Filters for “Protection”

I remember buying my first expensive lens—Nikon’s 18-200 super zoom—like it was yesterday. It was hopelessly out of stock just about everywhere, but I stumbled upon one at “Japan Camera” in my once sleepy local mall, and snapped it up. With that lens mounted in my trusty D70s, I was ready for anything. Soon after, I walked into Henry’s1 to inquire about a Circular Polarizer. The sales-guy asked, “For what lens?” As I proudly swung my camera ’round to show off my new baby, the sales-guy gasped and exclaimed “You’re running that thing ‘naked’?!?”

He totally got me. While I knew I could probably find a “protective UV filter” online for less money, I didn’t want anything to happen to my precious before I got it. The sales-guy hammed it up, carefully placing the LCD-side of my camera on a cloth, took out his Rocket Blower, and gingerly puffed what little dust might have found its way on the front element like he was performing heart surgery. Out I walked with a genuine Hoya Super Duper HMC Deluxe filter with about 8,000 coatings and 99.999967% light transmission or whatever.2

I bet a lot of you reading this have similar stories or have seen sales-people in action, preying upon an unsuspecting lens purchaser with a filter to protect their “investment.”3 I heard the “protective UV filter” line at Exposure just this past weekend and couldn’t help but cringe.

I’ve learned a lot since that filter purchase. First of all, that 18-200 was pretty terrible, optically. Secondly, if I want constant “protection” for my lens, I’ll use the hood, which can improve picture quality, rather than degrade it. For those of you who want to keep your lens as compact as possible and hate the idea of sticking a huge hood on the end of your lens, leave it at home, leave the filter locked up behind the counter, and take some care not to smash the front of your lens into tree trucks.4

Now before you pop open a new tab to search for that example of some dude who dropped their expensive lens and was saved by their $100 filter that smashed into bits, I’ve probably already seen it. Yes, accidents can happen. I myself dropped my Nikon 24mm f/1.4 lens on a hard tile floor, denting the front filter ring. That is not an inexpensive lens, I was careless, and it cost me. The repair was somewhere in the neighbourhood of $250. Ouch. It would have been fine if I had the hood on. It might have been fine if I had a filter on, but you know what? I haven’t bought a “filter for protection” for any of lenses I’ve owned since then, and I’ve owned a lot of lenses. There is no doubt that I’ve saved significantly more not buying filters for all those different lenses5 than I’ve spent repairing lenses due to lack of protection.

Of course there are other reasons for attaching a neutral clear filter6 on the front of your lens. Some hate lens caps, preferring a filter in their stead. Others shoot at company parties where cocktail spills are a certainty, not just a slim possibility. Totally understandable, but if you’re not in hazardous conditions and you’re after absolute lens acuity, shed that filter with impunity, never mind dust, get yourself a Rocket Blower, and put your hood on to reduce flare and really protect your lens.

  1. The largest photography chain in Canada.
  2. No matter how good the glass is, at certain angles it will refract light. This is another problem I have with putting a piece of glass that doesn’t alter my image creatively in front of a very expensive lens. If you have to protect your lens, get a hood.
  3. Unless your lens appreciates in value, it isn’t an investment.
  4. See video.
  5. Step-up rings will only cover so many sizes, and having to swap lenses is already a pain. I can’t imagine having to swap filters too.
  6. This is the kind you want, not a UV filter which does nothing for digital cameras outside of degrade picture quality and cost more. I personally like Hoya’s clear filters for anything that’s not neutral density where I go for Breakthrough Photography’s X4 filters.