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Introduction to Filters for DSLRs

What filters should I buy for my DSLR lenses?

The ‘filter’ question is another of the common ones that I’m asked these days (along side the ‘which lens should I buy’ question. It’s a slightly tricky question because the answer will depend upon the type of photography that you do, the type of lenses that you have, your budget and your ability with and willingness to use a post production software tool like photoshop to get similar effects to those that the filters can give you.

I personally only use two types of filters – UV filters and Polarizing filters. However I know photographers who make strong cases for ND grad filters and neutral density filters also. Let’s briefly explore each and talk about why you might consider them.

Polarizing Filters

I’ve written a more extensive guide to Polarizing Filters previously so won’t completely rehash it here. Polarizing filters change the way that your camera sees and treats light. Particularly – when using one you’ll notice a change in how your camera sees reflections, glare and even some colors. Polarizing Filters can give you deep blue skies, help get rid of reflections on glass or water etc.

As a result they’re a great filter for landscape photographers or anyone shooting outdoors (I always take one when traveling). I have one for each of my walk-about type lenses (my 24-105mm and EF 17-40mm) but don’t have one for my telephoto lenses which I use more for sports.

UV Filters

The main reason that I buy UV filters the for all of my lenses is protection of the lenses. Lenses are not cheap and the thought of scratching or cracking the front glass element is enough to send shivers down most photographers backs. I’d rather have to replace a $50 filter than a $1500 lens any day. UV filters are also great at keeping salt spray, dust and grime off the front of your lens.

Those still using film cameras will find UV filters handy also for cutting back the ultraviolet light. However most digital cameras have the ability to cut down UV and Infrared light.

Just be aware when buying a UV filter (or an alternative for protection might be a skylight filter) that the quality varies. I tend to buy higher end professional filters for my higher end lenses.

ND Graduated Filters

If you’ve ever shot a landscape image with impressive cloud formations in it and have gotten the image home to your computer to be disappointed in how the sky has blown out and lost it’s detail through overexposure (while the rest of the shot is fine) you’ll be a candidate for a ND Grad filter.

These ‘slot in’ filters look like a two tone filter in that the top half will look a little like sunglasses and the bottom half will look clear. The top half decreases the amount of light being let in (usually by 1, 2 or 3 ‘stops’) while the bottom half lets the darker part of your scene to be exposed normally.

You usually can buy these filters in a set of three (at different stop levels) and can get the the ‘graduation’ between the two parts of the filter either as ‘soft’ (the graduation is gentler) or ‘hard’ (where the graduation is more sudden).

Lastly – ND Graduation Filters are a ‘slot in’ filter and you need to buy an attachment to put on the end of your lens that holds them in place.

As I’ve said above – I don’t use ND Grad filters – but they will be something to consider for landscape photographers.

Neutral Density Filters

Neutral-Density-FilterI have had very little experience with Neutral Density lenses but do have one friend who swears by them. He shoots a lot in his beautiful garden and his goal is to get a well exposed flower with a nice blurry background. As a result he has to shoot at very large Apertures (to get the blur). The problem he faces is that on a bright sunny day this can lead to over exposed shots.

The solution is a Neutral Density Filter which cuts down the light getting into your camera. You can buy them at different levels (ie 1 stop, 2 stops, 3 stops etc).

This type of filter is useful in any setting where you want to use larger Apertures and/or slow shutter speeds in bright conditions.

One work-around that you might try in an emergency is to simply use a polarizing filter in such conditions as they also cut out light getting into your lens in a similar way. Keep in mind though that they also could impact other aspects of the shot (reflections, color etc).

What filters do you use (if any)? What advice would you give DSLR owners looking at purchasing filters?

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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