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Can cheap filters damage your lens? A cautionary tale from Roger Cicala

By dpreview staff on Oct 21, 2013 at 11:15 GMT

Can cheap filters damage your expensive lenses? LensRentals' Roger Cicala decided to look into the possibility, after seeing a number of lenses returned with odd circular scratches on the front element. His investigations provide a cautionary tale against skimping on buying a new protective filter after buying an expensive lens. Click the link below to read his full article.

The scratched front element of an expensive lens...
Source: Lensrentals

Comments

Total comments: 76
Serge Yavorski
By Serge Yavorski (5 months ago)

User error. Stopped thinking and verifying. Truly, do we need instructions for everything in our lives?

0 upvotes
Sothoth
By Sothoth (6 months ago)

So the take home message is that you shouldn't put a filter on a lens that protrudes without checking for proper clearance?. Isn't that obvious? And who among us isn't aware that the tolerance on lens filters for distance from filter glass to thread isn't consistent among filter manufacturers and isn't therefore something you should make assumptions about when deciding if the lens and filter will contact when putting it on? Sounds to me like the guy who wrote the article has his ignorance to blame and not Canon or whomever made the filter.

0 upvotes
Clueless Wanderer
By Clueless Wanderer (6 months ago)

Im technically minded and take note to the enth degree. I would never have thought about checking this, as I assume the manufacturer to have allowed for this.

How can you attack a man of his experience with lenses to be ignorant? This guy has seen it all...

0 upvotes
kingslayer
By kingslayer (6 months ago)

Filters are like condoms.

3 upvotes
robmanueb
By robmanueb (6 months ago)

Mindless fear mongering. This and that absolutely worthless test where they stacked 20+ filters to show the difference between low quality and high quality filters, if you can't see the loss of quality from adding one filter that is because the loss of quality is invisible, end story.

1 upvote
Erik Ohlson
By Erik Ohlson (6 months ago)

A "protective" filter is a chimera - a waste of time & money, adding 2 more dirt-catching & reflective surfaces.

Ask yourself: "Why don't the camera designers put a flat glass in front of their lenses.

I haven't used or missed such things in over 60 years of photography.

3 upvotes
Mike_V
By Mike_V (6 months ago)

Actually on some lenses, like for example Canon telephotos, they do!

0 upvotes
Clueless Wanderer
By Clueless Wanderer (6 months ago)

A protective filter is a must... When your shooting at the coast, wiping off salt spray between each shot..

0 upvotes
Doug Kerr
By Doug Kerr (6 months ago)

Canon often does

0 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (6 months ago)

I wonder how many people who use "only the finest quality" filters actually know this for a fact--or is this assumed because the filter is expensive, German and in a brass mount. Not to mention the manufacturer says it's the finest so it must be.

1 upvote
parkmcgraw
By parkmcgraw (6 months ago)

To Canon, there being no excuses from such “process mature” lens manufacture.

Example of a DISCIPLINED "Requirements Flow Down" document (spreadsheet) as part of a PDR (Preliminary Design Review):

Section 2. Lens Element

2.1. Front Element - Placement and Tilt
2.1.1. Front Element - First Surface

x1) shall not protrude beyond the minimum safe working distance [3b] as measured from the lens mount retaining ring exterior dimension [8c] or lens barrel I.D. front aperture filter thread anterior hard stop [11b].
.
.
.
xx) non compliance with Section 2.1.1.x1, requiring considerations set forth in Sections 3.5.2 Barrel and Element Housing Design - Element Non Conformance, ... , 5.2.1 OPTICAL LENS ACCESSORIES, 6.1.3 HANDLING AND OPERATION NOTIFICATIONS, 7.2 …

or buy the System Requirements program called Doors.

Park McGraw
Former Process Engineering Manager
Laser and Sensor Products Center, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems

1 upvote
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (6 months ago)

In other words the front element sticks out too far.

3 upvotes
nikkei121
By nikkei121 (6 months ago)

it's canon's fault in not warning the users, not the slim filter's fault.
(i.e. Nikon had a warning for its 14-24mm can't take filters)

7 upvotes
Nishi Drew
By Nishi Drew (6 months ago)

Well Canon reps are said to tell/advise against using filters for protective purposes on any lenses. And with fast aperture lenses you could get reflections off of the sensor and onto the filter, showing up in the final image and often ruining the shot as well.

If it's anyone's fault it would be the many shops and "pros" fault for insisting on the necessity of always having a UV or some kind of filter on... and how pointless "UV protection" is as well.
Not to mention the idea that the front element/filter needs to be breathed on and wiped down whenever a harmless spec is found...

If you want to protect your lens, use that lens hood (why so many people care for using a filter, but have no idea what that hood is for is unfortunate as well)

2 upvotes
Ferling
By Ferling (6 months ago)

Well. There was time that filters were a necessity, and common sense dictated to be careful of what and how to attach things to the front element of any given lens. Anyone remember working with an FD35-105? Then again, I remember the habits of old where one always used a lens cap, which was tethered lens via a stretch cord.

The same thought process also works for things like never set the lens element side down on the ground or table.

I never liked filters for wide angle lenses (except for NDs), the hoods themselves being also thin and wide, barely provided enough glare protection and the filter would only contribute to flare/contrast issues.

0 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (6 months ago)

You can never be too careful but I think it's pretty clear you can't screw a filter onto the front of the 14-24.

0 upvotes
dccdp
By dccdp (6 months ago)

I always test a new filter when mounting on a lens that has a bulging front element. I get a small and a very thin sheet of paper (e.g. a layer from a tissue) and put it on the lens, at the center of the front element, holding the lens with the front element up. Then I carefully screw in the filter. If the sheet still moves under the filter, then it's ok, the filter doesn't touch the lens.

5 upvotes
yonsarh
By yonsarh (6 months ago)

I don't like to use filter on my cameras. It will effect on your sensor as well.

2 upvotes
JWest
By JWest (6 months ago)

Excellent advice - never try to screw a filter onto your camera's sensor.

12 upvotes
Eric Hensel
By Eric Hensel (6 months ago)

8 of you clowns like the fact that West is making fun of another person's English as a second language? Tools...

7 upvotes
Silvarum
By Silvarum (6 months ago)

For me English is also a second language. But JWest's comment is just so funny. I don't believe he intended any offense.

Comment edited 57 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
JWest
By JWest (6 months ago)

No offence meant Eric, I can assure you. I'll assume that you calling 8 people "clowns" and "tools" was meant in a friendly manner too. :)

0 upvotes
acktown
By acktown (6 months ago)

I would image the large size of an 82mm filter would also be part of the issue. It would naturally have a bit more give because of the larger surface area. Either way, great article to keep people informed.

0 upvotes
hectorsan
By hectorsan (6 months ago)

I have used "cheap" filters on expensive lenses and never had a problem. When mounting a filter the first time, you can feel if it hits the lens front. When that happens (only once in my life), I don't use a filter, whether cheap or expensive.

1 upvote
Raist3d
By Raist3d (6 months ago)

I no longer use "protective filters" in front of my lenses. It degraded the image quality, at times introduced double flare (unless I really wanted the effect). Other than a polarizer, nope.

(and yes, I was using a very high quality protective filter)

1 upvote
Joseph
By Joseph (6 months ago)

Why does anyone who buy quality lenses use a piece of cheap glass filter in front? It just degraded the picture quality.

I have stopped using UV "protective" filter many years ago and I have yet damaged any of my lenses, pro grade or not, ultra wide angle or long. Not even a scratch.

4 upvotes
new boyz
By new boyz (6 months ago)

Other than UV, filters like CPL or ND are quite necessary.

3 upvotes
new boyz
By new boyz (6 months ago)

Oh and because it's an expensive quality lens, maybe they actually wanted to protect the front element, ironically.

0 upvotes
Juck
By Juck (6 months ago)

Damaged front elements are usually the result of carelessness or stupidity, not irony, derr. Using a UV or clear filter, no matter the quality, degrades the image. Period.

4 upvotes
GradyPhilpott
By GradyPhilpott (6 months ago)

When you live in a place like the Southwest, where the atmosphere is quite abrasive much of the time, a filter is a necessity, unless you like replacing the front elements of your lenses. Out here, you never know when you'll get a 50mph blast of sand in your face, unless it's Spring, in which case, you can bank on it pretty much every day. Enough of those blasts will pit glass, just like the windshield on the car I bought last February. We had a very windy Spring and already my windshield is heavily pitted. Another Spring like last Spring and the windshield will become hazardous under certain lighting conditions. Replacing a windshield is typically cheaper than replacing lens elements.

6 upvotes
CopperMike
By CopperMike (6 months ago)

Hey Juck: you're saying that a clear flat piece of high-quality optical glass (the same stuff lens elements are made from) "degrades the image. Period."
Well, that's counter-intuitive. Can you prove it?

1 upvote
designdef
By designdef (6 months ago)

Ultra-thin, ultra-cheap filters existed long before this lens was designed. So why didn't Canon design for the 'worst case' scenario'?

6 upvotes
Thorbard
By Thorbard (6 months ago)

I'm assuming there is no kind of specification for filters that say how far down the filter thread the filter glass can be located.

Even if there was a specification, there is no guarantee that the manufacturers of cheap filters would stick to it - which I think is a big problem in the photography market anyway. (eg marketed as "weatherproof" but no IP rating given).

0 upvotes
Tom Ferstl
By Tom Ferstl (6 months ago)

I doubt that any lens mfgr can design out stupidity! The notion that a filter be used for protection against careless handling is ludicrous! Obviously there may be instances for using specific filters but for protection, I don't think so! Just be very careful!

0 upvotes
JaFO
By JaFO (6 months ago)

one really has to wonder indeed.
It surely must be possible to add enough spacing between lens and filter to prevent issues with all but the most weird filters?

Then again ... they do insist on different diameter filters with no recognizable 'standard' either.
Why can I switch lenses, but not filters on the same bloody thing?

0 upvotes
Clueless Wanderer
By Clueless Wanderer (6 months ago)

Okay, big assumption on my part here...

Those that say filter protection is unnecessary are people who put their camera away at the first sign of rain. I was at an airshow and got amazing shots when all the other photgraphers had packed away their kit.

I shoot with a 'shower coat' on the camera and Nikon NC filters.
Under the shower coat, the camera and lens still get wet, but water isn't driven in. With the NC filter out front, I just drop the camera, wipe off the water with my T'shirt and carry on shooting. There has been day's were I have no dry area's left on the T shirt..

I've done tests with and without the filters and there has been zero image degredation (nikon 24-70mm, nikon 70-200 f2.8, nikon 300mm F4 and zeiss ZF.2 primes.)

So yeah, filters are not needed if you never get your camera out in adverse conditions. For those that do, they are invaluable..

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
jonte0
By jonte0 (6 months ago)

+ Give the lens a chance.

1 upvote
KariIceland
By KariIceland (6 months ago)

The problem with Lens rentals also is they send you the lenses with a CRAPPY UV filter on the front.

0 upvotes
RCicala
By RCicala (6 months ago)

I can't speak for other houses, but Lensrentals does not send UV filters on lenses.

13 upvotes
Jogger
By Jogger (6 months ago)

the problem is that the 24-70 is spec'd to a 77mm filter size, to ensure filter compatibility with other canon pro lenses.. i reality, it should have used a wider filter thread to allow the front element to be more recessed..

i blame canon on this one

2 upvotes
yslee1
By yslee1 (6 months ago)

Sure, blame Canon, but the 24-70 here is speced to 82mm, not 77mm.

0 upvotes
booggerg
By booggerg (6 months ago)

oh gosh a little scratch on the front element won't show up in the pictures.. especially if you shoot wide open.. their own articles supports this

http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2008/10/front-element-scratches

0 upvotes
CFynn
By CFynn (6 months ago)

But it could hurt the resale value of the lens

0 upvotes
groucher
By groucher (6 months ago)

True in some circumstances but if you shoot towards the sun you could get problems, even if the sun isn't in the frame.

2 upvotes
JimWongyyz
By JimWongyyz (6 months ago)

There is no excuse for a poorly designed product.It does not require high tech science to make enough clearance for filter thread.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 9 minutes after posting
7 upvotes
new boyz
By new boyz (6 months ago)

It hurts your heart.

1 upvote
Biowizard
By Biowizard (6 months ago)

This is 100% the fault of the lens manufacturer: the lens design should allow clearance between the front lens element and the base of the filter screw thread. It's a poor design that lets the front element protrude into the same plane as the threads.

Brian

20 upvotes
viking79
By viking79 (6 months ago)

Can't pin this all on the manufacturer since it works with most filters. I imagine those particular filters don't meet the specifications required by Canon. My guess is the recess the filter element a bit to make the filter profile thinner. You can't blame your car manufacturer if you use the wrong oil...

2 upvotes
moizes 2
By moizes 2 (6 months ago)

No it is not. Lenses manufactures are stupid, everybody knows. But they are not THAT stupid. There is enough of room between front element and base of lens thread. Cheap filter, sometime, has its glass protruding on lower level than its own thread, that's all. Do not use garbage! Never happened to good filters made by trusted sources.

2 upvotes
FreedomLover
By FreedomLover (6 months ago)

Viking79, did you read the reports here about Canon filters scratching various Canon lenses?

5 upvotes
Robert Spanjaard
By Robert Spanjaard (6 months ago)

Viking, you can blaim the car manufacturer if the 'wrong' oil matches the requirement set by the manufacturer. So, how exactly did Canon specify the difference between 'right' and 'wrong' filters again?

4 upvotes
new boyz
By new boyz (6 months ago)

If they make it too protrude, it will block the light, a bit(like a hood). That's why it has to be made as minimum as possible.

0 upvotes
Stanchung
By Stanchung (6 months ago)

It's a design oversight, plain and simple.

3 upvotes
DeanAllan
By DeanAllan (6 months ago)

@ new boyz, then they should have made it protrude more with a bigger filter diameter.

Comment edited 25 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Jun2
By Jun2 (6 months ago)

I actually blames this on lens manufactures. . The bottom of filter thread should have enough separation from bulging front lens element. In Canon 24-70mm case, there is no separation, relying on filter manufacture to provide the separation.

12 upvotes
Ferling
By Ferling (6 months ago)

Most folks don't understand that some curved/wide angle lenses require thinner filters. In some cases, I've used extension rings to provide more separation from some lenses.

2 upvotes
RichRMA
By RichRMA (6 months ago)

That was to prevent vignetting due to a too thick filter ring. If the lens is protruding from the barrel so much it touches a filter, it's not really the filter's fault. The manufacturer of the lens should probably have a warning sticker on the box (and maybe the lens) about this possibility, if it isn't an obvious situation like say with Nikon's 14-24mm f/2.8. Alternately, a new filter ring design that has a milled rim at the end (to retain the filter) and a securing ring in the back might be needed for very wide angle lenses.

2 upvotes
alfredo_tomato
By alfredo_tomato (6 months ago)

I've changed from a protective filter to a lens hood. So far, so good. An occasional ND or Polarizer get attached, but that's it.

5 upvotes
nz769r
By nz769r (6 months ago)

Great article! While I don't use cheap filters, I have never thought about the possibility of the lens and a filter coming in contact. Something to always keep in the back of one's mind.

1 upvote
photofan1986
By photofan1986 (6 months ago)

I never use filters, besides polarizers and ND filters when needed.

0 upvotes
chiumeister
By chiumeister (6 months ago)

puzzling why folks continue to use $10 filters on expensive lenses.

1 upvote
JaFO
By JaFO (6 months ago)

As if a high price tag automagically makes them better ...

1 upvote
onlooker
By onlooker (6 months ago)

> cautionary tale against skimping on buying a new protective filter

You make it sound like he is advocating buying expensive protective filters. He isn't. He is warning about using inappropriate filters, period.

13 upvotes
groucher
By groucher (6 months ago)

Good for photographing Newton's rings if nothing else.

1 upvote
JimWongyyz
By JimWongyyz (6 months ago)

This is a lens design issue. The filter thread on the lens should allow more clearance for filter. It these lens makers were in auto industry, there would be a recall.

15 upvotes
tompabes2
By tompabes2 (6 months ago)

Looks more like a Canon's design problem if the lens protrudes beyond the point where filters are placed!

18 upvotes
JimBob0
By JimBob0 (6 months ago)

And the guy in the article even says "this is not a problem with the lens before anyone starts saying it's a bad lens". Or some such line.

0 upvotes
howardroark
By howardroark (6 months ago)

You didn't read the whole article. That statement was addressed in the last section entitled "READ THIS PART." The filter threads on the lens are placed to allow for the filter ring to get as far out of the periphery of the lens's angle of view as possible to avoid vignetting or, in some cases, even showing up in the shot. Any lens with a fairly bulbous front element will be designed very close to the edge of the threads and a good filter manufacturer knows this and designs accordingly. The problem was a lousy filter maker. He mentions other lenses have been seen with the same issue but since they didn't know what caused it they didn't keep detailed records.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
4 upvotes
Jun2
By Jun2 (6 months ago)

It only need about 1 mm more separation. You think there would be that much vignetting problem. If that's the case, adding expensive filter should cause vignetting problem as the filter add that extra 1mm

Comment edited 44 seconds after posting
3 upvotes
Frank_BR
By Frank_BR (6 months ago)

It's easy to blame the manufacturer of a cheap filter, and not the manufacturer of a very expensive lens. The Canon 24-70mm is a lens of relatively moderate angular coverage. Considering that this lens uses a giant 82mm filter, if Canon had increased the length of the filter thread by just one or two millimeters, that should not cause vignetting, but it would be enough to prevent any contact between the filter and the front lens element.

8 upvotes
Ben Ramsey
By Ben Ramsey (6 months ago)

Since Canon make filters one can put on this lens, it becomes precisely the same issue as using 3rd party batteries... unless there is evidence Canon filters also scratch the front element. If you buy and use cheap batteries in your camera which cause problems, rather than oem batteries, the blame would be on the battery maker and the camera owner. Also think about poorly designed flashes and lens adapters and the damage they can cause. People are often too quick to blame others for what is, in actuallity, their own fault.

0 upvotes
truemutant
By truemutant (6 months ago)

I ran into this issue several years ago when i changed OEM lens cap on EF24-105 to a generic cap with a center pinch. It was actually the pinch mechanism itself that caused scratches - it was too thick.
Frankly, such small scratches is unlikely to noticeably affect lens performance, even when lens flare occurs.

Comment edited 23 seconds after posting
3 upvotes
moizes 2
By moizes 2 (6 months ago)

Don't use cheap garbage - it was true 50 years ago, it will be true forever.

6 upvotes
marike6
By marike6 (6 months ago)

Perhaps the title should be "Can Slim filters damage your lens?".

Avoiding an el-cheapo deluxe generic filter on your high-grade lenses is excellent advice. But the article only finds tiny instance of budget "Slim" filter as the cause of front element damage.

Aren't wide angle lenses the only ones that even require "slim" filters?

So for most other lenses it would follow that a reasonably priced multi-coated Hoya UV (non-slim mount) filter will pretty much do exactly the same thing as a $150 Heliopan or B&W UV.

4 upvotes
FreedomLover
By FreedomLover (6 months ago)

Unfortunately this also happens with non-slim (non-low-sitting) normal filters, marike6.
"I have discovered the same problem with my 24-105 lens and the Canon uv-haze filter."
wmhocker, 2008:
http://www.dpreview.com/forums/thread/2347115

1 upvote
Jun2
By Jun2 (6 months ago)

So Canon has designing problem with 24-105 too.

3 upvotes
Total comments: 76