Do Filters Affect the Resolution of Lenses?

Just like the old “film vs digital” or the “Nikon vs Canon” debates, lens filters often create endless discussions on the Internet. Some people argue that one should never use protective filters, since it is another piece of glass in front of the lens that reduces resolution and emphasizes other optical problems such as ghosting / flare, while others argue that filters make it easier to protect the front element of the lens and make it easier to clean that element. I personally have been recommending use of protective filters for years, as long as they are of high quality. The filters that I have been using do not seem to affect the resolving power of lenses they are mounted on and mostly do not seem to heavily affect ghosting / flare either. Having spent the last couple of weeks in a lab testing many lenses, I wondered if I could actually measure the resolution of a lens with and without a filter. I recently purchased a used lens that came with a crappy plastic filter, so I decided to run two separate scenarios – one without a filter, one with a high quality B+W filter (more on B+W products below) and one with a cheap plastic filter. The results of the study came out very interesting!

Filters to Use or Not to Use

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Hitech Neutral Density Master Kit Review

This is a review of the Hitech Neutral Density Master Kit, which contains a number of filters that I use with the Hitech Filter Holder for landscape photography. Since I personally prefer soft edge graduated neutral density filters over hard edge (doing mountain photography with hard edge can be problematic), I decided to go with the Soft Edge ND Kit instead of the Hard Edge ND Kit Density Kit. The nice thing about this particular master kit, is that it contains two sets of filters – one standard set of square ND filters (1, 2 and 3 stop) for slowing down the shutter speed when photographing moving water, waterfalls, etc., and one set of soft-edge GND filters (1, 2 and 3 stop) for those tricky high-contrast scenes during sunrise, sunset, etc. If you do not understand what any of this means, I highly recommend to read my article on Lens Filters, which explains all this in detail.

Hitech 150mm Neutral Density Master Kit

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Hitech 100mm Modular Filter Holder Review

It is no secret that many landscape photographers, including myself, heavily rely on filters for field work. As I pointed out in my Landscape Photography Guide and Lens Filters Explained article, filters can be very helpful for, among other things, capturing more dynamic range in difficult lighting conditions, decreasing reflections and haze, enhancing colors and slowing down the shutter speed. I have been using a number of different filters and filter systems ever since I started photographing landscapes (more filter holder system reviews coming up soon), so when I found out that Hitech came out with a new filter system this year, I decided to give it a try.

Hitech 100mm Modular Filter Holder

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Hitech Pro Stop 10 ND Filter Review

This is a quick review of the Hitech Pro Stop 10 ND Filter, designed to dramatically decrease the amount of light that enters a camera lens. Why and when would one need such a filter? With less light passing through the lens and reaching the film or digital sensor, slower shutter speeds/longer exposures have to be used, which ultimately blur any kind of motion. This neutral density filter is specifically designed for landscape photography: for photographing waterfalls, flowing rivers, moving clouds and other type of motion.

Hitech Prostop 10 Case

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Hitech 105mm Circular Polarizer Review

This is a quick review of the Hitech 105mm Circular Polarizer, designed to decrease reflections, reduce haze and saturate colors in photography (see our article on how to use a polarizing filter). The filter is specifically created for the Hitech Filter Holder system to be used with a 105mm plastic threaded ring that the polarizer mounts to and then both get attached to the filter holder.

Hitech 105mm Circular Polarizer

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Must-Have Filters for Landscape Photography

While I was photographing the beautiful scenery of the Glacier National Park at sunrise, I realized that some filters are pretty much required to get good results when photographing landscapes. While many photographers think that some of the built-in tools in Lightroom and Photoshop can simulate filter behavior, making filters redundant in the digital age, some filters in fact can never be simulated in software, while others help in getting even better results in post-processing. If you do not know what filters are and what they are used for, I highly recommend reading my “lens filters explained” article before you continue to read this one.

1) Polarizing Filter

B+W Circular Polarizing Filter

A polarizing filter is a must-have tool for landscape photography. It is typically the first filter landscape photographers buy to instantly improve their pictures and and add vividness and contrast to them. A polarizer can reduce reflections from objects such as water and glass and can be used to darken the sky, bring out the clouds and even reduce atmospheric haze, making the scene look much more vivid. For all normal lenses that have a filter thread in the front, you can get a circular polarizing filter, also known as a “circular polarizer”. A circular polarizer is very easy to use and once you attach it on the front of your lens, all you need to do is rotate it clockwise or counter-clockwise to get a different amount of polarization. Polarizing filters work by blocking certain light waves from entering the lens. Rotating a polarizer allows certain types of light waves to pass through, while blocking other ranges of light waves. Thus, you could turn a sky from light blue to very dark blue or increase/decrease reflections by simply rotating the filter.

The effect of polarization cannot be reproduced or simulated in post-processing, especially when dealing with natural reflections. Take a look at the below image:

Move mouse over to see with and without polarizer

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Lens Filters Explained

Camera lens filters can serve different purposes in digital photography. They can be indispensable for capturing scenery in extremely difficult lighting conditions, they can enhance colors and reduce reflections or can simply protect lenses. Filters are widely used in photography and cinematography and while some only use filters in rare situations, others rely on filters for their everyday work. For example, landscape photographers heavily rely on various filters, while street and portrait photographers rarely get to use them. Since digital photography is all about the quality and intensity of light, lens filters are often necessary to modify the light before it enters the lens. Many photographers think that some of the built-in tools in Lightroom and Photoshop can simulate filter behavior, making filters redundant in the digital age. As I will demonstrate below, some filters in fact can never be simulated in software and some actually help in getting even better results during post-processing. In this article, I will talk about the different types of lens filters available, what they do, when and how to use them.

Lee Filter Set

1) What are filters and why should you use them?

Why do you wear sunglasses? Because along with other benefits, they help you see better in intense light, protect your eyes from harmful UV rays/wind/dust and reduce glare. Filters also serve a similar purpose – they can help reduce reflections, protect your lenses from potential damage, fully or partially reduce the amount of light that enters the lens and even enhance colors. At the same time, filters can actually hurt photographs if they are not properly used. A good analogy would be wearing sunglasses in a dark room. Therefore, not only do you need to know what filters to use, but you also need to know how to use them and in which situations. There are many different kinds of filters out there – from cheap UV filters to very expensive filters worth several hundred dollars, which can make the process of choosing the right filter type rather challenging.

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