UV Filters (and other filters)

Mar 2, 2004
Northern Colorado
Lots of camera talks ongoing, so I thought I'd throw one out on the filters!

Obviously I just bought a new, expensive camera and will be needing filters to protect the pair of lenses. Its been a while since I've had to buy filters (digital PnS cameras don't really need them) and was wondering if anyone had suggestions or any particular type. UV filters are a dime a dozen and seem to work out well regardless of brand (correct me if I am wrong - I used Merkury Filters for my old camera).

As for the more dedicated filters (color, effects, etc), is there any major difference, or is one brand better than another?
I don't use any filters, not even for protection.


That guy says it well, down at the "filter" section on that page. It is pretty silly to spend that money on expensive glass then place something over it for "protection". I'm guessing in reality it's pretty hard to really scratch the glass, especially if one is at all aware of what they are doing with the thing. My camera and lens can often be found flying around my car, flying off seats, etc and my 17-40L is still scratchless. If the guy on that site hasn't scratched the glass on any of his yet, well... (it says this on his front page This site contains over 30,000 photographs from a database of over 450,000 images from around the world).
All the pros out there like to fight this one to the death online. :) The main arguments seem to be:

a.) I bought a really expensive lens for good image quality! Why would I degrade that quality with a filter?!

b.) I don't want to ruin my expensive lens! Why would I shoot with it naked?!

Me, I usually pick b, unless it's a telephoto with seriously big hood. Storm chasing just introduces too many chances to hurt a lens. :) There are also some Canon L lenses that require the filter to be weatherproof, though, if you don't have a weatherproof 1 series body, it won't matter as much. I think B/W filters are considered the tops. Brands really do matter; cheap, non multicoated filters will increase flare and in some cases slightly degrade image quality. On the other hand, if you're not using a really, really high end lens, I wouldn't worry about the filter brand.
I use a multi-coated Sigma filter on my lenses, and even with that, I have noted a small but noticeable decrease in contrast using the filter vs. not using it. A good test is to take two identical shots with and without the UV, then import into Photoshop and compare histograms - again, the difference is small but noticeable. My line of thinking is avoid using it if possible, but if I'm stepping out into golfball size hail and driving rain during a chase, I'll probably break down and put it on.
3 things I have when shooting storms. A good UV filter, A Circular Polarizer (C/PL), and a Warming C/PL. These will give you the best results most of the time. Not all the time by far, but for "on the run" shooting with no real time for a set up, these are the filters you want to have.

Essentially, you're landscape shooting. Mike H. has an exceptional eye for this and creating some really nice shots combining land and sky. In fact, it's a toss up IMHO between Ryan M and Mike H who can come up with some really nice scenes on a regular basis. Wouldn't be great if we could turn them loose with an 8X10 Large format camera and give them time to set it all up?

Back to the original side of this post...
The UV Filter is a very important part of shooting storms. You can also use a Haze filter in place of the UV Filter, but IMHO, having a less expensive, quality, clear piece of optical glass over a $300 to $1000 lens only makes sense. Especially with the abrasive effects of wind blown dust and sand. With winds near a Supercell that approach 60 mph or better and you're out trying to get the shot of a lifetime, having that sand scrape across your lens certainly doesn't help.

The effects may not be immediately apparent either. having to clean the lens surface many more times than you would with a protective filter only compunds the matter. I would much rather replace 2 or 3 $60 filters over the life span of a lens, than repair or replace a lens because it was scratched.

Now, I think a little common sense is in order too. A filter will not do much help if you drop the lens! It may, or may not help if you're shooting up and get hit with a chunk of hail. If you throws rocks at glass, IT WILL BREAK. If you spend the money for quality, you generally won't be disappointed. If you put a $10 filter on your shiny new 3000mm, $5000 lens and you get pictures that aren't quite what you hoped for, well, look at the source.

Irregardless of which way you actually swing on the matter, take care of your glass. It will take care of you, if you treat it properly.

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You can get some serious 'double image' reflections with lightning and other bright lights when you have a UV filter on the lens. These reflections can ruin a good lightning shot.

I've always been of the opinion that an expensive camera is a tool and nothing more, so why do anything to it that keeps it from doing the best job possible? It's like putting a rubber stopper on the end of a hammer to protect its metal finish. In the rare event that the lens gets scratched, it's not the end of the world to just get it fixed. Does anyone know of anyone who has ever had a lens scratched during normal use?
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Good article Mike! It's been a long time since I've been to LL. One point I address in my little speal was blowing dust and sand. Here's what the article says:

There are a few exceptions. When you are shooting in actively hazardous environmental conditions, such as flying salty sea-spray or blowing sand, snow, or volcanic ash, it might be smart to use a protective filter that's easy to wipe clean. When you're in an an environment rich in ultraviolet, like at the top of a Swiss Alp, take a hot mirror filter along. Obviously, if you want to polarize the light, add a color, or cut the amount of light reaching the lens by a measured amount, don't hesitate to use the appropriate filter.

In the LL article, it also addresses Dan's post about double or ghost images and flare. It's a good read and I would heartily recommend reading it. Granted, it basically goes against what I posted earlier, but hey, I've been shooting a long time too. Old Habits die hard! :rolleyes:
Since much of this thread has been directed at the vulnerability of lenses while in the elements it made me wonder about the vulnerability of a camera in the elements (rain, wind, ect...). Obviously one doesn’t want to be changing lenses in the blowing dust a falling rain but at what point do the elements become potentially damaging to the camera, are basic SLR's constructed to handle rain and getting a little wet without major impacts to the operation of the camera?
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Surprised to see the amount of anti-UV filter talks around... something I'll probably keep in mind during less "chaotic" photo shoots...

But the other side of this thread was also geared toward color filters, ND filters, etc. Suggestions on those as well would be appretiative as I never really used those types of filters in the past.
I use Tiffen multi-coated UV filters for two of my lenses, and have a Hoya Circular Polarizer for my Sigma 17-70. I'm willing to sacrifice a small drop in quality, if it means that it could potentially save and protect my lens. A 20-30 dollar UV filter is worth saving an expensive lens.
I bought a Hoya HMC filter for my Sigma 70-300, it only was an extra $13 for the UV and I thought it was a great investment. No difference is noticed when taking pictures with or without it and if something were every to touch the front glass of the lens you would be glad you had a filter on it. Given in some cases you might not want to use it then it is quite easy to take off and put away to put on again later...

I haven't messed with any of the other filters, don't get too much into that artistic of stuff to where I bring out certain colors, etc.
Last year my chase partner was shooting some video while his camcorder was on his tripod. He went away from his camcorder and then bam, a huge surge in inflow winds to the storm caused his tripod with his camcorder on it to fall over. Luckily I more or less forced him into getting a $10 uv lens filter for his camcorder and it saved his $350 investment as the uv lens filter broke into a million pieces after it hit the hard gravel road.
Since much of this thread has been directed at the vulnerability of lenses while in the elements it made me wonder about the vulnerability of a camera in the elements (rain, wind, ect...). Obviously one doesn’t want to be changing lenses in the blowing dust a falling rain but at what point do the elements become potentially damaging to the camera, are basic SLR's constructed to handle rain and getting a little wet without major impacts to the operation of the camera?

If your camera claims to be "weather resistant" or "weather sealed", then yes, it's okay to get it a little wet. For Canon cameras, this means a 1-series camera like the EOS 1D, 1N, 1V, or the EOS-3, when coupled with any weathersealed lens. Many L lenses are weathersealed; some are not. The 70-200 2.8L, 70-200 2.8L IS, and 70-200 4L IS are weathersealed, but the 70-200 4L is not. I think Canon weathersealed cameras and lenses can take like half an inch of rain per hour or something.

Cameras like the Rebel series, the EOS 10D, 20D, 30D, and 5D are not weathersealed. Don't get them wet! Seriously, if you get them significantly wet, such as using them for a while in the rain, they just might break. Fortunately, they make rain slickers for these cameras -- they're like 30 or 40 bucks I think and make them kinda hard to handle, but they're good investments for storm photographers. :)
Like Ryan says, unless you have one of the upper level cameras, DO NOT TAKE chances!!! My 10D got just a few drops on it (shooting from inside my vehicle and a gust blew some rain in) and now the shutter relay no longer works properly.

I do have a rain slicker for the camera and was not using it since I was inside my truck. This is how fast just a little bit of moisture can get worked in to the camera and really ruin one's day.

You can DIY a rain slicker with a trash bag or one of the larger zip lock bags, just make sure to test it one something before putting it into use in the field.

Good luck!