we group the UV filters and protective filters in the same category (for right or wrong).

In Allan Weitz's article on filters he says:

"The most basic filters are ultra-violet reducing filters (UV), Skylight filters, and protection filters, which depending on the manufacturer are either glass filters with basic anti-reflective coatings, or in some cases, merely plainclothes UV filters, which isn’t dishonest. To keep the front element of your lens clean and safe, any of the above will suffice, but if you’re looking to protect your lens and improve the image quality of your stills and video, you’re going to want to purchase a UV or Skylight filter."


Thanks for reading!



Notice that Todd said UV and Skylight. Nothing about coatings or price. I suggest testing all camera equipment first. It is not a sin to save a few dollars. It pays for the transportation to the store or breakfast.

I consistently use a protective filter. I cannot see any noticeable degradation of image quality. 

3 times I have dropped or bumped a lens and the filter saved the lens. I will not purchase a lens and not have a filter to protect.

Hi Ted,

Thanks for sharing your experience! I, too, have cracked filters and believe that the filter sacrificed itself for the health of the lens's front element!

Thanks for reading!



Personally whether to use a lens shade or a glass lens protector, or none depends on your own shooting style or individual requirements.

For some people OAL(overall lenght) is not important so a lens shade is ample protection for the lens, and also protects against stray light.

For me a short OAL is important, especially when I am carrying 4 or 5 lenses, the added length of a lens shade makes carrying and changing lenses more cumbersome   I know one photog who uses both a lens protector AND a lens shade!

Personally, I was using Tiffen's UV filter, but recently I discovered Hoya's EVO Protector line, it is advertised as having fingerprint-resistant coatings, I find that so far it works pretty good, if  I do get a fingerprint on it etc I just wipe it off with my shirt tail, smudges on the front lens element will definitely degrade your picture.

I don't know how much it would cost to replace a front lens element but I image it would be pretty expensive, so expensive that it would probably be worthwhile to buy a whole new lens rather than repairing the old one. If had a lens protector you would just replace it at a nominal cost.

Hi Ronald,

You make a great point here about the lens length. (By the way, in the nautical and aviation world, the acronym is LOA—length overall.)

Very often, especially with big zooms or telephotos, they won't fit into a regular camera bag with the lens hood attached or even reversed, so carrying the hood can be an issue.

Like you, I would rather be rubbing fingerprints off of a filter than the actual coated front element of my lens.

Thanks for reading!



I know "I am beating a dead horse to death," but here it goes. Putting on a filter probably only  affects sharpness by a very small amount, but for me, I think the principle shortcoming is that it reflects a bit of the light like probably a few percentages.

If a clear filter does affect sharpness,  you can probably can't see it, but I bet you can  measure on an optical bench which is probably only available at optical companies etc. I find that Ken Rockwell's discussion on MTFs interesting. BTW you don't have to be an engineer to read or understand this, it is  written pretty much in ordinary language that most anyone can understand. If you are picking nits, you can probably understand the lingo.

I recently ran across this piece from Ken Rockwell.

"How to Read Modulation Transfer Functions (MTFs)"

"I brought it up to date, and added more reasons why you shouldn't waste too much time trying to compare MTFs, because each brand measures them differently and because even legitimate MTFs exaggerate differences that aren't visible in actual shooting." --- Ken Rockwell
[Link removed.]

Hi Ronald,

This horse will never die! :)

If you want to dig deeper on the subject, a lens rental company blog did a pretty comprehensive UV filter test with their precision gear and found some interesting results. Also, that same blog has an entertaining and enlightening article on manufacturing variations between lenses. An MTF curve for a lens, regardless of the standards used is only the MTF curve for that particular serial number lens. All of the other ones will be different.

Thanks for stopping by again!



Before trusting people on YT who review but seldum test by printing and making a real comparisons. Most are what I call AmaZombies who get %3 from A´Zon the Destroyer of Worlds. I will not buy from  A billionair who has his own delivery vans and pays poorley. How can his prices be so low and he is a "Richest Man in The World" top three.

I have bought a DSLR camera kit from B&H many years ago but I have nothing to do with them. I do recommend anyone going to NYC to spend a few hours there, especially on a Monday morning when there are less people there.

Here are my thoughts - a standard Tiffen 77mm UV Protector Filter sells for $13.99 here on the B&H website. B&H makes at least 100% markup, SO the filter costs less than $7 to B&H, Tiffen has to make at least a 100% markup to stay in business, SO the filter costs less than $3.50 to make. The metal ring of the filter has to be 3/4 of the price, SO less than $2.33 to make the metal ring and less than $1.17 for the glass, if both items are made, in house. If not, even less. 

If one does the same math on a manufacturer's lens, they are investing a fair amount more in all of the coatings that are added to the lens to protect and eliminate all unnecessary light flare, uv, etc, etc and polishing of each element. The hood is also designed and made to keep out the maximum amount of stray light without vignetting. The lens is designed with the hood in mind and the two work perfectly, together. A hood will protect a lens from light flare, damage, fingers, dropping, etc, etc. 

SO, why in the world world would you place a, less than $1.17 piece of monster glass in front of your expensive glass? 

Hi Noah,

While I can't back you up on the mathematics, you make a fair point here.

If I may, I can counter your lens hood argument a bit...

1) I have a 17-month-old son who has fingers that can easily find there way past my lens hoods...Undeterred by the hood, he actually insists on touching the glass!

2) In my previous life, I flew military helicopters. Having detachable lens hoods was not an option for FOD prevention purposes. A filter was the only protection that I could get in a fairly dirty and busy environment where I wasn't always the only one handling my gear.

3) I once dropped a camera bag and shattered a UV filter on a lens inside the padded bag. Would the front element have been damaged? I don't know. And, yes, a hood would have absorbed the impact, but, if the lens had been wearing a hood, it wouldn't have fit into the bag.

So, the hood isn't always practical or possible in every scenario, but, you are correct, they do a great job protecting a lens.

A fantastic writer on another photo website did a scientific UV filter comparison/test finding that good filters have no real affect on image quality. And, truth be told, I sometimes remove the filter when shooting!

Thanks for stopping by!



I can't imagine buying a $13.99 filter for a good lens.  I do spend $60 or more on a better filter to match the quality of the Nikon optics.  Once in a while I'll temporarily take the filter off for a troublesome shot.  The ability to magnify and examine the images on the modern cameras is a wonderful boon for these issues.  I have had expensive lenses saved by a filter.

Hey Gary,

Good stuff! Thanks for chiming in.

I agree...on an expensive lens, you should go with an expensive filter. That isn't me up-selling for my employer, its more of a fact of life.

Just an FYI...a lens rental website did a comparison of UV filters and gave the Nikon filters very high marks (actually one of the highest ratings). I have some for my Nikon glass and are very happy with them!

Thanks for reading!




I agree with the Nikon filters and have often used them since the days when a goodly number of the filter sizes were 52mm.



I think your estiamtes stated as fact are way off. My opinion is that they make a profit of about 30%.40%. It depends. Why don`t

you do some research? First of all profits are not based on the products, they are based on the material costs, production costs, saleries, executives, their buildings, insurance, delivery costs, Etc.

Thanks for showing this.

I wasn't really expecting to see a difference.. and maybe it's just me.. but I think it looks better without.

A bit sharper is all, but I will have to compare this on my camera also.  Hm.

Hi John,

Just based on physics alone, there should be a difference, but you really have to go pixel peeping to see it!

I still think the benefits of a UV filter outweigh the teeny tiny loss in sharpness.



I agree--take a close look at the small branches, and you'll see a slight degradation in sharpness with the addition of the filter. What I notice with a good quality filter at 400mm and 150 feet with an object 0.1" wide, there is dark "banding" around lighter objects with the filter.  Not so without.

Hi Greg,

Good pixel-peeping there!

Thanks for reading and sharing your experience!



I would have like to see some night scenes with light sources. Even the best UV's I've used have ghosting. 

Hi Robert,

You are 100% correct. I mention this in my conclusion, but did not specify "night shooting."

I, too, have gotten unwanted ghosting and flare while shooting at night with top-quality UV filters.

In those instances, I will sigh, shrug, and unscrew the filter. I then get the shot and then remount the filter and press on. It is not common enough to make me ditch the filter completely as I'd rather have the protection 99% of the time and remove it to deal with the ghosting when I have to.

Thanks for reading Explora!



I easily see the difference. Surprised you do not.Is your browser color managed? There is a sharpness difference as well.

Hi Bob!

Your eyes must be better than mine! Even at the 200% crop in Photoshop proper (not using the images above), I barely noticed a difference. Yes, there is a tiny difference, but is it enough to make a "real world" impact to your images? Please don't make me invest in even more expensive expensive UV filters! :)



Using a UV Filters for all Lens are the easiest ways to start, indeed!!! They're not as difficult because it was not as being mentioned and upon. Finally, I rather preferred after over before in so it could be more clearer, indeed!!!