back to top

Should You Use a UV Protection Lens Filter? (A Safer Choice)

Last updated: November 12, 2023 - 6 min read
ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little money. Need more info? See how it all works here.
Subscribe Below to Download the Article Immediately

You can also select your interests for free access to our premium training:

Your privacy is safe! We will never share your information.

A common practice in photography is to use a UV (ultraviolet) protection lens filter on our lenses. Today, we will discuss the reasons for and against using UV filters.

For me, the advantages of using a UV filter outweigh the negatives. I came to this conclusion from hours of using a UV filter in the field. I find it is much easier to clean a detachable, flat piece of glass than an often spherical lens element. But let’s take a closer look!
A UV protection lens filter on top of leaves on the ground

What Is a UV Protection Lens Filter?

A UV filter is a piece of coated glass that screens out ultraviolet light. UV light is invisible to the naked eye. They are the same light rays that give us a nice tan when relaxing on the beach.

But UV filters are not limited to blocking ultraviolet light. They are more commonly used as protection for your lens. Using a UV filter keeps the front of your lens safe and clean.

If you’re in an environment where your lens can be damaged, they are like a glass lens cap for the front of your camera lens. It is much better if environmental elements damage a less expensive glass than your lens’s essential elements.
The front of a camera lens taken up close.

What Does UV Light Do to Photographs?

When it comes to digital cameras, UV light is almost irrelevant. This is because digital camera sensors are equipped to handle UV rays. You will also find that many lenses come with special coatings that help filter out UV rays.

If there is an effect that UV rays have on digital photos, it shows through the camera’s white balance. It often makes an image bluer.

Ultraviolet light has a more dramatic effect in film photography. The majority of modern film cameras won’t be affected by UV light. Some older film stock cameras and possibly some cheaper digital cameras could have problems with it. With film, you can see a haziness or fogginess in your images. And a blue cast will often appear in your photo.

Because UV rays come from the sun, some places on Earth have stronger UV light than others. Places such as large bodies of water, higher altitudes, and snowy scenes are more likely to have more intense UV rays. But it shouldn’t be an issue if you shoot on a digital camera.

Mountaineer climbing up a sunny snowy landscape

Why Should You Use a UV Protection Lens Filter?

Lens Protection

The number one reason to buy a UV filter is to protect the front of your lens. Hopefully, you know the importance of not putting fingerprints all over the glass.

But more importantly, what if you’re in an environment where dirt or water could splash up onto the front of your lens? In that case, it’s a lot easier and safer to clean a UV filter than the glass of the lens itself.

There’s also the danger of your lens getting scratched. Urban explorers will know what I am talking about. Have you ever hung your camera over your shoulder for a second only for it to swing around and brush against a rough surface or sharp object? If you didn’t have a UV filter on, you would probably have to say goodbye to that lens.

Blocking Ultraviolet Light

Even though UV light doesn’t have a profound effect on modern cameras, it may be helpful to be extra cautious. Let’s say you notice a blue cast on your images on a given day. A UV filter would be a good way to fix your problem.

To be honest, I don’t know how prevalent this problem is. That’s because I always have a UV protection lens filter on all my lenses. But if you don’t have a lens with UV protection, it could be worth getting a UV filter.
Canon camera and lens with a UV protection lens filter on a tripod

Reasons Against Using a UV Protection Lens Filter

Potential Loss of Image Quality

Some new lenses come with a free UV filter for protection. But some people may argue that you have spent a lot of money on a new lens only to put on an extra glass pane that doesn’t match the same standards as the lens.

If you want a camera setup that makes absolutely no sacrifice on image quality, you may want to shoot without a UV filter. But I see no noticeable loss of quality when comparing images taken with and without a UV lens filter.

This extra piece of glass will reduce image quality. But in my experience, the amount is marginal at its worst. The best way to navigate this issue is to buy a high-quality UV filter.

Lens Ghosting

Having a UV filter on your camera may make your lens prone to extra ghosting in certain conditions. This is usually evident when shooting at night with bright lights in the picture.

What happens is these bright lights bounce off the digital sensor. Then these lights reflect onto the rear surface of the filter and bounce back onto the camera sensor.

Ghosting is more evident the wider your camera’s aperture is. If you want to get rid of these “ghosts” when you shoot again, you can remove your UV filter.
to filter or not to filter: Close-up side view of a long camera lens

Myths About Lens Flare and Loss of Light

Along with ghosting, it is often said that your lens could be prone to greater lens flare. I have not seen any substantial evidence for this in a UV protection filter and have not come across it myself.

I have also heard people say that an extra pane of glass may lead to miscalculating how much light passes through the lens. But it seems that this claim doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny.

Some lenses can have up to 15 different glass elements. So I don’t think an extra layer of glass will make a considerable difference. Plus, a UV protection filter isn’t as complicated as other lens filters.Close-up of a stack of UV protection lens filters

Conclusion—UV Protection Lens Filters

UV filters are essentially a form of protection for the front of your lenses. You will have to decide if this additional protection is worth the potential loss of image quality. But as one of the cheaper types of filters out there, it’s worth giving UV filters a try.

For beginners, I would strongly advise using a UV protection lens filter. It’s an excellent safeguard as you build up a sense of which way your lens is facing. Like I said earlier, it’s better to replace cheap filters than expensive lenses!