Digital camera lens filters explained

variable ND camera lens filter

People who know about photography are well aware of the importance of camera lens filters in digital photography. There is a wide range of uses of these filters such as in cinematography, photography and many other situations.

Not only these filters protect camera lens but also enhance colors and contrast of pictures, reduce reflections and help to get better optical performance from your lens in case of bad lighting conditions.

No doubt these filters are a must part of a professional digital photographer as they know that no amount of tools in the lightroom, Photoshop, and software-generated filters can replace quality introduced in the picture by lens filter. Let’s have an in-depth look at what are camera lens filters, their types, and uses.

Digital camera lens filters explained

Lens filters are transparent elements attached in front of the camera lens and they are usually made from translucent glass or gelatin. These filters provide extra protection to the lens and alter characteristics of light passing through the lens, add special effects to images, enhance the colors, reduce reflections and glares, and fully or partially reduce the amount of light passing through the lens.

Filters can be made from glass, plastic, resin, polyester and poly carbonate material. Glass filters are typical of the highest quality but they are fragile and break easily as compared to plastic or resins made filters.

Types of lens filters:

There are several filters available in the market and every filter serves different purposes. Choosing a suitable filter is important to get the benefit of it. Here are some types of common lens filters available

UV filters:

A UV filter is also known as Clear or Haze filter. This filter is made up of glass. These filters serve the same purpose as your sunscreen i.e. protecting from harmful ultra-violet radiation. The UV filter blocks UV light from entering into the camera lens.

Usually, in areas at high altitudes or areas with a lot of light exposure, photographers end up with blue haze problems in their pictures. UV filters can avoid this problem.

Nowadays usually the digital camera have built-in UV/IR filters so we can consider their other important function; UV filter adds an extra protective layer in front of the camera to protect it from scratches, moisture, and dust with minimum effect on image quality. These filters can be used in any photography type.

UV lens filter

Polarizing filters:

These filters are also suitable for any photography type but they are must-have for landscape photographers. These filters reduce the amount of reflected light to pass through the lens and are used to darken skies, manage reflections, suppress glare from the watery surfaces or lakes, and to reduce haze. There are two further types of polarizing filters

  • Linear polarizing filters
  • Circular polarizing filters

Linear polarizing can be useful in changing the balance of light for example sky-light tends to be at least partially linearly-polarized and using this lens can change the balance of this light. Linear filters aren’t suitable for DSLR cameras.

Circular polarizing are primarily linear polarized but second glass elements attached in them which circularly polarizes the linearly polarized light and gives out accurate exposure results when the light hits the light meter. These polarizing filters are highly suitable for DSLR cameras.

A photographer must be careful that in which condition he is using this filter because these filters dramatically reduce the amount of light reaching the camera sensor that may affect the photo. Using polarizing filters at ultra-wide-angle lenses should be avoided or you might end up with particularly dark sky.

 

circular polarizer lens filter

 

Neutral Density (ND) Filters:

Neutral density filter is the filter that is placed in front of the lens to reduce the amount of light passing through the camera without affecting the color of the light being captured by the camera and lens.

This filter enables photographers to shoot with their wide-aperture lenses and to attain the shallow depth of field and selective focus effects in bright daylight without facing over-exposure with light. ND filters can be circular or rectangular and come with different strengths or darkness levels.

According to darkness levels, they are labeled with filter factor numbers or optical density numbers.

As time passed on, digital cameras were highly advanced. Now, these cameras offer shutter speed which was previously unattainable yet there is space for neutral density camera lens filters. These filters decrease the shutter speed for a given aperture setting and increase the exposure time.

Neutral density filters are highly useful in the day time. Use ND filters when there is an absolute need of using them because they will discard light which could otherwise be used to enable a shorter shutter speed, a smaller aperture or a lower ISO setting.

Graduated Neutral Density filters (GND):

Graduated Neutral Density filters are also called Split Filters and are highly suitable for photographing in broad dynamic range scenes. These filters come under the category of neutral density or ND filters but these filters are known to restrict the amount of light passing through a camera lens in a geometric pattern.

The dark part of the filter in Grad ND filters does not make any color differences or add a color cast to the scene. Several filters can be stacked with a rectangular body of GND without worrying about alignment.

These filters are great for landscape photography. GND filters enable the user to capture inside a dynamic range of brightness. Photographers can capture the scenes even whose range of brightness exceeds the capability range of the camera.

Another application of these filters is improving the appearance of color and detail of an image by enhancing contrast in regions of the image.

Types of GND:

There are varieties of graduated natural density filters such as Soft Edge GND, Hard Edge GND, and Radial Blend. These varieties are differentiated based on the strength and rate of transition of GND filters.

Strength tells about the capability of the lens to reduce the light at one side of gradient as compared to another side of gradient whereas the transition of GND filters refers to the speed at which the filter transit its dark side into the clear side. Strength of GND filter is the most important consideration while choosing this type of filters:

  1. Hard Edge GND is useful in situations with high-contrast. This type of filter aligns the hard edge in the center with the horizon. Usually, a two-stop or three-stop hard edge GND filter is enough to balance the shot. Hard-edge filters can affect the quality of the image when they are used in high contrast situations and their horizon is usually flat. Soft edge filters are often useful than these filters.
  2. Soft Edge Graduated neutral density filters are used to softly blend the gradient across the filter so the line is less obvious. These filters are very useful in situations where there is no clear horizon in sight. Soft edge GND slowly transits from dark to clear and this gradual transition makes them a great accessory for photographers in the non-flat horizon and is a lot better in landscape photography than hard-edge GND.
  3. Reverse Graduated Neutral Density (GND) Filter is a new addition in the category of GND filters. These filters give optimal results when used for sunset shoots i.e. when you shoot against the sunlight and the scene is near the horizon. These filters are dark at the hard-edge or their horizon and gradually soften up towards their top. A photographer can face problems in sunset shoot with both soft edge and hard edge filter. Using a hard-edge GND filter makes the sky too dark whereas soft edge GND filter can make sunlight overexposed in the image. A reverse graduated neutral density filter eliminates these problems by balancing the sky and sun for your image giving out balanced exposure.

All these filters are known by adding up in your image quality but not selecting the filter wisely according to the situation can raise contrasting situations.

Color Lens Filters

These are color warming or cooling filters and are widely used to alter the white balance of the camera by changing the balance of white light reaching the sensor of the camera. Color filters also alter the color in the final image.

Once such filters were highly used in digital photography but the advancement of digital sensors reduced their importance too. Now digital cameras and DSLRs have built-in technologies to handle different light sources and to alter white light or these effects can be applied in Lightroom or through Photoshop.

There is also an automatic white light adjustment feature in most of the cameras but when it comes to manual adjustment of white light these color filters are still very useful.

There are two general categories of color/cooling/warming filters

  1. Light balance filters: these filters work the same as the white balance setting of a digital camera. They alter the temperature of the image and gives it a bluer (cooling filter) or more orange (warming filter) touch. Cooling filter introduces the blue tone in the image and mimics the shooting towards the end of the day by adding somehow the same blue tone. Warming filter takes the temperature of the image towards the warm side such as shooting in a golden hour but it won’t be able to reduce the intensity of shadows and intensity at midday.
  2. Colored filters: these filters are just a piece of colored glass to place in front of the lens. Depending upon the color of glass these filters change the seeing capability of the camera. The color filters are available in blue, green, red, orange, yellow, and yellow-green colors.

Night photography filters:

These filters are known as intensifier filters and help to capture images with more contrast, color pop, and sharpness in low light and artificial light conditions. Such filters increase the warm colors of the spectrum while leaving other colors unaffected.

Night photography filters target the light from light sources at night such as street lamps and as soon as light passes from the filter the yellow glow of the light is eliminated by the filter. Night filters can also be used to add a punch of fall colors in images.

Adding an intensifier in your photography kit is essential to get beautiful night shots.

Macro Filters:

Macro filters are also known as close-up filters. This type of filter allows closer focusing distances with a given lens. Putting a macro filter in front of the camera lens is equivalent to putting a magnifying glass in front of your lens.

Several close-up filters can be stacked up with a camera to reduce the distance of the object. Close-up filters are manufactured in different sizes and magnifications such as +1, +2, +3, or +4 diopter-strength. Using such filters for the camera is the least expensive way of enjoying the experience of macro-photography.

 

macro lens filter

 

Special effect photography filters:

These filters add artistic touch and unique flair to the images and can be used as tools to enhance creativity. Though these filters aren’t used much and results of such filters can be easily achieved with Photoshop or other digital filter but still, they have their capability i.e. intensive Photoshop process can be avoided by placing just a single filter.

Numerous special effect photography filters are available in the market to amp up creativity in your images. These filters include cross star filters, soft or diffusion filters, center spot filters, fog filters, multi-vision filters, night filters and infrared filters.

Benefits of camera lens filters:

All the above explanation about different camera lens filters revealed several benefits of them i.e.

  • They protect your lens from potential damage such as moisture, dust, breakage.
  • Lens filters correct and enhance colors of your image
  • They help to avoid overexposure and ensure that you have balanced exposure for the image
  • Lens filters improve and enhance image quality by adding several impacts to your image

All in all, we can say that using lens filters can add up in your image quality besides providing a protective layer to your camera lens. You can also avoid several post-photography tasks by simply adding a filter in front of camera. If you are selling your photos on stock sites or work as a photographer, then you need your images to be flawless.

You’ll sure need at least an UV filter to protect your lens. Good luck in your photography adventure!

Author: condruzmf

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