Do I Need A Filter For My Camera Lens

So, do I need a filter for my camera lens?  This question is tossed around quite a bit.  As more and more people venture into the photography (and videography) world, this question isn’t going away.  I always answer with the same two words: it depends.

This article is going to cover the different form factors, types, and ultimately whether you should use a filter on your camera lens.  

By the end of this article you’ll have a better idea of whether you should be using one or not!

Let’s get to it!

Do I Need A Filter For My Camera Lens

The different forms of lens filters

To determine whether you need a filter on your camera lens, you need to understand the different forms and types of filters out there.

There are two main “forms” of filters.  Those include:

  • Screw on filters (traditional)
  • Square filters
Do I Need A Filter For My Camera Lens

Example of traditional screw on filter

Screw on filters are the traditional form factor.  These come with a threaded side that literally screws onto the end of your lens.  Most all types of filters are offered in this form factor.  Also, roughly 90% of all lenses are able to use this form factor.

Square filters are for the other 10%.  These filters come with a frame that you attach to the end of your lens.  The filter then slides into the frame to apply the desired effect.  The only type of filter that is exclusive to square filters is gradient.  This is where the filters effect (like tint) “fades” from one end to the other.

This form factor is designed for filters that aren’t able to thread a screw on filter.  This mainly includes wide to ultra-wide lenses.

Do I Need A Filter For My Camera Lens

Example of square mounted filters

The different types of lens filters

There are four main types of filters.  These include:

  • ND (neutral density)
  • Polarizer
  • UV
  • Infrared
Do I Need A Filter For My Camera Lens

ND-0 to ND-5

ND filters are basically sunglasses for your lens.  If your desired settings result in your exposure being too high, you’ll need one of these filters.  

These are ideal for someone who wants long exposure shots during the day (because your shutter speed is so slow).  It’s also great for videographers who want to keep the 180 degree rule while shooting at 24fps (making your shutter speed 1/50)

There are variable versions of ND filters.  These allow you to darken and light your image by spinning the filter while threaded.  This allows you to spin the filter to adjust exposure versus having to change to another filter.

Do I Need A Filter For My Camera Lens

A polarizer filter

Do I Need A Filter For My Camera Lens

A polarizer filter cuts down on reflections and polarization in the sky (making it more saturated).  This is ideal for those shooting around water or reflective surfaces (tables, wet surfaces, water, glass, etc.). It’s common for landscape photographers for both reflections and the sky.  This generally works best with reflections made by natural/sunlight.

You can find ND filters with polarizers built in.  You’ll get the benefits of ND and polarization with these filters.  

Do I Need A Filter For My Camera Lens

UV filters

UV filters cut down on ultra violet rays.  These were necessary in the days of film - and were primarily used during that time.  Much of today's technology and camera do not require a UV filter to protect the sensor.

Infrared filters

...do just that - they cut the light spectrum within your camera to just the infrared spectrum.  This allows you to bring it back to the office and edit it into infrared photos (however you please).  These aren’t  that common, seeing as a modified infrared camera is much more ideal…  but this is a much cheaper option to infrared photography.

Example of the results from Infrared Photography


Those are the four most common filters for your camera lens.  There are other less popular filters such as color filters, astrophotography, and macro filters.

Let’s discuss the reasons to have a filter!

Main reason to have a filter on your lens

There are two main reasons to have a filter on your lens.  

  • To modify your image
  • To protect your lens

Generally speaking, if you have any filter on your lens, you’re protecting it.  But let’s discuss how each of the filters can be used to your advantage.

Filters that are used to primarily modify your image should be used for just that. These include

  • ND
  • Polarizer
  • Infrared (etc)

These are used for just that.  You wouldn’t put these filters on your lens to just protect it.  You’re going to be modifying your image at the same time.  Your exposure and/or results might not look the way you want them.

Filters that don’t modify your image are generally used for protecting.  These include

  • UV
  • Clear

That’s right.  UV filters are used primarily as protection.  Modern day DSLR and mirrorless cameras no longer need UV protection.  The only reason you would need to use UV is for protection.

So, this is the part where I tell you that it “depends” whether you need them or not.  Because, like everything else in this world, there are negatives to using a filter.

Negatives to using a filter on your lens

I like to think there’s only two negatives.  And while there aren’t many cons, I consider them to be pretty significant.  

The main con is having another piece of glass (or plastic on some cheaper filters) in front of your lens.  This is another piece of equipment that needs to be cleaned and has a possibility of getting dust and fingerprints on.  

Rule of thumb is buy a filter that's quality is equivalent to the lens you’re using.  If you have nice expensive glass, buy a quality filter (and vice-versa).  

The other negative is getting the filter stuck on your lens.  I’ve had this happen to me, personally.  Thank goodness it was with an inexpensive lens and filter.  But I couldn’t get the filter off, at all.  I had accidentally over-tightened it and then later dropped it.  This basically “sealed” the filter onto my lens.

Getting a filter stuck isn’t related to the quality of filter either.  High end PolarPro lenses have been known to stick. I recommend getting a lens filter remover, just in case.  They’re inexpensive and can save you in a tight pinch.

Your decision to make

This is the point where you should decide if you need a filter on your lens.  Personally, if I’m not using an ND filter or polarizer, I don’t have one on my lens.  I don’t put myself in a situation where I feel I need a lens filter to save me from damage.  Your lens hood does a better job of protecting your lens.

But, I would recommend a modifying filter if you plan or want to modify your image.

I do not recommend using a lens filter for protection.  The negatives are too significant to justify using them for that reason.

That’s it for today!

I hope I answered your question, do I need a filter for my camera lens.  You should have a much better understanding of what some filters can do and how they can benefit you!

Be sure to stop by our website, JnRPhotoVideo to check out our work.  We offer photo and video services here in San Diego!

If you’d like to know more about ND filters, be sure to checkout that article as well!

As always, thank you for reading!  Keep shooting and creating!

Jeff

I have been taking photos and film since I was a child. Now that I'm in my mid 30's, I want to share with the world what I have learned over the years. I attempt to live every day to the fullest and share that with you through my blog. I am an electrician by trade and photo and video lie within the "hobby" aspect of my life at the moment. It's what I'm truly passionate about.
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