One of the heated debates in photography is about the use of clear filters (UV/Haze/Clear) for protection.
The photographers discouraging use of the filters give arguments about the ineffectiveness in providing real protection to lens in case of fall, adding a piece of glass in front of an expensive lens bringing down the quality of the whole setup, increased flares and halos. Hoods provide better protection. There are incidents where the lens with a filter fell down and the filter failed to provide any protection and in a few instances ended up scratching the front element.
On the other hand, photographers advocating the use of filters say that changing an inexpensive filter is economical than changing the whole lens, the lens coatings are easily scratched and that the clear filters can also improve the image at times due to its ‘UV/haze cutting’ feature. Cleaning a filter is easy. Some good filters can handle a fair amount of beating and prevent the front element.
I have rarely seen photographers take a middle path. There are people who purchase a UV filter or a clear filter along with a lens and there are others who consider it as the biggest scam in photography industry.
The advantages that I have found with these filters are many. They protect the front element from occasional finger-prints, spray on the sea-front and even from waterfalls. Pets have a nasty habit of licking everything they like which includes camera lens/filters when trying to photograph them at close quarters.
I did not notice any improvement in the landscapes due to the so called cutting down of haze or UV. When the frame had any bright light sources, best of the best filters caused flares. Thankfully I have never had the poor luck of my lens falling down. A Kata camera bag once did tumble down from a high rock, all the way down to the ground (must be about 10-12 meters tumble) but the camera bag protected everything very nicely.
I am one of the few photographers who have taken a middle path when it comes to clear filters.
I use Hoya HD UV filters with most of my expensive lenses. Their video which went viral on the social media showing a person repeatedly banging the Hoya HD filter to table’s corner did really strengthen my confidence in them. They are easy to clean and do not cause any noticeable changes to the image. I use Zeiss filters with Zeiss lenses due to their T* coating but I am sure that they provide protection only against the occasional finger-prints and nothing more.
With Nikkor 50mm and a few other similar inexpensive lenses with deep set front elements, I do not use a clear filter usually. The last time I used a clear filter on my 50mm lens was when I was photographing some seascapes on a windy day.
Whenever I use Polarizer, ND or any other filter, I first remove the clear filter. When I am using lens indoors, I do not use a clear filter. I also do not use them whenever there is a light source in the frame.
This last statement brings me to the toughest question of all. What to do when photographing a sunset on a windy sea beach? Take the filter off ! The flare due to filter, will in most counts, spoil the photograph. The salt water spray and wind with fine dust will affect the lens body and camera in equal amount as the front element. Front element is least of my worries in such a case. I prefer to quickly photograph and then hide the camera in the safe confines of my camera bag.
(Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens without any UV filter. I kept my camera in the bag when I walked from one end of the beach to the other.)
……and yes, a hood should provide better protection in case of a fall than a filter. (This is just my assumption.)