The best protection filters don't need to do anything at all except take the bangs, knocks, and scratches that might otherwise wreck a very expensive lens!
Simply put, they're one of the most affordable ways to give your lens an extra layer of protection from damage. Lenses are precious, fragile, and often expensive – and if something has to get cracked against the ground, wouldn't you rather it was a $20 filter than the front element of a $1000 lens? Yep. We thought so.
Protective filters can serve other purposes too. Some are simply clear pieces of glass that have no other function, but you can also get a UV filter, which is designed to block out unwanted ultraviolet light to reduce the level of haze in an image. This is something of a holdover from the days of film, and is considerably less necessary when using digital sensors, but can still come in handy and certainly doesn't hurt.
You can also consider using one of the best polarizing filters as a protective filter, though this will cost more than a clear or UV filter. Another alternative is a skylight filter; these also date back to the film era and were originally used to warm up images with a pink, orange, or magenta color cast, to prevent them from coming out too blue. Significantly less necessary in the era of custom white balance and RAW format, skylight filters now also make great protective filters.
A lens protection filter is a far better option than just using a lens hood. The front element is a hugely important component, and if you're shooting out in rough conditions, grit and dirt can easily scratch it.
One of the best protection filters is far better than shoving on a lens hood and hoping for the best – or leaving your glass naked. While lens hoods do provide a level of protection, it's still easy for sand or grit to scratch the front element. However, the best protection filters will prevent small, troublesome particles from reaching the glass.
No matter what variety you'd like to invest in, you can discover the best protection filters, UV filters, and skylight filters below…
Best protection filters: our top picks
Works brilliantly well for protecting the front element of expensive lenses without degrading image quality.
Best on a budget
Japanese optical glass at a really affordable price is the core pitch of this slimline protective UV filter.
Best for environment
Best for the environment
Urth sets out to offset the environmental impact of manufacturing its filters by planting five trees for every one made.
The best protection filters
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Thanks to the advanced, multiple coatings applied to most modern lenses for digital cameras, the chances are that you generally won’t see any real improvement in color quality or a reduction in haze by using this UV filter. In fact, a UV filter can often actually degrade image quality in some situations. For example, additional ghosting and flare can be caused when shooting against bright lights in a scene. In this respect, the Hoya performs brilliantly well, its high-tech anti-reflective coatings on both sides of the glass really earning their keep. Better still, it’s made from super-strong optical glass with no less than 32 layers of nano-structure coatings. It also works brilliantly well for protecting the front element of expensive lenses without degrading in image quality.
Read our Hoya HD nano Mk II UV review
Japanese optical glass at a really affordable price are the key attractions of 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 bluish 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.
We've been using one on the standard lens of one of our Sony mirrorless cameras for a while - and have been very happy with the protection it has offered, and are amazed by the price.
While UV filters can be thought of as cheap, disposable things (see our next entry for an instance thereof), one new company is choosing to think of them more sustainably. Urth is a company that makes a variety of premium, high-grade filters, and its protective UV filter is a great choice for those who want the UV component of the filter as much as the protective aspect of it.
The Urth UV Filter Plus+ is a premium product, capable of cutting out up to 99.6% of ultraviolet light. Its German B270 SCHOTT glass is protected by 30 layers of nano-coating, meaning it's easy to clean and is well protected against water, dirt, oil, and other smudges, while also providing top-notch light transmission. The size range from 37mm to 127mm filter thread also means you're all but guaranteed to find a size that fits your lens.
Urth also plants trees for every purchase of its filters, giving your choice a real impact. Though all this does mean these cost more than a lot of other options out there.
Part of Amazon's "AmazonBasics" range, this UV protective filter will suit everyone who doesn't mind using a bit of kit with "Basics" written on it in bright white letters. It's no frills and nothing special, lacking the aluminum frame of the K&F Concept filter, or the sophisticated coatings of the Hoya UV HD3 filter further down this list, but it's cheap and it works.
The thread range only goes down to 52mm, while others on this list go down to 37mm, so make sure to double-check your lens before hitting the "Buy" button, but otherwise, you're good to go here.
K&F manufactures a range of different UV filters, and the Nano-X is one its premium options - costing roughly twice that of the the budget Nanon-K filter (see above). So the big question is why would you pay more? Both use Japanese optical glass and have an aluminium frame. The secret is that Nano-X offers an 28-layer multicoating - whereas the Nano-K has just 18 layers - so has some optical superiority. Most importantly, the extra manufacturing steps mean that this model can boast that it is scratch resistant. Nonetheless, this is still a pretty affordable options (when compared to the price of a lens), and is available in an impressive range of sizes - right up to 112mm.
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 blue-ish cast of daylight, while helping to absorb ultraviolet light.
Tiffen adds that this filter, in particular, is useful if taking photographs at high altitudes or around bodies of water. Another bonus is that since the filter features no additional coloration 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.
Another filter option is 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.
This top-of-range protective UV filter is aimed at users of the latest-generation digital cameras boasting high megapixel counts – 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 it's 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 color balance, contrast, or clarity, while a lifetime limited warranty introduces extra peace of mind.
B+W makes two different protection filters in its T-Pro range - a Clear version, that it is optically neutral, and a UV-Haze option that can help you improve the clarity of some landscape images, by removing the blue cast on the horizon. The filters are made from brass and with Schott glass, promising great performance in the field. This is an established line of filters - and has an impressive range of sizes on offer, so can be a particularly useful option for XS and XXL filter mounts.
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