13 Types of Camera Lens Filters Explained (What They Do) (2022)

Welcome to a beginner’s guide and list of camera lens filters. Nope, we are not referring to the funky software “filter effects”, but actual physical lens filters. Modern software filters are interesting, and they can do all kinds of effects – But there are just some things that can only be achieved with real optics. Read on for more!

This guide includes some extreme Photoshopped examples to better illustrate the effects of the filters… The actual filter effects are a lot less extreme. 😆

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Types Of Filters Filter Shapes
The End

TYPES OF LENS FILTERS

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All right, let us now get into the list of common camera lens filters, and what they are used for.

1) CLEAR FILTER

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Look no further, both “with” and “without” are the same. A clear filter is nothing but a piece of clear glass or plastic. The main purpose is to protect the lens from scratches, that’s all. But most photographers actually don’t quite like to use clear filters, since they do nothing. The better alternative is a UV filter.

2) ULTRA-VIOLET (UV) FILTER

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Yes, UV lights are invisible to the human eye. But to cameras, an excess of UV light may cause a blueish tint. Even though modern cameras are very good at filtering out excess UV and IR lights, some photographers still use a UV filter as “lens protection”.

(Video) Camera Lens Filters And Their Benefits Explained

3) CIRCULAR POLARIZER (CPL)

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This is a filter that can be “turned and adjusted”. What happens next is some crazy bending of the light, and reflections on water/glass magically appear or disappear. For the people who are still thinking “Photoshop can fix the reflection”- Sure thing, help yourself with hours of editing while I put on a filter and fix things in just a few minutes.

4) LINEAR POLARIZERS (PL)

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This is the “non-adjustable” and so-called less popular variant of the polarizer. Not that they are useless, linear polarizers are still used to restrict or block out some range of light. If you ever wonder why it is a lot less glaring when looking through a car windscreen – It is polarized. Also, polarizers have a tendency to increase the contrast, create punchy images.

5) NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTER (ND)

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The best way I can describe an ND filter is – Sunglasses. Yes, these are simply pieces of dark glass that block out excessive light. Take note of the variants:

  • A “normal” ND filter is fully solid.
  • Soft graduated ND filter gradually goes from dark to clear.
  • A hard graduated ND filter is half solid half clear.
  • Reverse ND filter has a dark line in the center, then gradually becomes clear toward the top.

Why so much trouble to make a camera “wear sunglasses”? For the uninitiated – If a photo is blown, it is blown. Even if you shoot in raw, there is a limit to how much the details can be recovered. The most important reason being, would you rather use a few minutes to put on an ND filter, or spend hours trying to salvage an overexposed photo?

6) INFRA-RED (IR) FILTER

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Now, a UV filter blocks out excessive UV light, but an IR filter will not block IR light. In fact, it does the opposite of blocking out all visible light, only allows IR to pass. The result, a surreal photo looking into the world of IR, with “white trees” and “white grass”.

(Video) Lens Filters Explained - Everything You Need to Know

IR filters are difficult to use though, and it is not intended for beginners – Once it is put on, almost nothing is visible to the human eye. The frame must be pre-composed, pre-focused, and the settings must be done right even before the filter is put on. After which, a lot of editing needs to be done, but the results are very rewarding.

7) SOFT FILTER

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To create the 1980s “soft fuzzy romantic” look. Personally, I am not a fan of this filter. It can be done with Photoshop anyway, and it’s outdated.

8) COLOR FILTERS

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Well, self-explanatory. These are just colored pieces of glass or plastic. We can probably add or change colors with some software editing, but a good piece of physical color filter does things differently – It changes the tone of the photo without looking like a noob, and adds to the contrast.

9) STAR FILTER

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Is the shot not bling enough? Attach a star filter to bring out the starburst effect on all the light bulbs.

10) BOKEH FILTER

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For the uninitiated, “bokeh” means blur. Usually, the “blur bokeh balls” are round or oval in shape. But with a “specialize bokeh filter”, we can all kinds of shapes – Hearts, planes, birds, etc…

11) ANAMORPHIC FILTER

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(Video) Lens Filters 101 | Top 5 Filters You Need To Buy

All filmmakers should know the word “anamorphic” very well. A true anamorphic lens has a super ultra-wide 2.39:1 aspect ratio, and has the very characteristic “cinematic light streak”. Now, an anamorphic filter will not turn a “normal lens” into “true anamorphic”, but it does create that cinematic light streak.

12) ASTRO FILTER

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As the name implies, an Astro filter is used to shoot the stars. In modern-day cities, we have something called “light pollution”. That is, lights from the city cover the night sky, and we can’t see the stars. An Astro filter attempts to filter out the common city lights and allows only “celestial light” to pass – That kind of works, but you still need to be a in a dark place without too much city lights.

13) MACRO FILTER

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Finally, we have the macro filter. As you may have already guessed, this is used to help you shoot close up. Don’t expect this to be on the same level as a good macro lens though, the best way I can describe macro filters is “putting a magnifying glass in front of the lens”. Yep, go get a legit macro lens if you are serious about macro photography.

COMMON FILTER SHAPES

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So far so good? Now that we are done with the types of filters, let us go into the shapes – Yes, filters come in different shapes as well.

CIRCULAR SCREW-ON FILTERS

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This is the common Joe filter that is screwed on, in front of the lens. Take note though, they come in different diameter sizes. The smart way is to get the larger ones (77mm to 82mm), so they will fit onto most lenses, even on the smaller ones with the use of a step-up ring.

(Video) Ultimate Guide to Camera Lenses — Every Type of Camera Lens Explained [Shot List Ep. 7]

SQUARE & RECTANGULAR FILTERS

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These are huge pieces of filters, but given their size, we don’t have to worry about them not fitting onto the larger lenses. Square and rectangle filters generally come with an attachment ring and filter holder.

  • Screw the attachment ring onto the lens.
  • Attach the filter holder to the attachment ring.
  • Then place the filter into the holder

Kind of a hassle, the alternate way is to just handhold the filter in front of the lens. Doh.

WHY USE PHYSICAL LENS FILTERS?

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By now, this should be clear as day – There are things that just can’t be fixed with photo editing.

  • If a photo is overly over-exposed, it can’t be fixed. Use an ND filter.
  • Simply can’t Photoshop an IR photo. Use an IR filter or modified camera.
  • Edit out the reflections? Good luck. Why not just use a CPL?

DO NOT “STACK” TOO MANY FILTERS!

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Filters are good but don’t stack too many of them together. Like it or not, there will be a small loss of optical quality (and light) through every layer of the filter; Stack too many filters together, you start to get insufficient light or even vignetting (dark corners). I personally don’t stack more than 2-3 filters at once… Do you really need to stack that many!?

LINKS & REFERENCES

THE END

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Thank you for reading, and we have come to the end of this guide. I hope this has helped you to better understand, and if you have anything to share with this guide, please feel free to comment below. Good luck and happy shooting!

(Video) Camera Lens Filters A Beginner's Guide

FAQs

What do filters on camera lenses do? ›

Filters help minimize glare and reflections, enhance colors, reduce light coming into the lens, and more. Each lens filter serves a specific purpose, as each one is built to deliver a specific effect that can help enhance the final look of an image.

What are different camera lens used for? ›

Focal length size guide
Focal LengthType of LensWhat is it used for?
35mm - 85mmStandardStreet, travel, portrait
85mm - 135mmShort telephotoStreet photography and portraits
135mm+Medium telephotoSports, wildlife, action
300mm+Super telephotoSports from a distance, nature and astronomy
3 more rows

What does a purple lens filter do? ›

Ultra violet (UV) filters are popular for two reasons. They are commonly used to protect SLR lenses, and they are perfect for daylight photography. UV filters block out ultra violet light and reduce haziness in daylight photography. They give a perfectly balanced image without affecting your exposure.

What does a green lens filter do? ›

Green Filter

It lightens green foliage, which is particularly important with dark green leaves which can record very dark without a filter. It therefore gives a more natural, lighter feel to the photograph.

What does a yellow lens filter do? ›

A Yellow filter absorbs all light except yellow. Mostly used with black and white film, but is also used in IR photography. The yellow filter absorbs blue and increases the contrast and tonal separation between the blue and yellow/white objects.

Which filter is best for portraits? ›

Portrait photography doesn't always come to mind when thinking about Neutral Density filters. ND filters are more commonly used in landscape or street photography to capture movement, but ND filters can bring dramatic beauty to portrait photography too.

How do I know which lens to use? ›

If you want to fit more into your frame, you might want to look into wide-angle focal lengths: 14mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm. On the other hand, if you want to get as close as possible to your subject, go for a telephoto lens with focal lengths that usually range from 50mm to 100mm.

Which lens is best for photography? ›

Larger apertures allow for more light to be captured, therefore allowing for faster shutter speeds. If you're looking for an overall, general-purpose lens for sports or action photography, popular lens choices include the 70-200mm f/2.8, 80-200mm f/2.8 or 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6.

What does a red filter do in black and white photography? ›

Red Filters

A red filter gives extreme, dramatic contrast. Image by Nicholas. In landscape photography, a red filter will turn a blue sky almost black and make clouds really stand out, giving the scene a dramatic feel. They're also excellent for increasing visibility in haze and fog.

What does a polarizing filter do? ›

We can use polarizing lenses to reduce glare. Light reflecting off horizontal surfaces like the road, water, or snow is horizontally polarized. A polarizing filter oriented vertically will filter out the glare, but still allow plenty of light through. A polarizing filter on your camera helps reduce shiny reflections.

What does a UV haze filter do? ›

UV / Haze and Skylight filters protect the surface of your lens against scratches, dust, moisture, and fingerprints, which in the long term can harm the lens coatings. UV / Haze and Skylight filters also minimize atmospheric haze, which results in better overall image quality.

What does an orange filter do in black and white photography? ›

Using Orange Filters in Black & White Photography - YouTube

What do different color filters do? ›

Coloured filters are exactly what they sound like; a piece of colored glass you place in front of the camera's lens. These filters change how the camera sees the light, and the effect depends on the color of the filter. Blue filters will enhance reds and oranges, while playing up the contrast a bit.

How many stops is an orange filter? ›

Filter factors for common filters
Filter purposeWratten numberFilter factor
Yellow82
Yellow-green112.5
Orange213
Red258
33 more rows

How do you use a red filter? ›

FILTERS FOR UNDERWATER VIDEOGRAPHY (Red ... - YouTube

Why are Mexican filters yellow? ›

Traditionally, oversaturation or yellow filters and tones were supposed to depict that an area or scene has hot, tropical, and/or dry weather, especially compared to other locations that may show up in the same piece of media. However, the execution of this filter was quick and easy.

What is a black and white filter called? ›

Infrared filters, or IR filters, reflect visible light. They do this while allowing infrared wavelengths of light to enter your lens. The result of these filters differs across colour or black and white photography.

Which ND filter is most useful? ›

6-stop Neutral Density

If you're a landscape photographer who wants to shoot long exposure sunsets, sunrises, waterfalls and moving water, the 6-stop ND is without question the best performing and the most versatile ND filter.

Do filters degrade image quality? ›

Most 'before' and 'after' filter shots used for comparison testing actually prove that lens filters don't adversely affect image quality. Some critics argue that placing an extra layer of glass in front of your lens causes problems.

What is the grainy filter everyone uses? ›

SNAPSEED. You can add grain in Snapseed if you go to Tools > Grainy Film.

What is a photo filter called? ›

Some users refer to photo filters interchangeably with AR lenses. Some apps refer to them as filters or "face filters" because it is less confusing to think of photo filters and AR lenses as separate features.

Which filter produces a fun house effect? ›

Simulates the distortion caused by an imperfectly shaped mirror, similar to a mirror in a carnival fun house. Adjust this filter using the parameter controls in the Filters Inspector: Center: Sets the position of the center of the fun house mirror.

When would you use an ND filter in photography? ›

Why Use ND Filters? ND filters are particularly useful for maintaining the color effect of images while controlling the exposure in bright light conditions. A filter prevents excess light from reaching the camera sensor so photographers can shoot in a wider aperture for longer periods.

Should I use lens hood at night? ›

You should have a lens hood on all the time. Even when you're inside or at night you could get stray light going over the front of your lens which will reduce the contrast of your image. Another bonus in using a lens hood is that it will protect the front of your lens.

What ND filter to use in bright sunlight? ›

A 3-stop or 0.9 density ND is ideal for waterfalls in bright sunlight, slowing the exposure to a second or so, depending on the f-stop and ISO used. A strong 10-stop or 3.0 ND filter can blur clouds over several minutes, even on a bright sunny day.

Do lens filters affect image quality? ›

Most 'before' and 'after' filter shots used for comparison testing actually prove that lens filters don't adversely affect image quality. Some critics argue that placing an extra layer of glass in front of your lens causes problems.

Are lens filters worth it? ›

Whether you're a beginner or professional photographer, lens filters are definitely worth the investment. With a UV filter, you can better protect your lens element from damage, while polarizers and ND filters offer more creative effects.

Do professional photographers use filters? ›

Professional photographers use filters for both capturing and editing photos. While shooting, many professionals carry UV, polarizing, and neutral density filters to help enhance images in-camera.

How do I choose a lens filter? ›

5 Tips to Help You Buy The Right Camera Lens Filters
  1. Use an ND filter for smoother landscape shots. ...
  2. Get clearer shots in the sun and protect your lens with a UV filter. ...
  3. Use a polarising filter to improve saturation and reduce reflections. ...
  4. Get the right lens filter diameter. ...
  5. Choose a filter that's quick to change.

Do filters affect sharpness? ›

A cheaper filter can reduce contrast because of the added reflective surfaces but generally they don't reduce sharpness unless they are real bad.

Do UV filters reduce sharpness? ›

However, even photographers using modern cameras note that a UV filter can still reduce haze and sharpen an image. It can also help to boost contrast on overcast days or shooting when shadows are present.

Do clear filters degrade image quality? ›

Other websites have concluded that most high-quality UV or clear filters will not have any effect on image quality, but some inexpensive filters may.

What does a polarizing filter do? ›

We can use polarizing lenses to reduce glare. Light reflecting off horizontal surfaces like the road, water, or snow is horizontally polarized. A polarizing filter oriented vertically will filter out the glare, but still allow plenty of light through. A polarizing filter on your camera helps reduce shiny reflections.

Are UV and polarizing filters the same? ›

UV filters significantly cut UV radiation, essentially reducing atmospheric haze. Polarizing filters are used to reduce glare reflected off objects, and also to intensify colors when multiple polarizations of light are at certain angles relative to the plane of your sensor - such as the sky in certain situations.

What is a polarizing lens filter? ›

A polarizing filter, also known as a “polarizer”, is a photographic filter that is typically used in front of a camera lens in order to reduce reflections, reduce atmospheric haze and increase color saturation in images.

Which filter is best for portraits? ›

Portrait photography doesn't always come to mind when thinking about Neutral Density filters. ND filters are more commonly used in landscape or street photography to capture movement, but ND filters can bring dramatic beauty to portrait photography too.

Do wedding photographers use filters? ›

When a wedding photographer gets asked why they use flash in scenes it primarily is a stylistic/artistic choice, until it starts becoming a necessity for maximizing dynamic range. Similarly, wedding cinematographers find it critical to use ND filters in order to control their exposure and maintain an artistic aperture.

Which type of filter is often used by photographers to protect their lenses? ›

Nowadays UV filters are primarily used to protect the front element of a camera lens since they are clear and do not noticably affect the image. With film cameras, UV filters reduce haze and improve contrast by minimizing the amount of ultraviolet (UV) light that reaches the film.

What is the difference between an ND filter and a polarizing filter? ›

They work differently. Basically, a polarizer is used for blocking light reflected off a surface, while an ND just makes the whole scene darker. Polarizing filters can enhance the color of the image while ND filters just block the light entering the camera. It does not change the overall color of the image.

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