Do Clear UV Filters Hurt Image Quality of Photos?

This article is a separate explanation for my testing of how UV filters negatively impact image quality, and is referenced in my article “13 Photography Myths Every Photographer Should Know.”

The Background on UV Filters

The UV filter is simply a clear filter placed on the front of a lens that is used to protect the lens from being damaged.  Filter manufacturers make wild claims about how UV filters cut through haze, but that has been proven false long ago.  Some photographers use UV filters because they cost much less than a new lens, so if the filter gets scratched, it can simply be replaced for a few dollars instead of necessitating the purchase of a new lens.

While it actually is not very expensive to replace the front element of a lens if a scratch occurs, most photographers still like the extra insurance of a UV filter on the lens.  Still, professional photographers usually stay away from UV filters because they fear that UV filters will reduce the sharpness of the lens and cause more lens flare.

I have personally been of the opinion that UV filters negatively impact image quality.  Therefore, I have never owned a UV filter, much less put one on my lenses.  However, I wanted to test this theory to see just how much damage a UV filter actually does to image quality.

To start my test, I had to purchase a UV filter.  I didn't even own one because I was always afraid that they would negatively impact the quality of my images.  I didn't just buy any UV filter.  I bought the cheapest junkiest one I could find.  I figured that if this junky filter didn't degrade the quality, then any UV filter would be fine.  But one UV filter wasn't enough.  Dustin Olsen, who now works with me on Improve Photography, also tested the belief with his UV filter using a different camera and different lens.

Sharpness Test With UV Filter

I do not see any difference in sharpness in the photo taken with the UV filter and the photo without the filter.

The first part of the testing was to determine if the UV filter negatively impacts the sharpness of the image.  My preferred way to test sharpness is to tape a newspaper to the wall and then take pictures of the newspaper with a camera locked down on a tripod.  The small lettering on the newspaper makes it easy to analyze the sharpness of the picture.

As you can see from the photo, I could not replicate any reduction in sharpness from using a UV filter on my lens.  In terms of sharpness, I could not see any difference at all in the amount of sharpness.

To ensure that I was not doing anything to impact the test, I put the camera on a sturdy tripod, used mirror lock-up, and wirelessly fire the camera so that my pressing the shutter button would not bump the camera and impact the sharpness.

Color Shift Test with UV Filter

Do you notice the very slight color cast on the white portions of the image taken with the UV filter? Click to enlarge.

The next step was to check for a color cast.  In my testing of the Zeikos filter, I was only able to see a very tiny color shift that was almost imperceptible.  I tried shooting subjects with various shades of white (using manual white balance of course) to see if I could find any color shift, and any color cast I found was so slight that it could be only in my head.

On the other hand, Dustin's test with a different brand of UV filter showed a fairly significant color cast.  The photos that he shot with the UV filter showed a noticeable yellow/brown color cast when compared with the photos in which no UV filter was used.

Lens Flare test with UV Filter

This test was extremely difficult to perform and I actually found it impossible to come to a firm conclusion on the subject.

The problem with the test is that filters necessarily sit about half an inch in front of the front element of the lens.  When I placed the camera on a tripod and then angled the camera away from a light source to see if there would be lens flare, I was unable to duplicate the effect of the shot with the UV filter because I had to move the camera in order to get the UV filter in the same position as the filter-less test.

Also, the front element of the lens sits further behind the shell of the lens, so some of the light that would otherwise touch it is blocked by the black sides of the lens.  This makes it seem like the front element has less lens flare when the fact is that some of the light is simply being blocked by the side of the lens since the front element is slightly recessed.

Having said that, it did seem to me that using the UV filter did in fact cause more lens flare than the photos taken without the UV filter on the lens.  While this evidence is more anecdotal than scientific, my results seem to comport with the experience of many other photographers.

When I tested the UV filter compared to no UV filter, I noticed a slight increase in the amount of lens flare, but this was impossible to test scientifically.


My test confirmed that UV filters definitely have a negative impact on image quality; however, I was surprised that the UV filters only caused very minor changes to the image.  The sharpness was not affected at all and the UV filter only made a tiny change to the color and lens flare.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that UV filters should be avoided where possible, but it really shouldn't be something for photographers to panic about.  Even the junkiest UV filters cause only a slight change in the image.  Also, UV filters can be handy when shooting in rough situations.  A UV filter can be useful when shooting near the ocean or at a waterfall where sea spray and water can get on your lens.  If you shoot in these situations with a UV filter, you could remove the filter half way through the shoot and have a clean lens without stopping to clean the lens. The same would hold true for shooting in very dirty or dusty environments.

25 thoughts on “Do Clear UV Filters Hurt Image Quality of Photos?”

  1. I’m of the belief that a UV filter actually improves image quality in some circumstances. When shooting in an environment with significant UV light (e.g. in direct sunlight), lenses aren’t optimized to bring the UV wavelengths to the same focal point as other colors. This unfocused light, invisible to the naked eye, can show up in the image, though, giving it a soft, hazy look. Did you do any tests in sunlight and how did the images compare?

  2. Hey there,

    I, being a retired pro-photo, have always subscribed to the following thinking … why spend upwards of say, $1000, on a lens, to get the finest. most accurate glass to shoot thru, and then stick a $10 filter in the mix. Believing that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, wouldn’t allow me to put a “brand X” filter in front of my Nikkor lenses. But as is the case with many highly technical things today, the making of glass has evolved as well. That said, there are UV haze filters and there are UV haze filters. I am under the impression that these tests were conducted using a cheap filter. Have you tested other filters to determine if there is one, made so well, as to not alter the final image visually at all ? If not …. why not ?

    Thanks in advance,


  3. I see a definite impact when using a UV filter with a reduction in sharpness, unquestionably in the following situation. Using a Canon 70-200 f2.8 shooting subjects at a distance of approximately 150-250 ft distance from the lens, surfers for example. The difference was substantial enough for me to remove it. I tried a Tiffen and B+W UV filter with the same results, loss of sharpness.

    1. Wow , I totally agree. What is interesting to me is that I noticed this using the same lens . In fact that is why I did this research. I had spent a good pile of change on a few B&W UV Clear lens and I shot birds I had shot many times in the past and most always had great crisp shots under normal circumstances. Then I bought and started using the B&W filter and it was awful. I thought it was a fluke and it happened a couple more times which prompted me to take it off. It was then back to what I was used to. I am open to possible user error but the shots were at about 60 to 75 feet on a stationary subject , a small chickadee perched on a birdhouse. I am afraid that I may have wasted $125. I have had my 70-200 2.8 lens for 5 years and have had no problems because I am very careful with it so suddenly to worry that i will suddenly ruin my lens without a filter I am afraid was probably over worrying.

      1. Funny, I have the same lens too, although I only recently purchased it, second hand.

        Its been soft since day one.. i put it down to technique, but I just removed the UV filter and bang – sharp images! As sharp as everyone bangs on about with the 70-200 2.8.

        If it wasn’t me (which it probably was) I thought I’d bought a dud lens!

        To say I’m relived is an understatement.

    2. I shoot Sony A77ii with Sony 70-400mm G2 SSM. I had a ghost image on every picture. I thought the problem was shutter speed. I tried tripods, shooting at 1/3000 or faster, every camera setting, etc. It looked like motion blur, so I never implicated the Tiffen UV filter… even exchanged lens. Turns out the first was running my images. It wasn’t cheap, either

  4. It really depends on what you are shooting mostly. I carry my camera everywhere–and 90% of my life (my job) I spend on dairy farms. And I am doing a lot of dairy photography–that difference in the quality is probably sooo slight that it doesn’t matter.
    And on a farm, I know that I can never be too careful. I am never careful enough. One time my camera fell out of my pickup truck as I opened the door, with my new zoom lens on it, and glass shattered…but it was only the uv filter! PHEW. I really was thankful I had put it on, because the impact was on the edge of the lens.
    It’s one of those rare moments, no matter how well you pack your camera. I had my camera sitting on my seat just for moment!

    But if I ever do a wedding shoot, or something a lot more serious and less crazy environment than a dairy farm, I would probably take the UV filter off.

  5. Michael Diegel

    I would agree with Ling. A UV filter that I had on a $2300 lens took the blow of an impact (fractured lens filter) and did no harm to the lens itself. Also would NOT buy the cheapest filter one could find. Your tests should have been with the best filter money could buy, a cheap filter, and compared to no filter under the same lighting and various lighting situations.

  6. I use a 14-24mm, 70-200mm, 35mm, and 50mm, and I have lens hoods for every lens. IMHO “protective” filters are a myth. I tried using ($150) UV filters, and I couldn’t see any benefit. If you want to protect your lens, get a lens hood and insurance and stop hamstringing your lens. I once dropped my 70-200 front-element side down and my lens hood shattered but the lens was completely unharmed. I’ve used this setup extensively for the last five years as a photojournalist and I’ve never broken a front element (I’ve broken other stuff!).

  7. I used to use a digital UV filter on my lens, but I was often not happy with the sharpness of a lot of my images. I was recommended to try the B+W Clear (not UV)filter instead. It made a huge difference in my images, and the lens flare was reduced significantly. It is also easier to clean and stays cleaner than my other filter. When compared to no filter I could not discern a difference with using the B+W clear filter.

    Taylor Jenkins

  8. Well I always complained mostly to myself. Why isn’t this sharp! Never suspecting the UV filters. I have always used them and achieved sharp close up shots but long range detail has been a problem. The grain is less of a problem than sharpness. I will be your test I suspect. I have three different UV filters. I will soon start shooting without them and replacing the UV like a lens cap I can shoot through. I have never had a scratched/dirty front element or fungus.

  9. I have a B+W UV filter – the XS-Pro MRC nano filter – and I have done numerous tests with extreme attention to detail on my iMac 5k and there is 0 difference with or without. It is cheap protection even at $100 for $2000 lenses…

  10. Great article! Good tests–I really like the first one with the newspaper. As with a few other commenters, I would like to see similar tests performed but with a quality filter. Pro-filter photography sites often recommend Hoya filters. Anybody have experience with those?

  11. Mr. Lucas Brice

    You used a crap filter for your comparison. A good filter would probably have yielded better results.

  12. “Oh, how do I prove to others MY opinion about something is the only one correct? I got an idea!!! I’ll do a crappy unscientific test”

    Just for the record, I don’t use uv filters, out of habit really. But “articles” like this, just make me feel sad of their authors.

    1. READ WHY HE BOUGHT THE CHEAPEST HE COULD FIND! “I didn’t just buy any UV filter. I bought the cheapest junkiest one I could find. I figured that if this junky filter didn’t degrade the quality, then any UV filter would be fine. But one UV filter wasn’t enough. Dustin Olsen, who now works with me on Improve Photography, also tested the belief with his UV filter using a different camera and different lens.”


  13. The end viewer of the photo will have idea of weather you used a filter or not, nor gives a shit, nor will take out his magnifying glass to inspect that closely. Most photos are looked at for 5 seconds at best. I say use a filter and protect your lens, as you are not handicapping it. This is little more than a CD vs Vinyl debate. 🙂

  14. I was a pro photographer for over 40 years. I generally used a uv filter and never noticed any degredation. I used lots of other filters, too, but the uv filters were primarily to protect the lens. I was often in harsh environments, especially during my years as an aerial photographer with aviation development testing. Lots of rotor blasts and dust/dirt coming from helicopter rotors, etc. The uv filters were sacrificial lambs, and they proved necessary on many occasions.

  15. jean pierre (pete) guaron

    LOL – this old chestnut is going to outlive all of us, Jim. For what it’s worth – which is probably nothing – with digital, the original purpose of a UV filter seems to be superseded by the technology. The original reason was to smarten up the colors in the image, but the digital process gets you there with no filter.

    The subsidiary reason of protecting the lens is still there, but you can get other “filters” like the new Sigma ceramic glass filters which have a lesser impact on image quality and a greater level of protection, if that’s the purpose of the “filter”. Stuck the inverted commas in, because those things aren’t really “filters”, in the first place.

    And if image quality is the benchmark for the shot, better not to have the extra glass – it can lead to reflections in the system, impacting on the photo, even if you can only see the difference by comparing two shots – with or without the filter.

    1. jean pierre (pete) guaron

      Which filter, Chris? – their performance varies a fair bit, and some that you might expect to be “better” aren’t, in fact. Have a look at this article:


      While that test was carried out about 7 years ago, it still makes a valid point. Some UV filters have very little effect on visible light, while a couple of them had quite a shocking impact (cutting transmission of visible light by over 10% !!)

      Jim mentioned in his article that his tests and Dustin’s produced a color cast – more noticeable on Dustin’s tests than Jim’s. Something on the news today, here, might offer at least a partial explanation of that phenomenon – and perhaps also why the results differed. A large number of “smoky grey window panels” has been rejected here, apparently, because they were meant to BE “smoky grey”, looking through them to the world outside – but when installed, they produced a yellowish color cast that was simply unacceptable. Lab testing might explain it better, but who’s going to bother going to that expense?

      Habit dies hard, and I’ve always used a UV filter for lens protection – and for controlling UV light. I no longer see the need for it, in relation to UV light – it doesn’t appear to be much of an issue with digital cams. So I’m now using Sigma’s ceramic protection “filters”, which have remarkably little effect on transmission of light (99.76% goes through – only 0.24% is blocked). I don’t mind that on “ordinary” shots, but if the photo is “special”, I remove the filter & replace it after the shoot.

  16. Christopher Ng ( Spider-Man )

    I found all your comments to be interesting, however just like many others I hope there it will be tested from the cheapest, mid & most expensive UV filter to see the results. Not forgetting also without filter, hope someone will ran the test soon.

  17. Have used uv and skylight filters for 50 years or so . Mainly to protect the front element of the lens. They seem to work okay with film but digital is another matter. I use Tamron and Canon lenses on my Slr I also use Fuji XS 1 HD30 and 50 bridge cameras. All of the digi cameras show a slight drop in sharpness with the filters attached mainly at the longest focal lengths not so bad at the shorter ends. I tend not to use them now and rely on the lens hoods for protection. I still have filters on the lenses I use with the elderly film cameras (Bronica S2a Contax 139 etc etc)


  18. All these comments and no mention of the main reason to pay more for a filter. The anti-reflective coating! It’s what keeps light from going where it shouldn’t. It is what helps keep the filter from ruining your images. Light can bounce off the front element, then to the filter, and then back onto your image sensor, adding things to your image that weren’t there. I use a B&W clear filter with the nano coating, and it protects my lens. It’s also 100 times easier to clean than the front element. Cleaning can also damage the coating on the front element. Now whether this damage is detectable in an image is another story (it probably isn’t but it will certainly affect its value).

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