I was just reading about Tony Sweet’s Soft Ray filter by Singh-Ray, and that got me thinking about how confusing it can be to decide what to buy, what sizes to buy, etc. I noticed a reader’s comment about investing in expensive digital camera filters only to have them not fit any new lenses he buys. Well, here’s a great solution to that!
For years, I have purchased my filters for digital photography at the largest size I need for my standard kit of lenses. I then buy step rings to make those filters fit my other, small-diameter lenses. It’s been a great way to lighten the load in the camera bag. I buy a couple of extra lens caps for the larger size filter, too, so when I have the filter on any lens I can always cover it for protection if needed.
It can also be confusing now to figure out what filters are needed. With digital, we no longer need to carry warming filters (e.g. 81A, 81B or C) as we can simply change the white balance on the camera, or in the computer later on. But there are still filters that are essential to creating quality photographs, and there are great filters that help make pictures a little more unique. Here are just a few that I use and a bit about what they can do for you:
Note: Why buy an expensive lens only to put a cheap filter on the front?? The optics in your lens are affected by less expensive, lower quality glass that is put in front of them. So consider buying top quality filters. Rob Sheppard wrote about this in a recent issue of Outdoor Photographer, too. Singh-Ray filters are top-quality, worth the price. You’ll have them for a long time, if you handle them with respect, and they will produce fine results with any lenses.
Hi-Lux UV Filters: For many many years, I didn’t use protective filters on my lenses - it was just too much trouble/time to remove them before I put on a polarizer, or warming filters, etc., and sometimes that extra time meant I’d miss the shot - in travel/street photography anyway. And, I confess, I was guilty of buying less than quality UV, SKY or Haze filters - whatever they sold me, I bought it! Yikes. But these Hi-Lux filters from Singh-Ray are terrific - they actually improve the contrast in the scene, giving me great clarity and protection at the same time.
Since most landscape/nature photography doesn’t require fast response (except wildlife), I don’t have to worry about losing time changing filters, and I feel better having my expensive lenses protected. Case in hand: my 100-400mm recently took a dive for the pavement, and the polarizing filter I had on the lens saved the front element (destroyed the polarizer, split the ring that holds filters on the lens, etc. but the element was saved! So only a checkup for re-alignment and filter ring at the end of the lens instead of a new optic was required. Whew!)
Variable ND (Neutral Density): I LOVE this filter! Yes, it’s pricey, but when you add up the cost to have several solid ND filters to give you options when you want to slow the shutter down more than you can in the existing lighting conditions, it makes sense to have just the one - less clutter in the camera bag, that way, too!
Graduated Neutral Density Filters: I still use them, for situations where I know I can’t work the gradient tool in Photoshop or Lightroom effectively and because it does save me time later with less processing to do. I typically carry a Soft Step 3-stop and a Hard-Step 3 stop, and a Reverse Graduated 3 stop as well. The main blog image was done with a 3-stop Grad ND - I wanted to hold detail in the boulders in the middle ground area, without making the back mountains and sky go too light, or I’d lose the layering effect I saw.
Color Combo: This filter saturates the colors in the scene, while polarizing at the same time. All of the Singh-Ray filters that combine polarizing with some other filter effect are great - saving you from stacking filters and creating vignetting problems at the edges of your picture, and saving space/weight in the bag!
Polarizing Filters: I use both a Thin LB Neutral Polarizer and a Thin LB Warming Polarizer. There are times when the built-in warming filtration doesn’t work - when you have pastel blue skies, the warming filter can turn them muddy looking to my eye, so that’s when I pull out the non-warming polarizer instead. See the polarizer examples below.
Tony Sweet’s Soft Ray: I just started using this filter a little bit, but this link will show you a few examples of it. It’s a specialized filter, but a nice one!
SO that’s a wrap up of the digital camera filters I tend to use, although there’s a few more thrown in at times for special effects. Heck, I still have one that has hairspray on it to create my own diffuser filter!! Filters for digital photography can be great for special effects, or just to get the best image you can from a situation.
Go forth and look at the world through some great photography filters!
Additional details: Give your photography the "wow" factor in Brenda Tharp's excellent online photography courses, including Creating Visual Impact and Travel Photography: Capturing a Sense of Place. In addition, BetterPhoto's online digital photography school offers many more Internet photography tutorials.
Note: All photos copyright by Brenda Tharp