For those of you expecting a treatise on the use of “Software Filters” I must disappoint. This is about the old kind of filters-the ones made of glass that you stick on the front of a camera. Software filters never have been able to offer the kind of protection I am about to discuss.
Some consider it one of the great scams perpetrated by the sundry photography purveyors and others consider it a way to ensure you will have a lower quality image. Me? I kind of like them.
If you go to a photo retailer and purchase a lens, you will find, that in most instances, the sales person will haggle with you until you agree on a price with which you both can live. Then they start selling the extras. One of the first extras you will see offered is the UV Filter that screws on to the end of your lens. It has two purposes, (aside from increasing the retailer’s profit on the sale) to cut UV haze as advertised on the packaging and the second to protect your lens. Me, I’ve never had a problem with UV haze but I do need to protect the end of my lens.
I am a dropper. I am clumsy and my mind is often on the pursuit of creation rather than on the mechanics of gravity and grip. Since I was born-again digital, I have dropped many lenses. At least four times I have heard the sickening sound of shattering glass. So far, I have only broken filters.
Many of you may have seen my story on the set of mishaps which befell me in Costa Rica. I broke a filter there. I also broke one in Badlands during my tenure as Artist in Residence in the Spring of 2007. I also broke one on the North Shore in a predawn shooting orgy at Split Rock Lighthouse.
So far, I have had accidents with three different lenses, one of them being dropped twice. Some have been in the dark, some due to tripod malfunctions, some do to backpacks I thought were zipped but were not and some due to the carelessness of people passing me on the trail. In each case, the lens survived though the filter did not. For some reason, lenses like to land – Glass-Side-Down (just like Jelly Bread). The filter is a great crumple zone to absorb the impact and sometimes it will save you a lot of money.
I added up the cost of the lenses, had I been required to replace them and came to a figure of 3.259.00 at today’s B&H Pricing for the lens mishaps. Even though I am insured on my equipment against such incidents, I prefer to pay the 126.00 for the four filters it took me to recover from the incident. Of course, you must thoroughly inspect the lens sharpness, focus, and function before returning it to the shooting rotation.
There is, of course, a list of downsides to filter use.
- Filters reduce image quality slightly
- Filters enhance ghosting, flare and internal reflections
- Filters (on wide-angle lenses exaggerate vignetting)
- Filters add two surfaces to the mix which must be cleaned
- Filters cost money
If your technique is good and the conditions are rough, filters can save you lenses in the long run. They offer a buffer between your expensive glass and the blowing sand, the swirling mist and the other flying debris of shooting locations. You just need to remember to take them off when shooting the sun, moon, or bright lights or you will see ghost images.
Of course, the best practice is never to drop a lens, let the tripod blow over, anyone walk near you, etc. In 46 years, I have not learned to be that careful.
Rikk Flohr © 2008