back to top

To Filter or Not to Filter: When to Use a UV Filter on Your Lens

 width=
A- A+

Subscribe Below to Download the Article Immediately

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

Your privacy is safe. I will never share your information.
Related course: Photography for Beginners

To filter or not to filter, that is the question. A common practice in photography is to use a UV 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 being out in the field. And 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 fuller look!

A UV protection lens filter on top of leaves on the ground

What Is A UV Filter?

A UV filter is a piece of coated glass you attach to your lens 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. UV filters keep the front of your lens safe and clean.

When you’re in an environment where your lens can be compromised, they are like a glass lens cap for the front of your camera lens. It is much better if outside elements affect a less expensive pane of glass than your lens’s essential glass 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 due to digital camera sensors being better equipped to handle UV rays. You will also find that many lenses already have special coatings on them that help filter out UV rays.

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

But ultraviolet light has a more dramatic effect in film photography. The majority of modern film cameras will not be affected by UV light. Some older film stock cameras and possibly some cheaper options 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, there are specific locations to consider where more are present. Places such as large bodies of open 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
DepositPhotos

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 parts of your lens. Hopefully, you know the importance of not putting fingerprints all over the glass.

But, more importantly, you may find yourself in an environment where dirt or water could splash up onto the front of your camera lens. In that case, it is a lot better to clean a UV filter than the glass of the lens itself.

Also, there is 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, and it swings around and brushes 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. If you did,  it would probably have saved your lens from scratches!

Blocking Ultraviolet Light

Even though we established that UV light doesn’t have a profound effect on modern cameras, it may be helpful if you want to be extra cautious. Let’s say you do notice a blue cast on your images on a particular day. A UV filter could be a way to troubleshoot your problem.

I don’t know how prevalent this problem is, as I 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

Sometimes, when you buy a new lens, you will get 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 set up that makes no sacrifice on image quality, you may want to shoot without a UV filter. But I see no loss of quality when comparing images taken with and without UV lens filters.

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

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 when bright lights are also in the picture.

First, 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 miscalculations of how much light passes through the lens. But I do not believe this to be true.

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 available on the market.Close-up of a stack of UV protection lens filters

Conclusion

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 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 rather than expensive lenses!

Try out our Shooting Skies e-book to capture stunning, frame-worthy shots!

Show Comments (0)