by Joe Farace
There’s an old photographer’s saying—I think I made it up—that if you take care of your equipment it will take care of you. Last year I attended a hot rod show at a local racetrack planning to make some photographs. Big surprise there some of you might say but the big surprise for me was that sometime during that day I scratched the front element of my Canon EF 10-22mm EF-S lens. This wasn’t the first time I’ve done something stupid but I hope it will be the last. Here are a few tips from the trenches that will save you the cost of an expensive repair or, worse yet, replacement of one of your favorite lenses
When it comes to caring for equipment, there are two different kinds of photographers. The first group consists of photographic Oscar Madisons whose idea of cleaning is to lick the lens and wipe it off with a pulled-out shirttail. Maybe this photographer is trying to give his equipment that patina of wear often seen on equipment sported by globe-hopping photojournalists. The most important difference between these photojournalists and us is we have to pay for our equipment and they don’t. The opposite extreme is obviously the Felix Unger-types whose equipment looks as if they never use it. There is no wear on camera bodies, no dust would ever dare land on their lenses and these shooters never leave the house without a full supply of lens cleaning tissue and fluid. Most us lay between these two extremes although I’ll confess to some Unger-like impulses about caring for my photo equipment but the older I get they seem to be fading.
When working in less than idea conditions, I thinks it’s a good idea to attach a UV or Skylight filter to the front of each lens but I know that some photographers disagree. They feel using any filter, no matter what its quality may be, degrades optical performance and changes focus. Some photographers make it a practice never to put a filter on any lens unless it is to produce a specific visual effect.
I find a Haze or Skylight 1A filter provides an effective ounce of prevention for photographic situations that include blowing dirt, saltwater spray, or crowded situations—such as photographing children with sticky hands. Some long lenses, including Sigma’s larger telephoto lenses, are supplied with a built-in protective front glass and don’t require a Haze or Skylight filter. It seems obvious that you want to use a good quality filter, but I am always surprised to see a poor quality filter on a Leica or Hasselblad. An option to using Haze or Skylight filters is Tiffen’s “Clear” filter that’s designed for protection only, is made of clear optical glass, and provides no Ultraviolet (UV) light absorption. By comparison, a Tiffen Skylight filter absorbs 45.5% of the UV light, while a Haze filter provides 71% absorption. Photographers, like me, who live at high altitudes may want to use a Haze 2A that absorbs virtually all UV light.
Several times while on assignment I’ve had a chance to test my practice of keeping a Haze or Skylight filter mounted on my lenses all the time. One incident occurred when photographing a gymnastic competition between the American and Russian women’s Olympic gymnastic team in Denver, Colorado. During a break in the action, I glanced at the front of my 300mm f/2.8 lens. Right across the middle of the front mounted filter was a giant scratch! I don’t know how it happened, but it was much less expensive to replace that filter than the lens it protected.
One of the best ways to protect your lens is to use a lens hood. Get one that’s designed to be used with your specific lens. In addition to protecting your lens, any time you prevent non-image forming light from striking the front element of your lens, overall image quality improves. Wide-angle lenses users will want to make sure they use thin-mount filters, such as offered by B+W, Hoya, and Tiffen to prevent vignetting when using lens hoods or lenses with built-in hoods.
Joe is the author of a new e-book called “15 Tips for Better Car Photos.”
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