Which One to Choose?

Camera - - FILTERS -

There are es­sen­tially two types of fil­ter sys­tem – cir­cu­lar screwthread types or slot-in hold­ers for square or rec­tan­gu­lar types – but plenty of choices within each and a myr­iad of brands. Both have ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages. The cir­cu­lar fil­ter com­prises the fil­ter glass fit­ted into a metal ring which has a screwthread in a par­tic­u­lar di­am­e­ter to match that of the mount­ing thread on the front of the lens. Cir­cu­lar fil­ters are easy to han­dle, but are ob­vi­ously spe­cific in size so you’re very likely to end up need­ing a num­ber of copies to match the dif­fer­ent fil­ters fit­ting on all your lenses. Typ­i­cally, sizes range from 49 mm di­am­e­ter to 82 mm, the lat­ter be­com­ing a more com­mon fit­ting for either ul­tra-fast or ul­tra-wide lenses. Cer­tainly in the case of po­lar­is­ing fil­ters, but also other types, the larger the di­am­e­ter, the more ex­pen­sive the fil­ter. You could end up spend­ing a lot of money on a set of, say, cir­cu­lar po­laris­ers for all your lenses. An op­tion is to buy the big­gest fil­ter that you’ll need and then use step-down rings to fit it to the lenses with a smaller di­am­e­ter fil­ter thread. Step-down rings are a whole lot cheaper than a fil­ter, but there can be is­sues with cross-thread­ing, and a solidly-jammed step-down ring is a chal­leng­ing prob­lem to solve with­out dam­ag­ing either the ring or the fil­ter (or both).

For this rea­son, many pho­tog­ra­phers opt for a holder sys­tem. The holder can be fit­ted to a va­ri­ety of lenses via dif­fer­ent di­am­e­ter mount­ing rings which, like step-down rings, are inexpensive. The fil­ters then slot into the holder, most of which will gen­er­ally ac­cept up to three. This is a far more con­ve­nient way of com­bin­ing fil­ters than stack­ing screwthread types, when cross-thread­ing again be­comes a risk. There are var­i­ous sizes of holder and fil­ters, but the 100 mm stan­dard (i.e. 100 mm wide fil­ters) adopted by the movie in­dus­try is be­com­ing more pop­u­lar with pho­tog­ra­phers. A 100 mm fil­ter pretty well cov­ers any di­am­e­ter of pho­tog­ra­phy lens whereas, if you adopt a smaller holder sys­tem (such as Cokin’s A or P se­ries), you may have to start all over again if you then end up buy­ing a lens with a wider fil­ter thread. How­ever, the big­ger hold­ers and fil­ters are, not sur­pris­ingly, more ex­pen­sive. Con­se­quently you need to think care­fully about your cur­rent and fu­ture re­quire­ments be­fore com­mit­ting to a par­tic­u­lar fil­ter holder sys­tem. In the long term, it may well be worth mak­ing a big­ger ini­tial in­vest­ment. In some cases ‘starter’ kits are avail­able which in­clude the holder, a mount­ing ring and a cou­ple of fil­ters (per­haps a grad ND and an ND), and these gen­er­ally rep­re­sent bet­ter value for money than buy­ing all the com­po­nents separately.

The main dis­ad­van­tages with fil­ter holder sys­tems are the size of the holder which may well cause vi­gnetting with wider-an­gle lenses, vary­ing draw­backs with us­ing po­laris­ers, and the need to more care­fully han­dle the fil­ters them­selves to avoid fin­ger prints and scratches. The pro-level sys­tems of­fer a choice of either resin or glass fil­ters, the lat­ter gen­er­ally op­ti­cally su­pe­rior, but re­quir­ing even more care­ful han­dling as they will smash if dropped.

Of course, if you’re plan­ning to use grad­u­ated ND fil­ters a lot then there re­ally is no other op­tion than a holder sys­tem which al­lows the po­si­tion of the fil­ter to be var­ied ac­cord­ing to the scene or sub­ject. Cir­cu­lar ND grads are avail­able, but ob­vi­ously the tran­si­tion zone will be fixed in one po­si­tion within the image frame.

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