I’m not going with my usual format for this one; it’s more of a rant/review(a revant? Ranteview? I’m going with the second one). If you’re just here for the pictures, you might be better off skipping this post, as most photos here were taken just to illustrate a point. I’m just talking about a recent purchase that left me
mildly annoyed so I’m exaggerating my anger for comedic purposes upset. But first, some background.
Part 1- A Brief Look at Ultraviolet Blocking
The term ‘Ultraviolet Filter’ (which I’ll shorten to UV filter) is going to be used a lot here. Before I start, I want to make a distinction between UV-pass filters(camera filters designed to ALLOW ultraviolet light into the camera, and block light outside that range) and UV-blocking filters (a camera filter designed to BLOCK ultraviolet light, and allow light from outside that wavelength into the camera). Unless you’re specifically looking for one, I doubt you’ll find a UV-pass filter; UV blocking is the only widely available type of filter. It will be the one that consumers will find in stores and when searching for UV filters. There’s a good reason for that.
Ultraviolet photography is a… lets just call it an acquired taste.
Most photos in the ultraviolet range are washed out with a hazy sky and extremely dark foliage. Most of the time, I’m not impressed with the UV photos I take(I still make the extra effort to take them, though. I might need help).
For most photographers, any ultraviolet light bleeding into the visible spectrum is detrimental to their photos. Despite being invisible, ultraviolet light is ‘transcribed’ onto the photo in a way apparent to the naked eye. The photo would look more washed out and hazy, especially along the blue end of the spectrum. Clouds and distant objects would show less contrast, and the photo would look… duller is an easy way to describe it.
This was a big problem in the days of film cameras; photographic film was sensitive to ultraviolet light pollution. Most camera lenses would have UV-blocking filters of some type integrated into the lens, often as a coating applied to the lens glass. Modern digital cameras are much less sensitive to UV light; there are additional UV blocking elements, and most digital sensors react less to UV light as well(Ironically, they are much MORE sensitive to infrared light than film cameras; many UV-pass filters from the pre-digital days act as dual band pass filters now, allowing both infrared and ultraviolet light into the camera).
There are a lot of ways to block ultraviolet light and allow visible light through. I’d have to say that in my experience, the gold standard is the ‘blue blocking’ filter on prescription eyeglasses. I spend the extra to get it applied when I buy a new set, as I spend a lot of time outdoors, and my eyes are already bad enough without UV damage.
My glasses also block a bit of blue and violet light, so they look a little discoloured here. It isn’t as noticeable in real life; unless I am looking closely, it just looks like regular glass. What is noticeable in real is the violet reflections when the glass catches the light at the right angle, but that’s not relevant to the point I’m making.
What is relevant is how it looks in the ultraviolet spectrum.
This photo (and all the other UV photos in this post) was taken with a combination of a Schott UG11 dual band filter and a Schott BG40 filter. It was a cloudy day(I wanted to take these photos before I returned the filters), so I needed a long exposure, and the photo is kind of blurry. Still, the difference is obvious; my eyeglasses are almost opaque in the UV range.
Eyeglasses are fairly expensive, though, and the ‘blue blocking’ isn’t cheap as an add-on. I could look at some sunglasses, but that’s not what I’m interested in(although it might be a good topic for another day). I want to focus on objects that are clear(or almost clear) in the visible spectrum, but block UV light, and sunglasses block some of both.
Instead, lets take a look at some generic reading glasses. These aren’t high end ones, either; they’re the type you could probably pick up at any store.
Again, faint discoloration that doesn’t appear in real life. not much else to say.
The UV-blocking capabilities aren’t as good as with my prescription eyeglasses, but they aren’t bad, either. The sky through the glass is dramatically darker than it is without the UV filtering effect.
Eyeglasses are held to a higher standard, though; there are some safety standards for them. Instead, lets move beyond eyeware. It’s actually fairly easy to filter ultraviolet light; most glass blocks some UV(part of the problem finding a good UV-pass lens is that most glass used in photographic lenses blocks UV light even without a filter applied to it). Window block it too(open door on the left, double-paned glass on the right).
It isn’t as much as either set of glasses, but the glass noticeably darkens the sky in the ultraviolet range.
Car windows do a better job blocking ultraviolet light(even if they block a bit more visible light too). From two different makes of car, it is apparent that the side windows do a good job reducing UV light.
I, for some reason, you were using car windows to block UV light, however, one word of advice. The side windows, as in the photos above, are markedly inferior to the windshield at blocking it.
In all, most glass seems good at blocking ultraviolet light to some degree. It isn’t hard to do.
…unless you’re making UV-blocking camera filters, it seems.
Part 2- Reviewing my two UV ‘filters’
Yes, the word ‘filter’ is in quotation marks. That’s a clue as to what direction my review is going to take.
I’m looking at two filters here. One is branded JYC, and is one of those ultra-cheap filters for sale on Ebay. For only $2.00(and that’s Canadian money, which, with the current conversion rate, is about… pocket lint in American money), I could order one of these lenses. With that price, is there any reason NOT to order one?
… they do nothing. There’s the reason.
Maybe, MAYBE, the light inside the lens is slightly darker in the UV photo. Or maybe I’m just developing some kind of photographic self-deception; I expect it to be darker, so my brain is overriding my eyes and telling me it’s darker.
My brain is telling me another thing about this filter, too, but I try to avoid profanity in this blog.
You know what? JYC? I’m giving you a pass. I didn’t expect much for my two dollars(including shipping, by the way). The filter arrived intact and I didn’t get tetanus from opening it, so I’m calling that a win.
In fact, I even found a use for your filter. Admittedly using it to protect my UV-pass filters from dust when taking photos isn’t what it is intended for, but it works. If you want a way to protect your lenses or filters, you could do worse… you could also do a lot better.
…But, even though I’ve forgiven you, I just REALLY want to reemphasize that one point. I place my ‘UV-blocking’ filter in front of my lenses to protect my other filters. Then I can take good UV photos. This is the exact opposite of what it is intended for. If you worked at all, this would be impossible.
Which brings me on to Bower. I’ve seen Bower UV filters for sale for up to $25 dollars in some stores. I bought mine on sale at $10.00. It looks more like a mid-grade UV blocking filter- looking at it through the packaging, you can see a slight rainbow shimmering effect from the lens. Some high end UV filters I’ve looked at (but never owned) have that.
And if you look even closer, you might notice something else. The filter isn’t making that rainbow effect; that’s from the background of the filter case.
That should have been my first warning. To be fair, I took the photo of the package after I already opened it; it was harder to see the surrounding case before then.
Which brings me to my second warning. Most of my filters of decent quality have a protective case that is close to the size of the filter. This one has a generic case much too large(no photos of it, as I already returned it). My filters are 52 mm, and the protective case was at least 80 mm, I think. To not even have a case close to the right size seems like penny pinching… I’d even accept a case for a 58mm filter; it’s close enough. IT is absurdly large for its purposes, and would be awkward to put in a pocket.
That’s quibbling, though; there’s only one question. Does the lens work? That’s the important part, not the professional looking packaging.
…No. No it does not. I think the lens might be a little darker again? If so, it isn’t any better than the JYC filter. I could buy 12 JYC filters for the full price of one of these. I don’t know why I’d ever do that, but I COULD if I wanted to. And in case you think mine is defective, I looked to see if anyone else did a similar test. Someone did.
Lots of websites I’ve looked at online say that the main purpose in having a UV-blocking filter today isn’t necessarily to block ultraviolet light(as I mentioned before, most cameras are already designed to do that). They say that the main purpose is to protect the lens from dust and scratches.
And, with all due respect to those websites, you’re wrong. That isn’t the point; other filter types do that. Protecting the lens is a bonus feature, not the main selling point.
Lets say, purely hypothetically, that I buy a bulletproof vest. The package is labelled ‘Bulletproof Body Armor’. I try it out, and find that it doesn’t stop bullets (again, I’m really sorry, Dave). The argument may that the vest does a good job protecting the wearer from minor cuts and abrasions; almost no one will actually need it for its intended purposes. That completely misses the point(unlike the bullets, which were right on target). YOU SOLD IT AS BULLETPROOF! IT DOESN’T MATTER THAT MOST PEOPLE WON’T GET SHOT! If you sold it as a ‘vest’, I would be fine with that, but you didn’t, and now I’ve not only ruined my vest, I’ve got a friend who won’t talk to me and I have to buy a get well card!
But back on topic. I don’t want to perpetuate the ‘You had one job’ meme… but you did. The JYC filter never came in any packaging, but the Bower one did. You saw the front t cover, where it proudly labels itself a UV Filter(here it is again, just to push that point home).
… Look! it even says professional! And Multi-Coated! Multi-coated with what, I don’t know, but whatever it is, it doesn’t block UV light. Maybe water? That’s called ‘cleaning’, though, not coating.
Here’s the back, where it just as proudly proclaims that the filter “… reduces ultraviolet rays from[sic] entering your camera lens”. Maybe the bad grammar should have been my third warning.
Going over the other claims on the back:
1- It’s multi-coated; they want to emphasize that. I still don’t know what it’s coated with, but whatever it is, it is ‘ultra’, and there’s three layers of it. Just in case you were worried.
2- The glass is ‘high transparency’. That sounds good in theory, but it appears that that claim holds up not only in the visible spectrum, but in the ultraviolet light as well.
3-The filter protects the camera from ‘dirt, dust, and scratches’. I don’t have a problem with that claim, but as I stated before, that is a secondary purpose of the lens, not a primary one.
My main point is that these should be labelled ‘Clear filters’. It sounds like an oxymoron, but they’re a real thing. Clear filters are designed to cover a camera lens, protect it from dust or damage, and… well, that’s it. it doesn’t filter anything other than dust particles. M
Of course, I’m sure that they could say the name is appropriate because they’re blocking UV wavelengths shorter than those my camera can detect. They could even be technically correct- the UV range goes from 10 to 400 nm.
The problem with that argument, though? My camera is actually pretty good at UV photography. Not great, but fairly good at it. I’d estimate that most of my UV photos are taken around the 370 nm range; for reference, the atmosphere blocks light below 280 nm, and human vision starts at about 400 nm. Maybe if you had a good UV sensitive camera, adapted purely for ultraviolet photos, you might see some difference in the filter below 350 nm, but you could probably say the same with any glass.
What I’m saying is I’m fairly confidant that if MY camera can’t detect a difference, NO unmodified consumer camera would detect a difference. The filter might block light in a shorter wavelength, but the farther from the visible range, the less likely light will affect the camera. As far as I can tell, a regular window blocks more UV than these UV filters. In fact… hang on a second…
… just what I thought. MY CLEAR ZIPLOC BAG IS BETTER AT BLOCKING ULTRAVIOLET LIGHT THAN YOUR ‘UV FILTER’!
In conclusion… if you’re going for a UV-blocking filter, take the time to find one that actually, you know, can block UV. Also, the word of the day is ‘Ranteview’, I have bad vision, and if you like that desert photo on the back of the Bower box…
The above photos were taken with a modified Canon T3i Rebel camera.