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Filters for Digital Cameras

Camera filters can improve the quality of your photos. But which lens filters do you need
for a digital camera and when should you use them?
Camera lens filters are a relatively cheap way to transform your DSLR !ut they can
intimidate new photographers. "s with most camera accessories there are plenty of tips
and tric#s dos and don$ts and some real room for confusion. Do you need an %D filter or
an %D grad filter? Should you !uy plastic or glass? Square or circular? &n this camera filters
guide we$ll answer some of your most frequently as#ed questions e'plain how to choose a
filter for your lens and get the most out of them in all manner of shooting situations.

Which camera filters should I buy?
Bac# in the days of film camera filters were essential for creating any #ind of special
effect. "lthough we now have (hotoshop conventional lens filters still have their place in
the digital age. )owever there are only * !asic types of filter you need to own+ a circular
polariser neutral density filter %D grad and a protective one.
Should I buy circular lens filters or rectangular ones?
Filters come in a wide range of shapes and si,es from circular screw-on filters to
rectangular filters that sit in front of your lens. (rices vary too from ine'pensive options
made !y companies such as .ood to high-end filters from /iffen and )assel!lad which are
aimed at professional use. For most of us the stand-out names are )oya for screw-in
filters and Co#in and Lee for square0rectangular filters.
/o #eep the front of your lens protected you can$t !eat the convenience of a circular
s#ylight or 12 filter which you can leave on your lens until you need to attach something
more specialised such as a circular polariser 3see !elow4. Rectangular filters meanwhile
are more suita!le for effects 5 graduated tints for e'ample where the effect needs to !e
positioned accurately in the frame.

(olarising filter+ !efore and after

Why do I need a polarising filter?
" polarising filter !oasts two main effects+ depending on the angle of the sun to the filter
it can !e used to intensify and add contrast to cloudy !lue s#ies and it can reduce
reflections in glass water or foliage. %one of this can !e recreated 5 at least not
convincingly 5 using standard image-editing software. " polariser will also reduce the
amount of light that reaches your camera$s sensor so it6s useful if you$re trying to achieve
long e'posures in !right light.
(olarising filters are e'pensive - if your camera !ag catches fire this is the first filter you6ll
want to save. But they6re an indispensa!le tool for any photographer who loves shooting
landscapes. )owever the pro!lem with using these filters with very wide-angle lenses that
landscape photographers typically use is that the effect is quite direction specific. So. one
large e'panse of s#y captured !y a very wide-angle lens will tend to !e much more heavily
polarised than other areas ma#ing for an uneven filter effect.

%D grads are availa!le in a range of strengths and hard or soft graduations

What do I need a Graduated Neutral Density filter (ND Grad)?
7ne of the most popular uses of square or rectangular filters is for landscape photography
around dawn and dus# when the s#y is very much !righter than the land. " graduated
%eutral Density filter 3%D 8rad4 is grey at the top !lending to clear at the !ottom so it
can ma#e the overall lighting in a scene of this type more even. 9ithout a filter the
foreground would !e too dar# or the s#y would appear washed out.
/he advantage of using a rectangular filter rather than a circular screw-in filter is that you
can slide the filter up and down to !est match its position to the hori,on in the scene.
)owever the amount of dar#ening you need depends on the !rightness of the s#y so
various different strengths are availa!le. For e'ample Co#in sells 8radual 8rey %D: %D*
and %D; filters which have increasing strengths. %D 8rads are also availa!le with either a
hard or soft transition !etween the clear and dar# glass.
Before fitting a filter a good way to <udge which strength you need is to use your camera to
ta#e separate light readings of the foreground and s#y independently wor# out how many
stops difference there is !etween the two then fit the corresponding filter. 8raduated tints
with colour rather than grey can also !e useful for increasing the orange hue of sunset or
for turning grey s#ies !lue although these colour ad<ustments can !e made with more
control during the image processing stage.
%eutral Density filters are useful for long exposure landscape photography

Why do I need a solid Neutral Density filter (ND)?
&n gloomy conditions it$s easy to increase your camera$s &S7 3light sensitivity4 to ena!le
faster shutter speeds for pin-sharp shots. But what if conditions are very !right and you
want to use a slow shutter speed for motion !lur or you want to use a large aperture to
reduce the depth of field and throw the !ac#ground out of focus in portraiture? Fit a
%eutral Density filter= %D filters come in a range of densities each reducing the amount of
light that hits the camera sensor !y a specified num!er of stops.
Solid neutral density filters or solid %Ds have !ecome increasingly popular in recent years
as the popularity of long e'posure minimalist landscape photography has grown. >?-stop %D
filters from the li#es of Lee and B@9 when com!ined with small apertures and low &S7
settings ena!le you to achieve e'posure times that can run into minutes even in !right
sunlight in the middle of the day. A'treme %D filters li#e these are perfect for ma#ing
moving water appear glass-smooth or for shooting architectural scenes with moving people
!lurred out.

Fit a 12 filter when wor#ing near the sea in order to protect the front element from salt
spray

Why do I need a protective filter?
Some photographers choose to leave a clear filter permanently attached to the end of their
lens whether they$re shooting outdoors in any weather conditions or indoors under
am!ient lighting or using a flashgun or studio flash. /his is not so much for any optical
!enefits it may provide !ut more for reducing the ris# of accidental scrapes. "fter all it$s
much cheaper to replace a filter than the front element of your lens.
)istorically the two most popular choices for screw-in filters that can !e left on pretty
much all of the time are the S#ylight >B and the 12 )a,e. " particular advantage of the
S#ylight >B is that it reduces the !luish tinge often associated with shooting outdoors
particularly in shady areas under a !ig !lue s#y. )owever with the a!ility to automatically
or manually ad<ust white !alance settings in digital photography this isn$t really a pro!lem.
So a 12 filter is a !etter option !ecause the a!sorption of ultra-violet rays has the
additional !onus of reducing ha,iness in outdoor photography.
Filter tip+ remove a 12 filter when you$re ta#ing long e'posures at night. /his is !ecause
any attached filter can create ghost images of !right lights such as street lamps or the
moon. Fit a lens hood for protection instead.

Buy a square %D grad filter rather than a circular one 5 you6ll then !e a!le to ad<ust the
depth of the effect

o! does a "s#uare$ filter %it !or%?
1nli#e screw-in filters which fit directly to the front of your lens square or rectangular
filters rely on a slightly more complicated arrangement. /he first part to fit is the adaptor
ring which screws into the filter thread of the lens in the same way as a screw-in filter. &n
this case however a filter holder slides onto the adaptor ring and this holder can then
accept one or more square or rectangular filters simultaneously.
7ne advantage of this arrangement is that if you have various lenses that all have
different-si,ed filter threads you only need to !uy relatively cheap adaptor rings in the
various si,es rather than duplicating the actual filters which would !e much more
e'pensive. "nother !onus is that even though most filters from the li#es of Co#in and Lee
are square you can also !uy round rotation specific filters li#e circular polarisers which
fit into the same holder ma#ing the system even more versatile.
Buy camera filters to fit your lens with the largest filter thread

What si&e lens filter should I buy?
For screw-in filters you simply need to match the filter to the thread si,e of the lens you
are using which is generally printed on the end of the lens !arrel. 9hen loo#ing to !uy
screw-in creative filters that you want to use on different lenses !uy those that are a
direct fit for whichever lens has the largest screw thread. Bou can then use a set of step-
up or stepping rings to attach the filters to the rest of your lenses. For e'ample a CC-
C;mm step-up ring would ena!le you to attach a C;mm screw-in filter to a lens that has a
smaller CCmm screw thread.
For square or rectangular filters it$s more complicated. Co#in filters for e'ample come in
a range of different si,es and Dseries$ including " ( E-(ro and F-(ro. /he "-series system
will mount on lenses with a thread si,e of up to G:mm !ut is only suita!le for modest
wide-angle use down to an effective focal length of HCmm. /his ma#es "-series filters
unsuita!le for most DSLRs with #it lenses where the >;mm wide-angle setting is equivalent
to a!out :;mm.
/he (-series mounting #it and filters are a !etter !et !ecause these provide !etter wide-
angle coverage 3:;mm4 and can !e mounted on lenses with a thread of up to ;:mm. For
ultra-wide photography or for lenses with a large front element Co#in$s E-(ro series ta#es
you down to an effective focal length of :?mm and a thread si,e of IGmm while the F-(ro
system goes even further ma#ing it suita!le for effective focal lengths as wide as >Cmm
and filter thread si,es of up to >>;mm.
're glass filters better than plastic ones?
%ot necessarily. Janufacturers often use a range of different materials depending on the
type of filter they produce. Resin for e'ample is often used to ma#e graduated %D filters
and tinted filters !ecause it$s tough lightweight and offers very good optical performance.
For thin filters often used for colour correction or soft-focus effects polyester is the norm
while other filters such as polarisers and some special effects filters need to !e made from
glass. Aven then all glass isn$t created equal and more up-mar#et filters will typically !e
made from higher grade glass such as Co#in$s CRHI 7rganic 8lass. /his is tough lightweight
and has e'cellent optical properties ma#ing it equally popular for use in prescription
spectacles.

8hosting+ !right lights can give rise to unwanted reflections !eing generated inside the lens

Do I need to buy multi(coated filters?
Loo# through any window or sheet of glass and you$ll see reflections. &n an uncoated filter
this means that not all of the light reaching the filter is passing through it 5 some of it is
reflected. 7ne disadvantage of reflections is that they cut down on the amount of light
reaching the sensor !ut a !igger pro!lem is that some reflections will !e !ounced into the
lens where they can cause ghosting and flare and a loss of contrast in the resulting image.
8ood quality filters therefore use multiple coatings that are designed to cut down on
reflections and ensure the greatest possi!le transmission of light.
're "professional$ filters !orth the extra expense?
1p-mar#et screw-in filters such as )oya (ro-> Digital often feature upgrades to reduce
unwanted reflections to the a!solute minimum. /his is important in digital photography
!ecause digital sensors are more prone to the effects of ghosting and flare than film. /his
class of filter typically employs advanced Ddigital multi-coating$ matte !lac# frames and
even !lac#-rimmed glass to avoid any light !eing !ounced around. /he frame of the filter
often also has a low profile 3see !elow4 and in the very finest filters the frame is
sometimes made of !rass rather than aluminium !ecause there$s less chance of it !inding
to the filter thread of the lens which can occasionally require the use of a filter wrench for
removal. &n short the !est quality lenses deserve the !est quality filters.
When should I use ultra(thin filters?
/here$s not normally a pro!lem using standard thic#ness screw-in filters instead of a more
e'pensive filter with an ultra-thin profile. /he main e'ception is when you$re using an
ultra-wide-angle lens !ecause in this case the protrusion of the filter frame from the front
of the lens can !loc# out light from the corners of the image frame. /his dar#ening of
corners is called vignetting and will !e most noticea!le when using your lens$s largest
availa!le aperture.

"d<ust the position of a polariser !efore you fit a lens hood

)an I still fit a lens hood !hen I$m using a filter?
Strong light stri#ing a filter at an o!lique angle is li#ely to cause ghosting and flare in much
the same way as light stri#ing the front element of your lens so it$s still a good idea to use
a lens hood if you can. )owever this can !e a pain when using directionally sensitive screw-
in filters li#e circular polarisers in con<unction with petal-shaped lens hoods that twist onto
the lens !arrel !ecause you have to remove the hood to ad<ust the filter. &n this case it6s
!est to shield the filter with your hand. " !ellows hood is a popular type of lens hood for
square and rectangular filter systems. &t can !e easily mounted in front of the filter system
and e'tended or contracted to suit the focal length of lens !eing used.
)an I use multiple scre!(in filters at the same time?
&t$s great !eing a!le to mi' and match filters to get different creative effects !ut there$s a
catch. /he simultaneous use of multiple screw-in filters greatly increases their Dprofile$ 5
the distance they protrude from the front of the lens 5 which often causes vignetting.
Square or rectangular filters are !etter suited to multi-filter use as the filter holders that
attach to the front of the lens don$t encroach on the corners of the image and can
typically accommodate two or three separate filters with ease.
Will using a filter affect my camera$s metering?
Different filters and especially circular polarisers and colour filters can dramatically
reduce the amount of light that enters the lens and this will have a profound effect on the
e'posure setting. /he good news is that your camera$s internal light-metering system
which measures light Dthrough the lens$ 3//L4 should automatically correct for filters in the
vast ma<ority of cases. )owever a little fine-tuning is often needed so it$s !est to review
images using your SLR$s histogram dial-in any e'posure compensation that$s required and
then re-shoot the su!<ect.

Shooting in colour and converting to !lac# and white later gives you fle'i!ility
Do coloured filters !or% for blac% and !hite photography?
Film photographers often use yellow orange or red filters over their lens when shooting
with !lac# and white film to ma#e cloudy s#ies loo# increasingly more dramatic or they
might use a green filter for enlivening s#in tones especially under tungsten lighting. /hese
filters have the same effects in digital photography if you set your camera to its !lac# and
white image capture setting and use the appropriate manual 9hite Balance setting to
match the lighting conditions. )owever most of us prefer to shoot in regular colour mode
and then ad<ust the amount and the colour of Dfiltering$ afterwards when converting the
image to !lac# and white using editing software such as (hotoshop and (S Alements.
What is a rear(mounting filter?
&t$s not practical to use screw-in filters with some lenses. For e'ample the diameter of the
front element of some super-telephoto lenses is too large so a slot-in filter holder near the
!ac# of the lens neatly ena!les the fitment of a much smaller colour or polarising filter.
Similarly it would !e impossi!le to fit a front-mounting filter to a fish-eye lens without
o!scuring the corners of the frame so some of these have a gel filter slot in the rear of the
lens <ust !ehind the rear element into which you can insert small squares of coloured gel
filter material !efore fitting the lens to the camera.

6Jacro6 filters offer an afforda!le route into close-up photography

What is a close(up filter and !hen !ould I use one?
"lso called Dmacro$ filters close-up filters have the effect of magnifying the image seen
through the lens 5 a !it li#e loo#ing at insects details of flowers stamps and other small
o!<ects under a magnifying glass. Different amounts of magnification are availa!le and
overall the use of a close-up filter is very much less e'pensive than !uying a specialist
macro lens 5 typically around KC? as opposed to hundreds of KKKs. 1nsurprisingly however
the image quality is rather inferior compared with a good macro lens so the latter is !etter
if you can afford it.

1se light !alancing gel filters on flashguns to !alance the light

What are "light balancing$ filters used for?
/hese filters used to !e very popular in film photography as you could ma#e ad<ustments
for the temperature of am!ient light often warming it slightly for more flattering portraits
or in more e'treme cases for using daylight film under tungsten lighting or vice versa.
9ith ad<usta!le white !alance options in digital cameras they$re no longer necessary !ut
you can use coloured filter materials with flashguns which have a daylight colour
temperature. /his is particularly useful when you want to !alance the light from a flashgun
with am!ient tungsten or fluorescent lighting. 1nder regular room lighting set your
camera$s 9hite Balance to /ungsten and use a yellow filter over your flash. For fluorescent
light set your 9hite Balance accordingly and use a green filter. Better still use a gold or
green Sto-Fen 7mni Bounce diffuser as necessary.

Compose and focus !efore you fit an infrared filter

When should I use an infrared filter?
Seeing the world in infrared opens up a whole spectrum of fascinating photographic
potential for the creative photographer. &t6s easy to !ecome seduced !y the unusual tones
intense hues and mesmerising colours that can !e achieved through infrared 3&R4 capture.
&f you want to e'periment with infrared photography without the e'pense of converting an
old DSLR to a dedicated &R camera try starting with an infrared Lllter such as the )oya
infrared 3M:R4. "t around NC? 3the price depends on the si,e of screw thread4 it$s a much
more economical alternative and you$ll !e a!le to achieve some ama,ing results.
/he Llter essentially !loc#s all visi!le light only allowing infrared light to pass through the
lens to your sensor. &t$s simply a case of screwing the Llter to your lens and shooting away.
&t$s worth noting however that different cameras will have a varying sensitivity to infrared
light and so some will !e more successful than others for &R photography. /here are some
downsides to using a Llter which might !ecome too frustrating if you$re !itten !y the &R
!ug. "s the Llter !loc#s out nearly all visi!le light you won$t !e a!le to see anything
through the viewLnder with the Llter mounted meaning you$ll need to remove it to focus
and compose your shot. /his also means you$ll need long e'posure times often of several
seconds which o!viously necessitates the use of a tripod.