A Defense for the Lonely UV Filter
A Defense Of The Lonely Filter
The lonely filter. It has such a bad reputation. Across the board, pretty much all the online camera pundits agree that using a filter on a lens makes no sense at all. As the argument goes, why would anyone put a piece of glass in front of the lens, so that their photos would look less sharp? It's like you're going out of your way to make your pictures look worse.
In fact, there are those out there who think that the filter is part of a conspiracy. It's the camera buying equivelent of undercoat protection for a new car or in-store warranty from Best Buy. It's the kind of scam that's pushed onto you by inscrupulous vendors hoping to prey on your insecurities. And vendors, they love this scam. They earn higher sales margin on filters. And in return, you get piece of mind for unnecessary protection.
Or is it really unnecessary protection?
I've been using filters since I first bought my Nikkor 50mm f/1.4. And although I agree with the physics of optics, that the image quality will be less sharp, I am however a great believer that having protection is a good idea.
Think about it. As a photographer, you spend hundreds of dollars on lenses (and thousands if you happen to have Leica lenses). Wouldn't it make sense to have some kind of protection to protect your investment in lenses?
Of course, you may not necessarily need to have protection, as long as you are careful. But who can truly be careful, all of the time? Even as careful as I am, I have been lucky on three occasions with my lens - only because I had a filter. It could've been my front element instead of my filter that I had to replace.
And with my Leica lens, if I accidently scratch my front element, it's not like I can get my lens repaired right away. And given the cost of a replacement lens, that would not be financially feasible. And even if money grows on trees, I wouldn't be able to buy a new one to replace it, because the lens that took me months to find are never in stock.
Wouldn't it just make more sense to protect your investment and put on a filter? The thing is, I can live with some decline in sharpness. But God knows that I would kill myself if I didn't take due care to protect my investment, just because I want feel like a pro who cannot live with a little decline in sharpness.
And have I also mentioned the added benefits of using a filter? If your filter is dirty, cleaning it is much easier than cleaning your front element. Just breath on the filter, and wipe it off with your sleeve (instead of your microfiber cloth tucked away inconveniently inside a hermetically resealable package). And believe me, when you are not in a controlled environment, dirt always finds its way onto the front element.
Of course, there are those who believe that putting a lens hood on would provide your lens with some protection. However, from my experience, a lens hood doesn't help much when stray dirt or rain water flies through the hood and gets onto your front element. That too has happened to me recently. And when you are traveling light without your microfiber cloth handy, there isn't much you can do, but take more pictures with dirt on the lens.
Or on the other hand, if you have a lens filter on, you can just wipe it off. The same can be said when your lens fogs up, because of changes in humidity. Wiping the filter off with whatever available fabric, like the hem of your cotton shirt is so much faster than fishing for that microfiber cloth hermetically sealed away in a packet that's either left at home or lying underneath a bunch of gear inside your bag. By the time you fish it out to clean your lens, the decisive moment would have passed.
And realistically, how bad can worse be if you use a filter? Every image that I have photographed had been taken with a filter... and quite frankly I think that I can live with the image degradation. But you know what the best part of having a filter is? You don't ever need to put the lens cap on. You are always ready to shoot. And for us Leica shooters, not having a lens cap means you're not going to accidentally leave the cap on while shooting - which does happen from time to time in rangefinder shooting.
In a perfect world, I would rather not have any protection against damage or dirt, but life is unpredictable. In the final analysis, I'd rather be safe than sorry. Whenever possible, I would always use a filter.
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