Skip to main content

Should you put a protective filter on your lens? Expert explains why and why not

should you use a uv filter 123rf
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Ah, the age-old topic of the UV protective filter rises again. Some photographers don’t take a new lens out of the box unless there is a filter ready to put on it; others could not care less. It seems everyone has an opinion of UV filters, which ones to buy, when to use them, and what lenses need them. Roger Cicala, however, has what we’d call an informed opinion, being the man in charge of Lens Rentals’ fleet of 20,000 lenses from multiple manufacturers. But even he can’t give you a simple answer to whether you should use a filter or not.

In a recent blog post, Cicala describes the relationship between lens and filter. In short, it’s complicated. He argues the most important thing to look at is the cost of a high-quality filter versus the cost of replacing the front element of a lens. (And, unless you want to sacrifice image quality, you should never use a cheap filter). For example, other than possibly saving your lens a trip to the repair shop, putting a $120 filter on a lens with a $70 front element maybe doesn’t make the most sense.

However, Cicala is quick to point out that front elements have increased in price on newer lenses. This is especially true of high-end models, but also applies to some midrange lenses. On Nikon’s $1,100 24-120mm f/4, for example, a new front element costs $320. Of course, that is nothing compared to the $900 to $1,500 you will need to replace the front element on one the much more expensive Zeiss Otus lenses.

With even the largest high-quality filters selling for around $120 these days, there seems to be a strong argument in favor of using them, especially on new and professional-level lenses. However, there are still other variables to consider. As Cicala explains, the type of small scratches that a filter protects against rarely have any effect on image quality at all. That said, such scratches will lower the resale value of a lens — so if you plan on selling or trading in your gear someday, a filter may be a worthwhile investment.

Perhaps the most important thing to consider when deciding to purchase a filter or not is a common sense analysis of how the lens will be used. As Cicala says, “If it’s a lens for studio portraiture only, why bother? If [you’re] shooting surf at the beach, then you better wear protection.”

Editors' Recommendations

Daven Mathies
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Daven is a contributing writer to the photography section. He has been with Digital Trends since 2016 and has been writing…
The best photo printers you can buy in 2024
Alan compares draft, standard, and high-quality photos from Epson's EcoTank ET-8500.

A comparison of draft, standard, and high-quality photos from Epson's EcoTank ET-8500. Tracey Truly / Digital Trends

If you love sharing photo prints or building physical photo albums, you might want to upgrade to a photo printer. When manufacturers optimize printers for pictures, the results can match or exceed that of the best printers available.

Read more
Crutchfield sale: Save on Canon, Sony and Nikon mirrorless cameras
Canon EOS R5

Photography can be a fun and even lucrative endeavor, although it also can be exceedingly expensive, with some of the best full-frame cameras on the market easily reaching and even exceeding one or two thousand dollars, and that's without taking into account the cost of the lenses. Luckily, there is a great sale at Crutchfield right now on various cameras and camera kits, and you can actually grab yourself some excellent cameras, whether you're just starting out or want to upgrade to the next level. To that end, we've picked some of our favorite deals below, although it's well worth checking out the full Crutchfield sale that's happenning now.

What you should buy in Crutchfield's camera sale
If you're just starting out with photography and don't want to spend the thousands of dollars you do for the slightly better cameras that you'll find in the mid-range, the Canon EOS R100 is an excellent option, and this kit includes a lens as well. It has a 24.1-megapixel sensor for high-quality photography, a 3-inch screen so you can get a better sense of what you're filming, and, of course, the RF-S 18-45mm f/4.5-6.3 lens that the kit comes with. It can also connect with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and all of that comes packaged at , which is $100 off the usual $599 price tag.

Read more
Save 35% on this SanDisk 128GB SD card for a limited time
The 128GB version of the SanDisk Extreme Pro SD card, on a white background.

When you buy from camera deals, you should also purchase an SD card or two to make sure that you have ample storage for your photos and videos. Unfortunately, the costs will start racking up if you're also going to buy accessories, so you should be on the lookout for offers like this one from StackSocial -- the SanDisk Extreme Pro 128GB for only $20, following a 35% discount on its original price of $31. That's $11 in savings on a dependable SD card, but you'll need to be quick in completing the transaction because there's no telling when the bargain ends.

Why you should buy the SanDisk Extreme Pro 128GB SD card
DSLR cameras and mirrorless cameras usually use SD cards as their storage devices, according to our guide on how to pick the right memory card for your digital camera. If you need one, the SanDisk Extreme Pro is an excellent choice because it offers shot speeds of up to 90 MB/s, which is perfect for recording 4K Ultra HD videos, photos in burst mode, and other types of content that will require a high-performance SD card to keep up with them.

Read more