Different Types of Lens Filters

Lens filters help fulfill different commitments in photography. They are capable of assisting in arresting scenery in enormously difficult conditions, by enhancing the colors and reducing the reflections. They are also helpful as a protective layer to the lenses. The use of filters is natural in cinematography and photography, with a few relying completely on them while a few using them in rate situations. The best example of the use of filters is by landscape photographers. They rely entirely on numerous filters that help them in capturing beautiful sceneries. On the other hand, street photographers rarely use filters.

The use of filters is dependent on the photographer and the requirement. Therefore, it is hard to tell whether filters are extremely useful or not. Nonetheless, the use of filters provides an opportunity to enhance the picture-taking capabilities that photographers adhere while capturing in difficult situations.

There are even photographers who use digital filters available in Photoshop and Lightroom to stimulate similar behavior as that of a physical filter. Although the digital version is useful in certain cases, using it solely for every picture is not possible. The following paragraphs cover the reason and the importance of filters in photography along with the details of different types.

What are Filters?

A filter is a protective layer that acts similar to that of a sunglass. A sunglass allows a person to see clearly even in powerful light and safeguards the eyes from dangerous UV rays. Reducing the glare helps the eyes to adjust accordingly and makes it comfortable to see. Filters have the same purpose – reduce reflections, glare, and protect the lenses from possible damage. They are further capable of reducing or enhancing the light that passes into the camera and vividness.

Filters also have a downside to them if not used in an appropriate manner. A good explanation of it is similar to the utilization of a sunglass in a black room. Thus, it is critical to understand the importance of the filters and choose suitable filters for different lighting conditions.

Filters are available in various kinds – right from a cheap filter to an expensive UV filter costing several hundreds of dollars. Due to this, the procedure of selecting filters becomes tedious and confusing for many photographers who are either beginners or intermediate professionals.

Overview of the different types of filters

UV/Haze/Clear filter Any Acts as a protective layer and prevents entrance of dust, moisture, and dirt. High-quality UV lenses are a permanent addition to the lens as they have the least impact on the picture quality.
Polarizing filter Any Helps in enhancing contrast and color by reducing reflections and polarized light. They are circular and hence, offer the chance to control the polarization impact.
Neutral Density filter Flash & Landscape photography The filter reduces the light amount entering the camera. Useful in a situation where motion blurs are necessary such as waterfalls and rivers. When using flash, using larger aperture value is helpful in avoiding overexposure images.
Hard edged graduated neutral density filter Landscape photography Hard-edged graduated filters are useful for high-contrast conditions. They are rectangular and require an adapter to mount on the lens.
Soft edged graduated neutral density filter Landscape photography They are useful in high contrast circumstances and in places where the prospect is not flat. The filter allows for a smoother transition, making it invisible in the picture. They too are rectangular and require an adaptor to mount to the lenses.
Reverse graduated neutral density filter Landscape photography The reverse graduated neutral filter is a particular filter used in landscape photography while shooting contrary to the sun and during sunset. The filter is helpful in the transition from dark to less shadowy from the center of the picture to the edges.
Color/Warm/Cooling filters Any These filters are useful for correcting colors, which changes the setting of the white balance in the camera. A few filters are capable of blocking a particular color while allowing others to pass through the lens. They are helpful in cinematography and less useful in photography because the application is easy by using image editor software such as Photoshop or Lightroom.
Close-up filter Macro photography These filters help the lens to concentrate carefully on the subject. They are helpful for macro photography alone.
Special effects filter Any These filters help the photographer to add special effects. For instance, star filters are capable of turning bright objects into star-like objects. Diffusion/softening filters produce a dreamy appearance for portraits. Multivision creates several copies of an object. Infrared filters avoid infrared and allow visible light.

Types of Lens Filters

The shape and sizes of the filters are available in different formats. Nonetheless, the favorite shape is circular, where most of the filters follow suit and that use the threaded outer layer to twist to the leading element of the lens. The circular lens filters come in diverse sizes reliant on the thread dimension. The typical size that most professional grade lenses use is 77mm.

The various shapes of the lens filters:

  1. Screw-on circular filters: They are the standard shape of the filters and mount directly to the lens. The best examples of the circular shaped filters are haze/UV/Clear filters. Others include the color filter, polarizers, and neutral density filters. They are also available in unlike thicknesses. Due to the varying thicknesses, pictures receive added vignetting or diminishing vignetting. It is difficult to add a cap to the lens when the lens has already a filter attached.
  2. Rectangular filters: Rectangular filters are popular among landscape photographers. They mount to a lens using a filter holder system that connects the circular front element of the lens to the rectangular backend of the filter. The popular size is 4×6, although there are larger and smaller sizes available.
  3. Square filters: Square filters are popular among landscape as well as other formats of photography. A holder connects the square filter to the circular front element of a lens. The filter pouch is capable of holding one or more filters. The standard sizes are 3×3 and 4×4. Stacking two filters in certain conditions adds reflections that negatively affect the quality of the image.
  4. Drop-in filters: Drop-in filters are useful for long telephoto zoom lenses. The placement of the filters is inside the lens due to the hefty dimensions of the front glass element. Polarizing and clear filters are the only two variants available in this category.

Explanation in Detail about Different Lenses

Haze/UV/Clear Filters

The primary role of the clear/haze/UV filters is to guard the front glass element of the lens. However, these lenses were once helpful in blocking the UV light rays emitted by the sun. Today, technological advancement in the camera technology helped in adding UV/IR sensors, which prevent harmful light rays damaging the camera sensor. Hence, adding another filter is no longer a necessity.

Photographers today use the clear filters to protect the lens element. They are cheap and affordable in comparison to the cost of repairing a broken front element of a lens. It is easy to clean the filter with the dusting cloth, avoiding the necessity to clean the lens element. The action prevents the formation of scratches on the glass and ensures continued cooperation in capturing beautiful images.

During the purchase of the lens filter, it is essential to consider glass made of the high-quality material, and that has a multi-resistant coating (MRC). Adding cheap and quality-less filter damages the quality of the picture and further adds reflections, flares, and ghosting effect. A simple research on the internet will help in choosing an appropriate manufacturer with a good reputation.

The use of the clear/UV/Haze filter is ultimately the choice of the photographer. Professional photographers complain that adding another section of glass to the lens hurts the image quality while beginners and intermediates find it helpful in protecting their lenses.

Polarizing Filter

Polarizing filters are available in two variants – circular and linear. Only circular polarizers are useful for DSLRs because they do not produce metering errors as in the case of linear variant. The difference is because of the constructions of the filters. Circular polarizers use an additional glass element at the back that is capable of circularly polarizing the light, allowing accurate exposures that the light meter detects.

Polarizing filters also help in reducing reflections and increasing contrast, which make it a preferred choice for capturing landscapes. These filters further reduce haze, giving a natural feel to the image. The use of the filter boosts the colors, darkens the sky, and reduces the haze.

Neutral Density Filter

The goal of the neutral density filter is limiting the entrance of light into the lens. The addition of the filters asks the photographer to reduce the speed of the shutter and increase the exposure time. The use of the neutral density filter is helpful in daytime photography due to the presence of an abundance of sunlight. It is impossible to control the light entering the camera by reducing the aperture or decreasing the ISO. Therefore, adding the filter is a wise choice that assists in reducing the quantity of light entering the lens by a considerable amount. Adjusting the remaining settings on the camera provides the required light for capturing the subject.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter (GND) 

Graduated neutral density filter is partial-clear. A GND filter is available in rectangular form as the magnitude of the sky is large and changes that are reliant on the foreground and composition. Therefore, it is crucial to use these filters with filter holding systems or hold them before the lens. The benefit of using the filter holder system is that it is capable of holding multiple filters with the required alignment. However, there is the problem of occurrence of vignetting. Hence, it is important to use the GND filters with appropriate lens and for a particular shot. Using them with wide-angle lenses is not preferable, especially those with below 35mm focal length.

Hard-Edge Graduated Neutral Density Filter

The hard edge graduated neutral density filters are helpful in elevated contrast conditions. These are useful whenever the sky’s brightness is high than the forefront and the skyline is flat. The hard edge lens filter aligns to the horizon, and the darkness of the sky varies according to the filter’s strength. It is better to apply filters with two stops capability to create a balanced shot.

At the same instance, it is essential to note that the skyline is hardly flat. It is preferable to use soft edge under such conditions to avoid nasty transitions. Furthermore, care is necessary while stacking the hard edge filters in pronounced divergence conditions.

Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density Filter

The soft edge graduated neutral density filters are capable of transitioning from gloomy to clear. Therefore, these filters are helpful for photographers in capturing images with non-flat horizons. The gradual change makes it convenient for the photographer to capture the mountains and the hills along with the focused subject with perfect composition. The steady transition makes the soft edge GND filters a preferred choice over the hard edge GND filters.

Reverse Graduated Neutral Density Filter

The reverse graduated neutral density filters are new. In comparison to hard/soft edge filters, the darkness occurs at the skyline and softens gradually in the direction of the top. These filters are perfect for capturing the sun that is close to the horizon. Although hard and soft edge filter is available, they tend to dark the sky or overexpose the horizon. With the help of the reverse graduated neutral density filter, overcoming such a constraint is possible. The filter helps in achieving a perfect balance between the sun and the sky.

Warming/Color Filter

The addition of color or warming filter is helpful in changing the settings of the white balance in the camera. The filters are available to add or subtract color. Subtraction of the color has its importance and absorbs a particular color while allowing the others to pass through the lens. They are popular for cinematography and less helpful in digital photography due to the addition of inbuilt filters or changing the image using post-processing software.

Close-up Filter

Close-up filters are useful in macro photography. These filters are similar to lenses and attach themselves to the main lens. The aim of the use of the close-up lens is bringing the subject nearer to the sensor of the DSLR. The filter decreases the minimum focal distance. The use of the filter is an affordable method to convert a standard lens into macro lens. The best part of using this filter is its negative impact on the image quality. However, it is crucial to be cautious while stacking up close-up filters with a primary macro lens.

Special Effects Filters

Special effects filters are helpful in creating an incredible impact on a picture. However, due to post-processing technology, these filters lost their sheen. Many of the effects such as the motion blur, star filter, and softening the glow using Gaussian blur, etc. is possible using Photoshop and Lightroom. However, the only effect that is impossible to add in the post processing technique is the bokeh filter. It is not feasible to alter the highlights using software.


Lens filters offer the ability to protect the front element of a lens and produce some of the excellent images. Possessing knowledge about the different filters is essential to pick the right filter for the right shot. The article covers complete information about the filters, their importance, and different types. The choice of selection is photographer’s responsibility to choose the needed filters that will help in capturing subjects against various backgrounds, foregrounds, and lighting conditions.

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