Protective Filters. Should we be using them or what?

protection

I’ve seen the debate all over the internet.  Should we use protective filters (AKA UV filters, though you don’t really need UV filters if you’re shooting digital, you can use them as a protective filter) or not.

The fact of the matter is the debate has an easy solution which is… “It depends”.

 

They’re not going to protect your lens from drops and super hard impacts.

On one side,  you should never use them.  The front element of a lens is really strong and a lens hood is a better option for protecting the front element from drops since a protective lens on a filter can smash and possibly cause more damage to the front element (shards of glass aren’t fun).  I’ve actually had rear happen to me.  Luckily the front element was fine,  but I surely see this is a very valid reason for not using a filter.  In fact, it’s the main reason why I don’t really use them myself.
Well the above is right on all accounts apart from the part where I said you should never use one.

If this happens, it hasn't stopped your front element from breaking, it's just broken because it's weaker glass.

If this happens, it hasn’t stopped your front element from breaking, it’s just broken because it’s weaker glass.  Your front element MIGHT get damaged from glass shards though, so a lens hood is a good idea for drop protection.

 

They can protect your lens from the elements!

There’s some environments it’s better to have a filter on the front. In sandy,  windy,  salty,  wet etc.  environments it can be a benefit to have one.  As it helps seal the front,  thusly keeping out those fine particles and moisture.  In fact the Canon 16-35 2.8L needs a front filter to properly weather seal it (AFAIK at least).  So,  there’s a time and a place for them.

 

A mudrun is a time you might consider a protective filter (image from wikicommons)

 

If you’re going to be shooting in any place where you’re shooting a muddy race, or you’re at the seaside and there’s risk of sea-spray/salt or perhaps you’re in a desert or a war zone.  All those places might/would benefit from having a protective filter on your lens.  Dust, water and mud (as well as paint, dog saliva, sticky kid’s fingers and so on) are elements you want to keep out of your lens.

 

Colour runs use very fine dust. Lenses have been ruined by this sort of thing. So a protective filter, while not fool proof, would make things a bit better.

Colour runs use very fine dust. Lenses have been ruined by this sort of thing. So a protective filter, while not fool proof, would make things a bit better. (photo credit: the lullaby trust, original photographer unknown)

 

Ouch! The results of photographing a colour run.

Ouch! The results of photographing a colour run. (photo from: here)

In extreme conditions a filter (AND possibly a rain cover) would help a lot.

NOTE: I know while shooting a colour run a filter may not do much because those fine particles might as well be water, HOWEVER, I would definitively be putting one on, since it’ll reduce the particles getting in and that’s better than nothing.  I’d also be adding a rain cover in the hopes of keeping the fine particles out.  However, this is an extreme situation and I’m using it to make the point that sometimes a protective filter is a must have.

 

 

I’d also use one if I were photographing dogs or children doing messy work, both pretty unpredictable (photo not mine, source unknown)

What about image quality though? 

I used to use protective filters all the time and I never noticed any degradation in image quality or whatever.  That said I never bought rubbish filters, only Hoya or B+W, so I think buying quality helps.  That said, techically speaking putting anything in front of your lens is going to degrade the image slightly… perceptively though?  I don’t know. I think if someone shot with one on and didn’t use a hood, then it would have the possibility of causing more flare (since light is more likely to spread out over a surface like that) and more ghosting (as there’s a piece of glass there, think looking through a window and seeing the lights inside reflected on the window). So that’s something to be aware of if you decide to use them. Oh and  you can take them off if that’s an issue I suppose.  Certainly using a hood would stop a lot of these issues.  That’s what they’re for mainly.

Buy a quality filter and you'll be fine.

Buy a quality filter and you’ll be fine.

 

Doesn’t wiping and cleaning the front element damage it?

I’ve heard this said as a reason for using protective filters, and the fact is normally no, proper cleaning won’t damage your front element (or the coatings they put on them).  Unless you’re not cleaning it the way you’re supposed to or perhaps if it got really dirty or something.  If your lens is going to be in an environment where it’s going to get THAT dirty, I’d recommend using a protective filter anyway.

As for cleaning, get yourself a rocket blower and some good quality mircofibre cloth.  That’ll do the trick 90% of the time.  Other than that get yourself a lenspen and you’re right for 98% or so of your cleaning needs.

Blower, lenspen and a microfibre cloth will deal with most of your cleaning needs. The lens pen also has a brush which is handy sometimes.

Blower, lenspen and a microfibre cloth will deal with most of your cleaning needs. The lens pen also has a brush which is handy sometimes.

 

Conclusion

So,  even though I don’t use them much myself,  I don’t think it could hurt either in most situations.  They are useful for protecting from inclement conditions and you can use them as a lens cap replacement for quick work (meaning you don’t have to continually take lens caps on and off).  I’ve heard stories of people getting their front element scratched up completely because a lens cap fell off their lens while it was bumping around in their bag. Sure they were in a war zone,  but that brings me back to my first point about there being a time and a place for these things.

So, should you use them?  Probably not most of the time.  Is there a place for them?  Certainly.  It really depends on how YOU are going to use them and your camera.

 

So make up your own gosh darned minds and don’t force your viewpoint on other people.  😀

 

Thanks for reading my friends!

Regards, you’re buddy,

signature