Filters on lenses or not?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by John Di Leo, Jan 8, 2010.

  1. I know that most people use filters on their lenses to protect the front-most element of the lens from physical damage.
    Other than physical protection it seems such filters don't do much else. My questions are:
    Don't filters increase the risk of flaring and ghosting and is that significant for the protection they afford? They may degrade the image if lesser glass is employed, right?
    Modern lenses' coatings MUST absorb UV and "skylight," right? So if one will use a filter, why not a clear glass filter?
    And, finally, wouldn't the public be better served if lenses, both high and low end, were sold with a filter, that could be used if desired?
     
  2. I very much disagree that "most" people use filters for "protection." Very few of the more experienced people I've seen use them. And yes, I often do get ghosting and flare when I use a filter. So, I don't. I use a lens cap to protect my lens when not actively taking a photo. My lenses are perfect. BTW, there's about a hundred threads here on the topic, including one someone just stuck on here yesterday.
    Kent in SD
     
  3. SCL

    SCL

    There are lots of threads on this topic, so I'm not going to rehash all the arguments. Most people don't necessarily use filters for protection on their lenses, they use lens caps. Why include a filter with the lens, I can only think of one reason....to increase profits to the manufacturers/retailers.
     
  4. If a particular filter works for you w/o obvious image degradation, then use one if you must.
    If a filter accomplishes what normally can not be accomplished w/o it, then use one.
    As Kent pointed out, this sort of question stirs debate that is old as the hills.
    Do filters cause ghosting and flare? Sure they do, it's the nature of optical physics.
    How bad it is remains a question of personal preference, quality of the filter, distance of filter to objective, shooting angles.
     
  5. Some thoughts:
    It has been tested that depending on each situation, protection filters have an unnoticeable effect... (quality filters, I mean) or a noticeable effect, specially if they are not coated.
    If a filter doesn`t offer any kind of filtration, the potential sales could be reduced.
    Some lenses were sold with a filter included, like the "recent" 45P.
    Given that many people doesn`t use them, why to add them to the package? (If so, I could have more than 30 useless "clear glass" filters... ).
    It makes sense to use them when needed, and not to use them under certain problematic situations.
     
  6. First I use filters on all my lens for protection I live on the coast and do many shoots sand & sea. The cost of Canon lens against the cost of a filter well no argument. I like many landscape photographers use many finters Soft Grad 1, 2. 3, Tint filters, and the one I use the most Polarizer, also a ND. You can not get the same affect in Photoshop some will tell you they can, it's just not the same. So Filters a alive a well in my camera bag.
     
  7. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Years ago I had a co-worker who had just gotten married. Sortly after his wife was unexpectedly pregnant. They were young and weren't planning to have children yet. Someone else asked him, "Don't you use birth control?" He replied that they did most of the time.
    Using a lens cap to protect your lens falls into the same category. The main problem is that you cannot have a lens cap on when you are shooting, composing, or getting ready to shoot. However, I want to protect my lens 100% of the time; if that is not possible, as least as close to 100% as I can. "Most of the time" sometimes just doesn't cut it.
     
  8. Just one of many iterations of this question are at (link ) here on this site.
    Nothing has changed since then, or long before then. If you search for something like "filter on lens" here you will get just some of them.
     
  9. The old debate again. I do use UV filters on all my lenses - and I do use lens caps as well - but as Shun pointed out - they don't do anything when you are actually shooting. In many situations, I have to go hours without the chance to put the lens cap on - I have to be ready to get the shots I want. I only use the filter because fingerprints, drops etc are a lot easier to clean of it than off the front element. In shooting situations, were the filter causes flare, I have a very simple solution - I take the filter off!
     
  10. Shun makes the point perfectly but, if you prefer, you can instead use risk/benefit analysis for this particular niggle. How important is the possibility of damage to the outer element of your lens (benefit of filter)? How significant is the possibility of degradation/flare for the kind of shots you take (risk of filter)?
    Obviously, use the best filter you can afford to minimise the "filter risk" component. Ultimately, if you're happy to repair/replace your lens if something bad does happen then, like any other form of insurance, you don't need filters.
    Personally, I use Hoya Pro-1 UV(0) filters, having got into the filter habit during film days (when I sometimes used skylight 1B's in the same way as well). On the rare occasions when I buy a new lens, I fit the filter only after the new toy has been tested and then do some more test shots, before comparing the two. Maybe my eyes are giving out, or I don't know how to "see", but (except when shooting into the Sun - which I generally avoid) I have never noticed any difference (although, by the laws of physics, there must be some tiny fraction of light lost at each air/glass interface.)
    Here's a rare into-the-Sun shot (on FX) with a Nikkor 28-105 AF-D @f11, using a UV(0):
    00VRiR-207777584.jpg
     
  11. Best article I know of concerning filters:
    http://www.bythom.com/filters.htm
     
  12. "Years ago I had a co-worker who had just gotten married. Sortly after his wife was unexpectedly pregnant. They were young and weren't planning to have children yet. Someone else asked him, "Don't you use birth control?" He replied that they did most of the time.
    Using a lens cap to protect your lens falls into the same category. The main problem is that you cannot have a lens cap on when you are shooting, composing, or getting ready to shoot. However, I want to protect my lens 100% of the time; if that is not possible, as least as close to 100% as I can. "Most of the time" sometimes just doesn't cut it."
    Hey, Shun, I think this comment is worth archiving! LOL
     
  13. John, indeed a good article by Thom.
    Thom's Maxim #19: Don't put extra glass or plastic in front of your expensive, well designed glass unless you need to.
     
  14. It's so ridiculously easy for any photographer to perform definitive flare tests on their own particular camera / lens / filter combinations that I'm baffled why endless discussions / debates on this subject continue on. Perform an appropriate test, and you will have a nice quantitative, essentially un-debatable answer about the flare for that particular combo. You then have the info needed to perform a logical risk-benefit analysis as suggested above.
    I find that the easiest way to perform such tests is to put your camera on a tripod in a darkened room, set it on manual, and put a remotely triggered flash (also set on manual) across the room, pointing straight back at the camera. Adjust the camera exposure so that no stray ambient light from the room is recorded, and adjust the flash output so that the core of the flash is anywhere from 3 to 6 stops overexposed. The more you overexpose the flash, the more sensitive the test will be to small amounts of flare.
    The intensity and pattern of the flare you record will depend dramatically on the lens, the aperture setting, the FL (if a zoom), what type of filter you are testing, and, importantly, whether the strobe is on-axis or not, etc.
    The following pair of images shows the results of such a test on my Nikon 28-70/2.8 @ 2.8 and 70mm, with the strobe on-axis. The upper image is without a B&W UV filter, the lower is with the filter in place. There's clearly a difference is the pattern of the flare and the level of overall veiling flare. That being said, in real-world tests, only when shooting into the sun with foreground objects in dark silhouette can I ever see a difference between filter-on and filter-off conditions for that lens / filter combo. The dark room strobe test gives you pretty much of a worst case scenario.
    Finally, let me point out that one can't extrapolate a difference between filter-on and filter-off results with one lens to tell you how the same filter will act on a different lens. For example, just before I tested the 28-70/2.8, I tested the Nikon 105 VR. It showed almost no increase in flare when I put the same filter in front of it. A lot has to do with the exact curvature of the individual elements in each lens, which are well coated, etc.
    HTH,
    Tom M
    PS - FWIW, I usually leave a protective filter on all lenses at all times, and then take an extra shot or two with it removed if the situation is likely to cause flare on a lens that I know (from the above tests) is susceptible.
    00VRmM-207803584.jpg
     
  15. Well, I tend to be a bumble sometimes, so unless I'm shooting into the sun I leave a clear filter on. I buy pretty expensive multi-coated filters and I've never been able to see a difference in flare or ghosting in the limited number of tests I've done. I'm sure the extra surfaces do affect the image, but I can't tell the difference for what I do.
    Buy one and give it a try to see for yourself. Don't scrimp on the filter cost though - buy a high end B+W or Hoya that is multi-coated.
    My 2 cents - John
     
  16. Years ago I had a co-worker who had just gotten married. Sortly after his wife was unexpectedly pregnant.
    The main problem is that you cannot have a lens cap on when you are shooting, composing, or getting ready to shoot.​
    Shun, I could not possibly have made a clearer statement for the use of filters.
     
  17. Tom,
    Thanks for pointing out that you need to test filters for each individual lens (or even every lens/body) combination, as I don't think this requirement came across very clearly in my post.
    Another vote for archiving Shun's comment BTW!
     
  18. Here's my filter story from back in the day: My friend started out in photography with a Minolta SLR. He wasn't happy with the sharpness of his pictures so he traded it in for a Nikon F. Still unsatisfied (not surprising maybe—we were all big Adams/Weston fans then), he bought himself a Hasselblad, but even it wasn't sharp enough. He then switched to a 4x5 view camera with a Schneider Symmar lens. Still, his pictures continued to disappoint.
    He had been studying the 8x10 camera brochures for awhile when it occurred to him to try some shots without the $3, no-name skylight filter that he bought with the Minolta and had been using on all those other cameras. Eureka!
     
  19. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    This is a bit off topic, but there was a kicker to that birth control story. That guy's wife was a physician. You would imagine that a doctor would know about birth control ....
    And you would imagine that good photographers would know when to use and when to not use filters.
     
  20. I guess it depends on how risk averse you are.
    You ma trade quality if yo are doing risky photography. Ie., in the rain, at the sea coast, doing skateboard photography.
    But if you are Thom Hogan, I read he used no filters in a motorbike dirt race ... with dirt splatted on his lens, he jus cleaned it up .... ;D
     
  21. I take my filter off when shooting into the sun. Otherwise. Yech.
    I use one on my lenses except for a couple that have a pretty deeply recessed front element (basically my 55mm micro and my 50mm f1.8.
     
  22. Filters as "protection" can act in the opposite fashion. When a lens with filter is dropped, the filter can break and bombard the front lens surface with glass shards to destroy the lens completely. I've seen this happen so it's not theory (cost me a brand new 35/1.4). From other people's stories I know I'm not alone here.
    Use the designated lens hood at all times. Experiment to see whether a longer/narrower than factory specified hood can work without vignetting.
    When shooting near storm surges or similar, a filter could be considered, not as a protection measure but rather to make it easier to clean the lens.
     
  23. I personally don't. If you take moderate care of your lenses, you don't really need filters. The only time you may need it is if you go to some rough places with hard to predict environment. eg. beaches, deserts, etc..
     
  24. OK, we're taking filter stories again. Last week I was out in the deep snow with a friend, chasing trains. He had two cameras. One was in his hand, the other was in the big cargo pocket of his parka. He stumbled on his snowshoe and the camera in pocket flipped out and landed "face" down in the snow. I heard a cracking sound. The lens had landed on the top of a metal post that was barely sticking up out of the snow. He was actually surprised (LOL!) that his "protection" filter didn't protect the lens. The lens was severly damaged and not only that an expensive B+W filter was trash. Using the filter made him feel the lens was protected. If he had the lens cap on instead, it would certainly have resisted the impact. BTW, looking at his photos vs. mine from same spots, most of his had flare. Only one of mine did. He said he will now get rid of the filters and start using lens caps and hoods like I do.
    Kent in SD
     
  25. "Don't filters increase the risk of flaring and ghosting and is that significant for the protection they afford? They may degrade the image if lesser glass is employed, right?"​
    Yes, particularly if lesser coatings are used. It's significant if you're in a situation when using a filter is contraindicated.
    "Modern lenses' coatings MUST absorb UV and "skylight," right?"​
    Mostly no, but a few do. Lens coatings are generally formulated to be color-neutral. Blocking UV that's near-visible affects violet colors (think clouds in sunsets, horizons in sunrises, etc.), and can make certain things look dull (notice how the phosphate brighteners in laundry detergent 'light up' a white shirt under 'black lights' in a disco or a gentlemen's club). Your shirts are whiter in daylight because they reflect near-visible UV. IIRC, the band pass filter over the sensor blocks non-visible UV (and IR), but this varies by camera make and model.
    Skylight filters knock out the bluish cast in open shade during broad daylight by 'warming' it ever-so-slightly. Look at a Skylight 1A against something trally white, and you'll see they're slightly pink. You want that color on you lens 100% of the time?
    "So if one will use a filter, why not a clear glass filter?"​
    Sounds good to me, but I usually use a moderate UV filter to cut haze from high humidity at sea level in seascape shots. A clear glass filter doesn't cut haze as well.
    And, finally, wouldn't the public be better served if lenses, both high and low end, were sold with a filter, that could be used if desired?​
    What single filter would possibly be used by all photographers for all things? This is the reason DSLRs don't ship with good mem cards and imaging software. Different folks have different preferences. The other side of that coin would be sticking customers with filters they don't want or need for their photography - they know they're paying something for it, and will complain. It's best to let the photographer make their filter choices, since the camera company doesn't know the photographer's intent. It's like imaging software...everyone has their own preferences on how to achieve what they envision for their photographs.
     
  26. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Kent, to be blunt, your friend made a very unwise error. The purpose for a protection filter is not to protect the lens from any impact. Filters are made from optical glass; they are just as weak as the elements on the lens. He was also shooting at night potentially with artifical lights inside frame. That, along with having the sun inside the frame, are occasions I don't use any filters.
    Bjorn knows why we use protection filters:
    When shooting near storm surges or similar, a filter could be considered, not as a protection measure but rather to make it easier to clean the lens.​
    During my recent Antarctic trip, I had a protection filter in every one of over 9000 images I captured. I was facing salt spray, rain, and snow constantly. If you are photographing children who may touch your lens or at weddings where some people may get drunk and roudy, I would put a filter there the whole time.
    The point is that I can clean my filter with my shirt any time to keep my light path clean, thus giving me better image quality overall. Otherwise, if I have to clean a front element, I have to be a lot more careful.
    Last year, I too read Thom Hogan's article about him using a 14-24mm/f2.8 AF-S to shoot dirt racing. Of course, no filter is possible for that lens. I couldn't believe that he actually bragged about just cleaning the dirt off his lens afterwards and everything was fine. I don't think it is a good idea to follow protection filter advices from someone who abuses lenses in such a fashion (although Hogan is highly knowledgeable in some other areas).
     
  27. "The point is that I can clean my filter with my shirt any time to keep my light path clean, thus giving me better image quality overall. Otherwise, if I have to clean a front element, I have to be a lot more careful."
    Really? Cleaning a piece of coated glass with your shirt gives you "better image quality" overall? Somehow I doubt it. The simple fact of the matter is that in every test I've done on filters I can measure a difference between the non-filtered and filtered results. Every test. And the difference between a cheap filter and an expensive is quite dramatic, but the expensive filter still has an impact on image quality. And that expensive filter usually has a coating and surface that's every bit as easy to damage as the front element of your lens. Thus, if you use a filter to keep things like sea salt from hitting the front element of your lens, you STILL must clean the filter the same way you'd clean your lens. Either that or you're going to be going through a lot of filters.
    "I too read Thom Hogan's article about him using a 14-24mm/f2.8 AF-S to shoot dirt racing. Of course, no filter is possible for that lens. I couldn't believe that he actually bragged about just cleaning the dirt off his lens afterwards and everything was fine. I don't think it is a good idea to follow protection filter advices from someone who abuses lenses in such a fashion (although Hogan is highly knowledgeable in some other areas)."
    It wouldn't have mattered if I had been using the 17-35mm with a filter. I still would have had the same collection of dirt and mud to clean off the filter, and I would have done it exactly the same way I cleaned my 14-24mm. Would I have used a filter in that situation? Probably. That's because I was in a situation where I wanted to continue shooting as soon as possible after leaving that corner with that lens. I could have taken the filter off, put it in a pocket of my vest and continued shooting immediately instead of having to take the time cleaning the 14-24mm.
    But my point apparently was missed by you: most modern lenses have pretty good coatings these days: while I don't suggest your go around abusing them constantly, too many people worry too much over things that they shouldn't. You're better off learning how to maintain your equipment properly, even in the field, than running around adding protective filters and then cleaning them with your shirt.
     
  28. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Thom, I have done my testing where I actually stacked three Nikon L37C filters together, and other than some small exposure compensation, I have a hard time telling the difference between images with and without filters. Therefore, I am satisfied that with one Nikon L37C or NC filter, in most situations there is no image degradation that I need to worry about. I don't really own any cheap filters, but I would imagine that they would make a big difference.
    Modern lenses and filters indeed have pretty good coating so that even though I clean a lot of filters with my shirt, I haven't damaged a whole lot of filters, but if I need to replace them once in while, so be it. Isn't that the whole point for using protective filters to begin with?
    By no means I am suggesting that one should use a protective filter all the time under all situations, but for a lot of casual photography situations or under rainy, dusty environment, I wouldn't hesitate to put one on.
    If anyone still has any doubts, as Tom Mann suggested above, run your own A/B tests with and without filter on your lenses and decide for yourself.
     
  29. John, what are you wanting to protect your lens from? If you're shooting boxing or full contact martial arts within range of blood spray, a protective filter makes very good sense. I used 'em when I shot from ringside. Check with Jeff Spirer - I think he still shoots martial arts bouts and uses protective filters. They're also useful for protection against salty sea spray, sticky tree sap (a seasonal problem in some wooded areas) and similar types of gunk.
    Protective filters are not a substitute for a lens cap and aren't intended to protect lenses from impact damage, so arguments based on that comparison are flawed. A lens hood won't protect the front element from blood, spit and sweat spray or beer flung across a room - been there, done that - so arguments based on using a lens hood instead of a protective filter may be well intended by folks who haven't actually shot in the same environments and situations as photographers who have dealt with flying bodily fluids and beverages.
    Short version: It's a tool, not a religion. Use it when appropriate, take it off when not needed.
     
  30. First, thanks for the very useful discussion--short answer. The "use the lens cap for protection" argument is valid. The filter argument for protection from finger prints or mud or blood and spittle spray is valid--at least to me.
    Second, I did do a search and did not find such a thread--prob user error, sorry--but the thread that is linked above assumes one is going to use a filter, at least that's how it starts.
    Third, I take full responsibility and heartily apologize for stirring up this now-I-know "old" debate. In motorcycle forums this must be the equivalent of "Should I use synthetic oil?" or "What tires to buy for my 2004 xxxx?" You might not want to ask that.
    Fourth, two things happened to me recently that precipitated the question. I just got the 24-70--what a beauty; and I just discovered a very small scratch in the coating of my otherwise well cared for 16-85VR that I am trying to sell. No effect on image quality, but it is THERE. That lens did nearly 7000 miles with me out west this past spring
    http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=478559
    And I am not using a filter on my 24-70 (yet). And Lex, thank you for putting it into perspective and to answer your question I take cross country motorcycle trips and have to carry this equipment. So, I would be protecting the lens from nature, and being carried on a motorcycle. I just bought a Pelican case--1450, but have to figure how to mount it on my rear rack so that it is 1-secure from falling off, and from curious hands and 2 can be removed easily.
     
  31. I shoot in the street with my camera in a side bag with no cap, so I can quickly swing it out and grab a shot without being too obvious about it. Big petaled lens hoods scream "say cheeze" and destroy the spontaneity I am looking for. The only solution for me is to keep a good multicoated on the end of the lens. Also, here in the desert of Southern California, blowing dust can get all over a lens. I don't have time to pull out a lens cleaning kit every time. It's easy to wipe the filter quickly with a shirtsleeve and go back to shooting. I am fully prepared to replace a filter with damaged coating from this rough treatment, but as of yet, I haven't needed to.
    Someone who shoots landscapes on tripod may not need a filter. If you are working fast, you do.
     
  32. most modern lenses have pretty good coatings these days
    You're better off learning how to maintain your equipment properly, even in the field, than running around adding protective filters and then cleaning them with your shirt.​
    So are coatings good enough to be wiped by a shirtsleeve or not?
    I actually have first hand experience cleaning coated filters this way. The answer is, yes. Coated filters can stand up to being cleaned quickly with a shirtsleeve without any damage whatsoever.
     
  33. always use filters on my lenses (with the exception of the 55mm Micro-Nikkor as the front element is so recessed). keeps front element clean. filters cheap, front elements expensive. never noticed a problem with image quality. your milage may vary. not valid in all states. consult your physician before starting on this medication.
     
  34. OK, fun topic. I definitely have an opinion on this! (and a personal story)
    So, when I first started photography, I followed the conventional advice and got a clear filter for every one of my lenses. Through several camera kits -- Minolta X-700, Nikon 8008s, Mamiya C220 -- I faithfully followed this advice and found myself constantly cleaning both surfaces of every filter and redrying them as they fogged up occasionally.
    I now have a Nikon D90. I have my old lenses from the 8008s days. There is a mongo 82 mm Tiffen glass plate on the front of my 300 f4. Everytime I want to use that lens (hardly ever) I have to take the darn filter off and make sure it is clean. The lens is more than adequately protected by the felt lens cap and the metal hood, but given that I have the 82mm glass plate, I feel compelled to clean it.
    So with the new lenses I have for the D90, I have looked at the price of filters... and they are not cheap. so I never got around to buying any They seem to be much more expensive than they were in the early 1990s.
    ...which brings me to a story of one of my favorite photographs ever. I was at Salt Point State Park, in Sonoma County, CA in 1993, at low tide. I was trying to photograph a sea palm, an endangered species that grows only in the roughest intertidal zones. I was there during low tide during a time of remarkably calm waters.
    I had my 8008s inverted under my tripod, with the 105 f2.8 micro on it, and the SB-25 flash to add a wet look to the sea palm fronds. I had just about set up the "perfect shot" with a single sea palm isolated against the waves and the ridges of the leaves highlighted by the fill flash when I needed to go back to my camera bag for one more accessory. When I was at the camera bag, I spied a sleeper wave coming toward my camera. I managed to run for it and grabbed one leg of the tripod just as the wave broke over my camera.
    Fortunately, my camera was not taken out to sea. I got the shot, but the 8008s and SB-25 soon failed and I had to send them in to Nikon service. The 105 f2.8 micro had no filter on it, but was undamaged. To this day, the 105 micro remains one of the best lenses I have ever used.
    If my 105 micro can survive the sleeper wave with no filter and still be razor sharp 17 years later, I'm willing to live without filters. Bring it on!
     
  35. << So are coatings good enough to be wiped by a shirtsleeve or not? >>
    Probably. But a lenspen or microfibre cloth does a much more effective job. Nowadays I carry two microfibre towels with me. Good for wiping anything, especially lenses. The last I used one was when my D300 fell into water with the 24-70mm at the Red Rock Crossing of Sedona. The microfibre towel saved the day.
    I don't particularly put a filter on to "protect", hwvr, I must say it had accidentally protected my lens for at last once when it took the brunt of an impact.
     
  36. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    If my 105 micro can survive the sleeper wave with no filter and still be razor sharp 17 years later, I'm willing to live without filters. Bring it on!​
    Allan, if you are happy not to use filters, that is perfectly fine. In fact, I also don't use any filters on my 105mm/f2.8 AF, pre-D macro that is now 20 years old as well as my 200mm/f4 AF-D. Those macro lenses have extremely recessed front elements so that it is not easy to get them dirty. At least that has been the case for me in the last two decades; partly because I don't shoot that much macro.
    And since Allan is new to photo.net, I'll also point out while we may have sharply different opinions in this forum, the objective is to learn from one another so that we all become better photographers. There are frequently different and new approaches from what we know. As one of the moderators, I'd like point out that this is not a "bring it on" forum where we flame one another endlessly; in other words, we are a bit different from other forums people may be familiar with.
    Mary Doo is right that microfiber cloth is far more effective for cleaning cameras and filters. In fact, my wife brought a bunch of them to our Antarctic trip and I tend to have one in my camera bag during the trip, but if I don't have one handy, (hopefully) I always have a shirt on.
    And John DiLeo, it is not your falut to restart the debate. The problem is that some people treat this topic as if it were religion as Lex points out.
     
  37. Wow, I didn't mean to spark a flame fest. When I said "bring it on" I meant that I was willing to confront the elements -- rain, sand, sea spray -- with my elements and not worry about potential damage. my personal experience is that they are more hassle than they are worth. I have never damaged a lens.
    As a new person to this forum, I'm sorry that I didn't understand the emotional sensitivity of this topic.
     

Share This Page

1111