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By André Rolemberg

December 29th, 2020


Beyond the camera and the lens, there are a myriad of accessories in photography and video that enhance your ability to create with even more freedom and control. As you progress as a photographer or videographer, some of these accessories become indispensable for your creative needs. After the tripod, lens filters tend to become part of your permanent gear pretty early in the process. But how to know which filter to use? Here’s a look at 4 of the most common types to help you understand the basics of photographic lens filters!

Protective and UV Filters

Protection lens filter

If you just want to protect your camera lens, take a look at protection lens filters. They are clear filters that don’t have any typical color cast that would normally come from a UV or Skylight filter. These are 100% clear filters used as a first level surface protection barrier against scratches, dust, dirt and humidity.

UV Lens Filters

UV lens filters do not affect the image, as your sensor already has a protective UV filter installed over it, but can still cause a minuscule color cast as with the skylight filter. So what is their purpose? Those lens filters’ original purpose was to minimize the atmospheric haze, as analog film is more sensitive to it. Digital cameras are still slightly sensitive to UV, but the UV filter will make little to no difference in your image. Most post-processing softwares today have a dehazing adjustment slider to allow for the removal of atmospheric haze. Nowadays, they’re basically used as protection filters but these filters were used in film photography when using certain films that were more sensitive to the UV rays.

PRO TIP: These filters can reduce contrast! One thing you should be aware of is that filters are another piece of glass (most common lens filter material) in front of your lens. As a result, be watchful that the filter won’t end up reducing the final quality of the photo you are trying to take. It most commonly reduces the contrast, but don’t worry, as it rarely significantly affects the final shot.

Stephen Kraakmo, Unsplash
1/25s | f/22 | ISO 800
Sony a7 III

All things considered, if you don’t yet own a filter, we would strongly recommend you get a lens protection filter before any other; as it is the most thin piece of glass (usually less than 2mm thick) you can put it in front of your lens without affecting your image but still protecting your precious optics!

Neutral density filters (ND Filters)

They Reduce the Amount of Light Entering the Camera

ND filters reduce the amount of light that enters your camera. It’s like sunglasses for cameras. They are measured in the number of f/stops that they can reduce from your lens without affecting your depth of field: a 4 stop filter is darker than a 2 stop filter, for example. This allows for larger aperture or longer exposure times.

Use it for Bokeh and Motion Blur Effects

One common use of the ND filter is to make long exposures in daylight. Sometimes, no matter how low your ISO is and how small is your aperture, you can only leave the shutter open for a limited amount of time. With the ND filter on, you can achieve those long exposure shots!

You can also get a shallower depth of field in your shot by lowering the f/stop without overexposing when using a ND filter. This is an interesting, and sometimes vital point for filmmakers and portrait photographers to achieve the desired look!

PRO TIP: use it in video to be able to open up the lens aperture without overexposing your scene. In bright daylight, sometimes the lowest ISO sensibility is still too bright, and you don’t want to increase the shutter speed too much or the motion will become too sharp and choppy.

Scott Gummerson, Unsplash

What about Graduated Neutral Density Lens Filters?

A graduated ND filter, or simply graduated filter, is similar to a regular ND filter, except that only half of it is darkened and gradually goes from dark to clear over the length of the filter. This allows you to shoot different exposures of contrasting elements of a scene such as the sky and land. This is a great option to balance scenes with far greater dynamic range than your camera can handle!

Solovyova, iStock

Polarizing Lens Filters

Linear vs Circular Polarizing Lens Filters

What is the difference between linear and circular polarizing lens filters? In fact, they do the same thing. However, linear polarizing lens filters are more effective and less expensive than circular polarizing filters (also known as CPL filters), but cannot be used with any camera that has an auto exposure and/or auto focusing system. Polarizing filters are used to mainly remove what is called stray light. Stray light is light that the optical system is not designed for, so light that comes off of reflective surfaces or light rays entering the optical system from extreme angles.

Circular Polarizing Lens Filters

CPL lens filters are perfect to saturate muted colors. For example, using a polarizing filter on images with light blue skies, will saturate the blue shades of the sky by attenuating the stray light entering from the edge of the lens with very short focal lengths.

Eugène Chystiakov, Unsplash
1/1600s | f/1.8 | ISO 32
iPhone 11

Linear Polarizing Lens Filters

Linear polarizing lens filters will only allow the passage of a certain orientation of polarized light, so using them on reflective surfaces, such as a lake’s, attenuates the stray light coming off of the reflective surface. The end result is being able to see straight through the reflective surface and see what is on the other side. When using this type of polarizing lens filter, you want to stay within 25-35° of the reflective surface.

Bantersnaps, Unsplash
1/100s | f/2.8 | ISO 100
Sony a7S

Color Correction and color Effect Lens Filters

Solid color Lens Filters

As the name suggests, color lens filters can affect the amount of a certain colored light entering your lens. Be careful here, though; unlike the UV lens filter, which blocks UV light, a color filter will allow more light of the named color to pass through and saturate that specific color in your image. (e.g. a red filter lets in more red than the other colors.)

Enhancing and Warming Lens Filters

You can use cooling lens filters if you believe the scene is too warm for your stylistic preference. By the same token, a warming filter can be used to warm the light in a scene and to improve skin tones in video. You can also use a red enhancer for astrophotography to reduce the light pollution in the sky. These are not necessarily specific colors, but rather the hue that the lens filter changes.

Light Balancing Filters

The question remains as to whether you want to use this filter as a correction tool or a stylistic one. Since most cameras now have a pretty decent automatic white balance or presets that control the color, you may not find much use in those filters. However, if you want to have more control over your image, you might consider manually setting the white balance to the scene, and then applying the filter to adjust to your needs. This way it is guaranteed that the camera won’t try to adjust the white balance against the filter. This option is particularly interesting if you are shooting video, as the difference in exposure and color from shot to shot can be a nightmare in post production, or simply render your footage unusable!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the plethora of different lens filters you can find, but it at least covers the most common types of lens filters that can be used. Think of what kind of creative work, photo or video, you want to create, and see which filter suits your needs best! Come by one of our stores or visit our website and chat up one of our experts if you have any questions. Happy shooting!

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