Wednesday, August 5, 2009

UV/Protective Filters in a digital age... useful or bunk!?!

So the other day I had some time on my hands while at Kerrisdale Cameras, and one of our coworkers, Doug, had gotten in some new UV filters for himself, and between what the store had in stock, and what Richard and I had in our bags... we figured it was a good time to test the differences between the different manufactures, to see if they did what they advertised.

Between us all, we had the, Hoya Pro1 Digital, Kenko Pro1 Digital, Kenko standard UV 0, Kenko ZETA, Tiffen Ultra Clear, Tiffen Standard UV 0, and the B+W MRC Clear; missing off of this list would be the Heliopan SH-PMC Digital (I have no idea who named that, but they need to be kicked in the junk) and the Tiffen HT Titanium's.

Most of these are the new designs, and most claim to be specially designed for digital cameras, to reduce the possibly of ghosting; only those that I have marked as 'standard' are not claiming this.

For those of you that have yet to see or know what a ghost is on a digital camera, here is a brief break down: Way back in the day, when shooting film, the emulsion side of film was a matte finish to it, but todays digital sensors are a high gloss shine to them; so light enters the front of the lens, hits the sensor and part of it bounces back at the UV filter and if the filter does not have the right anti reflective coatings on the back side of it, the light bounces back and causes a ghosting image of a light source. (i.e.: the sun, a window, a light bulb, a candle or any other point source of light in your frame)

Now yes... by simply taking off your UV filter will then eliminate most of the possibility of an image ghost showing up in your image; but it also leaves your lens subject to damage. The whole point of a UV/Protective filter, is that it protects your front element on your wonderful lens, which could range from between inexpensive to several thousand dollars. And speaking from experience, that little filter on the front of your lens, can save your ass when it comes right down to it.

I once put my camera bag down just a little too hard, and I heard a glass like shatter... I opened up the bag to find that the protective UV filter on my 80-200 F2.8 lens, all but shattered and a lot of glass powder... that $60 filter in front of my expensive lens, saved me a trip to Nikon to get the front element in my lens replaced, which let me tell you, would not have been as cheap to replace.

Every one of my lenses has a filter on it, mostly B+W, because that is what I was shown to be the best by one of my first bosses way back at Broadway Cameras, and by my parents who also used B+W as their main filters. So for me, it is the only logical choice, but I do own a couple others as test beds.

I was blown away by some of these results, which you can see here for yourself on my Flickr. Some of these filters specially designed to be used on Digital cameras did not perform as well as one would think, others did just as advertised. I am hoping to get my hands on the missing 2 filters and try them out too sometime in the near future.

So... the break down of the digital specific filters only:

  • Hoya Pro1 Digital & Kenko Pro1 Digital, I am going to lump them both together, as I am assuming that they are identical in almost every way (the boxes are the same, the logos are the same, and the samples on the website are the same) to which I might be assuming incorrectly but they hold too much in common including the fact that they are both owned by the same parent company. Both did very well, I saw little to no differance between them.

  • Kenko's latest and greatest the ZETA Protective filter also was a very good performer, but at a fair bit more cost than the Pro1 Digital series, not sure if the extra cost is worth it; but I plan on doing more testing with this one.

  • Tiffen Digital Ultra Clear... FRAK, this one blew me away with how badly it performed... being the filter of choice by us at the store to sell to people when they came in complaining of ghosting with their old UV filter. I tested this one myself and even have a couple, but was never totally happy with the quality. Now with a side by side test of all these filters, I now know why I was unhappy with the results. (see image at top of post)

  • B+W MRC Clear, in my mind was the clear winner, but at a hefty price jump from the almost just as good Hoya/Kenko Pro1 Digital series. So if you want the best, and do not care how much you pay for it, then B+W is the filter for you.


The best bang for your buck here with good quality in build, final image quality and a reduction in the chance of image ghosting, Hoya/Kenko Pro1 Digital's are the filter to go with, hands down. Both are within a few dollars of one another, and the Kenko ones are started to be stocked by Kerrisdale Cameras and all your other favorite retailers.

Until next time...

Good shooting



Joseph said...

Nice test! I nearly bought a tiny 37mm Tiffen today for my E-P1 but fortunately read some reviews and went Hoya instead. I usually don't use filters at all – I rely on the lens shade and virtually always shoot with the shade on. It can be a hard decision when you can buy "the same thing" for anywhere from $10 to $80. But there you go…

Tri-City Photography Club said...

Yes, it is not an easy task to figure out which is best to buy; this is why I wanted to do this test to help others make up their mind on which to get.

Tim Roganjavascript:void(0) said...

I've been listening to many pros on podcasts lately. They are pretty much unanimous in saying they never use a UV filter and that all of these filters degrade the picture at least very slightly. They don't even use the Nikon brand UV or Clear filters. They also point out that if you use a lens hood it proves as much protection if you drop your lens. And finally that the front element of a lens is generally the cheapest thing to replace on a lens. More expensive than a filter? Yes. Worth having 100% of your photos slightly degraded? No. I've just removed all mine and have some nice Nikon filters for sale.

Tri-City Photography Club said...

I've never been a big user of the Nikon L37 filters... I have always used B+W myself.

And the one time I did break a filter, the lens was in the bag and the hood turned around so it would fit in the bag.

I've never noticed any degradation to my images except for the ghosting, and a large chunk of my income is from wedding photography; so by definition, I am a professional photographer.


Joseph said...


My HOYA filter came today—and it's completely rubbish. I just posted a blog post of my own, referencing yours and running your test on this little filter. Thanks again for the education. Always something to learn!

Nick said...

I stick exclusivly with Hoya Pro1 Digital Clear protective filters. I don't really see a need for the UV protection. So far (2+ years) they have been great performers ...

Anonymous said...

I've been using filters for 5+ years & am slowly noticing the benefits of B+W/other top end filters over the really cheap ones. Images do appear sharper with less ghosting or light “noise”.

Why I use them; for me it’s the aforementioned protection but also the ease of cleaning. I've found the filters easy and stress free to clean. When we were in Africa last year this was critical, with the dusty environs. I've found another nice time to have easy cleaning is when there is salt water around (coastal/beach photography).

Degradation or lack of it; with my B+W filters I've never noticed image degradation. Maybe if I looked really closely. From experience I’ve noticed that if/when I choose to bump up sharpening in Lightroom, post processing that I do it just as much with images shot with my 50mm 1.4 @ F/8 *without a filter* as I do with my 24-105 F/4 L at @ F/10 *with a filter*. You could argue the “L” or lack thereof is why, or that the 50mm is “a bit soft” - but the 50mm is crisp @ F/8.

Indoor vs. Out: It would be interesting to know the difference between studio and outdoor/journalistic photography and the filter impact. I could see the former being more so - in the controlled environment. And if that is the case the filter can be easily removed. I tell myself the real world is dusty, dirty and imperfect as it is so a clean, relatively expensive piece of glass in front of a bunch of others (the lens elements) isn't a big deal and its worth any nominal impact for protection and cleaning.

I guess the debate rages on :-)

Note: Canon's L series weather sealing *requires* a filter to completely seal.

my shots to "prove it" :) on my site @