A controversial question for sure and to be honest, somewhat redundant.
Let’s just clarify one thing from the outset. For digital photography, UV filters make no difference to image quality, in fact it will degrade your image quality very slightly. They will however, help if you’re the retro type and use film. I’m one of those guys, it’s so much fun – get into it if you can!
There’s a popular school of thought that using a UV (or clear protective) filter protects your lens from damage. In general terms, that really isn’t the case. But it also depends on what we mean by damage.
Let’s split the concept of damage into 3 categories;
· Environmental (dust, dust/sand blasting, dirt)
· Impact (dropping the lens or direct hit of some sort)
· Weather (rain, especially heavy rain)
Most people use consumer lenses which are not weather sealed, so let’s not worry about weather for now at least.
There is a strong argument to use a UV filter to protect your lens in some situations. A great example is the beach, especially a windy one! Sand which is picked up and blown around by the wind will very quickly wear the various coatings off your front lens element. It may, in some extreme situations cause some sand blasting marks. ALWAYS use a filter when at the beach, or in a sandy location.
To drive the point home even further, I took this pic a few years ago at a local track, just a second after it was taken we were all blasted with that dirt, then blasted again for the next bike and blasted again. Suffice to say, my filter was a throw away by the end of that event. My lens, on the other hand, was left unscathed.
It did take me weeks to get all that grit from out of my camera! But that’s another story!
What about impact damage? The short answer – unless it’s a minor impact, forget about it. No filter will protect your lens from impact damage. Use your lens hood.
If you have a lens hood, my advice would be to always use it. I so often see people taking snaps with their lens hood on backwards as you might when you pack your lens in your bag to save space. I don’t get it. Why have it on backwards? You may as well leave it in the bag. Maybe it’s a fashion statement which I somehow missed? I know wearing a cap backwards is a thing. I struggle to find a link there to be honest!
The main job of a lens hood is to cut out lens flare, but assuming you have the hood on the right way round, it will protect your precious, expensive lens from just about any impact you can think off, outside of dropping off a tall building! Not even a hood will save it from that, it will be kaput! Yes, in that circumstance it’s either tears, or insurance.
Here’s a video making the case with thanks to the great Matt Granger.https://www.youtube.com/embed/8I4FBk-JCsM?rel=0&showinfo=0&enablejsapi=1
So what do I do when I’m shooting an event? Well first, I always, always use a lens hood. In my work my camera gets a serious beating, I usually carry two cameras at once and for the one that isn’t being used, it swings around on my strap, hits walls, the ground, other people and often other photographers cameras and I can tell you, my hood, whilst it’s looking very battered, has done its job! Plus it reduces nasty flare.
After having said all this, I am almost too embarrassed to admit to it, but yes, I use a filter! I am too lazy to take it off. I personally can’t see any difference in image quality so I’m not losing anything having it screwed on. I use pro lenses (I’ll get to that in a second) and I’m so often in dusty, sandy and windy conditions there is an argument to have one on my lens, and to be honest, I forget it’s there most of the time. Of course, it does come off if I want to use a polarizing filter but a side note, never, ever stack them! You will get terrible vignetting, especially if you’re shooting wide.
So here’s my advice, unless you’re shooting motorsports, or shooting in very dusty or dirty locations, don’t waste your money, spend it one something much more exciting! Maybe even spend it in my shop 😀
If you’re a film shooter, then absolutely get yourself one and use it. It will take that bluey haze out of your image.
And just one last thing to make things even more confusing – Weather – Some weather sealed professional lenses require a filter to be attached to seal them. This doesn’t apply to all of them – you will need to look at the manufacturers recommendations. I know for sure that the Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L USM requires a filter to seal it.
I hope this has been useful, remember it’s just my opinion but it’s served me pretty well so far! 😊
Oh, and if you still really, really want a UV filter – I happen to sell them at prices that are far below anyone else. You can find them here. More are being added all the time.
Dave shoots for Speed Media Image Agency, a professional photo agency providing coverage of all sports, events and photojournalism. We photograph for international, national and local media agents, including Getty Images, Icon Sportswire, AP, News Corp, The Times, ESPN and CNN. We have a team of commercial photographers ready to shoot for sport teams and sponsors.