How to Buy a Filter for Your Camera

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How to Buy a Filter for Your Camera

Lens filters are used to alter the characteristics of the light that enters a camera in order to produce different effects on the photograph of the object or scene that is being shot. Basically, filters manipulate the composition of the subject either to enhance what is being viewed or to alter it in some way so that it takes on a different mood or perspective. Filters reduce reflection and protect the camera lens in much the same way that sunglasses do for the human eye. They reduce the light entering the lens to varying degrees and can also enhance colours. However, if the wrong filter is applied, it can damage or spoil the intended photograph. Consequently, a photographer needs to know not only what filters to use and how to use them, but also where and when. Although the use of filters has declined with the growth of digital cameras and image-editing computer software, they still have a role to play among both professionals and amateurs.

Types of Camera Filter





These provide the lens with protection from dirt, dust, potential scratching, and moisture. They eliminate haze and reduce blue casts when photographs are being taken of a subject in a shady position. A high-quality UV filter can be permanently mounted on a camera and have very little effect on the picture quality. The more expensive UV filters are multicoated to maximise the amount of light that is let in through the lens.

All types of photograph.

Neutral Density

They decrease the light and colour entering the lens in equal amounts, helping to increase the exposure time and reduce the distracting effects of moving objects by rendering them less apparent or invisible through blurring. They are also useful in achieving a more shallow depth of field in a bright light. Because of the slow shutter speeds caused by this filter, it may be advisable to use a tripod.

Landscapes, seascapes, street scenes, subjects in motion, and flash photography.

Graduated Neutral Density

In a scene that is brightly lit, they even up the exposure, and balance the foreground and sky. There are three types of graduated neutral filter – hard-edge, soft-edge, and reverse. Hard-edge is used when the horizon is flat, soft-edge when the horizon is not flat, and the reverse when shooting into the sun as it is setting near the horizon.

Landscapes, seascapes, still, and motion.


Polarisers aid the reduction of glare and reflection. They can be used when colours need to be enhanced and contrasts increased. Positioned at the correct angle, they can enable a photographer to take a shot through a window or into water without any reflection. Depending upon how they deal with the light, polariser filters are known as either circular or linear although they both produce much the same effect. Bear in mind that the effect of a polariser filter will depend on the angle of the camera to the sun.

Sky, water, and foliage, especially in landscapes.

Light-coloured and Gradiant

They correct colours, causing a change in the white balance and add a warm or cool light cast. Some filters are used to block colours, while allowing others to go through at the same time.

Landscapes and special lighting, such as that caused by different weather conditions.


These are used mostly, but not exclusively, for black and white photography. They control the tone rather than the colour, eliminating some wavelengths of light to alter the contrast between different areas. The yellow filter is used for portraits as it eradicates blemishes, while orange is suitable for landscapes where bright details need enhancing against darker ones. Red is employed for the most dramatic landscapes and buildings, as it gives the strongest effect. The green filter darkens sky and lightens the colour of foliage, making a good contrast in the case of trees. Blues can be used for sea shots. Red or orange are often used to enhance the colour of a sunset.

Black and white photographs, sunsets, landscapes, buildings, portraits, and seascapes.

Special Effects

There are many different special effects filters on the market. Among them are diffusion filters, infrared filters, star filters, and multivision filters. Diffusion filters are used to reduce sharp edges and create a soft-focus look, particularly where portraits are concerned, while infrared filters only allow infrared light to enter the lens, which creates unusual and unreal images of otherwise normal subjects. Star filters create star-like points of light that radiate outward from the source, producing a very dramatic effect for the lighting within the image. Multivision filters enable the photographer to create several copies of the subject in the picture.

Depends on the subject and the special effect, but particularly good for portraits, romantic landscapes, and infrared photography.

Camera Filter Materials

Filters are available in glass, resin, plastic, polycarbonate, and polyester. Glass filters are widely accepted as being the best quality, but they are more fragile and the most expensive. Resin and plastic are cheaper than glass, and less likely to break. They are very popular materials for graduated neutral density filters. Polycarbonate filters have a reputation for being both tough and scratch-resistant and are recommended as a good alternative to plastic or resin. Polyester filters are thinner than glass, plastic, or resin, and while they are of a high quality, they are easily scratched. On the plus side, they are cheaper.

How to Choose and Fit a Camera Filter

Lens filters can be circular, square, or rectangular, and they are secured to the camera by different means.


This is the most common shape. Circular lens filters screw directly onto the filter thread that is positioned just in front of the lens. They come in different sizes, depending on the lens’s filter thread, but the standard size is 77 millimetres. Circular screw-on filters are obtainable for most filter types and are available in different thicknesses. Ultra-slim ones are able to reduce vignetting, while very thick ones have the opposite effect.


Square filters are placed in a filter holder that is attached to the lens filter thread of the camera. The holders can accommodate several filters at any one time. Square filters are a popular choice, particularly for landscape photographers although they are also used for other types of photography. The most commonplace sizes are 3x3 and 4x4.


These are the primary choice for those who shoot landscapes, as it is impractical to have circular graduated neutral density filters. They are mounted on the camera in the same way as square filters. The most common size is 4x6, although other dimensions are available.

There are also drop-in filters. They are utilised with telephoto lenses, and because of the size of the front lens element, they are placed inside. There are only two types of filter used as drop-ins, clear and polarised.


In spite of the advent of sophisticated computer software to edit photographic images, camera filters are still very popular. Some photographers just prefer the more traditional methods and feel they produce better results, while still others regard the use of computer technology as a form of cheating by those who lack the necessary camera skills. Whatever the reason, the variety of filter types makes it possible to experiment and try out new techniques, thereby increasing knowledge and understanding of the photographic art. Using filters adds a whole new dimension to photography, and whether the shoot is for pleasure or business, the photographer can really get to grips with his or her camera to produce images that are both individual and first class.

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