The first cameras I ever shot with belonged to my dad and my uncle. I vividly remember that par for the course of shooting with those early 80’s Nikons was using a UV or Skylight filter. It was just what was done, and even recently, after digging out my dad’s old lenses which I love to shoot with on with my DSLRs, they still had those very filters on, long after the lens caps had been lost.
So if you grew up shooting film, you were probably of the mindset that shooting with these types of filters was the thing to do, and largely for protection. Protection from what? Well, a host of things from scratches, front element lens breakage, to sand, water, or any of the elements in general, and of course, UV light that often would give a strange hue to some images.
But that was then, and this is now, and digital has sort of changed things a bit, as well as have modern production processes. So the question is, should you be using a UV filter still? And does it serve any purpose as a protective element for your lenses? Steve Perry from Backcountry Gallery recently did some rather extensive, albeit not the most measured or scientific tests, to help answer these questions. The video and the conclusions of the tests have caused some brouhaha over the old debate, and about time really.
The Primary Function Of A UV Filter Is?
Steve does initially address the fact that having a UV filter for the purpose of reducing the haze and strange hues is much less an issue for today’s photographer since we’re generally shooting digital cameras, which seem to be much less affected according to his tests. Furthermore, he also addresses the negative effects having a UV filter can bring to an image, such as ghosting and exacerbated flare, which may make you wonder why you would want one in the first place aside from protection.
This sort of feeds into the argument that those against UV filters would have, that it’s sort of pointless buying an inexpensive piece of glass to put in front of your high resolving lenses. This is something many will argue against, saying that high-quality filters won’t much degrade the quality of the images, but I must ask if you don’t mind a little degradation, why would you spend your dosh on a really high quality, high resolving lens?
But of course, the meat of the story is the issue of protection, and primarily from impact. Through a series of somewhat controlled tests in a garage, Steve takes a host of old lenses and a host of various brands of filters and tests each to find their breaking point. It warrants mention here that breakage isn’t used solely in reference to the lens’ front element, but the lens function and physical integrity on a whole. What you see from the tests is that impacts, where the front element remains intact, isn’t’ necessarily indicative of the rest of the lens and its function being as intact. Certain forces from something either hitting the front element or the filter or dropping the lens on the filter may protect the front element but destroy an internal one.
Watching the video will, of course, provide more detail into the method of testing than I’ll provide here, but suffice to say the general conclusion is that UV filters, regardless of cost or brand, have a much lower threshold of ‘pain’ than your lens’ front element, and thus break much quicker and more easily. That said, however, the actual breaking of the filter actually will help to disperse the pressure of the impact, much like how modern cars are meant to crumble in an accident to take the force away from the passengers.
I see very little use for UV filters today, and for protection I find lens hoods offer more protection from force than a filter ever could. I almost always leave my lens hoods on for precisely this reason. That said, however, I do find filters useful in environments that have small particles like sand or rain, and while this test was interesting, it doesn’t represent the bulk of real-world scenarios.
If you’re starting out in photography and want to learn more about topics like this, and how to use even the most basic gear to yield impressive results, then might I suggest Photography 101 as the source to get you right up to speed. What you’ll learn will likely save you time, and save you from spending money on things you don’t need by directing you to the things that matter, and how to use them.
Do you use UV filters? What’s your take on the matter?