Opinion: On the use of filters.

This question comes up in conversation amongst snappers all the time. Do you use filters?
Traditionally, filters have had two uses, either to modify the scene in some way, or to protect the front element of a lens. I’ll deal with the latter first. I personally never use front element protection filters – skylight or haze or whatever. The reason is that I was once told, why put a $20 piece of glass on a $800 lens? Sounds good to me and even though the lenses are much more expensive, and I do agree that the front elements are vulnerable, I’m still not prepared to risk flare, reduced contrast, internal reflections, colour fringing and slight softening of my images. That 77mm heliopan filter? – it’s still a $20 piece of glass. You might have paid $120 for it, but it cost $20 to manufacture.


What I do, religiously, is use my lens hoods. Hiding that front element in the bowels of a lens hood offers adequate protection on all my lenses, even the super wide. In 30 years of snapping, I’ve never trashed a front element. Maybe I’m just lucky, but when I see a photographer not using a lens hood, it’s akin to riding a motorcycle naked, you are just asking for pain and misery. What’s not to like about a lens hood? It is your friend for increased contrast and flare reduction / elimination. The only time it’s a pain is when you are using a polarizer that you have to turn, a deep lens hood makes this tricky.

What filters do I use? The list is much shorter than it used to be. I no longer carry the 81 and 82 warm up / cool down filters. In round filters I have a circular polarizer with step down rings for the odd lenses that don’t have 77mm threads. The polarizer is arguable the one filter that photoshop can’t emulate. You might get the sky to look like a polarizer has been used, but there is no way to remove reflections from water and see the stream bed beneath. Reflection control is where this lives along with sky control. Much easier to get it right in camera than faff about in photoshop later.

I have a Lee system holder for Cokin “P” size filters. I don’t use Cokin filters, but use neutral density filters from Lee. No colour cast and when you need to slow your shutter speed down, it’s the most practical way. I haven’t used them for controlling depth of field in portraiture yet, but I’m going to as soon as I get a chance.  I also have a set of graduated ND filters from Sing-Ray. Expensive bits of plastic, but they do a fantastic job of controlling contrast. Yes, I do use HDR, but there is nothing wrong with getting it right in camera. It’s often more subtle and can really make a shot. What I don’t have is a hood for the square system. What I do is use whatever I can find (reflector, mini soft box etc.) to shade the assembly from direct sun. It works.

More to come……

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