I’m not usually a gearhead, but recently I decided to try out some new lens filters. My goal here was to attempt to capture more precisely what I saw through my lens. I felt like I couldn’t quite get the contrast and saturation that I saw when I looked through my viewfinder, or my exposures in the foreground and sky varied to the point that I lost one or the other. Thus, I purchased a circular polarizing filter and a graduated neutral density filter kit to see what kind of variation I could achieve with my landscape and nature photography. Below are some examples of my findings…
Note: I edited all the shots below in Camera Raw and bumped up the contrast, clarity, and vibrance ONLY. Also, if you see spots in some of the shots, I realized through this process that I needed to clean my sensor and get rid of that dust. If you want to do this yourself, I recommend this video.
I’m honestly not sure what kind of filter I’ve been using, but it’s NOT this! In the past, I’ve always invested in fairly inexpensive(<$50) filters for my lenses; however, in my quest to more accurately capture through the lens my vision, I started with a circular polarizing filter. The filter comes with a rotatable track so that you can find the best results for each shot. It is supposed to help with glare, contrast and saturation. I noticed it most with contrast and saturation. I did find that it helped with glare as well, but glare is not usually something I’m worried about the majority of the time(it would help when shooting images of folks with glasses though).
Below is a preliminary test of the same scene with the filter on and off. Both are shot at f/9.0, 1/125, ISO 125
Same test again with the exposure of f/8.0, 1/320, and ISO 100:
It DEFINITELY makes a difference. The bottom images have no filter at all.
Here you can see how nicely this filter adjusts the darks and lights for a more evenly exposed scene:
Most of the images above are taken at f-stops 5.6+. Take a look below to see how the filter performed at f/4.0(I cannot resist a little bokeh now and again):
Results… I love this filter and after trying it out on my 28mm and 50mm lenses, I purchased one for my 100mm lens as well. Great product!
After some online research into what filters I might need to achieve the desired effect and combat the issues I was having with exposure, I purchased Cokin’s beginner graduated ND filter kit. You have to buy an adapter ring for the lens(es) you’ll be using it with(I once again used my 50mm and 28mm lenses, which have the same lens filter sizing). The filter holder then screws onto your adapter and the rectangular filters slide in.
This product really fulfils my love for analog products in the manual nature of the filters. The three filters have a graduated fade from light to dark, thus allowing you to adjust them as you desire. Labeled “S”, “M”, and “L”, the filters block out 3-stops(Soft), 2-stops(Medium), and 1-stop (Light) of light on the darker side of the filter with the light side of the rectangle offering just a clear plastic. I tested them out in this order starting with the graduated aspect in the middle, then the light side, and then the dark side. Each of these images were shot at f/8.0, 1/640, ISO 160.
Cokin #121S (3-stops):
Cokin #121M (2-stops):
Cokin #121L (1-stop):
Results… I think I prefered using these with the majority of the image blocked out by the darker part of the filter. I’d like to play around with these a lot more, especially with long exposures as I think they could be maximized by shooting them right in the middle with the long exposure allowing the foreground the burn in.
Here are some more tests that you can very vividly see some vignetting(all shot with a 28mm lens and edited in Camera Raw with very little done to alter the original image):
Overall, I really like these filters and think that for outdoor photography they really help fill in the clouds and sky. Utilizing them to accentuate the foreground is my next goal in optimizing their use.
If you’re thinking about trying out new filters for your lenses, I highly recommend doing it. I believe that adding filters can really change how a lens shoots and is far less expensive than buying a new lens 🙂 I would love to hear of other filters or input on ND and circular polarizing filters in the comments section. Happy photographing!