Best Polarizing Filter

Best Polarizing Filter

Why you need one and the top 7 picks

If you are into landscape photography and feel it is time to add something to your photos, then a polarizing filter can be the answer for you.

Polarizing filters are an absolute must-have in your bag.

Although you can take a perfectly decent landscape photo without a polarizing filter, they grant photographers a range of benefits and effects that cannot be recreated using Lightroom or Photoshop.

You have the option of buying either a circular polarizing filter, or a linear one, but circular polarizers offer a much broader range of advantages and for this reason we will focus (no pun intended) on circular polarizers throughout this article.

Why Do You Need One?

Sunlight bounces around in random patterns, and this can make photos look a bit bland. A polarizing filter drastically lessens the reflections by cancelling out polarized light. In doing so, images become more contrasted, vibrant and sharp.

If you haven’t used a polarizer before, using one for the first time will be like putting sunglasses on for the first time on a sunny day.

Indeed, the relationship your eyes have with sunglasses is analogous to the function of a polarizing filter in relation to your camera lens. Of course, if sunglasses are not polarized, they won’t make any difference and you will find yourself squinting and unable to see past sharp glares.

Reducing reflections

The exclusion of reflected light is the function that allow all other benefits of using a polarizing filter fall into place. Polarizing filters also allow you to choose which reflections you want to have in your photos, you just have to rotate the filter in a way so that it matches the angles of the reflected light.

Shooting the sky

If you are capturing a scene on a bright day without a polarizer when the sun is at its highest point, you will notice that the sky appears very uneven and white in most areas. Using a polarizer allows you to filter out that uneven light, allowing you to capture the sky’s vivid blue hue.

Capturing color and vibrance

Since a polarizing filter removes the reflection of light that hits the objects in your image, your camera will be able to pick up more color and vibrance when the glare created by the sun is filtered out. This allows your camera to pick up the colors and details that would otherwise be masked by the glare the sun projects onto these objects.

Bypassing water reflections

If you photograph a scene that includes water without a polarizer, the surface of the water will likely appear white. Using a polarizing filter will allow you to exclude those reflections and capture the detail of the objects beneath the water’s surface.

Long exposures

Speaking of water, you can get some really great, soft shots of water by using a polarizer; since your filter decreases the amount of light that is allowed into your sensor, you can lower the shutter speed and capture the motion of moving water. This will also work for capturing other motion blurs.

Rainbows

There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the concept of using a polarizing filter to shoot rainbows. This is because rainbows are a result of reflected light, and polarizers are used to eliminate reflections. However, if you turn your polarizer in the opposite direction, you can actually enhance glare, and as a result, enhance the appearance of a rainbow.

Lens protection

Polarizing filters are also comparable to sunglasses in the sense that they have a protective purpose as well. If you do a lot of outdoor shooting, it might by worth keeping a polarizing filter on your camera lens at all times because the glass is much tougher than your lens’s glass.

How to use polarizing filters

Polarizing filters are comprised of two pieces of glass that rotate clockwise and counter clockwise against each other when the filter is screwed on to the tip of your lens. You rotate the glass in order to adjust the degree of polarization; rotate the glass so that the darker parts of the glass match up with the brighter areas of the scene you’re shooting.

When not to use

Wearing sunglasses in a dark environment won’t help you see any better, and the same goes for polarizers. So using a polarizer inside, at night or during a vivid sunset won’t get you ideal results.

Also, there are some instances where you may want some reflections in your photograph. If you want to capture subtle reflections, use a tripod and take the same picture twice; once with the polarizer and once without it. Blending the two photos will be easy if you own Photoshop.

Keep in mind that polarizers are not as effective when you’re photographing a metallic surface.

Choosing the right one

All polarizers serve the same function: to reduce reflections and glare caused by unpolarized light sources. Nevertheless, you will notice throughout your search that there are huge price gaps between different polarizers.

The more expensive polarizers will have higher quality optical glass and anti-reflective lamination. Some may also have more durable mounting systems and frames that reduce vignetting when used with wide angle lenses.

If you’re not planning to keep your polarizer on your lens at all times, it might be worth buying a filter with a brass mounting system. These are more expensive than aluminum mounting systems, but they’re less likely to get stuck on your lens and damage your lens.

Getting a polarizer that doesn’t fit on your lens would be a disappointing waste of money. Like other types of filters, polarizing filters come in different sizes to suit different lens sizes. This doesn’t have anything to do with the focal length or aperture of your lens, but the diameter of your lens.

Some lenses don’t accept filters, so make sure there are screw grooves on your lens.

Pay attention to the f-stop factor; the lower the f-stop loss, the better. That way, you won’t need to dramatically tweak your settings before and after attaching the filter.

The focus rings of some lenses are right where the filter mount is located. This can make it tricky to adjust your polarizer if you’re using a manual focus setting.

7 Best Polarizing filters

B+W XS-Pro HTC Kaesemann Circular Polarizer

You can always depend on B+W filters to get the job done with excellent results. These German-made gems are always made of top notch glass, and this particular premium lens filter is is one of the best quality polarizers this brand produces.

Using the B+W Kaesemann polarizer, you will only have to tweak your exposure settings to accommodate a 1-1.5 f-stop loss, and its brass XS-Pro Digital mount makes it highly compatible with wide angle lenses as well as zoom lenses. It also has a front thread so that you can attach additional filters to it.

Its multi-resistant nano coating makes this polarizer super easy to clean. If you’re willing to pay for this pricy pro filter, it’s well worth the money — and it’s available in 18 sizes, ranging between 30.5mm and 86mm.

Tiffen 52mm Circular Polarizer

Tiffen have been making filters for well over half a century, and are a popular choice for photographers and filmmakers. In fact, chances are your favorite Hollywood films were shot with a Tiffen polarizer.

Tiffen polarizers include a trademarked layer of ColorCore technology between the two sheets of optical glass that enhances their capabilities.

The Tiffen 52mm Circular Polarizer is a great choice for photographers who don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on their photography accessories but are still looking for a great quality product.

Cokin 58CPL Circular Polarizer Filter

This polarizer is available in a wide range of sizes, between 37mm and 82mm, so you can be sure it will fit your lens.

With a thickness measuring at only 4.5mm, this filter is the thinnest option of them all, and you can barely see it when it’s actually mounted on your lens. Also, using this slim and light filter, you will only need to adjust your exposure settings by about one stop.

This option is also scratch resistant, so if you do a lot of landscape photography you can use it to protect your lens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with confidence.

Lee 105 Slim Landscape

Lee filters are notorious for their high quality filter glass, which is handmade from resin.

This guy is specifically designed for landscape photographers who prefer lenses with a smaller focal length. In fact, you can use a lens as wide as 16mm without worrying about a vignette.

Bear in mind that it does have a bit of a warm tint to it, which can be great for enhancing your golden hour images, but if you want to keep it cool then make sure you tweak your white balance settings.

This filter also comes with a 105mm front accessory ring, so you can add additional filters to it.

Heliopan Slim Circular Polarizer SH-PMC Filter

This German-made polarizer is available in 22 sizes, ranging between 28mm and 105mm diameters.

This filter functions as a great lens protector, with 8 extra coatings to each sheet of glass that also provide optimal reflection reduction. It’s easy to clean and the mount is made of anodized brass that are easy to screw and unscrew from other metals.

As its name suggests, the Heliopan Slim polarizer is thin and therefore has a low f-stop factor of about 1.3 stops

Sigma DG Wide Multi-Coated Circular Polarizer Filter

Sigma’s reputation for good quality photographic equipment isn’t limited to their cameras and lenses; they make great lens filters, too, and they are well-known for their vignette reducing design.

This filter is available in 11 different sizes, ranging between 46mm and 105mm, and is compatible with auto and manual focus lenses.

The Sigma DG Wide Circular Polarizer Filter is a great option for landscape photographers; this filter was specifically designed for wide angle lenses. And to top it off, it falls into a very affordable price range.

Hoya PRO1 Digital Filter PL DMC Filter

Hoya is the most prolific filter manufacturer in the world, and the Hoya PRO1 series is a great choice for DSLR photographers.

It’s in the prosumer price range, is multi-coated and has an average light transmission of more than 97%, so you don’t have to alter your exposure settings very much before and after using your filter. Some people even say they don’t have to compensate at all!

Some customers say the glass is a bit sensitive. Also, the mounting fixture is made of aluminum so it’s at risk of getting stuck, so make sure you’re careful when handling this product.

Conclusion

A polarizing filter is as essential for landscape photographers as sunglasses are to beach goers. They add a great deal of vibrance and clarity to images of scenes that would otherwise be blown out and made bland by overwhelming amounts of light.

If you’re willing to spend the money, I recommend getting the B+W XS Pro HTC Kaesemann polarizing filter because of its extreme durability and convenient f-stop factor. However, this is not a feasible for many photographers, especially for those who are beginners, and although it is a fabulous filter, its advantages are not essential for taking great landscape photos.

The Sigma DG filter is great value for money. Whether you’re on a budget or not, this filter won’t do you wrong. It’s durable and designed for wide angle lenses, and Sigma is a photographic brand you can trust!



Best Polarizing Filter

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About the Author Luca

Hi, I am Luca, founder and editor in chief at photographyambition.com. I am crazy about photography and I always have a camera with me. When I am not busy with my day job, enjoying my family or taking photos, I am on Photography Ambition to share what I have learnt so far.

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