The Filtering Debate: Should You Use UV Haze Filters?

A common industry debate amongst photographers is on the topic of UV Haze Filters and whether you should or should not buy them for your lenses.  These filters serve two purposes for your equipment; the reduction of haze and ultra-violet rays that a camera registers, and an added protection to the lenses front element.

The debate comes about due to the belief that filters degrade images, which primarily depends on the quality of filter being used.  If you’ve attached a low-quality filter to your lens, optical distortions in the glass can affect imagery while poor coatings can lead to contrast reduction.  Many have also reported finding excessive lens flare that comes from using UV Haze filters.  Most agree that this all depends on the quality of filter you're using and with a higher quality filter, these issues shouldn't be a problem. Though some would still disagree.

So here at pictureline, we decided to do a little test for ourselves.  All the articles and blogs claiming that filters (regardless their quality) reduce the sharpness of an image, never have any proof to back it up; no images are provided to prove this case. With our rental equipment, which are always fitted with the B+W UV Haze Filters, we did a side-by-side comparison of an image shot with a filter, and one without.  The result was obvious almost immediately.

The following two images were photographed with the Canon 5D Mark III with a 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS USM using a tripod.  Both images were shot on manual at 200mm ISO 400, 1/60 shutter and an f/16.  The first image is with the UV Haze filter, and the second is not.  The images were cropped identically, and upon investigation regarding sharpness, the images side by side are impossible to tell apart.

 

With Filter 2 Canon 70-200mm 2.8, With B+W UV Haze Filter

 

Without Filter 2 Canon 70-200mm 2.8, Without B+W UV Haze Filter

Similar to the images above, the next two were also shot with the Canon 5D Mark III, but with the 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens, also set up on a tripod.  The image was shot at an ISO of 400, 1/20 shutter and f/13 aperture.  Again, placed side by side, there is no way to tell the images apart.

 

IMG_7860 Canon 100mm 2.8, With B+W UV Haze Filter

 

IMG_7861 Canon 100mm 2.8, Without B+W UV Haze Filter

Now that we’ve established that as long as you use high-quality filters, image quality won’t be compromised, what else would be the benefits to using a filter?  Are there any?  Some people would agree that filters are a ploy to get you to buy an additional piece of equipment after you’ve just made a huge purchase of a lens, and to each their own.

But...

At least once a week we have a customer come into the store asking for some assistance in taking off a broken filter.  The story is typically the same; the lens was knocked off a table or was dropped in the middle of a session, accompanied by the horror of shattering glass.  To the relief of these panicked customers, they discover it’s only the filter that has shattered.  Now, we’d never know if without the filter, the lens would have shattered or not, but my question would be – why take the chance?

Granted, a piece of glass screwed onto your $2500 lens should not be the only form of protection you have for your lens.  Understand, that if you’re going to put that much money into a product, you had better have great insurance forked out in case of those freak accidents, or the misfortunate incidences of stolen equipment.  A filter will not protect against that potential accident, and there will come a time someone, somewhere will drop their lens despite the expensive filter they have attached, and the lens will break.  It just will.

The best advice from any one who has experienced this nightmare would be to take every precaution necessary. Many would argue that taking precautions to protect a high-quality lens would be counterproductive to then add a filter that reduces the quality of the image anyway.  That's not an issue in your case, because you know what filter to use, don't you?

26232_1_xlAnother great tool to use for protecting your lens would be a Hood!  The reduction of lens flare would to promote the quality of your images exceptionally, and any bumps, scrapes or drops your lens encounters, the impact would first break the hood.  Make the extra effort to keep your lens cap attached at all times when not photographing, and never leave your equipment vulnerable to weather conditions of rain, snow, wind or dust. Again, every protection necessary!  

Ensuring the longevity of your equipment should be your number one priority.  Whether it's extending warranties on your equipment, buying insurance, and adding any little device possible to the lens to protect yourself from those unavoidable freak accidents, just do it!  Really. Because when that day does come and you do hear that heart-wrenching shatter, you're going to let out a sigh of relief when you realize that you've covered all your bases.

Header image provided by Kate Jeppson

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