Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.

Started 4 months ago | Discussions
JohnFrim
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Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
4 months ago

I know this debate has gone on forever and will not likely end any time soon. My intent here is not to rekindle such discussion, but rather to show that a cheap filter may not be a good idea.

I have always believed in using a protective filter for all those good reasons (prevent accidental damage, frequent cleaning, etc) AND because I believed that a (good quality) filter will not degrade an image. Further, when you see Kurt Munger's Dirty Lens article you kind of think that anything really close to the lens probably does not affect the image quality a great deal. Finally, we have all taken photos through dirty windows, and we know that holding the camera close to the window greatly reduces the effects of the window dirt.

I have a few Minolta lenses from my Maxxum days, so I pulled out my 75-300 mm Big Beer Can the other day to shoot some wildlife on my A57. The lens has not been used for many years, but I have always taken good care of my equipment and the lens looks like new. The filter on the front is an Optex 55 mm HAZE(UV) and it did not appear "overly" filthy, but it did appear to have a film of sorts.

I was VERY disappointed with what I was seeing on the LCD display when I magnified the images. Thinking it was perhaps just poor focus I took several shots, but they all looked bad. I did not have my tripod along, but I decided to shoot a few photos of a distant scene with the lens sitting quite solidly on my thighs while sitting on a bench. Shutter speeds were reasonably high to stop motion blur on Day 1, and very high (with elevated ISO) on Day 2.

The first two photos below are with the dirty filter.

Day 1, dirty filter.

Day 1, dirty filter.

The next image below is with the filter removed and is noticeably sharper.

Day 1, no filter.

I went home that day and cleaned the filter several times with lens cleaning fluid and a microfiber cloth. It actually took several fairly aggressive attempts to get the film off both surfaces of the filter, as seen by angling it against the light. It finally looked pristinely clean.

A few days later I returned to the same spot and took photos with and without the filter.

Day 2, clean filter.

Day 2, no filter.

I don't think anyone would argue that the images with NO FILTER are definitely sharper. In fact, there is not a great deal of difference between the dirty and clean filter shots. Some might even say the clean filter photo is actually not as sharp as some of the dirty filter photos, so maybe there was a slight focus error. Let me just say that I took several additional photos at closer range using manual focus with magnified view to get good focus and the results are basically the same: this cheap filter really causes problems.

I still have a few other older Minolta lenses to play with, all with older and cheaper filters than what I have on my Sony lenses. I am going to compare with and without both cheap and expensive filters, but right now I am convinced that cheap protective filters might not be a good idea.

JF

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DistantView
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to JohnFrim, 4 months ago

Normally I have a filter on my lenses mainly to protect them but also a bit of a left over from using Ectachrome slide film in the old days which always needed an 81A filter to take out the blue cast !

However I had exactly the same experience as you with a Big Beercan I bought with a filter on. I found it to be a rubbish lens,especially over 180/200mm UNTIL I took the filter off, what a great lens it became - I really couldn't believe the difference.

I've never found this with any other lens so maybe it's just a BBC 'thing' .

Hope this helps someone !

Best wishes

RT

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busch
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to JohnFrim, 4 months ago

After many years of using filters I finally did some tests and came to the conclusion that one needs to test each filter with the lens it will be used with regardless of the filter quality (I have always tried to get the best available). Generally, I have found little IQ degradation but a couple of them definately made things quite a bit worse. I now rarely use a filter but always use the proper lens hood.

BTW, I always use the Zeiss cleaning kit when I clean a lens and I do not clean unless necessary.

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Michel J
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to JohnFrim, 4 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Yes, it's necessary to make tests like this to make an assessment of our gear.

I had a strange experience with the same generation of lenses as Beercan (as DistantView wrote above, but not the same way).

As I calibrated the AFM, I did some tests with the Minolta SH AF 28-135mm F/4-4,5 with two copies of this lens. I had sharper images without filter with the first one, while it was surprisingly a tad sharper with a legacy UV Minolta filter with the second.

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Nordstjernen
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to busch, 4 months ago

busch wrote:

I now rarely use a filter but always use the proper lens hood.

My take too, after testing UV filters after I got my first DSLR (KM7). Such a filter also produces a lot of ghosting at night.

Now I use high quality ND filters and pola filter only when needed, and no other filters.

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William Curtindale
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to Michel J, 4 months ago

I guess I'm an old stuck in the mud and will never get out of that mode.

When I order a new $2000 lens I always add a T* filter to the order and install it when the lens is received.

I am fortunate to enough to have all high quality lenses that suite my photographic needs and I have a T* filter on each.

I have used T* filters on all my lenses way back from the days when Hasselblad introduced T* coatings.  At that time I did a research project to analyze the capability and affect of T* coatings.  If I remember correctly, the T* coating thickness was equal to one third the length of green light wave length and would greatly reduce refraction / reflections inside the lens.  The signal of light passing through T* coatings would cancel unwanted characteristics and retain contrast.

I know modern lenses have coatings to handle these things but I am still stuck on using a T* filter (maybe too bad for me but that's it).

Oh, yes I have had an occasion where the filter has saved the front lens element.

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Ed at Ridersite
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to JohnFrim, 4 months ago

Nice examples John.

I don't use filters when shooting, but do use hoods except on my 28-135mm f4-4.5 (no usable hoods available).  My BBC has a Minolta 1-A filter which was on the lens when I purchased it used.  It doesn't degrade much, but does have an effect.

I put filters on when storing my lenses since the hood is generally reversed.  Even with a cap, a filter adds an additional layer of protection.

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Michel J
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to William Curtindale, 4 months ago

William Curtindale wrote:

I guess I'm an old stuck in the mud and will never get out of that mode.

When I order a new $2000 lens I always add a T* filter to the order and install it when the lens is received.

I am fortunate to enough to have all high quality lenses that suite my photographic needs and I have a T* filter on each.

I have used T* filters on all my lenses way back from the days when Hasselblad introduced T* coatings. At that time I did a research project to analyze the capability and affect of T* coatings.

If I remember correctly, the T* coating thickness was equal to one third the length of green light wave length and would greatly reduce refraction / reflections inside the lens. The signal of light passing through T* coatings would cancel unwanted characteristics and retain contrast.

Hi William,

If yes, it should be easy to check if it's true, by mounting a nano coatings CZ T* filter dedicated to digital photography especially on a Beercan, SH or other Minolta goldies (which don't received coatings required by the digital era) and checking if you can get any improvement...? Especially if it can reduce the typical colour cast (visible depending of the incidence of the light) and/or this cottony rendering of eighties lenses (if you know what I mean).

But maybe you (or someone else) already tried this?

I know modern lenses have coatings to handle these things but I am still stuck on using a T* filter (maybe too bad for me but that's it).

Oh, yes I have had an occasion where the filter has saved the front lens element.

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William Curtindale
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to Michel J, 4 months ago

Some links about T* coatings (a high quality filter will have multi-coating):

http://www.pebbleplace.com/Personal/Contax_db_Coatings.html

http://www.zeiss.com/sports-optics/en_de/hunting/experience/competences/lens-coating.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtmQgoOZ3cw

Michel J wrote:

William Curtindale wrote:

I guess I'm an old stuck in the mud and will never get out of that mode.

When I order a new $2000 lens I always add a T* filter to the order and install it when the lens is received.

I am fortunate to enough to have all high quality lenses that suite my photographic needs and I have a T* filter on each.

I have used T* filters on all my lenses way back from the days when Hasselblad introduced T* coatings. At that time I did a research project to analyze the capability and affect of T* coatings.

If I remember correctly, the T* coating thickness was equal to one third the length of green light wave length and would greatly reduce refraction / reflections inside the lens. The signal of light passing through T* coatings would cancel unwanted characteristics and retain contrast.

Hi William,

If yes, it should be easy to check if it's true, by mounting a nano coatings CZ T* filter dedicated to digital photography especially on a Beercan, SH or other Minolta goldies (which don't received coatings required by the digital era) and checking if you can get any improvement...? Especially if it can reduce the typical colour cast (visible depending of the incidence of the light) and/or this cottony rendering of eighties lenses (if you know what I mean).

But maybe you (or someone else) already tried this?

I know modern lenses have coatings to handle these things but I am still stuck on using a T* filter (maybe too bad for me but that's it).

Oh, yes I have had an occasion where the filter has saved the front lens element.

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Michel J
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cplunk
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to JohnFrim, 4 months ago

Looking at BH photo's website, it looks like a "high quality" UV / clear multi coated filter, 55mm is likely going to run $35 or up.

To protect a lens that's replaceable from multiple sources for around $120.

Those economics don't make a lot of sense to me. I'm also pretty sure the front of that lens is A LOT tougher than most of these filters, and that many drops cracking filters might do absolutely no damage to the lens.  I have at least one lens with a seriously bent filter ring (Minolta 85mm, the oldest original A mount 85mm) that I bought that way. I can only image what caused the damage, but I can't beleive a filter would have lived, the lens is fine, except for the bent ring that can no longer attach a filter. I seen similar on several lenses.

(most of my lenses are replaceable for under $300, I only use filters on a select few that don't fit hoods well, like the Minolta 28-135 f4-4.5 But even then, I don't use the lens much outside where I feel it's at risk and needs "protection" because I'd also be more worried about flare)

On much more expensive lenses, it makes more economic sense to spend the price for a good filter to protect that expensive lens. Of course, you spent all that much for the best possible image quality, and the filter ads potential for degrading that.

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tqlla
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to cplunk, 4 months ago

cplunk wrote:

Looking at BH photo's website, it looks like a "high quality" UV / clear multi coated filter, 55mm is likely going to run $35 or up.

To protect a lens that's replaceable from multiple sources for around $120.

Those economics don't make a lot of sense to me. I'm also pretty sure the front of that lens is A LOT tougher than most of these filters, and that many drops cracking filters might do absolutely no damage to the lens. I have at least one lens with a seriously bent filter ring (Minolta 85mm, the oldest original A mount 85mm) that I bought that way. I can only image what caused the damage, but I can't beleive a filter would have lived, the lens is fine, except for the bent ring that can no longer attach a filter. I seen similar on several lenses.

(most of my lenses are replaceable for under $300, I only use filters on a select few that don't fit hoods well, like the Minolta 28-135 f4-4.5 But even then, I don't use the lens much outside where I feel it's at risk and needs "protection" because I'd also be more worried about flare)

On much more expensive lenses, it makes more economic sense to spend the price for a good filter to protect that expensive lens. Of course, you spent all that much for the best possible image quality, and the filter ads potential for degrading that.

Of course the original lens elements are stronger than a filter, but if they get damaged, they are not replaceable.

Also you have to realize that the BBC is 30 years old.  Cleaning it, too much could rub off the original coatings. I have had 2 28-85mm, where the lens coatings wore off.

Finally, if you have a good copy of an old lens, its worth protecting, because a replacement 30 year old lens may not be as good.

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Allan Olesen
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to William Curtindale, 4 months ago

William Curtindale wrote:

Oh, yes I have had an occasion where the filter has saved the front lens element.

How do you know? Did you afterwards remove the filter to repeat the accident without a filter?

Or did you just see the filter glass shatter and jump to the conclusion that the shattering of the filter glass somehow had protected the lens?

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Ed at Ridersite
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to Allan Olesen, 4 months ago

Allan Olesen wrote:

William Curtindale wrote:

Oh, yes I have had an occasion where the filter has saved the front lens element.

How do you know? Did you afterwards remove the filter to repeat the accident without a filter?

Or did you just see the filter glass shatter and jump to the conclusion that the shattering of the filter glass somehow had protected the lens?

So, Allan, do you use filters or not?

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Allan Olesen
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to Ed at Ridersite, 4 months ago

Ed at Ridersite wrote:

Allan Olesen wrote:

William Curtindale wrote:

Oh, yes I have had an occasion where the filter has saved the front lens element.

How do you know? Did you afterwards remove the filter to repeat the accident without a filter?

Or did you just see the filter glass shatter and jump to the conclusion that the shattering of the filter glass somehow had protected the lens?

So, Allan, do you use filters or not?

Is discussion of my actions more relevant than discussion of filters?

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NAwlins Contrarian
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to JohnFrim, 4 months ago

re: "The filter on the front is an Optex 55 mm HAZE(UV) and it did not appear "overly" filthy, but it did appear to have a film of sorts."

Let's see: cheap / no-name filter, film on it, somewhat dirty--any surprise it degrades image quality?

On sufficiently-expensive lenses, I usually (not always) use a protective filter, but I always get a good one. Generally I find that the better Hoya filters are multi-coated, well-made, and relatively reasonably-priced, so I get a filter from their "Pro 1" line or similar. Right now B&H has a clear one in 55mm for $16.95. When you get to, say, a 77mm protective filter you might have to spend $50 for a good one.

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Michel J
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to tqlla, 4 months ago

tqlla wrote:

cplunk wrote:

Looking at BH photo's website, it looks like a "high quality" UV / clear multi coated filter, 55mm is likely going to run $35 or up.

To protect a lens that's replaceable from multiple sources for around $120.

Those economics don't make a lot of sense to me. I'm also pretty sure the front of that lens is A LOT tougher than most of these filters, and that many drops cracking filters might do absolutely no damage to the lens. I have at least one lens with a seriously bent filter ring (Minolta 85mm, the oldest original A mount 85mm) that I bought that way. I can only image what caused the damage, but I can't beleive a filter would have lived, the lens is fine, except for the bent ring that can no longer attach a filter. I seen similar on several lenses.

(most of my lenses are replaceable for under $300, I only use filters on a select few that don't fit hoods well, like the Minolta 28-135 f4-4.5 But even then, I don't use the lens much outside where I feel it's at risk and needs "protection" because I'd also be more worried about flare)

On much more expensive lenses, it makes more economic sense to spend the price for a good filter to protect that expensive lens. Of course, you spent all that much for the best possible image quality, and the filter ads potential for degrading that.

Of course the original lens elements are stronger than a filter, but if they get damaged, they are not replaceable.

Also you have to realize that the BBC is 30 years old. Cleaning it, too much could rub off the original coatings. I have had 2 28-85mm, where the lens coatings wore off.

Finally, if you have a good copy of an old lens, its worth protecting, because a replacement 30 year old lens may not be as good.

All the question here, is to know if a brand new filter, with nano-multicoating (dedicated for the digital era), is able to make a significant "upgrade" of your old zoom by filtering light significantly better (to avoid this sort of colour cast provided by film lens coatings mounted with high pixel rate sensors). If not, no matter the quality of your zoom copy should be (BBC, BC, SH) images will continue to have it's typical "cottony" rendering of eighties zoom, imho.

Here the Minolta prime AF 100mm F/2,8 macro (not significantly cottony)

Here the SH zoom Minolta 28-135mm F/4-4,5 ("cottony" if you look at the background)

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JohnFrim
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to NAwlins Contrarian, 4 months ago

NAwlins Contrarian wrote:

re: "The filter on the front is an Optex 55 mm HAZE(UV) and it did not appear "overly" filthy, but it did appear to have a film of sorts."

Let's see: cheap / no-name filter, film on it, somewhat dirty--any surprise it degrades image quality?

On sufficiently-expensive lenses, I usually (not always) use a protective filter, but I always get a good one. Generally I find that the better Hoya filters are multi-coated, well-made, and relatively reasonably-priced, so I get a filter from their "Pro 1" line or similar. Right now B&H has a clear one in 55mm for $16.95. When you get to, say, a 77mm protective filter you might have to spend $50 for a good one.

I think the surprise to me is that I never noticed this degradation of IQ back in the days of film using this same lens and filter. Perhaps it is a matter of incompatibility with the glasses/coatings and digital sensors. Or maybe now that it so easy to pixel peep we just do too much of it. But I think that is dodging the issue. The differences between the no filter vs filter are just too obvious even without magnifying the images. I will try swapping filters among several lenses to see if it is actually lens dependent, as some have suggested.

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AlphaTikal
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to JohnFrim, 4 months ago

The only lens with protection UV filter I have is the Sony 16-50mm f/2.8 SSM. It is a very expensive and high quality filter from Hoya somwhat called HD or so (have to check) and did cost me around 70 €. In fact in most cases I do not Need any filter. But I have it now and it does not degrade image quality, besides rare flares and / or ghostings. Especially in night long shutter speed shots or if sun is in the corner. Good side is, image is sharp and it does not affect color or shutter speed.
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tqlla
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to NAwlins Contrarian, 4 months ago

NAwlins Contrarian wrote:

re: "The filter on the front is an Optex 55 mm HAZE(UV) and it did not appear "overly" filthy, but it did appear to have a film of sorts."

Let's see: cheap / no-name filter, film on it, somewhat dirty--any surprise it degrades image quality?

On sufficiently-expensive lenses, I usually (not always) use a protective filter, but I always get a good one. Generally I find that the better Hoya filters are multi-coated, well-made, and relatively reasonably-priced, so I get a filter from their "Pro 1" line or similar. Right now B&H has a clear one in 55mm for $16.95. When you get to, say, a 77mm protective filter you might have to spend $50 for a good one.

If you are spending $50, you might as well  go all out.

I bought my Sony Zeiss 77CPAM for $66

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Calico Jack
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Re: Protective filter… or not? I say beware of filter quality.
In reply to JohnFrim, 4 months ago

Unless a specialist type such as CPL or ND GRAD, then filter off when in use, and filter on when in transit or storage.  IQ generally suffers with filters fitted, and especially so on modern optics that already have modern coatings.

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