Facebook Pixel The Best Circular Polarizers for Photography (2024)

The Best Circular Polarizers for Photography (2024)

Pick the best circular polarizer

The circular polarizer, also known as the circular polarizing filter, is an essential tool for photographers who shoot landscape, nature, and wildlife images – especially near lakes, streams, or other bodies of water. It’s a simple glass circle that attaches to the front of almost any camera lens, and it enhances colors while reducing unwanted glare and reflections. (A polarizing filter also protects the lens from dust, dirt, and debris.)

At the most basic level, a circular polarizer works by preventing light from entering your camera lens, just like sunglasses block light from entering your eyes. However, the magic (or more accurately, the physics) of circular polarizers lies in the light-blocking process. When you rotate the bezel of a circular polarizer, specific wavelengths of light are prevented from coming through and reaching your camera sensor. This means you can minimize certain types of light – such as reflections and glare – which makes circular polarizers ideal for scenes plagued with reflections on water.

Circular polarizers are easy to use and strongly recommended for anyone who enjoys taking pictures of the great outdoors, but they’re great for other types of photography, too, including portraiture and macro work. You can find circular polarizers at a wide range of price points, and the models below are the best options currently available!

Best circular polarizers sunset
Circular polarizers minimize reflections, reduce glare, and enhance colors. They are easy to attach to your camera lens and can improve almost any shot.

1. Best circular polarizer for landscape photographers: The PolarPro QuartzLine

Best circular polarizers PolarPro QuartzLine Circular Polarizer Filter

While PolarPro is relatively new in the camera space, the company has quickly developed a reputation for professional-grade gear. The QuartzLine Circular Polarizer Filter is an outstanding option for landscape photographers and should be at the top of your list if you like to take shots of the great outdoors. It’s a bit expensive, but the results are worth it – and I’m always willing to recommend an expensive option that will last for years over a cheaper solution that you will find yourself replacing over and over when it breaks or doesn’t meet your needs.

This circular polarizer shares similar elements with other options, but each component of the PolarPro QuartzLine’s construction is designed to meet the needs of demanding landscape photographers who want a no-compromise solution for creating outstanding images. The glass is designed to be scratch-resistant, and the metal frame features thick, chunky texturing that makes it easy to rotate even with gloves on in cold weather. The biggest downside is the price, which might be a bit of a barrier for casual and hobbyist photographers, but the quality of the results more than makes up for it.


  • Outstanding build quality
  • The textured ring ensures smooth operation


  • Expensive; not ideal for beginners and casual shooters

2. Best circular polarizer for wildlife photographers: The Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL

Best circular polarizers Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL

Wildlife photographers face tough, grueling, and downright punishing conditions in pursuit of their craft. These individuals often wait for hours in all types of weather in the hopes of capturing beautiful images of animals in their natural habitat. Wildlife shooters need camera gear that can stand up to incredible challenges, and the Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL certainly fits the bill. It has everything you would expect in a circular polarizer of this caliber, including durable metal construction and no trace of a color cast, which means colors will be accurate and true to life.

The major advantage this circular polarizer offers for wildlife photographers is the thick, chunky, red frame, which is easy to grasp and turn precisely in extreme weather conditions. The red isn’t for the sake of looks, either; it’s designed to help you easily identify the filter from among all the others in your gear bag.

Finally, this filter only sacrifices one stop of light, giving you greater flexibility when shooting in low light and/or with telephoto and super-telephoto lenses, which often have smaller maximum apertures. The X4 CPL isn’t cheap, but it gets the job done and is a great option for wildlife work.


  • The thick, chunky outer dial makes it easy to operate with gloves on and in extreme weather conditions
  • The red ring makes this filter easy to distinguish in a gear bag


  • A very high price limits its practicality for new shooters

3. Best circular polarizer for portrait photographers: The Hoya NXT Plus

Best circular polarizers Hoya NXT Plus Circular Polarizer

Hoya has been making high-quality camera accessories for decades at price points that all photographers can appreciate. The Hoya NXT Plus is a great circular polarizer for portrait photographers who want to get great shots with minimal glare and reflections. It doesn’t have the same build quality as some others on this list, but for portrait photographers seeking a filter that works well and won’t break the bank, this one is it.

The NXT Plus offers everything you would expect in a circular polarizer, including a water-repellant glass coating and knurled edges around the outer aluminum frame to allow for easy grip and operation. It does a good job of altering incoming light, and portrait photographers who shoot at wide apertures won’t mind that it blocks a bit more than some of its peers.

It is threaded on the front end, which means additional filters can be stacked on top of it (though I generally recommend against this, since filter stacking can result in substantially reduced image quality). The Hoya NXT Plus is a solid all-around choice for portrait photographers who need a reliable circular polarizer that just gets the job done.


  • Excellent image quality for the price
  • The slim, understated design doesn’t draw attention to itself


  • Individual components are not built to the same exacting standards as some of its counterparts
  • The aluminum frame works well but is not ideal for extreme conditions

4. Best circular polarizer for architecture photographers: The B+W High-Transmission MRC-Nano Master

Best circular polarizers B+W High-Transmission MRC-Nano Master Circular Polarizer

B+W filters are phenomenal options for beginner photographers who want to step up to the next level of quality gear. The B+W High-Transmission MRC-Nano Master is ideal for architecture photographers who want crisp, clear, glare-free shots of buildings and other artificial elements. Its high-quality elements are constructed of SCHOTT glass, made in Germany specifically to ensure accurate color reproduction and durability. It also includes a special nano-coating to maximize the amount of light entering the filter.

The biggest advantage of this filter for architecture photographers is its outstanding sharpness, which makes it ideal for photographing in cities and other urban settings. Any time you introduce additional elements in front of your camera lens, you run the risk of muddying the fine details in your images, but this B+W filter is designed to ensure maximum clarity. It’s also a solid circular polarizer for many other types of photography, but architecture photographers aiming to get the most out of their images should look no further than this model.


  • Great option for new photographers looking to upgrade their gear without spending too much
  • High-quality components ensure high-quality images


  • Not as durable as some of its more expensive peers

5. Best circular polarizer for macro photographers: The Heliopan SH-PMC

Best circular polarizers Heliopan SH-PMC Circular Polarizer Filter

While Heliopan name might not be as widely known as others on this list, the company makes some of the best camera filters you can find, and the SH-PMC Circular Polarizer is a particularly excellent choice for macro photographers. It has all the features you would expect from a quality filter, including metal construction and high-grade glass to ensure accurate color reproduction. Additionally, this filter has a special 16-layer coating for added durability. It all adds up to a filter that, while not inexpensive, certainly exemplifies the “You get what you pay for” adage.

Macro photographers demand uncompromising performance from their camera gear, so this circular polarizer is easy to recommend. It helps capture vibrant, vivid colors while blocking only about one stop of light, which ensures maximum photographic flexibility. I take a lot of macro photos and usually don’t like adding filters to my lens because it can interfere with incoming light, but this filter is built to such exacting standards that it’s not a problem. Macro shots taken with this filter are bright, crisp, colorful, and free of the unsightly glare that can plague other close-up photos.


  • Outstanding construction and attention to detail ensure excellent images and smooth operation
  • 16-layer coating for excellent durability


  • Not as widely available as some other filters
  • Expensive

6. Best circular polarizer for casual photographers: The Tiffen Circular Polarizer

Best circular polarizers Tiffen Circular Polarizer

Ah, Tiffen – my favorite brand of photography gear to recommend for casual photographers who want to learn, grow, and experiment without spending a lot of money. This Tiffen circular polarizer isn’t going to win any awards for quality or construction, but it does a great job of letting casual users get the benefits of a CPL without emptying their pocketbooks. It’s big and chunky compared to its slimmer, more expensive peers and doesn’t have micro-coatings or German-made glass, but it works great and is a perfect gateway to a whole new type of photography for casual shooters.

The best thing I can say about this Tiffen circular polarizer is that it just works, and works well, in a variety of situations. Professional photographers and online pixel-peepers might demand more, but it’s ideal for casual shooters who just want to enhance colors and reduce reflections and don’t plan to make wall-size prints or sell shots at an art show. It has a durable metal ring, and the 10-year warranty makes it even easier to recommend.


  • Great value for the money
  • Produces good images that are a big upgrade for casual shooters looking to improve their photos


  • Can produce a slight color cast on some shots
  • Construction is not as solid as some of its peers

Additional considerations when choosing a circular polarizer

Before I conclude this article, I want to mention a few additional factors for you to keep in mind before you purchase a polarizing filter:

Avoid cheap circular polarizers: One of the hallmarks of any good filter, especially circular polarizing filters, is that they do not alter the color of the light. Not only are cheap filters less effective than their pricey counterparts, but they often have adverse effects on the light that they do let in through your lens. It’s not uncommon for photos taken with cheap circular polarizers to have a green or blue tint to them due to the low-quality materials used in the construction of the filter. This can be corrected to some degree if you shoot in RAW, but the best solution is to spend a bit more on a filter that is simply better at its primary function.

Use a high-quality lens: While circular polarizers can certainly help minimize reflections and enhance colors, they are just one part of the photo-taking equation. You can buy the most incredible circular polarizer in existence, but if you attach it to a cheap, low-quality lens, your images can still come out looking soft, muddy, or washed out. My number-one recommendation for new photographers looking to upgrade their gear is to get a better lens, and then look at additions like circular polarizers.

Best circular polarizers mushroom in the forest

Practice, practice, practice: One thing I’ve learned and seen repeated consistently in over a decade of being a photographer: you have to give yourself time to understand your camera gear. If you get something new like a circular polarizer right before you head out on a big trip or photo adventure, you can easily find yourself knee-deep in frustration and may end up ditching the polarizer altogether. Give yourself time to get to know your circular polarizer, learn how to control exposure on your camera, study techniques like composition and framing, and more than anything, take lots of pictures. If your circular polarizer isn’t doing what you want it to, there’s a good chance you just need to put a little more work into learning how to use it to get the shots you want.

Improve your photos with a circular polarizer!

Circular polarizers are one of the easiest ways to enhance your images. They’re simple, they’re easy to use, and you will see the results right away – though to really get the hang of working with a CPL, you may need to put in lots of practice.

The best part about choosing a circular polarizer is that you can’t really go wrong with any of the options on this list. Don’t worry about making a bad choice; just focus on finding one that suits your needs and know that it will probably suffice in many situations, not just the one for which it is recommended.

Now over to you:

Which circular polarizer do you plan to purchase? Do you have a favorite of your own or tips for using one effectively? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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