One of the easiest ways to substantially improve the image quality of your daytime cityscapes is to use a circular polarizing filter. Putting a polarizing filter on your lens is like wearing a pair of polarized sunglasses over your eyes; the polarized glass blocks random light waves from passing through, creating a clearer image. Randomized light tends to be lower quality than direct light. As such, a polarizing filter will help ensure that only the sharpest, most colorful light hits your image sensor.
As a busy photographer who travels quite a bit both within the USA and overseas, I have gone through many types of gear in my camera bag. While some of the gear and accessories are absolute necessities I will not leave my home without, others can be very useful in particular situations or when traveling to other countries. In this article, I would like to go over my top must-have gear for travel and discuss why you might consider including them in your arsenal in the future.
For most photographers, especially those who shoot landscapes, it is crucial to have a good set of filters at your disposal. Filters come in two types: screw-on filters (attaching directly to your filter threads) and square filter systems (sliding into a holder on the end of your lens). A lot of landscape photographers move to a square filter system over time — they have a wider selection of filters, and they let you move your filters from lens to lens more quickly. The main companies that make square filter systems are Lee, Cokin and HiTech, all of which are well-known among landscape photographers. There are a few other companies in the marketplace, too, including a relatively new brand called NiSi. Recently, NiSi has been contacting photography websites for reviews, and they contacted us as well. I have used the Lee system for a while, and experienced a few problems with it, so I wanted to review these NiSi filters and see how they stack up. This review covers the NiSi filter system, along with a few specific filters.
Landscape photographers often deal with the dilemma of choosing between different types and brands of neutral density and graduated neutral density filters for use in high-contrast situations such as sunrise and sunset, where their cameras might not have enough dynamic range to be able to capture the entire scene. While we are not going to go over each and every brand to see which one performs better, we do want to show the difference in sharpness between glass and resin filters. For this particular test, we used three 0.6 (2 stop) filters from three different manufacturers – NiSi (glass filter), Lee (resin) and HiTech (resin). The latter two are probably the two brands that are used the most among photographers in the field.
During the past few months, both Spencer and I have pretty much switched from our old Lee filter system to a much better (in our opinion) filter system by NiSi. While I have been a fan of Lee filters, I have had a few problems with it in the field, whether it comes to how I use a polarizing filter, or the fact that I find myself having to re-purchase the resin filters, since they constantly get scratched. On one hand it is nice to have resin filters, since they are light and I can carry a single filter with me in a pouch and I am set. On the another hand, how good are these filters if they easily get scratched up and need to be periodically replaced? I have never tried glass filters, but after obtaining a pack of glass filters from NiSi, I might switch going forward. Well, I will save my thoughts to the upcoming NiSi filter system review, but for now, I would like to share the below interview with Macon Leiper of ikan Corporation, which distributes NiSi filters in the USA.
Every once in a while, you will hear some photographers claim that lens filters are completely useless. Some will argue that only specific types of filters such as UV and protective filters are evil, while others will also include polarizing and ND filters into the mix, claiming that one could reproduce the effects of all those filters in post-processing software. Arguments for or against filters can spark a lot of heated debates in the photography community, similar to topics such as “Nikon vs Canon”, or “DSLR vs Mirrorless”. There are certainly some passionate individuals out there who are ready to stand their ground no matter what. And there is nothing wrong with that, as that’s what typically happens when there is truth on both side of the coin, depending on what angle you are looking at – there are certainly both pros and cons to using lens filters. Having been teaching photography for a number of years now, I have come across many different photographers of all skill levels in the field and I have come to realize that there is sadly quite a lot of misinformation out there regarding lens filters and their proper use. Many of us simply don’t know enough about not just filters themselves, but also their significant effect on our post-processing workflow. Although we have previously written many articles on lens filters, let’s explore filters once again and hopefully address some of the misconceptions about these important tools.
The subject of using or not using protective lenses can invoke heated debates among photographers, with both sides often fiercely defending their choices. I am not going to debate whether it is right or wrong to use protective filters – that’s certainly a personal choice. I have been using them for a number of years now to protect my higher-end lenses and make it easier to clean lenses with recessed front elements (such as on Nikon 50mm f/1.4G / f/1.8G). Having had bad experience with purchasing a low-quality no-name brand filter when I just started photography (it was sold to me as a “must-have” at a local photo store), I learned what such a filter can do to my photos the hard way. Since then, I have only been purchasing multi-coated B+W filters that use high-quality Schott glass. I have been very happy with these filters and have been telling our readers to either use the best they can find, or not use filters at all.
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!
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.
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.