How to Remove a Lens Filter That’s Stuck

If you can't get your lens filter off because it's stuck, here are some things to try.

Sometimes screw-in lens filters can become stuck on a lens. It might be screwed on too tightly, or salt spray or grit might be jammed in the filter thread. And because the filters are so thin, there’s often not much opportunity to get a good grip with your bare hands. Especially if your hands are cold or wet (or both), which is common in landscape photography.

You usually don’t what to use brute force methods like a vice, pliers, or multigrips. At best, they risk damaging the filter. Just as likely is to damage the lens rim or end up with broken glass. And you don’t want to add any lubricant, because that’s going to wreak havoc with the optics and the lens mechanism.

Two quick options are to use a clean cloth to try to get a better grip. I find that a rubber band wrapped around the filter works even better. There’s no particular magic to which rubber bands to use, although I’ve used these ones for years and find them a good combination of the right size for many lenses and offering good grip that lays flat on the surface without twisting.

Filter Wrenches

If you find yourself putting filters on and off a lot, you can also get inexpensive filter wrenches that make for a good solution.

They’re pretty simple: they’re just slightly springy to make it easy to get a firm grip around the outside of the filter. You just slip the wrench around the filter, and you’ll then have both grip and leverage. You can get something similar in kitchen utensils for jars–the main difference with the filter ones is that they have a very narrow area that comes into contact with the filter, so you can get good purchase on just a single filter rather than a broader contact that makes it difficult because you’re trying to turn both the filter and part of the lens.

Filter wrenches also have the benefit of reducing the risk of getting fingerprints on the filter or lens’s front element. They’re especially useful when your hands are cold or wet. If you’re only carrying one or two for the most common filter sizes you’re using, then the wrenches are light and hardly take up any space in your camera bag. You can also get inexpensive sets to cover pretty much any lens diameter you’re likely to have in your kit.

Things Worth Knowing About Lens Filter Wrenches

They come in different sizes. Each one covers a small range of lens diameters. For example, one might cover filter sizes of 67mm to 72mm or 58mm to 62mm. But you don’t necessarily need a perfect fit for every size. So if you have one that’s close to the right size, it’s worth giving it a try. You’re after grip, and the wrenches are designed to wrap around.

In general, you don’t want to use them to attach a filter. That’s to reduce the risk of over-tightening. Filters should be finger tight. If you do them too tight, you risk damaging the brass, aluminum, or plastic threads on either the lens or the filter (or both).

On most lenses, as you’re looking down the barrel of the lens, you’ll turn the filter counter-clockwise to loosen and clockwise to tighten.

Where to Find Them

Any good photography gear retailer should carry them. You don’t need fancy or expensive. I quite like this multi-wrench pack that offers good value.

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  • I use either a rubber lid gripper my wife keeps in the kitchen or a flat, soft piece of wood. The rubber lid gripper is just a sheet of rubber that lets you get a better grip and they work really well and can usually be found at your local market in the kitchen gadget section. The wood has to be soft. Most pine is OK but redwood is even better and walnut works in a pinch (don't ask me how I know...). The filters with the raised notched rims can be shoved onto the wood and the lens turned to remove the filter. This takes a little practice and a fairly heavy hand but it works. As long as the wood surface is soft enough to allow you to embed the filter ridges into it, this should work.

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