As a budding or aspiring photographer, you have probably seen or even used camera filters. You can use the glass aids for a variety of reasons. In this article I will introduce you to all camera filters and their functions.
What are camera filters?
Unlike a software filter, you attach a camera filter in front of your lens, where it already changes the incident light. Camera filters help, among other things, to minimize reflections, to intensify colors and to reduce the light intensity. Each camera filter has a special purpose. Each filter is built to achieve a specific effect to improve the final image.
What are camera filters used for?
In general, all camera filters can be roughly assigned to one of the following four categories. So let’s take a general look at the areas in which filters are used before we go into them by name.
+ Lens protection
The cheapest camera filters are transparent and serve only one purpose. They protect your lens. These filters work well because the clear glass does not affect the final image in any way.
+ Correct or intensify colors
There are camera filters that can change or enhance colors in your pictures. Some filters adjust the color temperature . Other filters can saturate colors and enhance contrasts, creating more dynamic images.
+ Control exposure
Camera filters can also help in difficult lighting conditions. They can offer a great solution to get a uniform and accurate exposure for the whole picture.
+ Create effects
Camera filters can improve your pictures in several ways. They can increase contrasts, make colors more vivid and eliminate reflections and blinding glare from water or smooth surfaces. But they can also be used to add that certain something to otherwise uninteresting pictures. For example, filters can create stars on light surfaces or conjure dream-like circles in your image.
Methods of attaching camera filters
There are several ways a filter can get in front of your lens. Sometimes screwed directly onto the lens, but sometimes also mounted with a special device. Let’s take a look at the most common types.
- Screw- on filter
You screw this camera filter directly to the front of the lens. There are several camera filters that fall under this category. The most commonly used are polarization filters, ND and color filters. They usually differ in diameter and thickness. Keep in mind that screw-on filters that are too thick can create a vignette in your pictures.
- Insert filter
Insert filters are mainly used for telephoto lenses. These lenses often have larger front elements and cannot always be used with ordinary screw-on filters. As the name suggests, you put this camera filter in a special, small compartment. In the following picture you can see the device into which a filter can be inserted. The device is mounted between the camera and lens. On the right you can see a +/- symbol. In this case, it is a variable ND filter, the strength of which can be regulated. What an ND filter is, more on that in a moment.
- Square filter
These camera filters are usually used with a filter holder. You attach this to the front end of the lens. You only need to get adapters for your filter holder to use one or more filters in different sizes. This type of filter is often used in landscape photography.
- Rectangular filters
Another popular choice for landscape photographers is the rectangular camera filter . This is also installed with a filter holder. A rectangular filter gives you more space to move around your subject without risking uneven picture areas. The most common size is 100x150mm, but smaller and larger filters are also available.
7 different camera filters and their effects
When it comes to camera equipment, filters are cheaper items. However, if you don’t know which camera filter serves the right purpose for your project or how you use it to improve your image, you could end up wasting your money.
In the following guide I will explain the different types of camera filters and their effects. This will help you find the right filter for you and your camera.
- UV and skylight filters
UV and skylight filters are often used to protect the front element of your lens from moisture, dirt and scratches. That is why they are ideal for taking photos in damp, dusty or dirty surroundings. In the past, UV filters were also used to protect the film from UV light in analog cameras. Film is usually more susceptible to UV radiation, which can result in loss of contrast and fog in the photos.
Skylightifilters are your best friend when you take pictures under a blue sky. They can reduce the blue veil that you may see on photos you take outside. They can also free skin tones from color reflections from nearby objects.
Note, however, that skylight filters affect the image quality of your photo. They intensify lens flares , which create a color cast and reduce contrasts.
Suitable for: Any form of photography
More info: Read our tutorial on UV filters here
Berlin Optix Premium UV Filter 67mm Schott Glas Filter Super …
Hoya HMC UV (C) lens (58 mm filter)
Absorbs the UV rays; Heat resistant, highly transparent quality glass; Universally applicable fine weather filter for color as well as black / white pictures
B + W UV Haze and Protection Filters (77mm, MRC Nano, XS-Pro, 16x …
- Polarization filter
Polarizing filters add depth to your images by increasing the saturation of colors and reducing reflections . First you attach the filter to your lens and find your image section. Then you can rotate the mounted filter and watch the viewfinder as the colors change slowly.
These camera filters are ideal for landscape photography. They darken the sky, intensify colors and at the same time reduce sunshine and reflections on smooth surfaces and water.
When photographing landscapes with a polarizing filter, you should avoid panning the camera. This can create dark and uneven areas in the sky. You should also be careful when using these filters in conjunction with extreme wide-angle lenses. Again, it can happen that the blue color of the sky appears uneven in your photo.
Suitable for: Any form of photography
More info: Read our tutorial on polarization filters here
AmazonBasics Circular Polarization Filter – 58mm
Circular polarization filters are among the most popular effect filters; Increases the intensity of sky blue; reduces glare
Hoya polarizing filter Cirk. Pro1 Digital 72mm
Digital multilayer coating; Prevents reflection from non-metallic objects; Colors appear more intense and clear
K&F Concept Pro 62mm Slim Circular Polarizer …
- Neutral density filter or gray filter
Neutral density filters (ND) are dark colored camera filters that reduce the incident light that hits the sensor through your lens. This allows you to expose longer and thus achieve the often seen “juicing” effect of water. All colors in the final photo remain unaffected.
Do you see that the water is a little smoother? This was achieved with an ND filter.
An ND filter does not require any special setup and you can use the exposure meter and the focus system of your camera as usual. By reducing the light intensity, you can use this camera filter to work with much longer exposure times without overexposing your image. It is important that you always use a tripod with the ND filter when you take pictures of moving objects such as running water. Otherwise everything blurs and quickly becomes blurred. With the right gray filter (ND filter) you create drama; but everything else remains sharp.
- Landscape photography
- Flash photography
- Photography of moving water such as rivers and waterfalls
- Photographing strips of light
- You can find more examples in the article linked below
More information: Read our instructions for using ND filters here
K&F Concept ND Filter 67mm Lens Filter Nano Slim Neutral …
HAIDA Slim Neutral gray filter set 77mm consisting of ND8, …
Delivery in individual filter boxes as well as the metal cover caps
ND Filter ND2-ND32 K&F Concept Nano Slim Variable ND Filter …
- Gray gradient filter
Gray gradient filters (GND filters for short) have a vertical gradient from a dark to a clear half. This camera filter allows you to correctly expose a clear, sunny sky and a darker foreground (e.g. a meadow) equally. They appear in various f-stops (mostly 1 – 4). These determine how much the dark part of your picture is darkened.
Let’s look at the following picture. Do you notice how beautifully bright the foreground is illuminated by the flowers and the sky still has rich colors? Such an image is only possible with a gray gradient filter.
A visible gradient with the foreground still correctly exposed (@Simon Matzinger, Pexels)
There are three common types of gray gradient filters:
- Hard transition filter (Grad Hard ND filter) – This gradient filter has a gray half that blends into the clear half with a relatively hard edge in the middle. With this filter you can balance a flat horizon with a bright sky and a dark foreground particularly well and achieve a uniform exposure.
- Filter with a soft transition (grade soft ND filter) – This graduated filter is especially popular because it has a smoother transition between the dark and the clear half. You can use this camera filter well if the horizon is not straight and is interrupted by hills, for example. The gradient filters with a harder transition can also show a recognizable separation of the two halves in the middle. In such a situation, a filter with a soft transition helps.
- Reverse GND Filter – You can use this special gradient filter especially when photographing sunrise and sunset . More precisely when the sun is very close to the horizon. Instead of separating the dark and clear half in the middle, this camera filter runs from dark (for the sky) to even darker (for the sun) and then merges into a clear lower half (for the foreground).
Suitable for: landscape photography, photography in the golden hour
More information: Click here for our top selection and tips on GND filters
K&F Concept Soft GND8 gradient filter ND0.9 (3 stops) …
Cokin WP-H3H3-21 Expert Kit Creative Filter System P-Series …
Cokin Creative Filter System Kit for the P-System; For lenses with a filter thread of 48 – 82 mm
Cokin WP-H3H0-25 Gradual ND Kit Creative Filter System …
Contents: filter holder for P-System, 3 filters (P121, P121M, P121S); Cokin Creative Filter System Kit for the P-System
- Color correction filter
These colored filters, also called color conversion filters, correct or enhance the colors in your image. For example, they can make natural light appear warmer or colder, or enhance certain colors.
A sepia color filter (@Skitterphoto, pixabay)
These filters are particularly relevant for analog photography, but if you want to save yourself color correction in digital post-processing, these camera filters help you to make your pictures appear prettier and more real.
Suitable for: Any form of photography
DECARETA 14 pieces color foils gel color filter filter …
Neewer 30×30 cm color filter set gel color correction light …
The color filter set consists of 4 x 30 x 30 cm gel foils, (red, yellow, green and blue).
Selens 40x50cm color foil color filter professional …
- Close-up lens filter
With close-up lens filters (also macro filters or diopters) you can take macro shots without having to buy a macro lens. It makes sense to opt for this cheap and light alternative instead of buying your macro lens if you don’t do macro photography regularly.
However, these camera filters cannot replace the capabilities of a real macro lens. Close-up filters are more like magnifying glasses that help your lens focus when you are very close to your subject.
Suitable for: macros and still lifes
58mm close-up close-up lens filter kit, photo 4 pieces (+ 1, …
K&F Lens Filter Set 55mm Filter Kit UV CPL ND4 +4 +10 …
? Properties? Reduce the amount of light on the film without affecting the color.
Walimex Close up macro lens set 58 mm incl. + 1 / + 2 / + 4 / + 10 …
Ideal for macro photography, such as insects, flowers and coins; Comparable to how a magnifying glass works
- Infrared filter
Do you want a dreamlike backdrop in your photos? With leaves and leaves that look like they come straight from a snowstorm? Then you should deal with infrared photography.
The bizarre color changes in infrared photography
One of the easiest ways to do this is to use special camera filters. If you buy an infrared filter, it will appear black. This is because the human eye cannot see the infrared light. A popular filter for infrared photography is the Hoya R72. But the filter alone is not enough. You also need a camera that can handle this filter. And some cameras can do that better than others.
Most camera manufacturers block infrared light before it reaches the sensor. The more your camera blocks this light, the weaker the effect of the infrared filter will be. If you use such a camera filter on a non-converted camera, you should expect exposure times from 30 seconds to 4 minutes, depending on the ISO setting and aperture .
Suitable for: infrared photography
More information: Our complete guide to infrared photography
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- Special effect filter
Camera filters can also create special effects in your images. These effects include, for example, starburst, multivision or mirage, diffuser and center spot. All of these effects can also be created in digital post-processing, but the camera filters can make this process much faster and easier.
- Starburst filters are very popular. They create a sparkling star with bright spots in your image. There are various starburst filters that transform the lights into two-, four-, six-, or eight-sided stars.
- Multivision or Mirage filters create the effect of a kaleidoscope. So your subject is duplicated several times and you can turn the front element to play with this effect. There are many different forms of multivision filters, mostly they produce between two and six duplicates of your subject. Circular multivision filters arrange the duplicates in a circle, while linear multivision filters create a straight line.
- Diffuser and soft focus create dream-like effects and soft focus. This is particularly popular in portraits and artistic still lifes.
- At the edge, center spot filters are similar to diffuser filters. However, they have a clear area in the middle. This keeps your subject in focus while the background blurs softly.
Suitable for: Any form of photography
Conclusion camera filter
As small as they may seem, camera filters still play a huge role in the result of your shots. If you like to see beautiful results straight away and don’t feel like doing a lot of digital post-processing, then filters can be of great help. We hope this guide will help you decide where and how to use camera filters to enhance your photos.