a close-up of some scissors

Image credit: Etsy.

A General Buying Guide: Camera Filters

By Keith Thomson

LENS FILTERS can be an inexpensive accessory that you can use to influence your photography. Because light passes through it first, before the lens, it is another optical element. They either screw into or clip on to the front of your lens and, in dong so, also serve to protect your front lens element. If screw mounted, the filter size MUST match the lens’ thread size. You’ll see a number on the lens, for example 68mm, 77mm. A single filter can cost as little as $10 but can go up to about $100 and are often sold in bundles with a variety types, each with its own affects to the dispersion of light onto the sensor or film.

Types of Camera Filters

POLARIZING FILTERS are commonly used for landscape photography because they reduce or eliminate light reflection and glare and increase overall color saturation. They can deepen the blue in a sky-scene or reduce reflection on a body of water or other surfaces. CIRCULAR POLARIZING FILTERS are made to work with auto-focus and metering, whereas the less expensive LINEAR POLARIZING FILTERS are used only on auto-focus cameras.

NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS uniformly reduced the amount of light hitting the lens without altering the hue of color rendition. It allows you to slow down your shutter speed for longer exposures or open the aperture (smaller f-stop) or decrease the iso (film speed). You can get a shallower depth of field in bright light, bringing your subject more to the forefront or introduce blur to objects in motion. They essentially reduce the amount of light without affecting color.

GRADUATED NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS are often used when the sky is so much brighter than the land, retaining details of both. These take a bit of expertise, as you’ll also need a CORKIN HOLDER to hold it in place while you move the filter by hand, blending the transition into the horizon.

Though ultra-violet light can’t be seen by the naked eye, HAZE and UV FILTERS reduce the amount of ultraviolet light to add contrast or reduce haze on film. Because electronic sensors are far less sensitive to UV light than film, they are mostly used on digital cameras solely as a protective measure, though this runs the risk of diminishing image quality.

ULTRA-THIN FILTERS are more expensive and used on wide-angle lenses to avoid or diminish vignetting, a darkening around the corners of an image due to the loss of light at the edges.

SPECIAL EFFECTS FILTERS give a specific effect or quality that will be the same in each image. For example, a SEPIA filter gives the image a golden hue and a nostalgic feeling toward old B&W photography while a FOG FILTER cedes a soft, fog-like appearance and a STAR FILTER produces stars on your pictures emanating from the light source(s). There is a variety of special affects filters on the market: CLOSE-UP FILTERS for macro photography, INTENSIFIER FILTERS to enhance color, CENTER SPOT FILTERS to retain the center sharpness while softening the area around it and INFRARED FILTERS for infrared photography, to name only a few.

Instagram Filters Versus Real Camera Lens Filters

PHOTOGRAPHY APPS, such as INSTAGRAM, found on electronic devices or social networking sites often function as both photo-manipulation and network sharing software. The apps offer a variety of pre-set special effects filters that stylize or “customize” your photo and the ability to broadcast them to your network.

Digital photography has lessened the importance of filters. There are certainly many ways to manipulate an image these days. Photo editing software, such as PHOTOSHOP or LIGHTROOM have taken the developing process of the darkroom to the personal computer. Not only do we do all of the “developing” but all other management right there on the screen. Purchasing the software and learning how to use it are part of your photography arsenal. I wouldn’t say that ALL “filtering” can now be done on the computer though, the image you’re manipulating is always coming from an original source. You can’t “add information,” or well, you could, but then you’re no longer in the realm of photography, you’ve stepped into the realm of “imaging” and that is a whole other topic.