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Photo Mythbusters: How Much Do UV Filters Actually Protect Your Lenses?

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Photographers often use UV filters for lens protection, but how much are they actually able to prevent your lens from getting damaged? Photographer Steve Perry of Backcountry Gallery recently decided to find out… by breaking a large number of filters and lenses.

In the video above, Perry cuts through the haze surrounding UV filters and shows what they actually do and don’t do for your precious glass.

busted

Perry first purchased a wide variety of filters and $5 bargain bin lenses. He also built a homemade lens smash testing device for dropping various weights directly onto lenses and filters.

droprig

You can find how the individual items fared in the drop test in this article by Perry. The results may surprise you.

Perry found that there isn’t really a correlation between the brand and price of a filter and how strong it is. Some filters were surprisingly weak — they couldn’t even survive impacts that failed to punch through ordinary printer paper.

shatteredfilter

On the other hand, the front elements of lenses are much, much stronger. Lenses were usually able to emerge completely unscathed from drops that shatter every single filter Perry tested, and usually some other part in a lens breaks before the front element does.

“Based on what I’ve seen in these tests, I really believe that the vast majority of people who have broken UV filters have simply broken their UV filters and really didn’t save their lens at all,” Perry says. “I believe that in most cases, the filter didn’t do anything to save their lens from cracking or breakage — the UV filter simply broke because they’re much more prone to breakage than the lens itself is.”

“If the hit was hard enough to bust the lens, chances are, a UV filter wouldn’t have helped.”

shatteredlens

So does that mean you shouldn’t use a UV filter? Not necessarily: they still help protect your front element from smaller dangers and annoyances — things like scratches, dust, and fingerprints. But if protecting your lens from catastrophic damage is what you’re going for, you’re probably better off keeping a lens hood on the lens at all times.

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