In this episode I discuss lens filters, why you may want to have them, what you can use them for and what to watch out for.
For this week’s episode I wanted to talk about lens filters and what they are used for. Many landscape photographers like to use lens filters to create more stunning images. With a gradient filter you can “punch” up the sky to make it look more appealing and give your images more color and personality.
Then there are Neutral Density filters, which allows you to capture daytime long exposures. Now you are probably thinking, “Why would I want to shoot daytime long exposures?” Well, one of the things you can do with daytime long exposure photography is making a fairly still body of water look like glass even on a windy day. If you love to capture waterfalls, you can use an ND filter to make the water look like mist instead of running water.
What exactly is an ND filter? Well, in simple terms, an ND filter is kind of like sunglasses for your camera lens. Basically an ND filter can reduce the amount of light that gets to your camera sensor. Now you can buy fixed ND filters that are anywhere from 3 to 10 stops of light reduction, or you can optionally buy a variable ND filter that allows you to switch between 3 and a maximum of 10 stops of light reduction.
I caution on using variable ND filters as there are a LOT of crappy quality ones on the market. Tiffen makes a bunch of them, but they seem to be very low quality, I tried one of their myself a number of years back but it created a nasty blue/purple haze to all the images when I used it. Now, there are higher quality ones, like PolarPro, but they are not cheap at $249. If you are going to buy an expensive one like a PolarPro, make sure you buy it larger enough to cover your biggest lens, say an 82mm or 87mm size and then you can buy inexpensive step down rings to use it with your smaller lenses.
Photographers really need to understand that lens filters isn’t a place to where they should go really low budget. Really that statement applies to most photography gear, but the moment you put a really cheap filter on the end your lens it doesn’t matter the quality of the lens. Cheap filters will reduce your image quality significantly.
Look for lens filters made of glass, not resin. Scott B270 is the common glass used by good filters, nearly all of the companies actually source the glass from the same manufacturer. There are also companies starting to put out filters made of Corning Gorilla Glass, which makes them a little sturdier.
Speaking of sturdiness, even the Scott B270 glass is pretty sturdy. I have dropped my square filters made of that glass many times, and they have proven to be very shatter resistant.
There are lots of good brands of filters today. Here are a few in no particular order:
Canon Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter
Canon Drop-In CPL
Canon Drop-In Variable ND filter
You should plan to spend somewhere between $200 and $700 dollars on a filter system that includes a CPL, a 3 stop ND, and maybe a 6 stop ND. Now I have found a less expensive option that seems to work well if you want to use the glass plate style ND filters. I bought this set on Amazon about 3-4 years ago and the kit cost me around $99 and it was the Rangers 12pcs Solid ND + Color Filter Kit (ND2, ND4, ND8, ND16, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Brown, Orange, Purple, Pink Filters, Optics) + 9 Filter Adaptors Ring (49-82mm) + Carrying Pouch RA110. Currently it’s no longer available but maybe you can find something similar. What this system does is instead of having a round filter that screws onto the front of your lens, this has a frame that screws into the filter threads and then the frame has slots to hold the large rectangle plates in front of your lens. The nice thing about a kit like this or the Cokin is the step down rings come with the kit.
The current variable ND filter I use it part of my filter adapter system for my Canon EOS R. This is a special RF to EF adapter that allows me to use an EF lens on my Canon EOS R or RP and have the filter behind my lens so I get perfect coverage without using a step down ring. I also like the fact that the Canon system has a knob you spin to adjust the level of light reduction instead of turning a ring on the outside of the filter itself. I also prefer this filter adapter mount as it allows me to quickly and easily switch from my variable ND and my Circular Polarizing filter.
Now a circular polarizing filter is handy when you want to shoot through glass without reflection in your images if say you are shooting at a local aquarium or are in another situation where you need to remove errant light in your images.
What are UV filters? Well they are essentially useless filters and I don’t personally recommend them to anyone. A lot of people will tell you to buy UV filters or simple clear glass filters to put on the end of your lens to protect it from bumps and scratches but I am against this as if you whack the filter good it could get stuck on the end of your lens and then you are pickled. If you really want to protect the front element of your lens, your best bet is to use a lens hood. Additionally, UV filters will tend to “add” unknown and unwanted qualities to your images and nobody wants that.
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