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Filters - Which one is for me??? : UV, Circular Polarisers & Neutral Density filters Explained

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This is one of the most common questions we receive.  With a bit of insight in to what the main types of filters do and what they are used for, hopefully you will be able to make an informed decision after you've read this article. As always if you are still unsure and need some clarification, please shoot me an email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

I will start of with what i use most. I always carry 3 types of filters, some i use more then others:

Circular Polarisers

 

This is the filter i use most often.

A lot can be said about the technicalities of how they work but to keep this post brief let me head straight to the benefits of using one.

Polarising filters change the way that your camera sees and treats light. Particularly – when using one you’ll notice a change in how your camera sees reflections and glare. As a result it also has the ability to change the vibrancy of some colors in shots.

Let’s look at a few areas where polarising filters can have have the biggest impact:

  • Water – When shooting a picture of water adjusting your polarising filter will mean you see into the water differently, cutting out glare and even changing the colour of the water. For example when I was snorkelling off a boat off the coast of Indonesia a few years ago I took a series of photos using a polarising filter that made the water look crystal clear and a bright blue color. Without the filter the shots had nowhere near the same impact with a big reflection being picked up off the top of the water and a more murky color.
  • Sky – Similarly, the color of sky can change remarkably using a polarising filter. Rotating the filter you’ll see a blue sky change from a light pale blue color to a vibrant and deep blue color (depending upon where the sun is). A polarising filter can cut out a lot of the smoggy haze that is often in city shots.
  • Colour – Polarizing filters cut down the reflection that many objects have (even those that you might not think reflect at all). This makes the colors of some of these objects more vibrant. For example out in the garden you might notice foliage on trees looking greener than you would get without the filter.
  • Other Reflections – Shooting through glass can be a real challenge at times and using a polarising filter can definitely assist in cutting down distracting reflections or glare. Similarly photographing shiny objects (like a new car for instance) with a polarising filter will change the way reflections are treated.

Another benefit of fitting a polarising filter to your camera (or any kind of filter) is that you put an extra level of protection between your expensive lens’s glass and anything that might scratch or damage it. A UV filter is probably a more appropriate filter for protective purposes (they are cheaper and have less impact upon your shots when you don’t want the polarising effect) but a polarising filter is definitely more preferable to break or scratch than your actual lens.

Polarisers Change Exposure (Well... not so much now)

When you see a polarising filter you’ll notice that it looks quite a lot like a sunglasses lens.  The filter is dark and works by cutting our some of the aspects of light (similarly to sunglasses). As a result less light gets through to your image sensor and you’ll need to either use longer shutter speeds, a larger aperture or to beef up your ISO setting to account for this. The difference that you’ll need to account for is 1-2 stops. It’s for this reason that you won’t want to use a polarising filter at night.

....HOWEVER with the advancements in polarisers and in particular Hoyas range of PRO 1D and HD filters, they have been able to make the polarisers so up to 99% of light transmitted with there HD Series and approx 97% light transmission for the PRO 1D series. It is for this reason that if given the choice, i would choose a high quality Polariser (HD or PRO 1D) instead of one standard Polariser and one UV filter. You will save yourself money in the long run and will be able to leave your polariser on most of the time with out having to use a UV Filter.

 

UV Filters

UV Filters filter out the UV light that can cause a blueish haze on your pictures. They are most commonly used as lens protectors and serve this purpose well, with the added bonus of blocking UV light. A UV filter can be left on all the time as a lens protector/filter and it does not have any effect on how much light enters the lens.

 

broken

The UV filter took the impact and saved this lens from going in the bin

 


Neutral Density Filters

One filter that is in the camera outfit of many professionals is the neutral density filter, or ND filter as it's better known. The filter is less appreciated by hobbyists and the reason it probably has little appeal is its looks - a plain, dull grey filter. Not colourful, no star effect, no gradation, no multiple image glass...just plain grey. And what does it do? Reduce the exposure? Hmmm I can do that with my camera...it's pointless! Well actually it isn't, and that's why the ND filter is a necessity for the professional and often found in the enthusiast landscape photographer's camera bag.

The ND filter may be plain grey, but it's a neutral grey so whatever light it lets through isn't affected in colour, just in brightness. So why would you want a filter that reduces the exposure when it can be done using your camera's shutter speeds or apertures? This depends on a few things. Firstly you may have a fully automatic camera. If so, the ND filter will give you a small amount of manual versatility. Or you may have been taking pictures in low light using fast film and then ventured out into bright sunlight where it was physically impossible to take a photo because your camera's fastest shutter speed was flashing, even though the aperture was adjusted to the smallest setting.

The ND filter will reduce the light and allow the shot to be taken. Using an ND filter in this way is not its primary benefit though. Have you seen those shots of waterfalls that look ethereal with blurry cotton wool water? Well the chances are an ND filter will have been used. Here the filter is used to reduce the shutter speed so that blur occurs. If you are out in a bright location the shutter speed will be at least 1/125sec and ideally you need 1/15sec or slower. So pop on the necessary ND filter and you'll gain the effect you're after.

ND filters come in a variety of ratings. The NDx400 or ND400 is my favourite, with 9 stops of light. This essentially means, to get a correct exposure, the shutter will have to remain open for much longer to achieve a well exposed image. I love this filter as it provides great effects on water, or any moving object.

 

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Conclusion

Simply put, if i had to buy one filter only, it would be a good quality Circular Polariser first which cuts glare/reflection and still lets enough light through (Hoya HD or Pro 1D)

 

To view our range of filters, please click HERE

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