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Before we dive into specific filters, I want to mention a few general things about filter shopping, which can be a little confusing if you've never done it before. There are three main filter manufactures, Tiffen, Hoya, and B+W, and I am not listing those in any particular order, that's just how they came to mind. There are also lots of other little filter vendors that you've never heard of. When you go to Amazon or to a photo website like B&H and do a search for a particular filter like maybe a circular polarizer, you're going to see filters by those three big vendors and lots of other people, and you're going to see a huge variation in price.
Tiffen or Hoya or B+W might sell a circular polarizer for $100, while some company you've never heard of has one for $25. Can you just go for the $25 one? Let's talk for a minute about really what a filter is. We saw before that they are flat pieces of glass that go on the end of your lens. If you've watched my Foundations of Photography: Lenses course, then you know that the lens on your camera is actually a series of individual optical elements. So if you bought a $2,000 lens because you love the quality of the glass, you don't want to mess it up by putting an inexpensive lousy filter on the end of it.
So there is a difference between the $25 filter and the $100 filter. A cheaper filter might introduce aberrations to your lens that you don't want, it might introduce flare, it might introduce chromatic aberration, which are going to appear as colored fringes around lines. So that's the advantage of going for the more expensive filter. How do you tell how expensive you have to go? Typically, you can follow that a filter that has multiple coatings on it, a multicoated filter is going to do a better job of reducing those aberrations that I mentioned than a cheaper filter that lacks those coatings. That's what those coatings are for.
And for the most part, that's what you're buying when you're paying more money for a filter, and it's worth doing, particularly if you have a very good piece of glass that you're wanting to put a filter on. All of your lenses need a Skylight or UV filter for protection. With that filter on the end of the lens, that front element can't get scratched. I actually dropped a camera once on its lens and the filter shattered that I had on there, but the lens remained intact. So it is a good level of protection. It does nothing to the quality of light that's going into your lens.
It's really just there for protection. You won't see any change in effect on your lens. When you go shopping for filters you need to know what size you need. Every lens has a filter thread size which is listed on the end of the lens. For example, this filter wants 77-mm filter so that's what I need to buy. The bad news is as filter size goes up, so does price. So if you've got a lens that has a really big front element, you're going to be spending more for filters. Because of that you don't necessarily want to buy each filter for every lens that you have. For example, a nice Circular Polarizer or Infrared filter can be very, very expensive.
So you're going to want to think about what lens you might want to put that on. A circular polarizer is something you'll probably use for landscapes if you're shooting a lot of clouds and something you might use for architectural photography or product shooting to reduce glare. You probably only have one or two lenses that you'll use for those things, so those are the only ones that are going to need a circular polarizer. You're probably going to be able to figure out which lenses are used for which purposes and therefore, can make do with which filters and not have to spend a lot of money on a full filter set for every lens. Note that some filters don't ship with multiple coatings.
A Special Effects filter, for example, may not have that sort of thing. Typically, you won't find lots of vendors selling, for example, a particular type of diffusion filter, so you don't have to worry about that. So those are just a few things to keep in mind when you go filter shopping to ensure that you get the best quality you can for your money. The best way to find out for sure about a very specific filter is just to read those user reviews that you'll see on Amazon or another photo site. Try and get as much firsthand information as you can from people who've actually used the filter before you make a final buying decision.
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