Are protective lens filters a necessity or a nuisance? Every photographer has their answer to this question, with their own reason to use (or not to use) them. If you still didn’t come up with your decision whether to use filters or not, Photographer Phil Steele could help you with this comprehensive, objective video.
First of all, he discusses which type of filter could be the best for you, and how to determine the ideal price. But also, he deals with an eternal debate – should you use the filter or not?
What kind of filter do you need?
If you do want to use a protective piece of glass on your lens, another question pops up – does it need to be a UV filter, or just a clear filter is enough?
As Phil explains, with film photography, it’s important that you use a UV filter. It’s because UV light affects the film and can alter the final look of your image. With digital photography, it’s not that important. However, if you choose to use a filter, you should pay attention that you use a high-quality one. It should be made of optically pure glass with multiple coatings. This will save you from lens flares and chromatic aberration, make the lens more scratch-resistant and block the UV light. So, as long as you use a filter of good quality – it doesn’t matter if it’s clear or UV.
What price should you aim for?
The quality of the filters ranges from a few to a few hundred dollars. And just like their price varies, so does the quality. Some photographers have the rule to buy a filter that costs around 10% of the lens. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to put a $3 filter on a $3000 lens. In Phil’s case, he uses those ranging between $30 and $100, to protect the lenses that cost from a few hundred to a few thousand bucks.
Why you should (not) use filters
Now, the question most of us have probably heard dozens of times – should you use the protective filters at all? There’s no a clear “yes” or “no” answer in the video, but Phil gives you some reasonable pros and cons of using them.
-Lens filters provide you with protection from scratching and damaging your lens. Plus, if they’re good quality, they don’t noticeably affect the image quality.
-They save your lenses from microscopic scratches you make when cleaning them. These scratches could eventually reduce the image quality more than a filter would.
-On the minus side of the filters, they can reduce the image quality, especially if you use low-quality ones.
When not to use a filter
Although Phil, like many other photographers, uses protective filters on his lenses, he suggests a few situations when you’ll be better off without them:
- With other filters: if you have one or more other filters, they also provide protection, so you don’t need another piece of glass. It can reduce the image quality or create a vignette.
- If you shoot toward the sun or bright light, the filter could create lens flare.
- When you’re shooting a carefully composed fine art photo or a shot of a lifetime, then you can also remove a filter for maximum quality. Here, the quality is more important than protection.
In conclusion, Phil talks about the negativity bias, or the effect of positive and negative events on our brains. Generally speaking, negative events tend to leave a stronger impression on us than the positive ones. For example, the pain of damaging your lens will be much stronger than the satisfaction of knowing you have it protected. So if you’re a risk-averse person, you’ll probably want to avoid this pain and add a filter to your lens.
On the other hand, you may be strongly affected by the fact that you got every single bit of sharpness and clarity from your lenses, even if it means you occasionally have to replace them due to damage. It all comes down to this, and to what your priorities are.
Personally, I’m somewhere in between – I don’t use protective filters, but on the other hand – I’m extremely careful and gentle with my lenses. What about you? Do you protect your lenses with clear or UV filters?