Camera Filters: Recommended, Essential, Starter Filters
POLARISER, Graduated and UV Filters Should Be Top Of Your List
You would think that the need to use camera filters would be decreasing. What with more and more people using and getting to know Photoshop a little better these days. Most decent photo editing software comes with plug-ins, effects and filters already built in. Why would you need to worry about a filter at the time of exposure?
Well, in many cases, a filter used at the right time for a particular kind of shot, simply cannot be mimicked or matched in an editing program. At least not with the same fluidity and effectiveness than what is taken "at the scene".
For example, as far as I know there is no program or plug-in available that will give you the same effects as a polariser filter. Sure, you can enhance the saturation and boldness of colours using Photoshop. However, to cut out glare and reflections from glass and water, I don't think so.
You see, a polariser filter will even cut out all the reflections from the humidity in the air. This all helps to make your image seem much clearer, colourful and vibrant.
It will "lose" the reflections from a car windscreen or house window. Or even the reflections on the ocean or a lake, giving a beautiful, clear effect. A circular polarizing filter is made up of 2 pieces of round glass, each with hundreds of tiny lines etched into them. As you turn one piece of glass, the lines cross each other and the effect happens before your very eyes.
By doing this, you are able to judge and vary the intensity of the effect.
I would recommending buying a high quality polarising filter as your first camera filter. Breakthrough filters are about as good as they get!
Grey Grad Camera Filters
You may sometimes be faced with a beautiful landscape scene that has darkened areas at the bottom of the image. What if it also has bright skies at the top? How does your meter compensate for these radical differences in light? More so, how could you "help" this image in Photoshop? You see, what will happen is this…
Take option one above. It would be impossible to bring back blown out highlights in the sky when they are no longer there. Of course, you could add a new sky using Photoshop, but what a waste of time!
Or option two. You could use the Shadows/highlights tool in Photoshop CC and "lighten" the underexposed areas of the land. However, this would degrade the shaded areas and cause visible "noise". Again, you could then use Neat Image or a similar program to reduce the noise, but what a hassle.
Try a filter
What about if there was a cheap filter that you could use at the time of exposure? One that would save all this hassle, leaving you more time to take more photos?
To illustrate the above with an image, look at the pictures below:
- 1Image taken using evaluative metering and no filter
- 2Exposure was metered on the cars in the foreground
- 3Meter reading taken from the sky in this photo
- 4Standard evaluative metering again but with Grey Grad filter
This filter has a dark top half and a clear bottom half. These graduate into each other "gradually" so that no visible lines are recorded. What this does is darken the sky to fool the cameras meter into thinking it is the same exposure as the ground, therefore you end up with both areas being exposed correctly.
Click images below for larger version
An invaluable piece of kit if you enjoy landscape photography.
Skylight or UV Camera Filters
The only "real" uses for one of these filters is to protect your lens and reduce the effects from harmful Ultra Violet light. They can also add a nice warm tone to some of your images. Generally, people use them to cover and protect the front elements of a lens. Particularly when shooting in dusty, dirty or damp environments. It is better to ruin a filter than a $400 - $1,200 lens!
I have always had one of these filters in my bag and find it most useful in a few situations that I find myself in. for example, at the beach with all that sand and salty air flying about. Or shooting sports where grit and/or gravel could spring up and scratch the front elements of my lens at any time.
If you do invest in one of these UV camera filters, get a good one. A poor filter will only degrade the image making having a decent lens worth protecting a bit pointless. I personally don't go in for special effects filter all that much, although Cokin have a large and fantastic range of all types of filters for you to get "freaky" with. At the very least, I would suggest that you get the 3 camera filters mentioned above, making sure the quality is reasonable, as a start.
Recommended Filter Manufacturers
I would recommend either Breakthrough or B + W camera filters for the polarizer and Skylight/UV. The Cokin system is great for the grey grad and other special effect filters. Use the links to Amazon below, where you can get them at the best prices.
Make sure you get the correct filter thread size for your lens. If you have more than one lens with different thread sizes, either buy a filter for both lenses or just for the one that you think you will use the most. I can guarantee that by using these filters you will see a huge difference in your images and will want to take them everywhere with you.
- 1B + W Polarizer Filters at Amazon (B + W is the make, not "Black and White"
- 2Hoya Polarizer Filters at Amazon
- 3B + W Ultra Violet Filters at Amazon
- 4Hoya Ultra Violet Filters at Amazon
- 5Cokin Camera Filters at Amazon - Please note, you will need the filter holder and adapter to fit your lens as well as the actual square filters with this range.
If you have different lenses with different filter thread sizes, you only need to buy more adapter rings not the filter holder again.
ND and Polariser Filters for the DJI Mavic 3
If you fly drones such as the DJI Mavic 3, please check out our review of some very cool and creative Freewell filters.
Please note: I am an associate for Amazon. If you buy through any of the links on this page, I may get a few pennies commission from Amazon. You don't pay any more but the revenue allows me to continue giving away free advice, tips, reviews etc at ATP. Thank you, Nick Stubbs.
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