Below is a detailed article about polarizing lens filters. If you don’t want to read everything, here is a quick overview of my recommendations:
What is a polarizing filter?
A polarizing filter is a filter that is used in photography to polarize light. It is used to remove reflections from non-metallic surfaces. Pol filter is an abbreviation for polarization filters.
How does a polarizing filter work?
Light is a wave and it vibrates three-dimensionally in all directions.
A polarizing filter ensures that light does not vibrate on several levels. It transforms it so that it only vibrates on one level. Polarizing filter lens only allows light in on direction to pass.
In short, the main purpose of the polarizing lens in cameras is to minimize shiny reflections.
What is the difference with and without a filter?
The following example pictures show the effect with and without a filter.
Best Polarizing filter Reviews
The overall best polarizing filter
B + W is the german brand which is making lenses for more than 100 years. Most professionals talk highly about the quality and performance of their products. This circular polarizing filter lens has a 49mm -77 mm thread diameter range.
To prevent reflection and glare, it has special multi-resistant nano-coating. In this specific model, the manufacturer gave an ultra-thin profile with a thickness of 4.5mm. In comparison to the standard edition by B + W, the manufacturer claims that this model has better dirt and water-resistant and anti-reflective lens.
Apart from excellent optical quality, it comes in different sizes and has a minimal light loss (1-1.5 EV). The optical quality is spot-on with no color cast. Although thickness is thin but not very thin which makes it is easier to hold the rear frame when attaching filter on lens. For attaching multiple filters it has a secondary thread.
The ring of this polarizing lens is robust and made up of brass material. This lens is in the high-price range and considering the quality and performance, it is perfect for professionals.
Best polarizing filter for taking pictures in nature
HD in ”Hoya HD digital circular polarizing screw-in filter” stands for high density. It has four times more tensile strength in comparison to standard filters. According to manufacturers, it has a special coating on the lens to minimize internal reflections. The result of the special coating is sharper brighter and clearer photographs.
Hoya HD polarizing lens is best for taking pictures in nature as it effectively eliminates UV rays. This minimizes the reflections, removes haze, and improve color saturation. It is a perfect balance of affordability, quality, and performance.
The special coating on the lens makes it resistant against water, oil, and scratches. In low-lighting shooting conditions, it performs well as light transmission is fairly enough.
Even though it has a high tensile strength lens, the aluminum frames make it somewhat less durable.
The polarizing filter with a good price-performance ratio
If you have new to photography or just want to get an idea of polarizer lens then go for AmazonBasic circular polarizer lens. With this lens, don’t expect to get amazing polarizing effects on your images. AmazonBasic CPL is just to play around and have an idea of possibilities of this technology.
This lens is an available lens thread range of 52mm to 82mm. It has multiple coats to minimize glare and reflections but, to be honest, don’t expect some amazing performance.
Considering the price, I included this on our list as you can have it under 20 dollars. Apart from below-average performance, the construction material of this lens also seems to be of inferior quality.
Best polarization filter for amateur photographers
Tiffen Circular polarizer lenses are available in a wide range of thread sizes (28mm to 86mm). It is in the mid-price range but in comparison to other brands in the same price range gives amazing performance.
Tiffen CPL is particularly suitable for amateur photographers who want to try this technology in outdoor shoots. With this lens, you can almost eliminate reflections or glares. It has a special coating of nylon materiel which is dust and water-resistant.
As it is common in the low and mid-price range, the frame of this lens is made of aluminum. In comparison to brass, aluminum polarizing lenses are less durable. The lens of the filter of Tiffen CPL is also thin which may or may not be a problem depending on your fingers. Some people prefer thick glass as it is easier to grip while attaching or removing them.
The best polarization filter for ambitious photographers
Gobe is a fairly new brand but because of impressive quality becoming one of the leading brands for camera lens filters. Their products are in low to the mid-price range, quality is good, and construction is robust.
Gobe gives you a wide range of size options from 37mm to 95mm. According to the manufacturer, its Japanese optical glass is capable of removing 99.9% of reflected light. To be honest, it gives an impressive performance in removing reflection or glares but I would rate it too high. With this lens, you also have the option to adjust the polarization level by rotating rims.
To protect it from water, scratches, and dust, it has 16 layer nano-coating. It has a thin double-threaded profile to avoid vignetting and for stacking. Unlike other brands that use either aluminum or brass, Gabo Magnalium. This makes this CPL robust but still not as much as the models with brass.
Why do you need a polarizing filter?
A polarizing filter lens is used in photography whenever you want to remove reflections. The following scenarios are common:
Remove reflections from glasses
If your model wears glasses during a portrait shoot, you usually still want to be able to hold your eyes well in the picture.
With a polarizing filter, you can remove the reflections from the surroundings on the glasses.
Photograph through the water surface
If you want to photograph the fish in a pond or lake, the sky is often reflected on the water surface. You can hardly see the fishes in the photograph.
With a polarizing filter, you can almost completely eliminate the reflections of the sky on the water surface, so that you get a much better view of inside water. With pol filters, you can take clear photographs of fish, rocks, or aquatic plants.
Enhance colors in landscape photography
A typical problem in landscape photography: especially on cloudy days, is the different shades of green in nature often look very similar. With a polarizing filter, you can create bright colors here.
What is the reason for that? The sky is often reflected on the leaves. The surface does not reflect as much as water, for example, but the white of the sky is also reflected. As a result, the shades of green are not as strong as on a sunny day. With a polarizing filter, you can remove the reflections and create very color-intensive images. This effect can be used in almost all areas of nature photography. Depending on the lighting situation, haze can also be reduced with a polarization filter.
Enhance the blue of the sky
If your subject is at an angle of 90 ° to the sun, you can use a polarizing filter to significantly increase the blue of the sky. In combination with the last point, great colors can only be achieved with the help of this filter.
When is it worth using a polarizing filter?
I often use this filter when I take photos in river valleys in the forest on a cloudy day. There are three effects here:
The colors in the forest become much richer because the reflection of the sky on the leaves disappears.
The reflections on the water surface disappear and the water appears darker.
Because the filter swallows the light, the exposure time increases. So I can often expose the stream longer without an ND filter, which simplifies the structures in the water and creates a surreal effect through a longer exposure.
What is the difference between linear and circular?
I will explain more details in the below section, but you really only need to know: You can use both variants for analog photography, for digital photography you have to use a circular polarizing filter.
Polarizing Filters Buying Guide
The basic distinction is made between circular and linear polarizing filters. Depending on the purpose and type of camera, a polarizing filter is best for you.
Before you decide on a filter, you should consider some purchase criteria such as diameter, scratch resistance, water repellency, wide-angle suitability, and glare output stages.
Polarizing filters are mainly used for reflections. Water surfaces and reflective glass panes can thus be easily filtered to achieve certain effects that are difficult to achieve with digital image processing.
How much a polarizing filter cost?
Polarizing filters are available in a wide price range. The classification into a price class is determined by factors such as polarizing filter type, i.e. whether linear or circular and quality. In addition, the diameter also plays a major role in the price calculation.
You can find the cheap polarizing filters from Amazon for just under 20 dollars. These would be suitable for those who have not worked with a polarizing filter before and are therefore just want to check them out.
The high-end polarizing filters are available from 80 dollars. Depending on the size, the price can get higher. Filters from brands such as Zeiss and B + W are usually in this price range.
In the middle price range, there are brands like Hoya and other less well-known brands. In addition, premium filters can also be found in this price range.
What do you have to consider if you want to buy a polarizing filter?
First, you need to know which of your lenses you want to use the polarizing filter with. Often you can use your standard zoom, for example, the 18-55mm. You can check the filter diameter of your lens on the lens or in the lens description.
Common sizes are 49mm, 52mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, and 82mm. Then you need a polarizing filter of exactly this size.
Screw and plug-in filters
Like many other filters in photography, polarizing filters are available as screw-in or plug-in filters. Plug-in filter systems are particularly common with gray gradient filters, as they must be adjustable in height.
For such systems, there are polarization filters that are placed in the filter holder and can then be rotated.
When it comes to polarizing filters, I prefer screw filters. I rarely use plug-in filters in my photography. In the case of a poorly sealed plug-in filter system, light can fall on the filters from the outside, which is then shown in the pictures in flat contrasts or light leaks during long exposures. This cannot happen with screw filters.
Canon or Nikon camera – do I have to consider something specific?
You can buy a polarizing filter regardless of the manufacturer of your camera. So it doesn’t matter whether you use Canon, Nikon, or Olympus camera.
Tip: How to Use filters with different lenses
If you have several lenses for which you want to use your filters, then your lenses often have different filter diameters. You can buy a separate filter for each lens. Alternatively, you can work with a step-up ring. You can buy the filter for the lens with the largest filter diameter.
With the step-up ring, you have an adapter between the different filter thread diameters. A step-up ring often only costs a fraction of a new filter.
This tip applies in principle to all filters in photography, such as ND filters or gray gradient filters. If that had been clear to me at the beginning of my photography, I would have saved for 77mm filters and only bought that one.
I would have worked with step-up rings for my lenses with smaller filter diameters. So I had a polarizing filter for 58mm, one for 52mm, one for 49mm, and one for 67mm. That meant extra costs that I could have saved with step-up rings.
Factors to compare and evaluate polarizing filters
In the following, we would like to show you the aspects under which polarizing filters differ. By these criteria, you can select a polarizing filter that is suitable for you and your camera.
In summary, these are:
- Scratch resistance
- Water repellency
- Wide-angle suitability
- Possibility of using a lens hood
- Possibility of using additional filters
- Filter box
- Aperture levels
In the following paragraphs, you can read what the purchase criteria are all about and how you can classify them.
The diameter of the polarizing filter should correspond to the diameter of the lens. The purchase of step-up adapters eliminates the relevance of the accuracy of fit. Before you buy, you should find out how wide the lens mount is on the front edge.
With conventional SLR lenses, you get this information when you look at the plastic edge of the front lens. With conventional DSLM lenses, there is also the possibility that the diameter is on the side. As soon as you know the information, you should of course only search for polarizing filters with the appropriate size.
However, if you have several lenses and do not want to buy a polarizing filter for each lens, step-up adapters could help you. It should be noted here that you are looking for polarizing filters for the lens with the largest diameter.
With compact cameras, the diameter of the lens is rather unusual. However, it is not too tragic because the filter thread is missing and therefore a high accuracy of fit is not required. It would, therefore, be sufficient to measure the width of the lens on the compact camera itself. Since the selection of different filter sizes is correspondingly small, the decision is not too difficult.
Polarizing filters can quickly scratch, especially when photographing outdoors or when not carrying them properly. These can reduce the quality of the subsequent image. No matter how much you protect glass, for inexplicable reasons you will find fine to rough scratches on the surface after a certain time.
This is particularly bad with polarizing filters because the image quality suffers. This is comparable to scratched or dusty glasses that the wearer may find annoying in everyday life. Therefore, it is an advantage to look for scratch-resistant filters, because you can use them much longer.
In addition to the scratch resistance, it is also important to pay attention to the cleanliness of the filter. Impurities affect image quality.
The quality of all polarizing filters is not the same. A special type of coating causes water drops to roll off so that after a brief cleaning, the water drops can be completely removed.
Water is difficult to remove from conventional glass surfaces. It literally “sticks” to the surface. If you wipe it with a cloth, you smear it rather than actually clean it. In addition, smaller quantities or traces remain from time to time.
You can avoid this problem by buying a polarized filter lens with coated surfaces. The individual drops of water roll off and can be removed very easily with the simplest of wipes. This also simplifies and speeds up regular cleaning.
Polarizing filters can be of different heights. If the housing is too high, dark edges or strong vignetting can occur in extreme wide-angle areas. In addition to the width, i.e. the diameter, polarizing filters also differ in height. When selecting, it is relevant which focal lengths would be used for photography.
If the decision is wide-angle, you should go for the slim models. These have an extremely slim design and should not interfere with the final image due to the high edge with unwanted shading. Up to which focal length the use of the respective products is considered to be uncompromising must be researched for the individual polarizing filters.
When working with 24mm (full format) and 18mm (APS-C) all slim polarizing filters should not pose any problems. For the range above these focal lengths, slim and standard models are considered to be safe.
Use a lens hood
Lens hoods are used to prevent direct sunlight from entering the lens and to prevent unsightly lens flairs. In this way, flat image results can be prevented.
Lens hoods are available in two versions. In one, cooperation with a polarizing filter is guaranteed. The other technique has the possibility of complications.
One type of Lens hoods has a filter thread so that it can be screwed onto the already attached polarizing filter like an additional filter, provided that it has a suitable thread. The filter housing is exposed here and can be operated by the photographer without restrictions.
The other type can be attached via a special “snap-in” mechanism over the lens edge. Here, the polarizing filter is enclosed by the lens hood. For this reason, the operation is restricted by the sun visor.
Sometimes filters are even too high that the lens hoods cannot be installed with the special “snap-in” mechanism. Then polarizing filters are considered unsuitable for lens hoods. If you still want to work with a sun visor, you would have to buy a sun visor with a filter thread.
Use of additional filters
Sometimes the photographer cannot be satisfied with a filter. For example, it would be possible to work with an ND filter if you want to photograph plant leaves with the aperture as open as possible in the bright sun.
On the one hand, it is necessary to darken the entire image with the ND filter and, on the other hand, to use the polarizing filter to eliminate the reflections from the surface.
If you expect to work with several filters, you should make sure that the polarizing filter has an additional thread on the front. It should be noted that the additional filter has the same width as the polarizing filter on which you want to attach it.
Since filters only consist of a thin metal or plastic housing and fine glass, they are very sensitive, which requires careful storage. For this reason, most of them come with a filter box when purchasing.
Just as a quiver belongs to a lens and the camera bag belongs to a camera, the polarizing filter is definitely assigned a filter box. This is used for transport, protection, and general storage.
Due to its high relevance, it is included in the scope of delivery by almost every manufacturer. Most of the time it is made of plastic, it is square and its size is precisely matched to the diameter of the polarizing filter.
In order to achieve the required effect, polarizing filters are forcibly tinted. Therefore, the camera must be overexposed by a few aperture stops.
The polarization of light is due to the fine structures in the glass. Overall, these structures darken the glass somewhat.
Since every manufacturer works with a modified system, this tint can vary with each polarizing filter provider. Therefore, the strength of the tint is given for almost every CPL filter. This is done with the “aperture steps” unit.
If, for example, two f-stops are darkened, the camera must be set two steps brighter in manual mode. Here you have the option of opening the aperture twice, increasing the shutter speed by two levels, or increasing the ISO as you feel.
If you prefer to take pictures in the automatic timer, the photographer does not have to make any changes to the camera, since the camera adjusts to it. You should only make sure that the camera does not choose the shutter speed too long, as this can result in camera shake.
If you want to take guaranteed blurred pictures and save time and effort, then taking pictures in the automatic aperture control is the cheapest. Settings such as the shutter speed can be selected here manually, which has the advantage of preventing blurring.
In the fully automatic mode, the photographer leaves the settings entirely to the camera. When using a polarizing filter, the photographer does not have to pay attention to anything.
Types of polarizing filters
A polarizing filter, also known as a pol filter or CPL filter, is an accessory used for the camera in order to achieve a certain image result. The polarizing filter has many areas of application.
They help landscape photographers, for example, to make pictures of horizons more dynamic. Waters are also depicted more clearly as a result. Product photographers avoid reflections in their motifs, which can be caused by the large softboxes in the studio.
Street photographers can take pictures of what is behind shop windows and car windows, which would normally not be possible due to the reflections.
Of course, these are not the only possible uses. A polarizing filter can also be used in nature photography and portrait photography. In every area of photography, one can discover new possibilities of photography with the help of such a filter.
Basically, there are two types of polarizing filters:
- circular polarizing filter
- linear polarizing filter
If you enter “polarizing filters” on the Internet, you will mostly be offered circular polarizing filters that are easier to use and more ergonomic. The range of linear filters is declining rapidly because they do not work universally on all possible cameras.
The use of SLR cameras is problematic from a technical point of view. Therefore, circular polarizing filters are more common in the DSLR age.
Advantages and disadvantages
Without wanting to put it too scientifically: light waves are like endless sine curves that run in a certain direction and can be rotated in their own axis.
However, the human eye cannot recognize the different types of light. For us, every type of light appears to be the same.
- Higher contrast values
- Higher saturation levels
- Haze removal
- Elimination of reflections
- Unsuitable for ultra-wide angles
- Loss of light
- Possible color distortions
- Possible loss of sharpness
Certain light waves cause unsightly reflections or faint colors in a photo. These flaws are prevented by using a polarizing filter by suppressing the impingement of these specific light waves on the camera sensor.
How do linear polarizing filters work?
If an unpolarized light beam hits a linear polarizing filter, linearly polarized light is created by filtering. Linear polarization filters are only used on system cameras and compact cameras.
Natural light emits unpolarized light waves. This means that the light waves can consist of arbitrary types and directions. Roughly speaking, a polarizing filter does not allow and absorb the light waves that do not correspond to a certain guideline value. In the end, a light beam remains, which consists of linearly polarized light waves.
The guideline, according to which the filtering takes place, is set by turning the polarizing filter. After attaching the polarizing filter to the lens, you notice that part of the filter can be rotated further.
- Natural picture result instead of oversaturation
- Less vignetting
- For compact and system cameras only
- The decline in the market
Of course, especially as a layperson, you do not know in which direction you have to turn how much to get the best result. From the beginning, this is done by trying it out. Above all, because the setting of the polarizing filter must be changed in every lighting situation. The live view of the camera offers great help for better adjustment.
How do circular polarizing filters works?
The following also applies here: If an unpolarized light beam hits a circular polarizing filter, linearly polarized light is produced by filtering. However, this bundle of light strikes the second layer of glass, which circulates the light waves to the camera sensor. This is the only way that DSLRs can record and process the light information.
A circular polarizing filter consists of two glass layers, each of which has a different molecular structure. The outer glass has the same result as a linear polarizing filter. However, some types of cameras cannot work with linearly polarized light. Therefore, the light is circulated with the help of the second glass, making it receptive to the camera sensor.
There is also the possibility to set a guideline by turning the ring on the polarizing filter. This guide value depends on the position of the structures of the two glasses relative to one another.
On the one hand, the incidence of light can be almost completely reduced or any kind of light waves can be allowed. Of course, there are also gradations in between, which can be set by trying them out. Here, too, the live view of the camera offers great help.
- Compatible with all camera systems
- More choice on the market
- High light filtering
- Exposure sensors on the camera sensor necessary
- Tint can be too strong
Circular polarizing filters are particularly useful for SLR cameras because their exposure sensors are not on the camera sensor. For this reason, they cannot process linearly polarized light.
How to use the polarizing filter optimally?
Depending on the light level, a polarization filter always has an area in which it is particularly strong. If you are looking for a dark blue sky, your subject should be at an angle of 90 degrees to the sun.
For example, at sunset, this means that the sun should be on your left or right side. Then you have sidelight on your motif and can optimally darken the sky behind with a polarizing filter.
Of course, the 90-degree rule also applies when the sun is directly above you. Then you have the strongest polarization on the horizon.
Polarizing filters naturally also work at other angles, but not nearly as strongly. If you take pictures against the sun or with the sun behind your back, you will achieve almost no effect with this filter.
Each polarizing filter can be turned. You can adjust the intensity by turning it. I recommend you, fix the intensity on your picture. Think about what picture mood you want to create. If you always turn the filter to the maximum effect, then you will have crisp, intense colors.
But does that also fit your picture? Or do you prefer to create softer pastel colors because that corresponds more to the visual mood that you want to capture?
How to optimally clean your polarizing filter
To avoid damaging the surface of your filter, do not use chemicals when cleaning. I recommend a soft microfiber cloth. Below is the cleaning kit which is easy and efficient to use. For really heavy soiling, a wet cloth without soap should be a good choice.
Can I create a polarizing filter in post-processing?
The polarizing filter is one of the few filters that can not be created in post-processing. As explained above, this is based on a physical principle that cannot be replaced by Photoshop. That is why this filter is one of the filters that I will always use alongside the ND filter and infrared filter.
How much light does this filter swallow?
Due to its function, a polarizing filter lets less light through to the sensor. As a rule of thumb, it swallows about two stops of light. This can be a disadvantage because, depending on the lighting situation, you may have to work with the tripod or increase your ISO.
On the other hand, it can also be an advantage if the subject is perhaps better shown with longer exposure.
Can I use a polarizing filter on all lenses?
In principle, there is no restriction here. So you can use polarizing filters on all lenses that have a filter thread.
Can I always leave a polarizing filter on the lens?
Yes, you can, but I would not recommend it. As described above, the polarizing filter swallows light. Your image is darkened, which leads to longer exposure times. The effect of this filter is also not desirable in all situations. I, therefore, recommend that you only use this filter when you really need it.
Can I combine two polarizing filters like an ND filter?
In principle, it is possible to combine two polarizing filters with one another in order to make a variable ND filter yourself. You only have to make sure that the front filter is a linear polarizing filter, while the rear filter is a circular polarizing filter.
Only then can the autofocus of an SLR camera continue to work.
Why you shouldn’t use polarizing filters with wide-angle lenses?
As already mentioned, the filter darkens the blue sky even further. This behavior works best at an angle of 90 degrees to the sun. With a wide-angle lens, you have a wide-angle of view in your photos. So it can happen that part of the sky is darkened by the polarizing filter, while the rest appears normal. It looks very unnatural.
That’s why I never use the polarizing filter for wide-angle viewing to darken the sky. I use gray gradient filters for this or take several exposures, which I then put together in post-processing.
Why I advise against cheap filters?
Some photographers spend 800 dollars on a good lens and then save on the polarizing filter by buying one for 10 dollars. The problem is: the light has to pass through this filter when it is on its way to the sensor.
If you buy a bad filter, it can negatively affect your image quality. Then the money for the sharp lens was not worth it. So there is little point in saving at the wrong end.
How do you have to change the camera settings when using a polarizing filter?
Due to the special glass structure, a tint is not inevitable. Using a total of two to three aperture stops darkens the image. It is comparable to the effect of sunglasses with black lenses.
If you work on the camera with automatic settings, nothing will change for you, since the camera will adjust to it automatically. However, if you work in manual mode, you would have to open up two to three aperture stops, turn up the ISO or increase the shutter speed.
How do you attach a CPL filter to a DSLR?
If you attach your desired lens to your SLR or system camera, the polarizing filter is screwed into the filter thread on the front part of the lens like a bottle cap. Since the filter thread is very fine, you should be particularly careful.
If you take the lens in your hand, you can see a thread on the front edge of the lens, which is only a few millimeters wide. This thread is intended for all types of filters. Filters have a precisely fitting filter thread that protrudes slightly from the filter frame. If the CPL filter is the right size, the filter only has to be screwed on to the end.
How do you attach a polarizing filter to a compact camera?
Compact cameras have no filter thread to which a filter can be attached. There are smaller polarizing filters that can be magnetically attached to the metal housing of the lens.
Even if you take a closer look, you will not see a filter thread on a compact camera. Therefore, conventional filters would not be suitable for such lenses. However, in order to be able to take pictures with the polarizing filter, there are magnetic polarizing filters that you can to the front quickly and easily with a metal housing. Of course, they can also be removed as simply as they are attached.
There are also compact cameras on the market that are made of plastics. For such cameras, some manufacturers offer additional magnetic strips that can be glued to the lens. In this way, polarizing filters can also be used for this type of camera.
Can I combine polarizing filters with other filters?
Of course, it can also happen that several filters have to be used at the same time. In such cases, there is the option of screwing several filters together.
All filters consist of two threads. The filter can be screwed onto the lens via one thread. Other filters can be attached using the thread on the other side of the filter.
To protect the lens from scratches, UV filters can be used, which hardly change the image.
Under what conditions are polarizing filters used?
Polarizing filters are used when light hits non-metallic objects, as reflections can inevitably occur in such a lighting situation. These faults can be eliminated using the polarizing filter.
Non-metallic objects include water, glasses, plants, and plastics such as foils or hard plastics. For the surfaces, the probability of reflection from unpolarized light waves is very high.