This Is Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Cheap UV Filter for Your Lens

UV lens filters are a popular way to protect the front element of lenses from damage, but you should make sure you invest in a high-quality one unless you want to make a huge sacrifice in image quality. Reddit user EvilDoesIt shot the photos above comparing a cheap filter with a pricier one:

The top one is a $20 Quantaray UV filter. Bottom is a ~$70 B+W MRC UV filter. This is a more extreme example, but it shows the difference between a nice filter and a crappy cheap one. Both these shots are unedited JPEGs from my Nikon D7k with a Nikkor 17-55 ƒ/2.8 @ 1.3s ISO100.

I do realize that the top pic can be easily fixed by adjusting levels, but in my opinion, it’s always better to get the best picture you can get out of your camera before editing. [#]

His last sentence is a gem: to achieve the best images, you want to make sure you’re squeezing out the best image quality you can from each step along the way.

Image credit: Photographs by EvilDoesIt and used with permission

  • itinko

    *sigh* I don’t put filters on my lens to protect them from drops. I do it to protect the glass from making contact with anything but air. I just commented to indicate that your argument was invalid as in my case the filter DID protect the lens.

  • Chris

    UV are now sold purely for “protection,” I know because I work in a camera store. That’s how we sell them. I personally don’t use them on all my lenses, and the ones I do use are pro-level B+W’s. As for your “I use my CP everywhere”, learn what a CP does. You’re making your pictures worse indoors.

  • checkmate

    Fallacious argument. Look at all the comments now, people are attacking the strawman instead of the issue at hand.

  • Nobody

    I have a crazy suggestion for you, hear me out, but…it’s called a camera strap. Yea, try it out, I know it may not look cool or be trendy to rock your camera without one, but if you had your strap around your neck, or double looped around your wrist, you wouldn’t have dropped your camera at all.

  • Sum_it

    I think he may have been talking about lenses such as the 16-35mm 2.8L II. The front element moves back and forth a little as you turn the zoom ring. If you’re in a place with lots of small particles flying around, they WILL enter if you don’t have a filter on. Will that effect the image? Don’t know. Depends on how the lens elements are sealed in itself. But I never shoot outside on that lens unless it has some kinda filter on it.

  • Sum_it

    I don’t always use a filter on my lens. But when I do, its a quality one like a B+W.

  • perceptionalreality

    A high quality UV filter doesn’t affect optics, and can actually reduce glare when used on older lenses without modern coatings. You hit right on the key yourself: flat glass.

  • Matt

    A lens hood would have proatected your lens much better than a filter in that situation. And, it will actually add to image quality.
    I used filters for many years, then went naked so to speak. Have not had an issue and I’m rough on gear… Of course all my lenses have hoods, which was not the case years ago.

  • Matt

    Lens hood, use it. It gives better protection and helps with flare. I’m rough on gear, but have been “protective filter” free for a few years and have not had an issue.

  • jdm8

    Read the article? Maybe you should read the post I was directly replying to for context. In case you don’t get the context, I was asking if there was a difference in price between clear and UV filters.

  • Dave

    Flat glass will always create CA, you can’t escape physics. Spend all the money you want but unless the glass is corrected to focus all wavelengths on the same plane, which flat glass isn’t, you will degrade your image.

  • Dave

    A $200 B&W filter will produce the same amount of chromatic aberration as a $20 Tiffen. Your point is invalid.


    According to the laws of physics, when your filter breaks – it IS using energy. Therefore that used up energy reduces the impact an object would have to break your front element of any lens behind that filter. Also, if an impact were to bend or break a filter’s outside edge/rim, that energy would be reducing (or at minimum spreading out) the pressure at the point of impact.

  • itinko

    yes, lens hood would have absorbed impact better. however it does nothing for keeping dirt etc off the lens. I would rather clean a filter than a $6,000 zoom. To each their own. If I was a professional shooting for a magazine spread I might opt to go naked… but then I could afford to replace my lenses if they get scratched.

  • itinko

    I still have filters on all my lenses, say what you will. If I have a scene I want an absolutely pure shot on I can take it off. But as I carry my cameras around I like the peace of mind that I have protection. Lens shade is a great idea but I only use them when I expect flare or on a sunny day. My 70-200 f2.8 lens shade is a honker, almost a third as long as the lens itself. I’ve had it fall off when camera was carried on a SunSniper strap. Just a pain if you don’t need it.

  • Joey Duncan

    This is different, I’m not saying you need to blow your money on the most expensive thing, I’m saying there is still a need for them. Everybody keeps yelling not to use on other than for protection, but, really? Where’s the data. “if” I could actually find the article with data that I read it shows a difference with one vs not (as well can be seen in the picture). but what it shows as well if the difference between a $70 or a $300 filter is very limited, and not to waste your money. I didn’t post that before, well because I don’t have proof. In fact I’m not even saying you SHOULD use a UV filter, it just bothers me that so many people are quick on the draw because they were told something in the past or because they think they know more than that do.

  • Joey Duncan

    ha. Well maybe I don’t use it indoors, I guess I meant “all the time” in cases where it should be used. Like shooting cars or water for instance. Also, I am by NO means telling you that you don’t know what you are talking about, but saying you know what you are saying because you work in a camera store means little. I’ve learned that camera stores blow smoke otherwise they’d sell a hell of a lot less, and I’m not talking about Best Buy, I mean private stores. And again, I never actually said to use a UV filter, I haven’t have a UV filter since my Kit lens, which is in storage…… I think…..

  • W3PYF

    Absolutely agree. Filters make no sense anywhere. Lens shades help keep off-axis point light sources from killling contrast everywhere. The extra air-glass surfaces were never part of any optical designer’s calculations, and kill shadow detail even with the best filters. Why spend $700-3000 on a lens and then put a $70 piece of glass in front? I use only Moose polarizing filters in certain scenics, and a B&W polarizer on my 11-16mm Tokina (Moose is too thick). But never a “UV” or “lens protector.

  • W3PYF

    Why do you think the manufacturer of your 70-200 made a “honker” of a lens shade? BECAUSE IT NEEDS IT. Any “peace of mind” is completely in your mind. Drop that lens on any hard surface and your “peace of mind” will disappear quickly. My father dropped a 40mm Hasselblad lens as he was getting of a helicopter. Now this is a heavy mother of a lens, as any pro can testify. The UV filter shattered. The outer lens mount split. The shutter was damaged. He was embarrased, and hid it. I found it years later, and took it to a Hasselblad service tech. $400 later, it was PERFECT, except for the split ring. Your puny filters on your puny modern lenses protect nothing. Mass of the lens is the destructive force. Modern lens coatings are tough. Unless you shoot regularly in carborundum factories, there’s damn little a filter can protect a lens from.

  • Tango

    wonder why they don’t bother to design to have an extra glass in the front to protect the lens and complete the weather sealed before going out of the factory instead… hm… they may be able to sell a little more and have a good lens that people will have more confidence on buying without worry or doing extra to complete it.

  • Clarence

    cheaper UV filters allow up to 96% of light to pass through..while B+W ones allow up to 99%..
    its glass quality VS protection from heads on collision of your lenses

  • Meh

    I’m a beginner… You all sound like idiots… Laws of physics.. CA, flat glass… Show the picture to your mom, neighbor, coworker… They’ll all say it nice…. 6k, lens, $200 lens…

  • Tim

    The $80 filter x 2 is still cheaper than a 24-105 at $900

  • James Crawford

    Poor strawman…Liberals just drag him into any smoke filled room.

  • Tony J. Tarquinio

    The issue of protection is really subjective. I spend a lot of time on the Oregon coast, which anyone who lives here will tell you, is windy 24/7. Without protection for the frontal element, it will look as though it had been sand blasted. (which, essentially it has). In addition, I need to mention the affects of salty air. My wife and I spend a great deal of time walking along the seashore. One day, while walking, my neck strap broke, and fortunately I was holding on to the lens as we walked. Had I not held on to the lens, chances are the camera would have landed face down in to the salty, wet sand. At least I would have had some protection of the front element. As far as quality rendered by a UV Haze filter, I must admit that after a lot of testing, the photos are much nicer with the filter than without. For me, the investment of anywhere between $15.00 and $20.00 is a sure bet. Now, I never leave home without it. Thanks for reading,

  • StronglyNeutral

    I use a filter, you do not! You use a filter, I do not! RAWR! Why is this an argument? If you use a filter, and it’s working for you…awesome! If you do not, keep not using one. More power to you! My wife needs a case for her cell phone. She’s gone through 2 in a year. I have no case on mine. It still looks like new. Keep doing what works for you and let’s all enjoy each other’s images.

  • StronglyNeutral

    Whoa, old article. Didn’t even see the date haha!