After a fumble and a stumble and a crash, the first thing to break when your camera hits the rocks is its lens. Unless, that is, you’ve had the foresight to protect it in advance.
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We’ve even opened our luggage to find a cracked lens, despite what we’d assumed was a sufficient amount of clothes for safe padding. There’s a lesson here: as well as always carrying your photo gear in hand luggage, you can enjoy further peace of mind by fitting your lens with some sort of protective filter.
It's also a step further than relying on a lens hood for protection. These help prevent lens flare, but will not protect against sand and grit on a beach or in a desert, for example.
You can get clear protective filters with no other job, or you can opt for a two-in-one option such as a UV filter. In the days of film these were used blocking ultraviolet light and avoid blue color cast and haze problems in distant scenes. Digital sensors aren't sensitive to UV in the way that film is, so UV filters are mainly just used to protect the lens. They won't do any harm, and they may prevent expensive damage to the front element of the lens. It is a lot cheaper to replace a UV filter than it is to replace a scratched or cracked lens.
In the days of film cameras another alternative to UV filters was a skylight filter. The aim was similar – to deliver natural looking colors, avoid a blue tinge to shots and in some cases warm up a shot, thanks to the skylight filters’ orange, pink or magenta color. Again, in the digital age there is debate about whether a skylight filter is needed at all, or whether using one might actually be detrimental, as it may prevent the digital camera delivering a correct white balance. However, if you don't mind the slightly warmer look, a skylight filter can once again offer an extra layer of physical protection to the lens.
With the above in mind here are six of the best skylight filters, UV filters and protective filters we could find for photographers right now…
1. Hoya UV Digital HMC Screw-in Filter
Thread diameter range: From 37mm up to 95mm
We’ve picked this slim profile example because Hoya claims its Digital HMC filter range is optimized for use with digital SLRs, while also being suitable for use with 35mm SLRs, and perfect also for black and white photography.
Covering all bases then, this is a multi-purpose fine-weather filter available in a broad range of sizes from 37mm up to 95mm (incrementally increasing in price).
Although it is designed to block UV light, the manufacturer also advises that it’s safe to keep this filter on your lens at all times for added protection. Manufactured using heat-resistant tempered glass, the multi-coated surface is said to suppress ghosting, flare and reflections whilst increasing light transmission.
2. Hoya UV HD3 filter
Thread diameter range: From 49mm to 82mm
This top-of-range protective UV filter is aimed at users of the latest generation digital cameras boasting 50 megapixels and above – and with a bigger price tag to match.
More positively, as well as being one of the more recently released examples available, the ‘HD3’ has had a whopping 32 layers of anti reflective coating applied to its optical UV glass.
Hoya also says its ultra smooth nano coating is 800% harder than the previous generation HD2 series, thereby delivering a high level of lens protection and cleanliness. It has an anti-static top layer that is water repellent, stain and scratch resistant, while any smudges or fingerprints are easily wiped clean.
Yielding a 99.7% light transmission rate, the filter is said to have no adverse effect on colour balance, contrast or clarity, while a lifetime limited warranty introduces extra peace of mind.
3. Gobe UV Lens Filter
Thread diameter range: From 37mm to 95mm
Available on both sides of the Atlantic and claimed to be ideal for telephoto and professional lenses, Gobe may be a less familiar name to some. But this mid-priced UV filter which claims to cut out 99.8% of ultraviolet light, features premium German Schott B270 optical glass that purports to be able to achieve the sharpest images, while also reducing haze.
Naturally, its other key property is protecting the lens from water, dirt and scratches. Gobe claims its filters will have no effect on digital cameras’ exposure settings, so users can happily keep the filter on their lenses at all times.
As an added extra for the climate conscious among us, Gobe is promising to plant five trees for each of its products sold.
4. Hoya HMC Skylight 1B
Thread diameter range: From 46mm to 82mm
Another filter option available in a broad range of thread sizes, enabling photographers to increase light transmission and suppress reflections, while protecting precious and expensive lenses from dust, moisture and scratches.
Here we also get multi coating to help protect against lens flare and ghosting, whilst Hoya claims it can reduce the excessive bluish-ness that can occur in outdoor color photography – especially with a clear blue sky.
Whether or not this warrants consideration if you’re shooting with a digital camera – as opposed to film – is up for debate as we noted in our introduction, but at least here we have a ready-made and inexpensive disc with which to protect our expensive lenses with into the bargain.
5. Tiffen UV Protector filter
Thread diameter range: From 25mm to 86mm | Thickness: 2.5cm
An inexpensive general means of protecting your lens from filter stalwart Tiffen, this one comes with a ten-year-warranty and once again is designed to reduce the blu-ish cast of daylight, while helping to absorb ultraviolet light.
Tiffen adds that this filter, in particular, is useful if taking photographs at high altitude or around bodies of water. Another bonus is that since the filter features no additional colouration or contrast, this Tiffen option can be paired with other filters, if so desired.
An inexpensive option that many may consider good value because of it.
6. K&F Concept UV Filter Ultra Slim
Thread diameter range: From 37mm to 82mm | Thickness: 3mm
Japanese optical excellence yet affordability is one of the core pitches for this slimline protective UV filter.
Another claim is that the multi-coated filter allows for 99% transmittance compared with circa 90% transmittance of most UV filters on the market. Given the price of this one we’re not going to quibble, especially when the threaded front element of its aluminum frame conveniently allows for a lens cap to be fixed for another layer of protection still.
Naturally the multi-coated glass here prevents the harmful effect of UV rays and eliminates haze that can result in a blu-ish cast. Promising top-level light transmittance, optimum clarity and color fidelity with it, it does feel like you can’t go wrong with this one.
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