When Not to Use a UV Filter

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Many photographers consider the UV filter a necessary accessory for a new lens, and while it does have some useful qualities, there are a few situations in which you’d be better off without one.

1) When you’re using other filters

Beginners to filtration and photography tend to think that because the UV is a clear filter, you can stack a second or even third filter on top of it without affecting your exposures. This is not the case. The general rule is to have as few pieces of glass in front of your lens as possible, for optimal results. Each element will reduce transmission and cause some light to scatter slightly, resulting in a softer, darker image. The addition of multiple circular elements in front of the lens may also cause unwanted vignetting.

2) When shooting into the sun or bright lights

UV filters are a common cause of lens flare, and while some really well-designed filters may not always create this issue, cheap filters and lights in the frame rarely mix well.

3) When you need the best image quality

Lenses are designed without filters, so they will theoretically function at their peak potential without one. Not to say that using a specialty filter will not give you amazing results you couldn’t achieve otherwise, such as a polarizer or 10-stop ND. But UV filters don’t do much when it comes to digital photography. Cameras are not as susceptible to the effects of UV light as film is.

4) When you’re worried about lens damage

This tip straddles both sides of the fence of the UV filter debate. Many people use UV filters primarily for protection; however, certain kinds of lenses can be damaged if the front element makes contact (the convex Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II comes to mind). Also, if you accidentally shatter a filter, shards of glass could potentially scratch the attached lens.

A great resource for information on this topic is the B&H UV Filter Buying Guide, which explains what ultraviolet light is, why UV  filters are so important for film cameras, the role that UV filters play in digital photography, and differences between various kinds of glass.

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7 Comments

I no longer use UV filters on my lenses for all the reasons above!  I make sure I alway use a lens hood and carry a good microfiber cloth/lens cleaner for when I am out in the elements.  

My Nikon 24 - 85mm kit lens fell about 3ft to the floor, the lens cap pushed into the protective filter and shattered the filter causing the the lens to become scratched.  Also on my 80 - 400mm Nikon lens using a protective filter causes ghosting and lateral fringing at 400mm.  Have removed all filters from my lenses, using the hood that comes with your lens is protection enough.

Optically, the best filters by test are Hoya HMC -- yes, better than B+W -- and they are considerably less expensive than $100+.  More like mid $20s.  And that's not so expensive that I mind replacing them every couple of years when the coating gets worn out from cleaning; or the surface gets scratched because I threw a lens in the bag without covering it, or the covering came off or whatever. 

And then there are the, y'know UV filtering benefits.  Besides, filters are easily removable when you don't want them.

Maybe I'm paranoid but I'm a rubber hood (now we're talking B+W) and filter man.

Sorry to natter on, but there's no edit function. 

I forgot to say that in addition to UV and Skylights, there are some excellent "optical flats" which offer the same protection, and have sophisticated coatings which repel static, fingerprints, hard water marks, etc.

A pair of Hoya EVO Antistatic Filters (43mm and 52mm) just cost me around $40 a pop.  More than the HMCs yes; but cheap compared to the glass they're going on.

I use uv filters for protection, and on 2 occasions I have dropped or bumped the camera both times the filter took the brunt of the impact, broke but the lenses escaped unharmed.  In fact the second time I had to use needle nose pliers to gently remove the broken and bent filter without damaging the lens. 

I never-ever use a UV Filter, because they are NOT clear. They add a slight, unwanted "color cast" to all images.

Clarity Test....lay the filter down on a sheet of white paper...look thru the filter...that is what your camera sees.

I am not an expert in this....it has just been my observations.

I use to have a UV filter on every lens, until I sold them & switched systems I realized I never fully explored the benefit of my previous lens. Every component of the lens wears down including internal drives, rubber gaskets, etc.  Unless you are cleaning lens constantly there is no call for a UV glass.  Like the article said, if it's req'd, the designer would've added a piece of removal UV glass. :)  Putting a piece of expense UV glass $100+ may add neglible degradation in image quality but unless my lens is $4000 or more, the cost/benefit doesn't fit the bill.  Nowdays I have no filters on my lens but I have a hood on every lens.

With that said, if I MUST take out my camera in the middle of a sandstorm/tornado to capture a once in a life image, I will probably add a piece of protection I can toss in the basket after the shot.

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