camera lens filtersThere are a lot of questions revolving around camera lens filters. Do you really need one? What do filters do, exactly? Why do some photographers only use filters to protect their lenses? Why are they offered for such a wide range of prices? Taking a look at the wide variety of filters available can be overwhelming, but once you understand what purpose they serve you’ll be better equipped to make your own purchasing decisions.

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What are the Most Basic Filters?

You can buy a basic protection filter, which is a clear pane of glass that you simply screw onto the front of your camera lens. If you accidentally touch or scrape your lens, you’re actually only touching or scratching the filter – which is much easier and cheaper to replace. If you’re not interested in improving the quality of your images through filters, this would be the filter for you. Two other common types of filters are UV filters and skylight filters.

Why Are the Prices so Different?

So you’re looking for a basic UV filter, and you find one offered for $10 and one offered for $30. Are you really missing out on a better quality filter if you purchase the $10 version? Unfortunately, the answer is probably ‘yes’. Think about the price differences between camera lenses. While there are many factors that play into the final cost of a lens, the quality of the glass is a huge component. Better glass = better images, there’s no doubt about it. The same goes for filters. Better glass = better images = more expensive. The quality of the glass is a combination of how it’s made, the coatings used, and the thickness of the glass itself. If you’re using an inexpensive kit lens, the quality of your filter won’t matter as much. If you’re using a low-quality glass lens, using a high-quality glass filter won’t improve the quality of your image. Yet if you’re using expensive, high-quality lenses, you’ll want to purchase a higher quality filter. In most cases, more expensive filters are made with more durable outer rings, which means they’ll be less subject to denting and scratching when you screw them on and off.

What Other Filters are Available?

Depending on the type of photography you prefer, there are a handful of filters that you should always have on hand.

Using Color Filters

Although you can reduce the amount of warm or cool tones in an image in a photo editing software such as Photoshop, some photographers prefer to do all of this in camera. You may want to use a warm or cool filter to alter the mood of your image – such as using a warm filter for a happy, comforting scene or a cool filter for a dramatic, solemn scene. When using these types of filters, it’s important not to shoot on automatic white balance, as the filter may confuse the camera. Instead, you should set your white balance to whatever the ambient light is (tungsten for indoor photographs, shade for images taken in the shade, etc).

What about more dramatic color filters such as blue, green, and yellow? While using these filters will create an extreme color-cast on your images, they are most typically used in black and white photography. Using a red filter will greatly increase the contrast of your image, an orange filter will help create an evenly toned image, a yellow filter will increase contrast in skies, a blue filter will darken most colors and reduce contrast in your image, and a green filter will help even out skin tones in portrait photography.

Do I Really Need to Use Filters?

While you may think that spending extra money on a filter won’t affect your photographs enough to be worth it, filters are especially helpful for those who don’t want to spend as much time perfecting their image in post-processing programs. The more perfect your image straight out of the camera, the less time you’ll need to spend adjusting it afterwards.

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