When to Use a UV Protective Filter on Your Lens


… Because a Protective Filter Can Be Your Friend … or Enemy

There are only a few times when I want to use a protective filter on my camera lens, and here’s why:

Situations where I use a protective UV or skylight filter on a lens:

  1. When I am near saltwater, which can spray or splash onto my camera lens, I use a filter. Saltwater, when it gets on a lens and dries, is a bad thing. It spots the lens, sometimes permanently.
  2. When I am near blowing sand or dirt that can contact my lens, I use a filter. Blowing sand and dirt are abrasive and will permanently pit the lens if they come into contact with it.
  3. When I am hiking or walking in an area where I could fall or swing my camera and lens into something, I use a filter. I would rather break a UV filter than a lens, so I would use a filter in this situation.
  4. When I am at a high altitude, I use a filter. UV light is not as attenuated by the atmosphere at high altitudes, so a UV filter works well when above around 5000 feet.
Situations where I do not to use a protective UV or skylight filter on a lens:
  1. Whenever I am shooting with sunlight that can cause flare. A filter will only make flare situations worse so I try to avoid using a filter when out in the sun.
  2. I want to get a sharp photo. Filters degrade sharpness, so I do not use them for shots needing critical sharpness and detail. I usually always want to get sharp, detailed photos, so I rarely have a UV filter on my lens.

In most of my photography, I do not use a UV or skylight filter if at all possible. The situations described above will sometimes combine, and I err on the side of caution and protect my lens if at all possible. But, it is a tradeoff because a filter degrades image quality to some extent, even if minor.

I use a circular polarizer extensively however, and it is almost always on my lens. It not only protects the lens, but gives my photos the look I want. It can be adjusted to have very little or no polarizing effect or full polarization. I have some favorite brands including Hoya and Singh-Ray. You’ll find my current favorite filters in my list of equipment on the “About …” page (see the top menu of this page).

Thank you for reading what I wrote — I hope you enjoyed it!