Protective Filters… should you use them?

I am often asked by my students and Seattle Photography Club members whether or not they should use protective filters on their expensive lenses.  In my career, I’ve gone back and forth on this one myself.  However, over the past few years, I’ve come to a conclusion which i will share with you now.   See, just by reading my blog, you’ve saved hours and hours of research and deliberation.

B+W Protective Filter

So here’s the deal.  First, if you are paying big buck for a lens such as the 70-200 f/2.8 or any 2.8 lens, for that matter, why would you add a piece of inferior glass to the package.  The lens maker designed the lens with a particular number of glass elements.  Are we to decide, 9 isn’t enough, I’ll add another.  BUT, dear reader, if you do want to add a protective filter after reading this, then, by all means, do so.  However, spend the money to get a good one from B+W and get the top of the line.  Prepare to spend $100 or more for a 77mm UV filter.   I’ve seen $20 Colkin filters on $1500 lenses.  What?

Anyway, here’s my take on protective filters.  If you hit your lens hard enough to break the filter, guess what happens… the filter will shatter and those shards of glass will scratch the front of your lens.  The best protection for your lens is to always keep the lens hood attached.  You can knock it pretty hard and the lens hood will take the shock and protect your element.  I never take mine off except to attach the Lee Landscape filters but when it comes off, back the hood goes.  Always!

Now, that said, there are times when I want to have a protective filter on hand.  If I’m shooting in windy conditions, in the desert, at the beach or anywhere else there might be debris and dust floating around, I’ll throw on a B+W protective filter.  Photographing Rover at the dog park swimming and shaking off the water.  Yes, use a protective filter.  Shooting darling Suzy flinging ice cream all over her high chair, yeah, a protective filter might not be a bad idea.  But, 95% of the time, it is not needed.  By the way, they can also add some ghosting and/or sun flairs.

One last thing… there is a huge markup in filters and accessories.  Of course, every store is going to tell you that you must protect your $1500 lens with a filter.  Make your own decision.

So there you go.  Take it or leave it but I hope this makes sense.  By the way… Happy New Year and thanks for reading my blog.

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