The other day my iPhone rang and when I took it out of my camera bag, to my shock and dismay, there on the screen was a telltale row of white lines and a starburst spot. Somehow, something had hit the phone's screen hard enough to shatter it. Quickly I took out my DSLR out and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw it was unharmed.
This instance reminded me just how vulnerable the LCD and LED screens of my electronic gear really are. Whether you have a point and shoot or a high-end DSLR, the most important accessory for it is a screen protector. For just a few dollars of preventative medicine, you can save yourself from hundreds of dollars in repairs.
Protectors are made of special hardened glass or layers of plastic and designed to completely cover your camera display. They protect fragile surfaces from fingerprints, scratches and abrasions, and the slightly more expensive glass ones absorb the tough hits that can cause costly damage. I say this out of personal experience; I have gone through four of them in just the last year. Unfortunately, glass screen protectors are not usually stocked by small camera shops, so you'll need to check out a big box store or shop for them online. You should be able to find them in a variety of sizes (they're identified by their diagonal length) at web retailers such as Adorama, B&H Photo and eBay. I buy them three at a time; they run $4 to $10 a piece, including shipping.
Installing a screen protector is (almost literally) a snap. You simply remove the paper backing, lay it over the camera monitor and then gently press it in place. The adhesive is very strong and holds the protector firm. Yet if you need to remove it, just slip a credit card under its edge and it should lift right off.
The traditional UV lens filter is the other must-have accessory for guarding your camera gear. This hard optical glass filter protects the delicate front element of your lens from clumsy fingers, dust, sand, water and impact. Just like the screen protector, the filter takes the abuses of daily photography that might otherwise prove expensive to repair. (In addition to guarding the lens, the filter also blocks ultraviolet (UV) light from reaching the sensor. Ultraviolet is a deep blue light that is invisible to our eyes, but which sensors record. Photographing in daylight, UV can add a cool blue cast to your photographs.)
Most UV filters screw into the front of a camera lens, and you need to purchase a filter with the same thread designation as your lens. Screw-in glass filters are readily available at camera shops and big box photo departments where they range in price from $10 to $30. Similar filters on eBay sell for about $10 with popular sizes like 52, 55 and 58mm costing as little as $4 or $5.
You can't use ordinary screw-in filters to protect the lenses on most point-and-shoot or compact zoom cameras (they don't have screw threads). But recently I discovered a nifty solution to this problem. A few companies make special UV filters that work like glass screen protectors and other Compatible Parts ; these round, hard thin pieces of glass stick right onto the lenses themselves. These stick-on UV filters still allow the lens to retract and keep small cameras pocketable. Since they are relatively new to the marketplace, you'll need to search for them online by specific camera model. They range in cost from $4 to $10.
Do not be penny wise and pound-foolish when it comes to protecting your cameras. A screen protector and UV filter will set you back no more than $30 total, and maybe as little as $10. It's a small price to pay for some piece of mind. With any luck the next time your camera takes a hit, you'll have saved yourself from calamity.