So you just got a brand new lens and you’re stoked to get out and shoot with it. But wait! You know it’s wise to keep your lens protected at all times with a UV filter! So you just get whatever cheapest filter you can find and throw it on, right?

Well, not so fast.

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Many people who are on a budget forget something very important: Your image quality will only be as good as the lowest quality glass between the camera’s sensor and your subject. So let’s say you’ve dropped the money on a nice entry-level Rokinon cinema prime. Not the nicest glass in the world, but the images it can capture are certainly rewarding. Now let’s say you do a quick search for “cheap UV filter” and buy something for ten bucks. As soon as you screw that filter onto the front of your cinema prime, you’re putting $10 glass between your subject and the sensor. This means your image is going to be softer, colors will change, you’ll see ghosting from light sources, and you may even see flaws in the glass.

Cheaper filters are more reflective, increasing glare and haze. Left: Tiffen UV Filter Right: Hoya UV(C) Filter

Cheaper filters are more reflective, increasing glare and haze.
Left: Tiffen UV Filter / Right: Hoya UV(C) Filter

Yikes. So what makes the difference between a low-quality UV filter and a high-quality one?

  • Glass Quality
    • Simply put, there is cheaper glass and more expensive glass. More expensive glass will be purer and stronger. This means your image will stay just as sharp and your filter won’t break as easily. Cheaper glass is also more likely to have flaws that can show up in your image.
  • Coating
    • Quality filters have multi-coating, which reflects glare and gives it a purple or green tint. Left: Tiffen UV Filter Right: Hoya UV(C) Filter

      Quality filters have multi-coating, which reduces glare and gives it a purple or green tint.
      Left: Using Tiffen UV Filter / Right: Using Hoya UV(C) Filter

      This is arguably the most important part of a UV filter once you get past the super-cheap options. The UV coating is designed to protect your camera’s sensor from ultraviolet light, and reduce glare and fogging. The problem that many people run into is that cheap filters more glare than they prevent, and introduce something called “ghosting.” Ghosting happens when light reflects between your lens and the back of your filter and shows up as an ugly “ghost” version of the light source. This is prevented by a quality multi-coating which significantly reduces the reflectiveness of the filter. Unfortunately, even the highest quality UV filters will have some minor glare in the worst of conditions, but choosing a quality filter over a cheap one will reduce glare and ghosting in probably 90% of situations.

  • Quality-Control
    • In the case of cheap filters, you get what you pay for. And about half the time, you get even less than what you pay for. I’ve seen friends get “brand new” cheap filters only to find them scuffed or flawed upon arrival. With the top brands, you know you’re going to get a quality product on the first try. That means you can get out there and start shooting with your new lens without having to wait on a replacement filter!
  • Frame Quality
    • The nightmare situation with cheap screw-on filters is having the cheap metal threads lock up and stick to your beloved lens for eternity. Save yourself the trouble and spend a little more on a filter that’s constructed to last.
The higher the quality of the filter's coating, the less ghosting will occur from bright light sources. Left: Tiffen UV Filter / Right: Hoya UV(C) Filter

The higher the quality of the filter’s coating, the less ghosting will occur from bright light sources.
Left: Tiffen UV Filter / Right: Hoya UV(C) Filter

To help you guys out in choosing the right UV filter for you, here’s a list I’ve compiled of some major filter brands and the reputation of their screw-on UV filters. (Please note: this is based on my personal experience and/or widely-known reputation. Results may vary, but use this as a general guide.)

  • Tiffen – Tiffen does a lot of things right, but unfortunately their screw-on UV filters are not up to par with a lot of their other glass. It may be passable for entry-level work, but the coating leaves much to be desired and allows a lot of ghosting and reflections.
  • Sigma – Sigma’s UV filters are pretty good quality. Their multi-coating isn’t the best I’ve seen, but it gets a lot of the reflections out of the way. I would probably recommend these filters to first-timers or those on a strict budget.
  • Hoya – Hoya filters start to get a little expensive, but remember it’s important glass. Hoya’s multi-coating is among the best you can buy, and their UV filters will satisfy in all but the most demanding of situations. This is what I recommend to anyone who wants high quality while still maintaining a budget.
  • B+W – B+W filters are done by Schneider optics, which means they’re extremely high quality… but also high priced. These are truly excellent filters that many professionals use. They’ll last a long time and give you as little reflections as a UV filter can. However, the high price point makes them impractical for many indie-level users.

What UV filters do you guys use? Have you run into a lot of situations where glare, reflections, haze, or imperfections from a cheap filter have ruined a shot? Let us know in the comments!

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The Importance of Quality Filters

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