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Posts Tagged ‘filters’

The one filter that you absolutely, positively need in your bag is the circular polarizer. A polarizer is a filter that polarizes the light going through it to noticeably darken blue skies, reduce reflections and increase color saturation in your photos. The “circular” in its name means your auto focus and auto exposure systems won’t be affected by the polarized light and will focus and meter normally. Regular, non-circular polarizers are a little cheaper but won’t offer this extremely useful feature.

Polarizers are two pieces of polarized, coated glass that rotate relative to each other to increase or decrease the polarizing effect. Depending upon how much you rotate the filter, the effect can be subtle or quite dramatic.

Non-polarized, right, polarizer at max, left. Note saturated trees, sky at left.

Non-polarized, left, polarizer at max, right. Note saturated trees, sky at right.

The standard filter minuses apply here. Circular polarizers are expensive and will put two, not one additional layer of glass between you and your subject. (If you remember my earlier post about filters, you’ll remember that anytime you put glass in front of your camera, it causes some degree of image degradation.) Oh, and they’ll cost you at least one f-stop in exposure…depending on how much polarizing you do (i.e. if your base exposure is f/8, you’ll need to shoot at f/5.6 or thereabouts with a polarizer). Add to the pluses the added saturation, reflection control and the ability to double as a neutral density filter.

I think the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to polarizing filters.

Using a polarizer is simple, just rotate the filter as you look through the viewfinder. When you see the amount of sky darkening/saturation/reflection elimination you like, make the picture. Understand that if you change your camera’s orientation to the subject (i.e. change from a horizontal to vertical shot), you’ll need to re-adjust your polarizer.

I picked up a trick long ago that helps me quickly see where the maximum amount of polarization will take place. You simply make an “L” with your thumb and index finger, point your index finger at the sun and pretend your thumb is tracing an imaginary line across the sky. With that line in mind, the area of sky on the shadow side of your thumb will get the most benefit from the polarizer. A subject in front of that line will not see any benefit from a polarizer.

Hopefully, this photo shows how its done.

Hopefully, this photo shows the area of maximum effect.

So, if you’re still unconvinced about the value of a polarizing filter, borrow one from another photographer (that’s another benefit of attending photo walks…well-equipped photogs!) and give it a few turns (literally). I think you’ll see why I made room in my camera bag for this “must-have” filter.

Buy one.

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Having upgraded to a couple new Canon lenses recently, I found that my old filters wouldn’t fit the new glass (big surprise). Decision time. Should I buy some new UV filters for protection or take the bold path and go without? Going without scares the crap outta me but the price of a new 68mm UV filter will take a lot of money out of my photo kitty — putting a future acquisition of a new set of carbon fiber tripod legs in jeopardy. Time to make the big decision about whether to have a little extra protection between my expensive lenses and the elements or to go without and worry about scratches, etc. BUT enjoy better image quality.

Filters come in all shapes and sizes, of course. They also come in all price ranges. My favorite brand, Tiffen, has been around for years and offers a mid-priced filter with good optical quality. Sure, there are more expensive filters out there. Since I shot most of my assignments for a newspaper, the extra sharpness produced by the high-priced filters was wasted on images destined for newsprint.

For most of my career, I’ve used some sort of UV filter in front of the lens. Being a photojournalist put me and my camera gear out in the elements a lot and a UV filter took the beating more often than my lenses’ front elements — and a UV filter is a heck of a lot cheaper to replace! That said, if you don’t subject your gear to this kind of abuse, why put another piece of glass in front of your lens? Using a filter will increase the chances of flare or reflection and also lower the sharpness of your final image (not by much, but you will see a difference…test for yourself).

Now that I shoot more work for magazines and corporate clients, more of my assignments are inside out of the elements, allowing me to shoot sans UV filters. I’ve seen enough improvement in the quality of my images to convince me to shoot without a filter unless I’m going to put my gear in harm’s way.

If you can live with only a lens cap protecting your gear when not in use and are careful to protect your front element, you might just save yourself a couple hundred dollars in UV filters. Me? I only use ’em when water, sand or dirt are a flyin’. If I’m shooting in a lens-unfriendly environment, I screw in a mid-range filter and shoot away, confident that any front element damage will be minimized…and I’m a lot more comfortable cleaning a mud-splattered filter with a shirt tail!.

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