UV lens filter know-how: When to use one and why?

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All you need to know about using a UV lens filter on your camera.

An ultra violet (UV) lens filter is a must-have for many photographers, and it tends to be the first type of filter that newcomers to photography buy. But, when should you use a UV lens filter to reap its many benefits?

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Most photographers use a UV lens filter to protect their camera, especially if they have an expensive lens. UV lens filters prevent dust and dirt from coming into contact with the lens. Essentially, this protective cover shields the lens.

A UV lens filter acts to weatherproof your lens. So, if you shoot outdoors and in environments with large amounts of UV radiation, this filter will prove invaluable. The filter can block sand, grit or other particles in the air from getting near your lens. If rain or water droplets get on your lens filter, it’s easier to wipe these off your filter than your lens. This is especially so if your lens filter has a multi-resistant coating. A UV lens filter also offers protection in windy conditions. It acts as a buffer, keeping wind borne substances such as sea spray, grit or sand from going near your lens. Certainly, if you need to take photos in any kind of weather conditions, you’ll find a UV lens filter indispensable.

A lens filter with UV properties can also protect your camera from any accidental bumps, falls or scratches. This is especially relevant if you’re out and about with your camera, climbing up mountains, scrambling over rocks or shooting by the sea.

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If your camera is exposed to dirt, dust, mud, sand, grease, oil, fingerprints, water or snow, it’s easier and safer to clean these off your filter than your lens. This is because cleaning your lens increases the risk of it obtaining micro scratches and getting damaged.

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Should you need to replace your lens filter if it gets worn or damaged, it’s much cheaper to do this than to buy a new lens. In this respect, having a UV lens filter can help to increase the lifespan of your lens.

Gobe UV FilterIMAGE—Aleksandar Jason

The great thing about using a UV lens filter is that it is easy to use. You can also keep it on your camera at all times, giving you added peace of mind that your lens is protected. Keeping a UV lens filter on permanently won’t adversely affect the exposure settings, colouration or contrast, either. You can even stack other filters onto the UV lens filter if you want to get creative with your photography. Plus, if you’re interested in aerial photography, this filter can prove really handy.

Gobe UV FilterIMAGE—Jess Sheldon

Although UV lens filters are mainly used to protect the lens, they can also have a positive effect on the quality of your images. 

If you use an old-school film camera, a UV lens filter will block out UV light from the film. Modern digital cameras (typically post 2007) have an inbuilt sensor that automatically keeps UV light at bay. However, even photographers using modern cameras note that a UV filter can still often reduce haze and sharpen an image. It can also help to boost contrast on overcast days or shooting when shadows are present. Some photographers also report that a UV lens filter can occasionally reduce purple fringing when using certain lenses.

Some photographers argue that adding a UV lens filter can increase the prevalence of reflections, ghosting and flares to your images. However, this is very unlikely to happen if you use a good quality lens filter from a reputable supplier.

If you want to reap the most benefits from using a UV lens filter, choose one that is of a high quality and preferably comes with a protective multi-resistant coating, especially if you use your camera outdoors a lot. You can find different grades of UV lens filter protection, ranging from those that block out minimal UV radiation to those that absorb the majority of UV light.

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