Today’s photo software can do some amazing things, but getting the best exposure possible is always preferable to fixing an image later. Optical filters give you creative options while shooting and can help you make images that need less processing.
One filter every photographer should have is a circular polarizer. Polarizers allow you to control surface reflections so the color in your images is more saturated and intense. Skies are a deeper blue, foliage is greener, and brightly colored objects, like flowers, pop more.
The Heliopan High Transmission SH-PMC circular polarizer works without vignetting even when used with extreme wide-angles. It maintains the same effect as the standard model, but loses less light with a filter factor of 2.0, instead of 2.5. This translates to a 1-stop light loss. Estimated Street Price: $135 (77mm).
The Kenko Zeta EX circular polarizer transmits 25% more light, which is about a half-stop more than a standard circular polarizer. It’s just 0.3 ounces, thanks to a thin frame and a four-layer glass element that’s 0.03 inches thick. Estimated Street Price: $250 (77mm).
For reducing the intensity of light in bright conditions, neutral-density filters are the go-to solution. ND filters block light without shifting color. With less light, you can slow shutter speed to blur motion or open your aperture to limit depth of field.
The Hoya PRO1 Digital ND 16 delivers four stops of light reduction, allowing you to use faster apertures of slower shutter speeds in very bright conditions. It uses multicoating optimized for digital sensors. There also are PRO1 Digital ND 32 and ND 64 versions with a 5- and 6-stop light loss, respectively. Estimated Street Price: $100 (77mm).
Singh-Ray makes the Vari-ND filter, which screws onto the front of your lens and allows you to rotate the filter to dial in from 2 to 8 stops of neutral density. Estimated Street Price: $340 (77mm).
Enhancing filters allow you to increase the saturation and vibrancy of particular colors while leaving others unaffected. They can add subtle warmth to sunlight or extra kick to fall color. Stacking colors with other colors adds even more variation.
The Tiffen Enhancing filter creates brighter, more saturated reds, browns and oranges with minimal effect to other colors. It does this by eliminating a portion of the orange color spectrum. Ideal for shooting fall foliage and sunsets, the filter also works well when shooting earth-tone rock formations, architecture and woodwork. Estimated Street Price: $82 (77mm).
The Red Enhancement filter series from Sunpak is also helpful for saturating the red portion of the color spectrum. Other colors are available. Estimated Street Price: $39.
Many photographers like to use a UV filter as lens protection, especially when shooting in sandy or windy environments. If you do this, make sure to use a filter with high-quality glass so the optical characteristics of your lens won’t be affected. The B+W UV Haze 010 blocks ultraviolet light, which can cause a bluish cast in your images. It comes in Slim and XS-Pro Digital mounts for wide-angle lenses. Estimated Street Price: $88 (77mm).