Digital cameras have significantly enhanced over the past decade, taking pictures that are more lifelike than ever. If you find yourself taking pictures of your family for memories or snapping images professionally, you want to have the best equipment possible. Of course, this may lead you to discover so many kinds of lenses and camera accessories that it can be challenging to know what you need. One thing that many digital camera enthusiasts have questions about is UV filters and how they can benefit your picture taking.
What is a lens UV filter? A UV filter is a glass filter that will attach to the front of your camera lens. These additions are used to block ultraviolet rays and were necessary to film photography in the past but are mainly used to protect digital camera lenses today.
Today, there is a lot of confusion about the importance of UV filters, as some photographers swear by them, and others think they are a waste of money. Essentially, the use of a UV filter is dependent on the photographer. However, to help you decide what works for your needs, we will discuss the ins and outs of these filters and how they may benefit you.
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What Exactly Does a UV Filter Do?
A UV filter is fairly self-explanatory, as it is used to block the UV light as it enters the lens. These became popular during the times of film photography, where the cameras were very sensitive to UV light. During this time, if a UV filter was not used, the photos would end up with a blue haze.
Do digital cameras need UV filters? While UV filters were often important during very sunny days or at high altitudes when the film was being used, they are not nearly as necessary today. In fact, digital sensors are simply not as sensitive to UV light, and they do not need this added filter. There is simply no need to block the UV rays to achieve quality photos.
This may have you thinking, “Then what is the point of UV filters still being sold today?” Many photographers still love adding a UV filter to their camera for the protective layer it offers the lens. In other words, these UV filters are primarily sold for protection purposes.
How Does a UV Filter Protect Your Camera Lens?
The biggest reason why many photographers reach for a UV filter today is to protect their lenses, which can become quite expensive if they need to be replaced. Since UV filters can be purchased for a lower cost, breaking them, or damaging them is a much easier fix. There are two ways that your UV filter can protect your lens:
- Drop or Fall Protection – If you tend to be a photographer who handles your camera roughly or drops it often, UV filters can be beneficial. The idea is that a break that would typically crack your lens will instead crack your filter. This should protect your valuable lens underneath and can reduce the chances of severely damaging the lens.
- Reduce Damage from Dirt, Dust, Scratches, etc. – If you take photos often, there is a good chance that your lens will become scratched and dirty over time. When you have a UV filter on your camera, it acts as a protective layer, keeping the elements away from your lens. Also, these filters are easy to remove and clean, while also easy to replace should it become overly scratched.
Other Benefits of Using a UV Filter
While protection seems to be the main answer when asked why a photographer is using a UV filter, there are some other benefits that you may get from this addition. Those who use these filters regularly have noted some additional benefits are:
They Block Blue Cast on Sunny Days
While today this is not as beneficial, adding a UV filter can remove any blue cast from your images. This was critical for film cameras in the past but can still be beneficial to some digital images. If you like to take photos on very sunny days, they can lower any remaining blue cast your camera does not block out.
Going hand in hand with this, “there is some evidence that certain lenses benefit from a UV filter as it reduces the purple fringing caused by longitudinal chromatic aberration” (DP Review). This purple fringing will show up in certain circumstances and can cause an image to be less than perfect. However, for many, this does not cause enough of a problem to need a UV filter added.
They Are Extremely Cost-Effective
As mentioned, UV filters can be very cost-effective, especially when compared to the lens itself. This means that you can purchase a high-quality piece and still not spend much money on the filter. This makes adding a filter worth a shot, as you will not be out a lot of money if you do not love it, and you can keep it for days when it is more beneficial.
Also, since they are cost-effective, if you do love adding a filter for protection or other purposes, it will not be as big of a loss if it breaks. You can simply purchase a new one but know that your camera remains safe.
They Are Convenient
These UV filters are small and easy to manage. You can simply put the filter on as you need it, but there is no damage if you leave it on full time. If it becomes dirty, you can take it off and wipe it down easily as the piece is simply one sheet of glass.
The Negatives of Using a UV Filter
Of course, some negatives come with using a UV filter as well. Most of these can be avoided if you have a quality filter that fits your digital camera appropriately. Some negatives that photographers have noted are:
There Is a Loss of Image Quality
Once again, this is not as true if you purchase a quality filter, but it can be the case for some images. If you do notice a loss of quality, it will be minor. You will want to personally consider if this loss of quality is important to you or noticeable enough to you to matter.
UV Filters Can Create Flare and Ghost Images
Again, for most filters, this will not be a significant issue, but some photographers have noted that adding UV filters increases the chance of flare and ghost images.
Adding a filter may cause a noticeable ghost image, especially when taking night shots. This can be because of a combination of a very bright flash, a high-speed lens at full aperture, and the use of a filter. However, as you can tell, this is very circumstantial and is not a common occurrence.
There May Be Loss of Resolution
This is often what people note when they say that the UV filter affects image quality. However, on most digital cameras, a good filter should not disturb the overall quality of the image itself. These filters are optically flat and should not disturb the direction of light rays passing through the filter.
The only time that a loss of resolution may be noted is if there is a slight variation from this optical flatness, which can be seen in cheaper filters. This will often not be noticeable still unless you are using an extreme telephoto lens due to magnifying effects.
Should You Use a UV Filter?
This leads to the big question that you probably have in mind, which is should you even use a UV filter? As mentioned from the beginning, this relies very heavily on your personal preference and what works best for your needs. A few key things to keep in mind and reiterate are:
- UV filters will offer a layer of protection for your camera. If you do several outdoor shoots or simply are naturally rough on the camera, they can be very beneficial. If you are not necessarily rough, they may not provide much but peace of mind for you.
- They can have a minor effect on the overall quality of your image; however, for most, this is not notable enough to deter from their use. If you want the absolute best quality images your camera can create, you may avoid adding one. However, you can always remove the lens as needed.
- They are relatively small, easy to use, and offer no major inconvenience. If you have the money to buy the filter, there is really no disadvantage that comes from having one. Even if you do not find yourself using it regularly, it can be tucked away in your camera bag when you need it.
Are There Times to Avoid Using a UV Filter?
Once you have a UV filter on hand, you can pretty much leave it on whenever you are shooting. However, there are some times that you should not use a UV filter to get the best images possible. The few times you will want to remove your filter include the following:
- Do Not Use with Other Filters: If you are new to using filters, you do not want to use an excess of filters at one time. The general rule of photography is to have as few pieces of glass in front of your lens as possible for optimal results, which means each added filter will cause a lowered resolution. Adding too many filters at one time can cause light to scatter, resulting in softer or darker images, along with unwanted vignetting.
- If You Are Shooting into the Sun or a Bright Light: As mentioned earlier, a UV filter can cause a lens flare in some situations. This will depend on the filter that you purchase. However, if you are using a lower quality filter, avoid adding it to these shoots.
- If You Need the Absolute Best Image Quality: While UV filters do not lower the quality of the image enough for many to even notice, if you are doing extremely detailed work, you may want to remove it for the shoot. They can lower the resolution slightly, and lenses theoretically function at peak potential with no filter at all.
How to Choose the Best UV Filter
If you are considering purchasing your own UV filter to have on hand or use regularly, you will want to ensure you purchase a high-quality piece that you can trust. There are several UV filters on the market today, and unfortunately, they are not all created equally. You will want to make some comparisons when deciding on which filter works for your needs.
There are many popular brands and styles of UV filters out there, but reading online reviews, comparing prices, and following this checklist for what to look for in a filter will ensure you get the best for your camera:
Get a High-Quality Glass
Since UV filters are essentially thin pieces of glass, the type of glass used is critical to the quality of the piece. If you choose a poor quality glass, “it can affect the overall sharpness, resolution, contrast, and color of the images you produce.” Inexpensive filters will use simple window glass, while higher quality filters will use optical grade glass. (Source: Hoya Filter USA)
The things you will want to consider when choosing a glass UV filter are:
- Optical glass is always the best option but is also the most expensive.
- Another option is Schott B270 glass, which is not optical but is extremely like the optical glass and just a slight step lower. This is an excellent option for UV filters and can be a little more cost-effective. Many top brands utilize this style of glass.
- Avoid purchasing a filter that does not have a clear statement of the type of glass that is used. A filter that does not mention the glass will be a lower quality and show impurities. This can ruin the image produced.
- A bonus is if you can find a UV filter that is “black-rimmed,” which should be stated from the manufacturer. This added enhancement is a simple black paint around the outside edge of the glass that prevents light from bouncing around and off the surface of the filter frame.
Look for Multi-Coating Layers
If you purchase a high-quality UV filter, it will have a multi-coating layer that should be applied during the manufacturing process. These coatings are designed to increase the amount of light that is transmitted, which essentially allows more light to pass through the glass filter. This can “reduce or even eliminate the reflections on the front and rear of the filter” (Hoya Filter USA).
When it comes to these multi-coating layers, more layers added equates to a higher cost. You will want to look for light transmission of 98% or higher; this is what most photographers look for. If the filter is a good brand, it will often have this layer on both sides of the glass.
Avoid purchasing UV filters that are not coated or are mono-coated as these do not offer the same level of results. These lesser coated options will be more likely to produce double image reflections or ghosting. They can also increase flares and decrease the color accuracy in your photos.
Premium Coatings Are an Added Bonus
During this multi-coating process, if the manufacturer adds a premium coating, it can be even more beneficial. Of course, these can increase the price of the filter, but they can also increase its function and durability of it significantly. Some of the features you may want to look for with these premium coatings are:
- Scratch Resistant – This coating will help prevent any scratches that may occur to the surface of the filter. Great for those who are rougher on their camera.
- Waterproofing – This can help create a waterproof layer on the filter and, in turn, protect your lens from water. Great for outdoor shoots.
- Antistatic Layer – As the name suggests, this feature is used to prevent static, which can form when you rub the surface of the lens during cleaning. The result of static is that dust will keep sticking to the surface. However, an antistatic coating will stop the static from building up.
- Oil and Smudge Resistance – This makes it easier to clean your filter when you find a fingerprint or dirt on the surface.
Make Sure to Look at the Filter Frame
The final thing you will want to consider when it comes to your UV filter is the frame itself. The frame is the area outside of the filter or the ring that allows you to attach it to your lens. Often, these frames are made of brass or aluminum, but most photographers do not have a strong preference for which frame material works best.
The Best UV Filters on the Market
Now that you know more about what to look for when it comes to your UV filter, you may want to learn more about popular brands and models available. If you do a Google search or even visit your local tech store, you will find that the UV filter options are endless. This can make narrowing down your search even more difficult, especially if you do not know which brands are high-quality.
You will always want to do your own research and compare filters before purchasing, but some fantastic options that are available on the market today are:
Tiffen 58mm UV Protection Filter
This is an excellent filter for providing basic UV light reduction and is great for most photography beginners. This filter is great at protecting the lens and removing the blue cast that can occur in some photos. This piece comes with a 10-year warranty, which just shows how durable and high-quality the piece is.
The filter itself is super thin, ensuring it does not affect photos or videos. It can be easily cleaned without any fear of damage. Once screwed on, the lens will stay securely in place.
Polaroid Optics 67mm 4-Piece Filter Kit Set
Another great multipiece set that comes with several filters that you can utilize. This is a cheaper option that gives you several filters to have at your disposal when you need them. These filters have durable construction and feature a multi-coated finish to extend the life of your accessories.
Polaroid is a well-trusted brand, which makes it no surprise that this filter is a top choice for most photographers. Also, the filters come in several sizes, working for a variety of cameras. If you want something inexpensive and multipurpose, this is a great set of filters that includes a quality UV filter option.
Breakthrough Photography X2 UV
This amazing filter is made in Japan and features a top-quality nano-coating and very sharp AGC glass. With his filter, you will have lowered contrast, ghosting, and flaring, which can be common with other filters. This technology also helps to repel water and other harsh elements that may damage your camera, causing water to beat up on the filter.
The filter is extremely durable, coming with a 25-year guarantee. While this is one of the absolute best options on the market today, it is also one of the most expensive.
Vivitar UV/CPL/FLD Filter Kit
This is a very common name in the photography world, and Vivitar offers us one of the best prices and best filters available today. This kit comes with a UV filter and a circular polarizer and an FLD filter for shooting in fluorescent light. This 3-piece set is an excellent option for those who want to have a filter available but also simply want to increase their range of camera accessories.
This filter will remove reflections from glass or water, and lower haze to improve contrast and color. The kit comes at a very affordable price, considering you get three filters in one. Each piece is very durable and should last you for some time with proper care.
Nikon 2483 NC Filter
This is another huge name in the tech world, which makes it a great filter choice as well. If you want to have a UV filter that serves as a permanent lens protector, this is a great option. The piece is multi-coated to minimize reflection, reducing flare and ghosting.
B+W 58mm UV Filter
Another excellent option for cutting out glare, this filter also keeps photos from appearing blurry. It has the ideal smoothness and shape and provides strong optical quality. The filter protects the lens from watermarks, fingerprints, scratches, and dirt.
To ensure you extend the life of this filter, you will want to clean it often. This filter should never affect the quality of the photos produced, even better than some more expensive brands. This is a great mid-range option for those who want to protect their cameras without spending too much money.
Hoya 58mm PRO1
Hoya is a brand that has already been mentioned in our filter glass section and is a huge name in the filter world. The Hoya PRO1 protects the lens and reduces UV light, ideal for reducing ghosting and flare. The black frame reduces reflection and improves contrast around the filter edge. It also has a thin frame that is designed to be easily removed and reattached to the lens.
This Hoya filter helps with protecting the lens from UV light more than most other filters and comes at an affordable rate. You will want to ensure you care for the filter properly to get the most extended life possible for the piece.
Altura Photo Filter Kit
This kit has three filters for your camera, like the previously mentioned Vivitar option. These filters are designed to protect your lens and control depth of field, light, and exposure. The filters can also remove reflection and glare.
These filers are made from high-impact plastic, which does make them quite durable but may not be a top choice for some photographers. They can quickly be attached to the lens and stay in place. This is an excellent choice for those who want to have a UV filter when needed but may not be a great choice to leave on regularly.
AmazonBasics UV Protection Lens Filter
If you are looking for budget-friendly options, this Amazon choice is a great final option. The filter will absorb UV light to help you get a clear picture, while also protecting against scratches, dirt, and dust. It is an extremely popular UV filter option that comes in different sizes as it is ideal for daily use and is very budget-friendly.
While UV filters can be a great addition to your digital camera bag, they are not necessary to produce quality images with modern cameras. However, if you are rough on your cameras and do a lot of outdoor shoots, they can be a great accessory to have on hand as needed.
Since these pieces are relatively inexpensive, can be easily purchased, and are convenient to use, there is really no reason not to purchase one for your photography needs.