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What Are Lens Filters and Why Should You Use Them?

What Are Lens Filters and Why Should You Use Them?

If you've tried handling a digital camera, you must already know the difficulty in composing shots while lighting conditions are constantly changing. By compensating for environmental changes, you'd learn an essential skill that every photographer must hone to intuitively decide what settings to go with based on the scene. While it takes years before you get fully acquainted with the manual mode, others in a bit of rush can turn to filters. This article will focus on educating budding photographers about filters, their function, and whether they are essential to every type of photographer.

What Is a Lens Filter?

As straightforward as the question is the answer. The lens filter is an external attachment that goes on the camera lens to serve a specific purpose which includes protecting the surface and creating exotic effects for a more dramatic composition. There is a certain love-it, hate-it element to it, but filters have always been considered as a worthy investment.

Lens Filter Size and Quality

Lens filter is made in several sizes to adapt to various lenses. The most popular is the circular lens that comes in sizes ranging from 49mm, 55mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, up to 82mm. Of course, these aren't the only options. Photographers who own several lenses would need more than one to be versatile in their passion. Even the lens quality can differ inasmuch that it all depends on what you're willing to pay to get the best shots.

Types of Lens Filters and Usage

No matter how intelligent your camera is, it'll never interpret scenes the same way you do. So when you need a bit of drama in the scenery, you'll have to think outside the box than in it. So if you have decided to start with a basic creative kit, a filter is where you start. There is an entire range of filters dedicated to people across the skill range and even budget. So let's unravel the different types of lens filters currently available in the market and what they're used for. Firstly, filters come in all shapes and sizes, some circular while others ready to screw into the rim of the lens. So let's start with the standard size of 77mm used by professionals and amateurs alike to understand the lens filter and effect.

  1. Circular Screw-in Filter

    One of the most common variants available on eCommerce sites or local stores is usually a circular screw-in filter. It goes directly on your lens acting as an extra piece of glass. There serve at least one basic function, which is to eliminate glare. The screw-in filter has further classification such as UV/haze and clear filter. They have polarizing properties to filter a certain type of light and comes in different densities and colors. Even the thickness can affect the composition. For instance, it's easier to add a vignette with a thicker filter while thinner glass can be used with the lens hood on without sacrificing the amount of visual information reaching the camera lens.

  2. Square Filter

    If you're into landscape photography where you use the complete negative space to paint details, a square filter is the right type for you. It can be threaded onto the filter groove and comes in sizes namely 3x3 and 4x4. Even stacking is allowed to eliminate or add reflections to composition.

  3. Rectangular Filter

    If the choice isn't limited, people opt for rectangular filters to capture landscape photos. The mounting order is straightforward and similar to fitting a square filter. Rectangular filters exist because creating a graduated neutral density filter is impossible due to varying contrast. A typical landscape photographer will have one or two rectangular filters as a staple in their kit because they move up or down unlike square filters and have leapfrogged through smaller sizes to fit into the larger lens.

  4. Drop-in Filters

    If you're a wildlife photographer who shoots using a high-end telephoto lens, the drop-in filter is a classic choice. The larger opening in front of the lens accommodates polarizing and clear filters function as a drop-in filter. The results are breathtaking imagery with excellent subject isolation and color gradient.

Camera Lens Filters Explained

Every filter produces a unique effect that is often not easy to describe. So you will need some guidance to understand how a filter works and whether you need it or not. In this article, you'll find all the information to decide which is better and how to go about choosing a camera lens filter.

  • UV Filter

    While most recent SLRs have a permanent UV/IR filter on the sensor, photographers still get an external UV protection lens filter installed on the front of the lens. This is done so to protect the lens head from scratches and fingerprints while handling. The usual excuse is that replacing a filter is cheaper and efficient than trying to fix a lens that's broken or scratched. But there's one thing you should remember while getting a clear filter for your lens. It must have a special multi-resistant coating (MRC) so that the extra glass doesn't interfere with the quality of images. Many photographers end up being hornswoggled by sellers of low-quality filters. Sometimes they realize the trouble when reflections, flares, and ghosting effects show up on processed images.

  • Polarizing Filter

    Polarizing filters are a must-have for outdoor photographers while shooting water bodies in the backdrop of vegetation. It's more suited for landscape photographers who prefer richer colors, and deeper blues in the sky. It is just the perfect filter to make the scene look surreal. If you're choosing a polarizing filter, remember the minimum and maximum effects of polarization. It'll depend on how you align the filter by rotating it clockwise or anticlockwise. Also, because they are unnaturally thicker, the polarizing filter can induce excess vignetting that may or may not appeal depending on your taste. Polarizing filters subtract 2 stops of light, making the sky look artificial. Therefore, some judgment is needed while using the polarizing filter.

  • Neutral Density (ND) Filter

    Ever wondered how the foggy waterfall effect is shot in daylight conditions? The secret is a neutral density filter. It limits the amount of light entering the lens, so you can lower the shutter speed to the smallest number to increase the exposure time without risking a washout. Using an 8 stop Neutral-density filter lets you choose a low aperture while the shutter speed is at 2 seconds without diffraction.

    It also makes an ideal filter for portrait shooters operating a flash in daylight conditions. ND filter combined with a flash adds drama to the scene without overexposing the subject. It lets you compose photos with sharp subject isolation and beautiful bokeh. For best results, avoid stacking the filter. Else, you'd be dealing with unwanted vignettes.

  • Color Warming Filters

    Color adds mood to photos, making the result seem meaningful in a certain way. You can alter the white balance using the color warming filter to get the exact composition you've envisioned. Usually, the color warming filters are of two types - color subtraction and color correction. The former retains an unwanted hue to allow other colors to pass through the lens and the latter corrects the white balance. These filters were quite a rave in the film era but the demand faded with the arrival of digital photography. Today, the color warming effects are edited using photo editing tools like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

  • Close-up Filter

    Are you guessing why it is called a close-up lens when the article speaks of filters? The close-up filter behaves as a lens than a filter. It has high relevance in macro photography but acting as a secondary lens so photographers can get as close as they can to the subject to get a detailed shot. It's called a poor man's macro lens as they convert an average lens into a macro variant. The only tradeoff is a minor quality loss in the image. If you can, always prefer a dedicated macro lens to a stacked filter for the best result.

  • Special Effects Filter

    If you're a fan of special effects, this is the filter that makes your composition seem fancier. Like the color warming filter, the special effects filter seems to have lost the market it once held to Photoshop and its likes. Today, a handful of classic special effect filters are still held by collectors who love the natural soft glow similar to the Gaussian Blur. The only other special effects filter still relevant is the bokeh filter because it is something that no photo editing software is capable of achieving due to software limitations in changing highlights.

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