Front Element Lens Protection Revisited

Roger Cicala from Lens Rentals released an excellent blog post about UV Filters and if it’s worth picking one up for your lens.

Here is an excerpt about the cost benefit depending on your lens:

But you might get a little queasy when you find out a Nikon 24-120mm lens that costs from $900 to $1100 new (they go on sale a lot) costs $320 to replace the front element. If you own a Zeiss Otus lens, you probably have reasonable funds in your bank account, but you may still have sticker shock if you need a front element replaced; it will cost $900 to $1,500. Some Sony FE lenses require replacement of the entire optical group ($800 to $1,500) to replace a front element scratch because the front element isn’t available as a part; the entire optical assembly is the only part. (Sony is working on separating the front element part to reduce this cost. They’ve already done so on the FE 24-70mm f/4; now a front element replacement is only $270. They say they are doing so with most of their other lenses, too, but right now an FE 16-35 f/4 front glass replacement is $785, for example. We have bins full of Sony lenses that just aren’t worth the cost of front element replacements, hoping that some day the price will become reasonable.)

Basically if your UV Filter cost just as much as a new front element, then it might not be worth buying a good UV Filter.

He also goes in depth about buying a quality UV Filter:

How Much Does A Filter Impact Image?

Well, if you buy a $30 filter, then it can impact the image a lot. Waviness in the thickness of glass, poor coatings, poor quality glass, even shiny metal in the mounting ring can cause problems. If you choose to buy a cheap filter, you’ll probably see effects if you look critically; although it won’t be in every shot. You may see some effect on absolute sharpness, but you’re far more likely to see effects from light flare, ugly bokeh, ghosting, and reflections.

A high-quality filter is made from good optical glass, flat to within 1/4 wavelength, and multicoated on BOTH SIDES. It’s expensive, but it doesn’t have much effect on image quality at all. (When you do your filter shopping, make sure the filter is coated on both sides; some cheap filter makers multicoat one side only, then advertise it as multicoated). A good filter should avoid most (not all, but almost all) effects regarding ghosting, flare, and reflection. It shouldn’t affect sharpness even at the highest level of measurement.

Here’s an example of a Canon 50mm f/1.2 lens tested on our optical bench to demonstrate there’s no sharpness penalty with an excellent filter. First the lens with no filter at all.


And then tested with a high-quality UV filter in place.


There are no effects on MTF from the filter, either on or off axis. This doesn’t mean there might not be a bit of ghosting if you’re shooting street lights at night or star trails, etc. But it won’t be often, and you can always remove the filter if you notice that happening in a particular shot.

I’m personally a big fan of both B+W MRC UV Filters and any of the Hoya HD filters since they both transmit approximately 99.9% of light, but they’re not cheap either. Think of these excellent UV Filters as an investment to protect your BIG investment, like that expensive ZEISS glass.


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