Using a UV Filter as Lens Protection – My view

To use or not use a filter as protection on a lens is a polarizing issue (pun intended): many are dead against it and many see logic in using them.  When I am in Africa I use a UV filter on my 70 – 200 mm lens. I was taught to do so by my mentors back in the dark(room) ages  and I continue to do so because it saved my much loved workhorse lens.

The argument goes that nearly all digital sensors used in DSLRs incorporate UV and IR filters into their designs or coatings so an additional filter is not useful in most cases. In the grab and go world of wildlife photography where the lens and camera are exposed to dirt, moisture, rough rides, and unpredictable hazards, it is nice to have one part of the camera wearing “protective goggles” and reducing the worry.  When replacing one (yes, I have broken several) I do not go cheap: it makes no sense to put a cheap piece of plastic over a fortune’s worth of lens.

Pros of using a Clear UV filter for protection

  • Protects front element from scratches.  It would be especially tragic to scratch the expensive lens yourself while doing a quick clean in the field
  • Allows you to clean more quickly and aggressively
  • Takes the hit if dropped or knocked against something while on a neckstrap

Cons of using a protective filter

  • Lens coatings are tough and will survive some grime, dust , and fingerprints
  • Could introduce lens flare and ghosting in artificial light scenarios or reduce contrast

 My filter took the sacrificial blow for my lens on a game drive.  I slipped my second camera into the backpack in order to use my primary camera with the 300 mm on it and some dislodged padding allowed it to take a hit while we were driving along.  I simply needed a few seconds to say a prayer after hearing the glass rattling, remove the lens cap, dump the glass, and  blow and wipe the lens. I was a bit late, but got the shot.  The sense of relief for having the filter in place has never worn off and I continue to use one.