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Tips for Better Pictures


Today's e-tip:

Do you use "Protection"
re-thinking the "Protection" filter

 
Do you use "protection"?
This is a topic that ruffles a lot of feathers with photographers! Here are my thoughts on this - this isn't a blog, but feel free to email me with your thoughts if you like.

You probably own at least one camera if you’re reading this. And, it’s likely that you own one or more lenses. Depending on your resources and devotion to the art, you may own some very expensive glass, you may just own the one "kit" lens that came with your camera, or you may own a camera that doesn't have an interchangeable lens.

Whether you own a lens that cost $100 or $10,000, I’m going to guess that you keep a filter on it at all times – you know, either a plain glass, "Skylight", "1A" or "UV" filter. The reason you do this, is probably to "protect" the lens. I’m also going to guess that it was sold to you by a salesperson telling you something like this: "It would be crazy not to put a $20 filter on your new expensive lens – better to risk breaking a $20 filter than your expensive lens!" (it’s the old IBM marketing strategy of "FUD" – putting Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in your mind to sell you something!). That $20 filter probably cost the store $2.00 – it’s a very high profit, low quality item - and one they try to sell every customer!

Filters can protect a lens from dust, and the inadvertant finger print, but have you ever seen where one of these protection filters has actually protected a lens from damage?

Well, my answer is, that in my almost 60 years of photography, I’ve never seen where a filter protected a lens. I used to use them, but haven’t for the past 20 years or so. And I’ve put my lenses thru some torturous conditions! I have sent my lenses out for repair on numerous occassions - from the tripod that tipped over to the lens that rolled off the roof of my car and hit the asphalt, etc., etc. Luckily, none of the optics in any of my lenses has ever been damaged. Of course, it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen to you (Murphys law does exist).

Interestingly, I don't think I've EVER seen anyone with a point-and-shoot camera that used one of these filters.


How do lenses get damaged?
Probably the most common damage to a lens, at least in my experience, is when something bangs the lens on the outside front rim – where the filter screws in. This type of damage usually doesn’t damage the glass of the lens, it just bends inward the outer-edge of the filter ring. This makes it impossible to put a filter on the lens, until it’s fixed – which is a relatively simple and inexpensive repair - and you can continue to take pictures with the lens, you just can't put a filter on it.

But, if a filter is installed on the lens, often the filter glass will crack, and sometimes shatter. Shards of the filter can scratch the front-element of the lens, plus, the filter can’t be removed, except by a repair facility. Again, the repair is fairly simple and inexpensive, but it’s not easily done by you. And that makes the lens completely unusable until repaired.


Here's why I don't use a "protection" filter
  • Unless you spend about $80 or more on a skylight, 1A or UV filter, than it’s not likely multicoated. A non-multicoated lens can significantly degrade your images. Multi-coating filters decrease the amount of light reflected away from the camera, thus more light reaches the sensor. Non-multi-coated filters also cause multiple reflections to occur between the lens and filter, thus causing reduced sharpness and artificial highlights in your images. Inexpensive filters can also contain a poorer-quality of glass, or glass that's too thick. This also degrades your images.

  • Filter cleanliness – I’m always amazed at how dirty filters can become. In our teaching and workshops, I’ve very rarely found that somebody’s filter didn’t need (sometimes a desperate need!) cleaning. Dirty filters can be one of the primary reasons for un-sharp images! You might think that lenses will get as dirty as filters do, but in my experience, that’s not the case.
This image shows how multicoating helps with reflections. The filter on the left is multicoated; the one on the right isn't.
(credit: blog.dnevnik.hr)
Filter Reflection



The effects of a dirty filter can significantly impact you images. Here's the center-portion of an image (of a tree) that was taken with a tripod-mounted camera. The image on the left was taken without a filter; the one on the right with a filter that had moderate fingerprint smudges on it. You can see the impact of a dirty filter!

This image shows tree bark - it's a small portion of the center portion of the image.
Filter Reflection


I only use a filter when needed. Polarizing filters, graduated Neutral Density (ND) filters and ND filters have their place. Lenses are designed to take their best images without a filter - adding a filter can always degrade an image, so I don't shoot with filters unless they serve a specific purpose.
 


The fallacy of the UV/Skylight Filter
In the old "film" days, the skylight and UV filter actually had a place in photography. Film recorded UV light, thus using a UV or Skylight filter, would filter out excessive bluishness. But digital sensors already have a UV and Infrared sensor, which filters out UV and Infrared light. If that wasn't enough, modern lenses also prohibit most UV from passing thru. Thus, there is no place in modern digital photography for a UV filter, unless, of course, it's just to "protect" the lens.


The question you have to ask yourself is:
"Am I willing to reduce the quality of my images to get whatever insurance I feel I'm getting from using a "protection" filter?"


If you do use a "protection" filter, you should:
  • Only use multi-coated filters from trusted manufacturers (some manufacturers have been known to indicate multi-coating, when none exists)

  • Become fastidious about cleaning your filters (and lenses)


Other eTips on filters are here:
    Achieving Image Sharpness - A "Solution"
    Do you own more than one lens for your DSLR?



Happy shooting!!
 

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