Should You Use a UV Filter On Your Lens?

There are a lot of common knowledge items in photography that are highly contested. While some people will tell you that they’re unforgettable items that are vital to your success as a photographer, others will insist that they’re actually nonsense—a uselessly perpetuated myth. One of the topics that give rise to some heated discussions is the use of UV filters. Here’s a video that aims to clear things up about them:

In the video, photographer Karl Taylor says up front that he’s not into UV filters. He considers them a relic from the days of shooting on film. In those days, it actually did make sense to use such filters, but nowadays it’s not as useful. He exemplifies his views by taking a couple of shots both with and without the applied filters. Here is his result:

UV Filters comparison with and without

A comparison between two photos – one using an UV filter, one without.

UV Filters comparison photos

Even when zoomed in, there is little difference between the two shots.

As you can see, there is virtually no difference between the two photos. As Karl explains in the video, one of them is slightly darker because the conditions on the ground changed ever so slightly in the time required to take the filter off and take the second shot.

Personally, I don’t feel it’s obligatory to use an UV filter on a lens in order to block out harmful rays of ultraviolet light. And if you’re very careful with your equipment, I don’t even see the point in using them as a protection for your lens. However, if you’re like me, and you frequently bump your camera into things, it wouldn’t hurt to have an added layer of protection. This, of course, only if you find the price to be worth it.

What do you think? Are UV filters worth it?

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5 responses to “Should You Use a UV Filter On Your Lens?”

  1. Tercio says:

    I use the UV filter all the time. I’m that kind of guy that wants to protect the lenses. One day I was thinking about this issue (using or not the UV filter) and made a quick test. I shot the same photo with and without the filter. The final result was the same. So, I use it all the time. :)

  2. Daniel Price says:

    While I would appreciate the extra protection (one of my lenses got a chip on it this year when a dog jumped up and tried to eat it, grrr) – the pain in having to screw/unscrew the filter is not worth it – as I am constantly switching out polarizers and ND filters, and stacking them on top of a UV filter often leads to the top filter being in the photo.

    Extra work, no thanks!

  3. Stan Hooper says:

    I would like to have seen a comparison for the UV filter that dealt with that which UV filters were supposedly designed — the atmospherics in the photo. Zooming to the ropes was not a good comparison of a UV filter, but zooming to the shoreline in the distance would have been the ultimate check of whether there is a significant difference. UV rays from the sun were supposedly reduced in longer shots that involved the atmosphere. Your “test” missed the mark, even though the results might have come out the same. However, you didn’t prove that to me.

  4. mur_phy says:

    With a digital camera, the UV is pointless either as a photographic benefit or as lens protection. The best lens protection is the lens shade. A dropped camera or fallen photographer will still be damaged if the filter is broken but will be protected with a lens shade. The second most needed item for a camera is a neck strap but it MUST be used. Terrible watching someone walking down the street with the neckstrap dangling the catching it on a fire hydrant which I did one day. Don’t think the photographer was too happy and did not stick around to see if he had damaged the camera. So, use a neckstrap and a lens shade (which also will improve some images due to lens flare reduction or elimination).

  5. Wendy says:

    I never saw much difference between a basic UV and no UV, even with film. I basically leave them on as a lens guard, unless I’ve got a reason to stack filters (as a rule, don’t shoot with more than three filters n a lens). Since a lot of what used to be physical filters are now digital darkroom plug-ins (like the star-cross filter), that situation doesn’t come up as often as it did with film.

    And tell me mur_phy, what can your lens shade do when you’re shooting in a dust bowl to keep your front element from getting sand-blasted?

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