Protector filters are a sales gimmick: my tips for lens protection & use

Natsuki in the sea, Miyazaki

I discovered The Phoblographer website when I started using the Flipboard app on my iPhone. Incidentally, if you don’t know that app then check it out as it is a great way of browsing all your social networking channels and other content streams in one place.

Back to The Phoblographer which, after reading a lot of their posts, I refer to as The Fauxblographer…. mainly because I have seen so many factual errors and errors of what I would call ‘good photographic common sense and judgment’ that the site has become a bit of a joke for me now. It’s pretty much, IMHO, a site that one can see is run by people more into gear than photos. That’s fine, but I just like shooting and making nice photos. I really don’t give a shit what gear I use.

The picture heading up this article, if you wondered why it’s relevant to this article, was taken by me in Miyazaki a couple of months ago. The grey band of bokeh that runs along the bottom of the frame is actually the sea coming into the front of my lens… halfway up the lens in fact. The camera and lens [my trusty 1979 Nikon 50mm f/1.2 Ai] are both fine, thanks to immediate cleaning with baby-wipes, tissues etc etc. Moral of the story? You won’t put yourself in certain situations where a great shot might be possible if you are worrying about getting a water-drop on your camera. This particular shot might not be the best, but my being in this spot together with my persistence allowed me to get this shot.

Anyway, today I saw a post of theirs which was originally made back in April, but which Flipboard served up to me today for some reason. I guess it cycles through their content and serves up older posts as well as new ones.

“Useful Photography Tip #18: Keep Your Lens[es] Protected”

My first reaction was that, maybe, the site were struggling to find something to write about on a quiet day. But actually that reaction faded quickly as after – yesterday – seeing about eight posts on their site about different camera straps and three about bags, I am pretty convinced that Phoblographer is all about talking about gear which[via affiliate links] they hope you will go and buy. Their staff is headed by a guy who worked for B&H and is a self-confessed gear-head. Sure, they have articles about how to actually use gear, but Fauxblographer is basically orientated to gear reviews.

“Keep Your Lenses Protected” is the route, these days, to getting sold a load of protector filters that you don’t need. DSLRs don’t need UV-cut filters as they have UV correction built into the sensor. So the old ‘UV filter for that, sir?’ sales trick has gone. Enter the ‘protector filter’…. and kiss good bye to an extra few thousand Yen every time you purchase a lens.

At this point I might as well just repeat what I said about protector filters on The Fauxblographer’s website this morning:

“I never use protection or UV filters but always have hoods on my lenses, typically the metal ones that Nikon made on the old days. They do a perfectly good job of keeping the world away from the front of my lenses. DSLRs have a uv-cut filter built-in, so UV filter is not required these days for anything more than protection, hence we’ve seen ‘protection filters’ on sale for the last few years. Depending on what you’re shooting, filters can be a problem, chiefly with refractions. If you have strong point light sources in the scene then you will often get a ghost image of that source, which is caused by light bouncing around between front element and filter. Good, strong lenshoods are enough to keep the world from getting to your front element. And you can often find them in the bargain bin at most used camera stores.”

Lenshoods are the way to go, folks. No, I am not just replacing one useless item [the protector filter] with something else expensive for you to buy every time you get a lens. The last line of my comment, above, directed you to the nearest used store, to find one in the bargain bin. Hoods also have a dual use: keeping the world away from the front of your lens AND being there to help with flare [sun streaking in to the camera through the lens when it’s pointed too close to the angle of the sun].

Fauxblographer has a few more tips for you.. when shooting near the sea and just generally, that you should keep your lenscap on at all times. They did say you can take it off to take a picture though. Good for them. Well remembered.

Here’s my reply on some of their other points but I also encourage you to go and read their original post.

“The sea? Sure, it’s an issue but good husbandry of the camera and lenses can keep you 99.9% safe all the time. I have air canisters, kids’ wet-wipes when I am shooting near the sea. Blow any stuff away before you start using cloths, use the wet-wipes to clean the outside surfaces of the camera. Plus, depending on what you are shooting, there are lenses that you can keep for situations like that..

Most Canon pros I know [and I encourage my students to do this too] have a 50mm f/1.8 lens with them for the beach portraits and other shots. It’s cheap, it’s plastic, it’s not the end of the world if it gets damaged. For me, shooting Nikon, I have a whole load of older manual lenses. No motors, no electronics. These are the ones I use i the rain, bad weather and at the beach. Although I am not anally-retentive about my gear…. it’s there to get me shots, not sit on the shelf looking pretty. Sure, it’s not cheap, but it’s there to work for me.

Which brings me to your lenscap point… once I have a lens on the camera, the cap is in my pocket. Keeping the cap on all the time? Can’t believe you have recommended this as a way of operating. :-) How many shots have people missed by fumbling with the lenscap to try and get it off?

Gear isnt cheap. Correct. Good gear can/should last you a lifetime. Correct. Lenses are the place to invest, not bodies. Correct. But common sense, good cleaning regime [get back from a shoot, clean everything so it’s ready for next time], a stout bag and rigid lenshoods, lens-tissues [not cloths as they can hold grit and sand], a can of air… these things will keep your lenses safe and clean.

Protection filters are a salesman’s dream…

Keeping the lens cap on is the best way to miss pictures

A lens I use everyday – the 50mm f/1.2 Ai – has been in my bag and on various cameras since 1979. It has a metal hood on it at all times. It looks like it’s been used [with a few extenral scratches and grazes on the paintwork and plenty on the hood] It has not one single scratch on the glass.

Sure, look after your gear. But use it. Getting too fussy and over-protective about your gear will mean you miss shots, I guarantee you.”

To round-off this post, here are my top tips for lens protection:

  1. Get a lens hood, a metal one preferably but if no metal one exists for your lens a plastic one will do.
  2. Careful handling, common sense, awareness of your surroundings, lenshood.. these things will keep your lens safe. Beware of the sales gimmick of ‘the protector filter’.
  3. A blow-brush or can of air to blow surface particles away before you wipe: can air is relatively cheap but it’s bulky to carry around all the time and they won’t let you on an aircraft with it, even if it’s in the luggage that goes in the cargo-hold. So, a blowbrush is worth having in your bag. It’s important – before you start wiping your lens with anything – to first blow off any dust or sand, grit, food, etc etc. Just don’t let your small baby son play with the blowbrush, as I once did. He’d been sucking it. I was out shooting and came back to clean the sensor of my camera with it. I unknowingly blew his saliva all over my DSLR sensor. Not good. Back to Nikon for cleaning which, incidentally, is only 1000Y if your camera is out of guarantee. Free if it is still in guarantee.
  4. Remember to blow the back of your lenses as well as the front: I would guess that more than 80% of the shit that gets on sensors comes from the back of the lens.
  5. Use lens tissues, not cloths: cloths live in your bag for ages. They also end up living in your pockets and various other places. They collect dirt and tiny pieces of grit. Do you want to be rubbing your lens with a piece of sandpaper? No. Lens tissues are about 100Y for 50 [Fuji do some good ones but there are various brands available] and you use them once and throw them away. Breathe on the lens to fog it up a little, then wipe with the tissue. Sorted.
  6. When you are NOT using the lenses and they are in your bag, keep the lenscap and back-caps on at all times. Keep the lenses in a nice, padded bag or in lens pouches. Lens pouches and little round boxes are one of the cheapest things you can find in used camera stores. My local one has boxes of them, selling for as little as 100Y each. Keeping the lenscap on all the time you are walking around with the camera will cause you to miss shots.
  7. In hot, humid countries, keep your gear in a dry-box: there are expensive solutions to the business of keeping your gear safe in humid places [drying cabinets etc]. But the cheap and just as effective way is to get a variety of sealed plastic boxes and put bags of silica gel into them. Keeping the cameras and lenses in these boxes when they are not being used will keep them from getting moisture inside. Moisture turns dust in lenses into mould. Mould is bad and kills lenses. However, sunlight kills mould. So if you aren’t using your lenses out in the sunshine, put them on a window-ledge in the sunshine for an hour or so and that will help. Then back in the dry-box with them. N.B. If you have yellowing occuring in your lens [hold it up, look through, the glass looks yellow and not clear] then putting the lens – with both lens and back-caps off – onto a piece of silver foil, then putting it on the window-ledge in the sun, will help get rid of the yellowing.
  8. When you are done, at the end of the day, clean all your gear with the blower/air and tissues so it is ready for the next day.
  9. Use your gear. Don’t be over-protective of it. Like a good sports-car, gear is there to be ‘driven’, not sit on a shelf looking sparkly.

Lastly, if you are afraid of ruining an expensive, AF lens in bad weather or at the beach, get an older manual-focus lens: for Nikon users this is easier, as every lens made since 1971 [Ai, AiS and onwards] will work on modern Nikon DSLRs without any modification required. Some of the less expensive bodies won’t be able to meter the light with an older, MF lens. But this is digital folks, shoot one picture and then work out the correct exposure from looking at it. For anyone who doesn’t have a camera body to which old lenses fit so easily, check out the massive range of adaptors which are available – to make other company’s lenses fit on your camera. I have one that lets me fit old Pentax and other M42 screw-thread lenses on my Nikon. The lenses are cheap, mostly, and it’s fun to play with older gear on the new body. Plus, manual focusing is good for you… it doesn’t compromise your composition like autofocus and it’s good excercise for your eye.

That’s it. Have fun. Take care of your gear but remember to enjoy it and use it. That’s how you get pictures… :-)




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Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

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