Protect Your SLR Photo Lens with a UV Filter

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UV filterOnce you buy a nice new digital SLR one of the first things I recommend doing is buying a UV filter. A UV filter costs about $15 for the lower end version and up to around $80 for the higher end versions. The UV filter serves two functions. First, it filters out UV light from the sun when you’re shooting outside, which makes your pictures appear sharper and clearer. Second (and even more importantly) it protects your SLR lens from dust and scratches.

A UV filter is one of the cheapest and most useful accessories you can buy. After a while you won’t even think about it. I have mine on 90% of the time. It usually only adds a fraction of an inch to your lens and absorbs any abuse you might put your camera through. Replacing a $15 UV filter is far cheaper than replacing a $500 lens.

One thing to remember (which I myself tend to forget) is to take the UV filter off for night shots. When the filter is off, take extra care to avoid contact with the lens. If you leave the UV filter on, you’ll get “green ghosts” in your shots like this:

green UV filter glare

… or glare off bright lights like this:

UV filter glare

Worse yet, you often won’t realize you’ve ruined your night shots until after you see them on your computer. Any photos of the moon are especially susceptible to this. I’ve read that more expensive multi-coated UV filters may not produce these ghosting effects but I have not been able to verify this myself.

Photo credit: Rowen Atkison

11 Responses to Protect Your SLR Photo Lens with a UV Filter

  1. Ken Elliott says:
    I used to believe that a UV filter was a must-have accessory. But I discovered that they seriously degrade image quality on digital cameras. The sensor is covered with a highly reflective piece of flat glass. Light hits it and bounces back to the filter. Since the filter is flat, it reflects back. The lower quality the filter, the worse the effect. Good B+W filters get real expensive in the larger sizes. I paid nearly $100 each for my filters. But my tests clearly show that my image quality is lower with a UV filter. I’ve started leaveing them off my lenses. I’ve got Nikon pro glass, so I’m quite motivated to protect it. But when you put a $20 filter on a $1800 lens, you end up with a $20 lens. Your photos above show this same effect. Dump the UV lens for digital.
  2. Markus says:
    Thanks for your advice, Ken. I might have to test some shots with and without the filter to see how much of a difference it makes.
  3. Richard Bender says:
    UV filters are a “no, no” for another reason. They push your K temperature into the blue zone and that’s not great for skin tones. Back in the days of slide photography, the filter pair of choice was an 81A + a polarizer when using Ektachrome film. That combination, plus an altering of the exposure, yielded extraordinary results. In fact, those results looked very much like today’s HDR. I have not yet tried that with digital but I intend to experiment with the combination to see the reaction with the digital photo sensor.

    If you must use a lens “protector” (totally unnecessary in my view) try a good quality 1A which will give you a slight push into the warm K temperature zone. That will be a lot more appealing to your eye.

  4. Frank says:
    I am new to the SLR world, just got tired of the point and shoot cameras. I just purchased a Nikon D3000, reading up on it I thought this was best for me since I am new to SLR’s, sorry to be repetitive. I am trying to absorb as much information as I possibly can by reading through sites such as this. Now I read to leave the UV filter off, when other places I have read it is a necessity. Any information you guys can give me will be greatly appreciated. I’m trying to learn what filter I can use to protect my lense, though it is not an expensive one, but as I get more involved I’m sure I will be experimenting with other lenses, i already want to get a telephoto/zoom lens and I do want to make sure they are protected.
    Thanks again,
  5. S.K.Bhattacharya says:
    I have purchases Nikon D90 camera. I tried UV filter first time for night picture of a marriage anneversary function with flush SB600 mounting with the camera. When I saw the photos in computer I just cried due to colour distortion. Can you suggest for Nikon D90 with 18-105mm lense which filter/ lense protector I can use so that I need not take it out always.Thanks,
  6. Frank Rob says:
    I attempted to subscribe to all your rss, but had a problem adding it to google reader. Could you please look at this webpage.
  7. Manny OTS says:
    so lately i have put down my sony alpha 350 and started using my canon ae1, to get in touch with what true photography used to be. kinda annoys me the that anyone can pic up a dslr now a days and be a said photographer. anyone can take a picture not everyone knows how to compose a frame. with film you have to be wise a really shoot something in context because you only have a bout said number of shoots per roll. older photographer required you to be involved in the whole image making process. you hade to actually study and remember calculations and so much more that go behind making a shot. im not saying i hate digital photograph, dont get me wrong i love digital photography. just people should know what their talking about and what they are doing when they pick up photograph. so back to the topic lol
    i just found a uv filter that i slapped on my slr and now im not afraid of smashing or scratching my lens when i go on a hike. i put my cameras through their toughest conditions. i love to use my cameras even if it means accidentally dropping it down a dirt hill side. thats why you get insurance lmao some people are so, pardon my french but anal, about their camera getting a little nick. i say it give it character. uv filter in a dlsr is someone pointless but all the reason to have when wanting to have some extra protection.
  8. Amy says:
    Check out the new Lens Guard from DeluxGear It’s a thick, neoprene padded cover that fits over the end of your lens. It provides good protection from impact, dirt, moisture. Fits over a filter. Easy on and off. Less than $15.
  9. Cindy says:
    Have a question;
    took photos of “super moon” last night useing my nikon d5000 slr I use a UV filter all the time on my lens, but last night was annoyed at what appeared to be a reflection bouncing off my filter. I thought maybe a water spot on lens, cleaned it and the filter. went back to photograph and had same issue. I removed the filter and spot disappeared.
    Anyone know why on this particular photo shoot I got a refection beneath the moon when useing the filter??
  10. admin says:
    @Cindy: I’ve had the same issue with UV lens filters when shooting anything at night. Any light source usually ghosts images. I usually take the filter on (when I remember).
  11. spence says:
    I wouldnt buy any crappy UV filter for cheap, most of my filters are in the 100$ range and i only buy from reputable dealers (a lot of fakes on ebay etc.). B+W is my favorite, and i haven’t noticed much color distortion or ghosting in my night time photos. and ive had a few incidents where the filter has saved my glass. with 30K in L lenses a few hundred bucks to stop people from touching the front element and stop a golf ball is an easy decision.

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