19 February 2014

My Take on UV Filters, Short Answer - Use Them!

Panda Portrait,  © 2012 Terrell Neasley

I've spent the last 4 days trying to write about some challenges I have here in Nicaragua with my final days looming near. I've rewritten it each time and conclude that I just need to blog about something else. And the next big thing that keeps nagging at me to talk about is UV filters. I have heard no end to opinions on the pros and cons of the use of UV filters. I know they shall persist even after this post. So yeah. Here is my spin on UV filters and whether or not you need one on your lenses or not.

Panda,  © 2012 Terrell Neasley
Back in the days of film, images could sometimes be affected by ultraviolet light that might cause images to either look hazy or maybe add a blueish hue. That's mainly because blue colors are more affected by UV than red or green.While UV light is invisible to the eye, the chemicals in the film emulsion could still be sensitive to it. This effect was more pronounced in higher altitudes, where I learned about this in Colorado, or maybe in places where the effects of the sun are strongest. Maybe like a desert (Vegas), or on a beach or in snow, where light is reflected and thereby amplifying the affects. UV filters where made to block as much UV light as possible, if not all of it, to reduce or eliminate this effect.

Today's digital sensors are less sensitive to UV light. So why do we still need them? I've heard it said that the only purpose they serve today are to line the pockets of camera store owners who want to "push" them as protection for lenses. I've heard some say that it is a needless carryover from the film days and that only the old guys use them today. I've also heard that lenses are so sharp and have their own coatings that its pure folly to add an EXTRA piece of glass in front of a lens designed with such precision and technology. I hear all that. All the time.

Panda,  © 2012 Terrell Neasley

Alright, let me predicate this point with a few facts. One, I love photography. If I was homeless in the streets, with only one thing of value to own, it would be a camera. Two, outside of being a pro, I don't let anything compromise the quality of my images. This is my art and I want the best quality I can get for the project I'm shooting. With that said, I can now address this point. During my film days, I did not use UV filters...(I know...when I needed them most). I didn't use them until a friend of mine banged the front element of a $2000 lens into the corner of a metal cabinet. I put filters on all my lenses after that, but I didn't have many at the time, but that made me start researching UV filters.

Soon after, I began work part time at my local camera store, for my good friend, Joe Dumic of B&C Camera in Las Vegas. In the two days per week that I worked there, I watched people pile in with busted cameras and lenses, mainly from drops. But here is the difference, many of the ones with no filters became paperweights. Conversely, UV filters saved many of these lenses. The UV filter would be busted, but the lens itself tested fine. Impact protection? Yes. This is the first reason I put UV filters on my lenses.

Panda,  © 2012 Terrell Neasley
But I also learned that all UV filters were not made the same. Joe would not let me put cheap UV filters on my lenses, especially after I started getting better glass. Putting bad glass on top of good glass is stupid. No getting around that. Buy a lens for $1500 or more and then put a $20 UV filter on it, and I will talk bad about you for the rest of your days. I started out using good B+W filters on my gear. Its some of the best made, there's no getting around that. Today, I use Promaster HGX series in the red box. Promaster gear is known for its generic or off-brand quality. They have a reputation of making photographic accessories at cheaper prices, but not so much camera body and lenses, but just about everything else. Recently, they outdid themselves with UV filters when they came out with a series rated by the color of the packaging. The HGX series in the red box is the best and to me, its even better than B+W. So much so, that I no longer have B+W filters.

Promaster filters back in the day were no different from some of the other cheaper filters on the market. Trust me, they've re-branded. I own several of their products because of the increase in quality AND the guarantee they put behind them. Working in a camera shop gives me the advantage of better insight in this matter. I get to see products first-hand and how they hold up over time. Why switch to the HGX series from an already great B+W product? Well first it started when I was switching over from Canon gear to Nikon gear. I sold many of the Canon lenses with the filters as a bonus. The Promaster HGX series came out at about the same time or not long after. They have three things I like. I a lifetime guarantee. A coating on both sides of the filter that REPELS dirt, grime, and debris. That's right, its like a wax job on your car. Nothing sticks to it and everything wipes right off. And three, the ring has another black coating on it that helps absorb stray light coming into the lens, thus reducing the possibility of flare.

Panda,  © 2012 Terrell Neasley
I live in a desert. There is dust fly around all the time. Right now, I'm in Nicaragua. the winds are high on the coast and shit is flying around all the time in the inner city as well. My lens cap was in my bag when it was stolen a few weeks ago. If I had not bought this HGX filter for my 35mm f/1.4 lens, I might be a little worried, but I'm using my shirt to wipe the front of it all the time. You DO NOT wanna be doing that on the front element of the lens itself. I like my glass and I want to keep my lenses for a long time, or at least be able to sell them in good condition. I don't care who you are or how good care you take of your lenses. If you do not use a good UV filter, your lenses lifespan is reduced. So unless you plan on keeping and using your lenses in one of those vacuum, dust-free rooms NASA uses, get a friggin' filter. And don't be cheap about it. Ugy, (pronounced OO-GEE) at B&C West store does an excellent job of explaining the benefits of UV filters and can show you the Promaster line and why they are so friggin' cool. If you're on the East side of Vegas, Tony can show you th ropes. Both are managers of their prospective stores. Ugy...Tony...got that. Remember them. The only other filters I might use on my lenses would be circular polarizers and Neutral Density filters. More on that later. Check out this good read as well, UV Filters by Bjorn Peterson, B&H Article.


Winston Cooper said...

Terrell, excellent article on lens filters. I have know since days as a Tin Can Sailor in the Gulf of Tonkin with a Nikon F Photomic T to always cover that glass (and other items.) Normally when I buy a lens I also buy a Nikon NC filter with it. Over this last year I have filled out my lens set with a couple of zooms and the folks I most frequently buy from has thrown in a filter kit with a CP, ND, and UV filter package. The name of the filters is Pro Optic, I suspect they are from a generic manufacture and the name is propitiatory. Do you know anything about these filters? I would appreciate an opinion from you if you do know anything about them.

Looks like your having fun down South. How is the language skills coming along???

Photo Anthems.com said...

Hi Winston. Thanks for the comment. I can't say I'm familiar with the Pro Optic brand of filters. Some of these generics are simply rebrands from more well-known labels. The only thing that worries me is the package deal. I have not seen any packaged filter sets that were of any great quality, but that's not to say they don't exist. Usually, these are gimmick tokens that are thrown in to get you to purchase something else. "Buy a lens and get a free package of filters!" These tend to be overstocks, or bought-out inventory at pennies on the dollar as give-a-ways when they don't move very well.

And language skills. I suck. But that's not to say I'm giving up. I will learn Spanish. Fluently, and not just learn different words. I know its going to take me some time and lots of practice, but I'll get it.

Winston Cooper said...

Thanks Terrell. I tend to agree with you on the filters. For now the UV's are on two of my lenses as they just came along with them. No body seems to know anything about their quality. I suspect soon I will be getting a couple of Nikkor NC's to replace them for piece of mind if nothing else. On the other hand, we all know that boats, airplanes, motorcycles and camera gear often are just huge holes we try to fill by shoveling money into. It's way easy to overspend on these things.

Luck with the language....

Karl said...

Great points. I was doing a photo shoot at an industrial plant using a Canon 5d and it's great 28-70 f2.8 (If memory serves) with a uv filter. It was on a tripod as I set up lights with an assistant. We were both 20 feet away when the tripos collapsed and the camera fell from 6" directly onto the corner of the filter. We both ran back and found the filter cracked and bent. After much delicate sweaty work, I got the filter off and the camera and lens worked flawlessly. That $50BW filter saved the camera and the shoot. I put filters on all my Haselblad and Nikon lenses. Even my wife!'s very nice Nikon cool pix 7800 has a uv filter on it.

Photo Anthems.com said...

And its you guys who I learn from. I see your plights and get wise quick! Thanks, Karl!