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Should you leave a UV filter on your lens?

Will it affect my pictures or be totally neutral? Does it protect my lens?


Should you leave a UV filter on your lens at all times to protect the surface?
Should you leave a UV filter on your lens at all times to protect the surface?

The more you read and hear about filters in photography, the more you will come across advice that an ultraviolet (UV) filter or a skylight filter (which is a UV filter with a pale rose tinge to it to warm color slide pictures up) can be left on your lens at all times to protect it from dust and surface damage, no matter what you are photographing, because the filter’s density is so minimal that it doesn’t affect exposure and because the UV filter is colorless and therefore has no affect on tone rendition. Seems to be good advice, doesn’t it? After all, what harm can such a filter do? It is beneficial in screening out UV light and is totally transparent.

It is well-intentioned advice, and in most instances the permanent presence of a UV filter will not detrimentally affect your images.

But, let’s look at it another way. You wouldn’t want to shoot all your pictures through a completely clear and colorless window, would you? Why not? Because you would be placing two extra reflective surfaces (meaning each side of the glass) between your lens and your subject, with the result that you could get unwanted reflections. These reflections may appear in your images as ghosting or flare.

Keeping a UV filter permanently on your lens is not much different than shooting through a totally-clear window. You will have two extra reflective surfaces between your lens and your subject, surfaces that are potentially harmful and generally unnecessary for much of your photography. (Many modern lenses already have a coating to screen out UV light waves, making a UV filter redundant. Besides, UV light is often not a major factor in much of our day-to-day photography.)

You may be better off to simply use a lens cap.
You may be better off to simply use a lens cap.

Some would say you should only attach a UV filter when you need a UV filter, and stow it away when you don’t need it.

What about the protective aspect of the permanently-attached UV filter? The same people would say you can just as easily keep your lens’ surface protected with a lens cap or any inexpensive filter, UV or otherwise, that can be removed when it is time to take a picture. If lens protection is a real concern because you have an environmental dust or dirt problem, and a permanently-attached UV filter is your solution, you will have to clean the filter anyway before you shoot. An easily-removed lens cap is perhaps a better solution.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It is difficult in most cases to discern the difference between a picture taken with or without a UV filter on the lens. So, it really comes down to what works best for you.

If you find it easier to shoot quickly without having to remove a lens cap, but want to protect the surface glass of the lens, then keep a UV filter on instead of a lens cap. And keep an eye out for flare problems. If you're a purist and want to minimize the number of glass surfaces between the film and your subject, do away with the UV filter; use a lens cap for protection and a lens hood for flare prevention.

ARE THERE TIMES WHEN A UV FILTER CAN BE HARMFUL?

To a small degree, yes. When you leave an ultraviolet filter attached to your lens on the theory that it does not affect exposure and protects the lens from scratches, it can affect your digital camera's white balance presets. Your camera "expects" ultraviolet light and when it is filtered out, daylight white balance will become too warm.