This started as a comment on Itai's answer to this question, but it got a bit lengthy, and at the same time I figured that was not the best place for my whine. Here I go: lately I was quite suprised by the extreme aggressiveness of anti-filters users here on photo-SE.

Apparently every question is the right place for a rant against filters; I'm not a filter fanatic, still I can't understand why many (experienced, respected) guys here are so eager to say "forgodssakedonteverputafilteronalens" every time someone says "filter advice?".

I'm not saying their opinion is wrong, I don't want to start a debate; I have a moderate opinion on the subject and I will happily share it with those interested.

IMHO, what would be nice is NOT jumping on every filter-related question with loud (sometimes not properly-backed) answers and comments belonging to the anti-filter crusade.

So, do you agree/disagree with the way I feel about this trend / perceive it?

Do you think we need some moderation, hopefully self-moderation, to keep people to the point about filter-related questions?

This applies particularly to the use of filters for protection, but strong and frequently expressed no-filters opinion can trick people into avoiding filters as a whole (Jrista's answer addresses this point).

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Extreme? I'm with jrista on the subject, but I do think UV filters are a waste of money really and I always end up arguing with retailers on it. I think the retail industry has a bit of a good gig going with these as they convince people they need them for "protection" of the lens. Other types of filters, though, are quite useful and highly recommended. –  John Cavan Apr 14 '11 at 1:58
    
@John - Yes, I teach photography in a camera store and 90% of students come with a UV filter sold by that very same store! Always under the pretext of protection and yet on the first night we shoot outside terrible halos plague those who ignored my advice of removing the UV filter. The best thing I did to show this was remove it from one student mid-shoot. I agree, other types of filters for more have uses. –  Itai Apr 14 '11 at 4:16
    
If you read the entire answer I made to the question asking about image quality and UV/Skylight filters, I answered with (1) when to do about filters for increased image quality, (2) when a UV is actually needed and (3) what to get protection when a UV filter is not needed. This covers all grounds and is the same explanation all my photography students get. There is no anti-filter crusade, if you're sensitive to people's ideas then a forum is not a good place for you. Stackexchange members are among the most respectful forum citizens. –  Itai Apr 14 '11 at 14:02
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5 Answers 5

Like the OP, I was also taken aback by the intensity of the feelings voiced.
My objection is almost none of it is based on evidence. Out 52 questions I found one good reference (UV filter test). For the most part no citations/references are given, no experimental evidence is given. There has been an awful lot of subjectivity about a question that is not subjective.

We are blurring the line between personal opinion and soundly reasoned advice that is founded on good evidence.

I think the OP has asked an important question because it strikes at the heart of what kind of site this is. Are we aiming at becoming a high quality reference site? That was my assumption but I could easily be wrong. Or alternatively is this simply an advice site that gives guidance as best we can and where opinions and subjectivity are all part of the mix? This is also a valid goal. I suspect we all have different visions of where this site is going. Or maybe there is a consensus and I haven't seen it (mea culpa).

But, independently of the issues I have raised, it is a very interesting question of why the UV filter issue has acquired a near mythic status. We know from other cultural myths that people have a need to embrace some countervailing idea. It is their way of defining and confirming their view of their special identity.

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This makes my point much clearer, thanks! Also your english is much better than mine, that helps a lot :-) I like the psychological insight at the end of your answer, it's quite clear we're all prone to this kind of glitch in our (human) behaviour. –  MattiaG Apr 13 '11 at 11:13
    
It may be worth adding a bounty to photo.stackexchange.com/questions/57/…, asking for references and objective science. (I'd do it, but I've got a bounty running now.) –  mattdm Apr 13 '11 at 13:07
    
@matt I added a reference to get this started. –  whuber Apr 14 '11 at 4:29
    
Even the experimental evidence in the UV-filter-test is flawed. A common CMOS-sensor-protection seems to be silicon nitride which acts as a UV-filter itself. Without researching its application in DSLRs and its cutoff frequency all advise to use a filter to reduce UV in a DSLR is somewhat dubious. (see fraunhofer.de/en/press/research-news/2010-2011/14/…) –  Leonidas Apr 18 '11 at 1:39
    
@Leonidas, agreed. It was only in film days that UV absorption mattered anyway. I mentioned that UV filter test because it was at least some kind of evidence. There is an excess of opinions and a paucity of evidence on this site. Thanks for providing that link, it is good to have some hard evidence. –  labnut Apr 18 '11 at 6:09
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It's a well-known fact that the margins on filters and other accessories are much higher for a photo store than for the camera and lens. Hence, there's a tendency to hard sell such items to consumers who are naturally wary of damage to their new expensive lens.

After a purchase has been made, cognitive dissonance sets in, either with pro-filter people who defend something that can cost 25% of a modestly-priced optic, and with the anti-filter crowd who feel they've been misled and want to "help" other avoid their mistake.

I've owned one multi-coated UV filter, which was very hard to clean once it got dusty, and was destroyed when I bumped the lens into an obstruction. The lens' AF itself was broken by being dropped on the floor - a filter would not have helped (it was a plastic kit zoom).

Since then, and buying a moderate amount of used lenses (often with existing blemishes on the front element), I've settled for using hoods and eschewing filters altogether.

I don't consider myself a rabid anti-filter person, I just feel that, on balance, it's not necessary to get a protective filter. ND-grads, polarizer etc are a different matter of course.

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I own a couple fairly good quality Kenko UV multicoated filters, paid 10 € each at a small local store, so the cost problem is not clear to me. I'm going further on this topic adding my own answer, as soon as I have some time :-). Thanks for your clear explanation. –  MattiaG Apr 13 '11 at 10:23
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I think the hard line against filters, with the defacto answer "they reduce quality", is a bit of a misnomer. I generally don't use screw-on filters, however I do use the Lee filter system with solid and graduated ND filters. I've done shots with as many as four filters (some glass, some resin) stacked on top of each other to properly balance contrast in a scene and get a proper shot.

I often get responses like "You should just use HDR", and "Stacking filters makes flare worse", etc. Sure, both of those things are possibilities, however they are not guarantees.

I could bracket my shots and merge to HDR, however that is ultimately doing the same thing as my filters, and its often a LOT more work. HDR often produces its own artifacts as well, such as halos, funky tone mapping (i.e. blacks end up lighter than shadows, creating that oddball "classic" HDR look you see all over the web, and it can take a LOT of tweaking to get the darker tones looking ideal), and strange grades or flats in highlights.

It is also possible that my extra filters will make flare worse...but that assumes I'm encountering flare at all. An extra piece of glass in front of a lens can compound problems with flare since its another thing that light can reflect off of, however it is also easy enough to block non-incident light. You can use a lens hood (with screw-on filters), attach a post-filter lens hood with something like the Lee Foundation Kit, or in those cases where a hood doesn't solve the problem, your own hand often does the job when held out at the right angle.

Bottom line, those who take a hard line against filters do have valid arguments, assuming you run into the problems they are proclaiming will destroy your shots. There are many ways to control those problems, however, and in the grand scheme of things, the visual quality of a shot taken with a filter vs. without is usually pretty minor at in the average case, and non-existent in the best case. As such, I don't care much for the defacto response "Don't ever use filters ever", and I prefer to answer on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes avoiding filters is the right decision (i.e. your shooting a lot in near-direct sunlight, which can pose a big problem with flare), and sometimes using filters can solve real-world problems. Tune the answer to the question.

I should also mention that there is a certain appeal to working your light on-scene. ND and GND filters are contrast balancers, and do the same job as digital grad filters or HDR: limit light and compress dynamic range. They just do it in analog form. I can't say how much more I enjoy landscape photography now that I am able to fully craft my entire shot on-location, with my camera and vision, rather than have to craft half of it on my computer once I get home. I rarely do much in the way of post-processing these days, and use filters and manual exposure adjustment to create my photographs while I take them. Its a great feeling, and an experience I wouldn't have if I had listened to all the anti-filter nay-sayers.

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thanks for your insight. To make things clear, I know, as you point out, image quality might be affected by filters. I think your last line entirely makes my point; it's easy for someone to get confused by statement such as this: "Removing filters improves image quality, not adding them :)"(Itai). Or the improper usage of this misguiding link in at least two answers by anti-filters users. –  MattiaG Apr 13 '11 at 10:06
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I think it's a fair thing to say, given that the question specifically was looking for improved image quality.

Edit: and, this question was specifically about UV filters. I don't think there's a general hard-line on this site against filters in general.

(Disclaimer: I'm one of the people who jumped on the trend, although in a comment, not an answer.)


Edit #2:

I think the right thing to do is to point people to this question Are there any downsides to using a UV filter? rather than repeating ourselves frequently. That question doesn't currently have the objective, referenced answers that @labnut is looking for and which I agree would be good for the site to have — but I think that's definitely the place to put 'em.

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ell, I didn't base my assertion on that particular thread, but it pushed me to say something. If you look at the title, then read the winning answer, you'll notice a discrepancy. Maybe that's just me. edit:I already knew you're a "no-filters", so I'm happy you answered here. –  MattiaG Apr 13 '11 at 10:27
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I think the winning answer is pretty nice on that one. I'm actually not a hard-liner against protective filters. When my kids were small and we spent a lot of time in sand-filled playgrounds and I never knew what was going to hit me next (literally), I think they were a very wise choice. Now that they're older and things are more restrained, the balance is different. But in any case, it's always a balance, and if you want to tip things to the image quality size, removing the filter really is the way to go. –  mattdm Apr 13 '11 at 12:42
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As a novice photographer, I was given the advice of keeping a filter attached to the lens all the time, with the protection idea in mind.

However, At least in this site, I've never found this argument: A good filter wont degrade the quality of your images but is easier and less complicated to clean than the delicate multicoated front element of your lens!

At least in this regard, I have seen it is true, having a good (or fairly good) quality filter keeps you from cleaning the lens a lot. I constantly move in dusty surroundings, or in places where a fingertip can easily reach the front of the lens. In such cases I can clean the filter quickly with any napkin or soft cloth, while cleaning the lens in the other hand, is something I do in rare occasions, using special tissue, cleaning fluid, etc... as I am supposed to be protecting the delicate front element.

While starting using filters I made a lot of comparisons taking the same shot with and without filters and didn't noticed any significant difference.

Also I don't really keep the filter all the time, but I remove it only when I believe these is less chance of dust or fingerprints getting in the lens.

So, as jrista says, this question must be addressed in a case-by-case basis. Also, I feel there is a HUGE difference between keeping on a filter that seems to do nothing than to use a clearly purposed filter such a polarizer, an ND or the like...

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