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

  • Armand Salmon

    Yea, but the top filter is already preloaded with Instagram

  • Tam Nguyen Photography

    The engineers at your camera manufacture spent a great amount of time to design the glass to give you the best quality possible (for whatever the price may be), I don’t see why you would stack anything in front of the front element.

    You don’t buy a $20 car cover to cover your Lamborghini.

  • John Stock

    Why buy a UV filter at all ? There is no proof from the pro’s that it does anything.

  • Nathaniel Dodson

    Usually to protect your glass :P

  • Benjamin Rhau

    Because I have broken several UV filters, but never the lens.

  • Joakim

    UV does NOT do anything other than give you a bit of a blueish color-tint. UV was invented for FILM, not digital sensors. Get CLEAR filters such as the B+W Clear filters if you really something for protection. There is NO point in buying UV filters for digital at all. Your sensor has a more than capable UV filter on it.

  • Alfred_34

    Use a lens hood instead. It at least won’t degrade the image.

  • itinko

    Of course not… You buy a $20,000 garage to cover your Lamborghini.. you don’t leave it out in the snow, eh?

  • Steven Alan

    You would if you wanted to protect it from the elements…

  • Daniel Esquibel

    Well if you were trying to achieve the best image quality possible, why would you even be using or consider jpeg? Raw is the best & PNG is the best to save in.

  • Mansgame

    Just because the cheap filter broke doesn’t mean it broke while protecting the lens. There is no cause an effect. The front element is like 10 times thicker than that filter and if it didn’t break now it wouldn’t have broken anyway. You’re just out the $20-$70 you paid.

  • t3mujin

    I already posted this on FB, but how about “no filter”?

  • perceptionalreality

    Because the lens manufacturers didn’t design a way to prevent scratching when I clean the lens, or even the simplest impact protection. I can’t count the number of lenses I saw saved by a UV filter in the years I worked at a camera store. Those amazing optics aren’t going to do you any good when the lens gets damaged. Don’t be so naive.

  • Angus McFangus

    No, but you do buy a cover to protect your car. If you drop your lens, a filter over the front will be much cheaper to replace than the front element.

  • Mansgame

    Filters are the biggest upselling scam that people still fall far. I’m sure a store salesperson will say some variation of this classic lie: “I dropped my lens and the filter broke Instead of the lens, therefore the $70 filter worked!”

    Well, that just shows the cheap filter broke. It proves nothing as far as protecting the lens. NOTHING. If anything, it probably ended up scratching the front element with the broken glass. The front element is very thick.

    More than likely, the internal parts of the lens are going to get damaged if you drop the lens – zoom ring is going to stick, the mount (especially plastic mount) might break off, etc. A lens hood will offer you a lot more protection.

    The only time I would ever even consider using a UV filter is when there are things splashing around like mud, or something that might scratch the lens later if you try to clean it up.

    Otherwise, you’re a great A sucker if you spend money on UV filters no matter how you try to justify it.

  • Felipe Manga

    there is just one moment I’d recomend a UV filter: at the beach. The air is moist and sand is being blown about. Sand sticks everywhere, including the micro-fibre cloth you’d clean the front element with.

  • EvilDoesIt

    Hey, EvilDoesIt here. The pictures I took of the bottles are solely for demonstration. I wanted to take the pictures straight from the camera and compare them . I could have shot RAW and converted it to JPG or PNG or what have you with no post, but it will still look identical.

  • Jose Castillo

    or better shoot without one

  • Joey Duncan

    I think people are bad mouthing this article because they are going off “well I know a lot, and I have now physical proof that a UV filter works” blah blah blah,. They do SOMETHING….. otherwise people wouldn’t sell them. One of my favorite purchases for my camera other than a lens is the CP, yes not UV, but I use the CP everywhere. Keep in kind it keep the dust out of the front of the lens. I have a Canon lens that’s useless because it has dust behind the lens. $400 to fix it…… I would like somebody to post their negative attitude with empirical data to back it, because it does exist. Infact I read something about 2 years ago talking about the difference in quality between a cheap UV and CP and expensive ones. (I just don’t remember where I read it, but I do remember there was a LOT of technical data done by machines)

  • Chris Pearson

    I dropped a lens and camera. It landed front element down. Lens went in the bin the filter was un marked.

  • ricardobeat

    Buy the best if you have money to spare / paid for, otherwise use whatever you want. You can make great pictures with a 30-year old scratched fungus-ridden lens.

  • NDT

    Many of the comments here are simply ludicrous. If you dont think a clear or uv filter will protect your exposed front element from bumps, scuffs and scratches, your being naive of just argumentative.

  • Roger Coelho

    I use protective filters, but not to protect against drops. I use them to keep things off the front element for normal use. It keeps fingers off the lens and allows me to t-shirt clean my lens if it get smudged for any reason.

    Since I don’t want to worry about putting them on or taking them off depending on the environment, I keep one on at all times.

    Plus, for all my lenses that was weather resistant, you need that filter on the front.

  • Roger Coelho

    The manufacturers would rather you pay them again to fix a non-user replaceable front element. I would rather not have to spend hundreds of dollars to replace something preventable.

  • E

    If you buy a Canon L lens you often need a filter to complete the weather sealing so if I were gonna use it in an environment where that sealing is needed I’d put something (a filter) in front of that carefully designed front element.. mind you, I would use a $20 filter.

  • jdm8

    I’ve not bothered much with any filter in some time. If you want or need some kind of filter, I suggest they be multi-coated so it significantly reduces reflections. That minimizes the flare induced by the presence of the filter.

  • jdm8

    Is there much of a difference in price?

  • Mansgame

    Do you also buy Monster HDMI Cables?

  • DeeWee

    Do you drive around with the garage on your car?

  • Chris

    I’m puzzled – why would the levels be off between the two images in the first place? I would totally expect some wonky loss of sharpness and aberration with a cheapo filter, but with/without filter the TTL (and through the filter) metering should be arriving at very nearly the same exposure/levels, even if there was some subtle ND to the filter.

    I agree with comments that UV seems pointless for digital sensors as silicon quantum efficiency drops like a rock into the UV – not so with traditional film. Near-IR is more freaky for silicon but the sensors are near-IR filtered accordingly. The mag-fluoride coatings on commercial optics are very rugged – if you’re scratching them when cleaning you’re perhaps using burlap or some other uncouth material! :-)

  • theinternet

    wow, you guys are little bitches about this stuff. people like filters. people don’t. whatever. who cares? why do you argue about your points? nobody cares. go eat some pop corn or something.

  • Mansgame

    There is no proof that a filter protects the lens in a fall. NONE. The filter may or may not break but it has a mutually exclusive rerelationship to the front element.

  • Dave

    ‘Those amazing optics’ are no longer amazing when you shoot though a flat piece of glass.

  • Dave

    Please explain how a filter provides any weather sealing? Weather sealing implies some sort of o-ring or seal. Filters have metal threads which provide no sealing at all.

  • manicdee

    I often shoot macro, really close to things. The lens is only 28mm but I put a clear filter on it to stop cruft getting on the lens. It is much easier to clean a flat piece of glass than a lens recessed inside a narrow well.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    It’s not the exposure that’s off, it’s the contrast. And that’s a consequence of bad glass infront of the lens. But yes, you will lose sharpness as well – and is noticeable even in these two pictures. Strange that he didn’t mention it.

  • Cinobite

    Read the article. Mong.

  • Cinobite

    UV/Skylight and Protection filters bought for protecting the lens aren’t for drops you moron. They protect the front glass from scratches, chips, marks, sand/dirt abrasion……..

  • itinko

    Admittedly I don’t drive a Lamborghini so no. But I do have B+W filters on most of my lenses. I dropped my camera once from waist height once. The filter ring absorbed the impact,cracking and deforming. I couldn’t unscrew the filter but my local pro shop was able to remove it. I bought a replacement on the spot. The filters are expensive but my lenses are worth it ;)

  • Cinobite

    Hence the suggestion in the article that you don’t buy a cheap filter. Summerfags in full assault mode today…

  • Cinobite

    *sigh* Again, protection filters aren’t used to protect against drops….

  • itinko

    I dropped my camera from waist height. The B+W filter ring deformed, absorbing the shock. I had to take the lens to my local pro shop to have it removed but the lens was fine. There’s no guarantee another fall would have the same outcome but this event is proof that a filter did protect this lens in this fall.

  • Alfred_34

    This is proof of nothing. Your lens may have very well survived the drop without damage even minus the “protection.” A lens front element is considerable harder than filter glass and can take a hit without damage that would easily break a filter. Using a lens hood is probably a better means of protection.

  • Mansgame

    If you read what I wrote, I mentioned that the only justification to having one would be to protect against scratches due to things that may splatter on it. The problem is most people buy it thinking it will protect their lens when it’s dropped. Read the proponents’ comments on here and you’ll see how many actually believe that.

  • Mansgame

    uh then why come here in the first place if people are going to give their opinion? After all, people are going to either like anything or not like it.

  • Mansgame

    so you admit the filter actually ended up costing you money, not just once, but twice? The filter did not “break the fall”.

  • Mansgame

    Sigh yourself. Again, tell that to people like itinko.

  • Mansgame

    What’s with the name calling? You have nothing of value to offer.

  • Mansgame

    LMFTFY: “You’re”.

  • itinko

    It wasn’t just the filter glass that got damaged. The metal filter rim was badly deformed, if it had not absorbed the shock I’m sure the lens would have been damaged even if the front element glass didn’t crack.