Beginners guide to UV, ND and Polarisers lens filters

There are so many kinds of lens filters; it’s hard to know which ones do you need? Camera lens filters enhance colours, minimise glare, and reduce light intensity. They also slow down the shutter speed and much more. So, do you need need to use filters!?

For beginners in photography, it may seem a little daunting. Below is a camera filter guide to help you make the right decisions. Before you start spending your hard-earned cash!

UV Filters on Film Cameras

Back in the early days, cameras needed UV filters due to the film’s sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) light.

When shooting on a sunny day, and there’s a lot of UV light, images could end up with a blue haze. Think of using a UV filter as if you were putting on sunscreen before going to the beach.

Today, digital sensors are not sensitive to UV. There’s no real benefit to placing a UV filter on your lens. So why do photographers still prefer to add one?

UV Filters to Protect Your Lens

This is a controversial topic and discussed time and time again by photographers. Many believe it protects your lens from damage and getting dirty!

I don’t add UV filters to any of my lenses, and this includes my top primes.

As protection is so minimal, it doesn’t warrant me adding even more glass to the end of my lens.

Filter camera lens broken
Filter camera lens broken after it accidentally fell down to floor

The second argument is that it protects your lens from getting dirty. Again, lens glass is much tougher than a filter, and it’s easy to wipe down the front of a lens.

Glass filters are easy to break! The front lens element, which is more robust and can take a lot more beating.

Check out this video from Steve Perry on how filters protect the lens. He tested many filters, smashing a few lenses along the way. Painful but worth a watch!

Polarising Filters

Now, this is a ‘must-have‘ filter and one I always carry in my bag. But, can’t you edit an image to look the same as if you used a polariser?

In most cases, it’s not possible or becomes very difficult. As the cost of a good polarizer isn’t high, you could save you lots of post-processing time, and even save that image.

It is easy to increase saturation with editing software. But in most cases, we cannot fix glare and reflections!

Remove Reflections and Glare

How do we reduce reflections on windows, e.g. cars and buildings and rivers? Rotate our polariser filter to the specific angle. Much easier than using post-processing software, right?

Increase Colour Saturation

Skies will have deeper blues putting more emphasis on the clouds. Foliage becomes brighter with more vivid greens.

By boosting the saturation and contrast, your images become more vivid and eye-catching.

When NOT to Use a Polariser

When you want a scene such as mountains, reflecting across a lake.

For this image, you may not want to see through the water. You want to create a beautiful landscape, where mountains reflect across the water.

ND – Neutral Density Filters

We’ve all love those beautiful dreamy skies, rivers and seascapes. We achieve this with post-processing, right? No! Photographers use a neutral density filter.

A neutral density filter is a dark piece of glass you place in front of your lens. An ND (neutral density filter) reduces the amount of light entering the lens. Without changing the colours.

By using an ND filter, you’ll need a longer exposure time to ensure the correct amount of light enters the camera.

Increasing the exposure time also creates motion blur or shallower depth of field. This is ideal for those beautiful waterfall shots or even sunrises and sunsets. Especially if it’s too bright to achieve such long exposures.

With the fantastic dynamic range on cameras today, I can do this in post-editing. Today, I only use ND filters for slower shutter speeds.

Screw on vs Square Lens Filters

My preference is to use screw-on lens filters as they are more secure, cost less, and are much easier to carry. I cannot count the number of times my square Lee filter system has fallen off the end of my camera!

Lens with Square Graduated Neutral Density (GND)

Lense with Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filter and holder

Square filters can fit many lenses by using adapter rings. My choice is using screw-on lens filters with a step-up ring. But, stacking too many screw-on filters may cause vignetting. As I rarely stack more than 3 screw-on filters, I have never had this problem.

Screw-on graduated ND lens filters doesn’t give you the flexibility as a square filter.

**Although this may be obvious, you should use neutral density filters with a tripod.**

Glass vs Resin Lens Filters

Compared to resin filters, glass is more durable and less likely to scratch unless you drop it! In my experience, I have found glass lens filters more superior in sharpness. Marks and scratches can end up visible as artefacts in your image.

Reports from photographers suggest that a drop of around 20% sharpness.

Camera Lens Filters for Beginners – Summary

Always try to put quality filters on your camera. After all, you don’t want to degrade the quality of your image. Photography is about the glass, so why put a cheap filter over a great lens. Higher quality filters also have less colour casting and not susceptible to scratches.

Do your research as different brands produce different qualities of sharpness. Happy shooting!