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A Crash Course on UV, CPL and ND Filters

There are plenty of accessories we can recommend to the average photographer, but filters are by far our favorite. Here's how you can level up your photography skills with lens filters. We will take a quick dive into UV, CPL and ND filters.

UV Filters aka Ultraviolet Filters

UV Filters were created for the purpose of cutting through haze caused by UV light when shooting on film. UV light is not perceived by our eyes, so there wasn't a way to really see how it was affecting our final image until the film was developed. Fortunately, digital camera sensors are not susceptible to UV light, however this doesn't mean that UV filters have lost their purpose.

Broken filter > Broken Lens

Currently, UV filters are sold as a form of protection against scratches, dust, moisture and fingerprints. Replacing a lens glass can cost you a pretty penny. Waiting 4-6 weeks for a quote for the lens repair alone is enough to convince us that using a filter as a form of protection is much better than just shooting with bare glass.

For all photographers, especially ones who are prone to accidentally dropping or bumping their lenses, please get a UV filter!

The only kind of UV filters you want to use are made of actual optical glass. If you shop around on Amazon and find a filter for just $8, consider this: When does anything of 'decent' quality, just $8? Those filters are guaranteed to be either made of plastic or of low grade optical glass. Low grade glass will scratch easier, have chromatic aberrations that will affect your images, and most likely will not last.

Here at our stores, we sell real optical glass filters in a standard grade and a multi-coated grade. The Promaster Standard Filters start at about $18.99. The higher end, Promaster HGX prime filters start at $39.99.


CPL Filters aka Circular Polarizing Filters

CPL Filter Bringing Out the Detail in the Foreground

Circular polarizers reduce reflections and glare by filtering out light that has become polarized due to reflection from a non-metallic surface. Using one will reduce glare and reflections, including certain haze on reflective surfaces including glass, water, and even skin (oily skin especially -- from personal experience). Cutting down on these less attractive reflections can improve overall contrast in a landscape.

CPL filters can take away 1-2 stops of light

The one downside of using a CPL filter: you will lose 1-2 stops of light with the filter on -- therefore, you might not want to keep the filter on 24/7.

Circular polarizers are manipulated manually. You will want to swivel the front of the filter to determine the amount of polarization that you want to apply (as in the image above).

CPL filters can be purchased online or in-store! The Promaster Standard CPL Filters start at about $29.99. The higher end, Promaster HGX Prime CPL Filters start at $72.99.

Avoid 'Hot Spots' in Your Long Exposures with ND Filters

ND or Neutral Density Filters

ND filters are used to reduce the amount of light that reach your camera. There are two main applications that people like to use ND filters for:

1. To shoot at a wider aperture

2. To shoot with a longer shutter speed

There are three types of neutral density filters out there, graduated filters, fixed ND filters and variable ND filters. Of the three, we will discuss the two preferred filters:

Fixed ND Filters

Variable ND Filters

Fixed ND filters are the recommended method, as you can stack and unstack filters to change how much light is reduced. This can be quite precise as you can choose how many stops you want exactly. The only downside is that you may need to carry a few ranges of fixed ND filters to find your goldilocks setting.

Variable ND filters are built so you can adjust the range of light exposure from 1-8 stops, depending on which brand of filter you choose. The pro to owning a filter like this is that you can pack one filter and have it cover quite a range. The filter typically displays minimum and maximum markings, however, these markings are not calibrated, and are only meant to index references points when you’re rotating the filter. The cons of using a variable ND filter is that If you go beyond the minimum and maximum settings indicated on the sides of the filter, the filters can start to interfere with each other. This will occur on any type of variable ND filter, no matter what the brand or its price tag.

This long exposure would have been 'blown out' without an ND filter

ND filters are excellent for videographers, film photographers, and fanatics of long exposure photography. Videographers and film photographers will find these filters especially helpful when they are shooting as they will have limitations with their settings. For film photographers, since they can't change their ISO/ASA mid-shoot, if they want to shoot at a wider aperture, and they can't increase their shutter speed any further to compensate for over-exposure, a ND filter that offers a few stops down of light will be perfect for a shoot on a sunny day. Videographer have a similar limitation as video settings will call for specific ranges of shutter speed to coincide with their video modes. For photographers who want to capture 30 second long exposures during the day, especially on sunny days, will find that ND filters can help them create an array of images that their camera would have been unable to capture on its own.

To purchase an ND filter through us, feel free to check out our Promaster Variable ND filters (starting at $39.99). We also sell fixed ND filters, however they are not currently available for purchase via our website.


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The Shutterbug is a Oregon Family Owned & Operated Camera Store, with four locations in Oregon. We have been in the industry of helping photographers like you since 1971.

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