A UV filter is a glass filter that attaches to the front of your camera lens and blocks ultraviolet rays. They used to be necessary for film photography, but now most photographers use them to protect their lenses.
There’s a lot of misinformation about UV filters out there. Some photographers swear they’re essential, while others are equally certain they’re a total waste of money. In some photography shops, the salespeople won’t let you leave with a new lens unless you’ve also ponied up for a UV filter; in others, they’ll laugh you out the door if you try to buy them. So what’s the truth? Let’s find out.
What Does a UV Filter Do?
A UV filter blocks UV light as it enters the lens. Think of it as sunscreen for your camera. Some old photography films were very sensitive to UV light so, if you didn’t use a UV filter, you would end up with a blue haze in your photos. This was especially common if you were shooting somewhere there was a lot of UV light, like on a really sunny day or at high altitude. You can see it in this polaroid by MoominSean on Flickr.
The thing is, modern films and digital sensors just aren’t sensitive to UV light. It doesn’t affect them the way it does older films. This means you don’t need a UV filter to block UV light in order to take good photos. However, this hasn’t stopped UV filters from picking up a secondary use as a protective filter for your lenses. Some camera shops are reluctant to let you walk out the door with a new lens, if you haven’t also bought a UV filter to protect it.
Does a UV Filter Protect Your Lens?
The basic idea is that, if you drop your $2,000 lens, instead of breaking the front element of the lens, you break your $35 UV filter instead. It’s a lot easier to just pick up a new filter rather than ship your lens off to—possibly—get repaired. Unfortunately, while the idea sounds good in theory, it doesn’t really hold out in practice.
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