Types of Camera Lens Filters Explained: An Essential Guide

camera vintage lens old

Are you considering investing in your first set of camera lens filters? 

Perhaps you are intrigued how to use camera lens filters and how they can enhance your photography? 

These essential tips on how and when to use camera lens filters are perfect if you want to learn how to take your photography skills to the next level. Different types of lens filters can make your images stand out amongst the crowd. 

This guide explains to photographers at any level how and when to use various lens filters to your advantage.

Taking photos with the correct lens filters can allow you to capture outstanding pictures directly from your camera!

Another added bonus is that it can also reduce your post-processing times. 

While many effects can be replicated in modern photography editing software, it is very time consuming. There is nothing more satisfying than capturing the photo exactly how you imagine it the first time.

You will discover everything you need to know and all you need the information you need to master how and when to use various camera lens filters when taking photos.

At a glance, here is what this guide will cover: (Clink a link to jump to the section you need)

  1. What are lens filters?
  2. Why do photographers use lens filters?
  3. Types of lens filters – shapes
  4. Types of lens filters – Glass vs Resin 
  5. How to know what size lens filters you need
  6. What is a lens filter step-up or step down ring?
  7. Different types of lens filters explained

What are lens filters? 

Lens filters are camera components that adhere to the front of a lens and are transparent or translucent.

They shield the lens of the camera, change the properties of light travelling through the lens, or enhance an image with unique effects and colours. 

how to use camera lens filters

Why do photographers use lens filters?

Photography lens filters are most frequently used to control challenging lighting situations when taking your images. 

Each lens filter has a certain function since it is designed to provide a particular effect that can improve how a photograph turns out in the end. 

 For example, some lens filters can improve the overall colour of your photos. Others can minimise the amount of light entering the lens or reduce glare and reflections. 

This guide aims to help explain the different types of lens filters and their uses.

Types of lens filters – shapes

There are various shape types of lens filters, which are explained in further detail below. 

screw-in addition for photographs

Screw-in lens filters

Also known as a screw on or a circular filter. Any camera lens filter that is firmly screwed onto the front of a lens falls under this category. There are various kinds of camera filters that can be a screw-in lens filter.

The most popular ones are polarizers, ND filters, and colour filters. The diameter or thickness of a circular lens filter typically varies, and the thickest ones can occasionally cause vignetting in your photographs.

slot-in drop-in camera equipment

Slot-in lens filters

Slot-in filters, often referred to as drop-in filters, are frequently used with telephoto lenses.

These lenses tend to have a compact, specialised compartment close to the back of the lens, which a slot-in lens filter can be put into. 

Square size filters for camera

Square lens filters

A lens filter holder that is fastened to the front of the lens is often used with square lens filters.

To apply one or more filters of various sizes, you will need to purchase adapters for your lens filter holder. Common uses for this kind of lens filter include landscape photography.

Rectangular landscape photography

Rectangular lens filters

Rectangular filters, which are also attached with a filter holder, are another popular choice for landscape photographers.

Although smaller and bigger rectangular lens filters are also available, 4×6 is the most prevalent size.

Types of lens filters – Glass vs Resin 

There are a number of benefits and drawbacks to acquiring resin or glass filters. 

Although resin filters are more durable than glass and won’t break as readily, they may still scratch easily, so you should take care to preserve them when storing them in your camera case.

Glass filters are less likely to scratch, but you still need to handle them with extra caution as they can break easily if dropped.

camera photography lens colors

How to know what size lens filters you need

If you choose to purchase circular screw-filters, you’ll need to figure out what size to buy.

You can find the size of the filter you’ll need by looking at the symbol of a circle with a line through it and the millimetre measurement next to it on the lens specifications.

Step-up rings allow you to buy filters in just one size rather than having to buy a filter type in each choice and all the sizes you want, which may get quite expensive.

photography stepping rings
What is a lens filter step-up or step down ring?

Stepping rings are attached to your lens first, and the filter is then attached to the stepping ring. A stepping ring, whether step-up or step-down, is attached to the front of a lens so that a filter, which often has a thread size that is either too large or too tiny, may be fitted to the lens.

For instance, if you have an ND filter with a 77mm thread, you could use a 77-58 step-up ring to mount it to a lens with a 58mm thread.

A stepping ring has two numbers, the first of which is the thread size of the lens you want to attach a filter to. The filter size you wish to go up or down to is represented by the second number.

Consider your widest lens thread size when selecting the filter size you need to buy, and then buy step-up rings for your narrower lenses.

Even though step-down rings are available, it is preferable to use step-up rings. This is because  combining lower filter sizes and step-down rings with lenses that have larger thread diameters might result in vignetting.

person holding types of lens filters

Different types of lens filters explained

As far as camera equipment goes, lens filters are quite cheap, but if you don’t know which ones to buy you could just be wasting money!

Firstly, you need to know exactly what you are hoping to achieve. You will then be able to choose lens filters for your specific requirements and learn how and when to use those lens filters to improve your photography.

To assist you in determining the filters you require, this camera lens filter guide explains the various types of camera lens filters and their uses:

types of lens filters

UV Protection lens filter 

Recommended for: All genres of photography

The first lens filter most photographers invest in is a UV protection lens filter. As it helps keep the front element of an expensive lens free from smudges, dust, and scratches.

UV filters were previously used to stop ultraviolet rays from harming film, which was generally more vulnerable to UV rays. Therefore, a UV lens filter is crucial if you have an old film camera

Learn more about whether a UV Protection lens filter is an essential purchase for you here.

Polarising lens filter

Polarising lens filter

Recommended for: Landscape photography

Similar to sunglasses, polarising filters enhance depth in photographs by intensifying colour and decreasing reflections.

Once a polarising filter is attached to your lens, you can slowly turn the filter while observing the picture’s transformation in the viewfinder or live view of your camera.

You’ll get the best results with polarising camera lens filters if you are shooting during the middle of the day when the sun is directly above you. It’s more difficult to achieve outcomes that seem natural and realistic when the sun is at a lower angle. 

Neutral Density lens filter

Neutral Density lens filter

Recommended for: long exposure photography 

Neutral density (ND) filters are pieces of dark-coloured glass that limit the amount of light entering your lens and hitting the sensor. Using these lens filters allows you to use slower shutter speeds without having your picture become overexposed.

The rating for neutral density filters is in stops of light. A 2-stop ND filter, for instance, can block a little amount of light, whereas a 10-stop ND filter can dramatically reduce the amount of light entering the lens.

Longer shutter speeds are more achievable with the greater amount of stops of light your filter blocks. These are also handy for motion blur photography.

You can turn some ND filters to block more or less light as needed because they are adjustable.

Graduated Neutral Density photography

Graduated Neutral Density lens filter

Recommended for: Landscape photography 

Graduated neutral density filters are usually used to balance the exposure between the bright sky and a darker foreground.

These type of lens filters can sometimes be referred to as ND Grad or GND filters. They feature a vertical transition between dark and clear glass. Again, similar to ND filters, they vary in darkness and are measured in stops.

The amount of darkness they add to the scene depends on how many stops of light they have.

Gradient neutral density filters are an incredibly useful tool for handling challenging lighting conditions. A circumstance where one area of the frame needs more exposure time than another will arise for all photographers eventually.

Purchasing a GND filter for your camera will enable you to deal with challenging lighting conditions without using Photoshop or Lightroom. You’ll also spend more time shooting and less time in front of the computer if you get the exposure correct whilst shooting with your camera.

The three most popular varieties of GND filters are soft-edge, hard-edge, and reverse.

What are the differences in types of GND lens filters?

  • Hard-Edge

A Hard-Edge GND Filter has a strong transition from its neutral grey half to its clear centre. It mainly functions to balance out high-contrast images.

  • Soft-Edge

Soft edge GND filters are more popular due to their smoother gradient between the dark and clear areas. This is usually a better option if the hard-edge filter tends to highlight the midline in the scene you have picked.

  • Reverse 

Landscape photographers use a reverse GND filter to capture stunning sunrises and sunsets when the light is considerably closer to the horizon. The top half of this sort of GND filter shifts from dark for the sky, to darker for where the sun is closest to the horizon. It is usually entirely clear on the lower half for the foreground.

Colour camera kit

Colour Lens Filters

Recommended for: all genres of photography

Cooling and warming lens filters are other names for colour correction filters. They may also be referred to as colour compensating or colour conversion filters.

These lens filters are applied to enhance and adjust the scene’s colour. Coloured filters are fantastic for bringing out certain colours in a subject. Warming and cooling filters are also ideal for adjusting interior lighting and making your scene appear gloomier or brighter.

Macro photo equipment

Macro Lens Filters 

Recommended for: Macro and still life photography

Macro filters are also called close-up lens filters. They make it possible to take macro photos without a special macro lens.

Macro photography has seen a huge increase in popularity in recent years due to covid lockdowns, and the accessibility of being able to practise macro photography at home. 

Therefore, if you are keen to experiment with macro photography but don’t have the money for a new lens. Adding one of these types of lens filters could increase the capability of your camera equipment at a lower cost.

Special Effects photography

Special Effects Lens Filters

Recommended for: Creative ruts, experimenting and having fun!

Every photographer will inevitably experience some sort of creative block. Special effects filters are a versatile way to change things up if you’re having trouble getting inspired or feeling motivated by your photography.

Different special effects filters improve your photographs in different ways. 

A favourite special effects lens filter among photographers, is the starburst filter. It is a simple addition to add a visible glitter and wow factor to your images.

It helps your audience to visualise light sources like Christmas decorations and streetlights. There are options to choose filters that produce starbursts with 2, 4, 6, or 8 points.

There are many other special effects lens filters including centre spot or diffusion filters, rainbow, and day for night filters. However, since Photoshop now makes it simple to duplicate their effects, the majority of special effects filters have lost their appeal.

Final thoughts

By using photography lens filters, you can achieve photo enhancing techniques that can alter the tone and mood of your images. 

Many of the same effects may occasionally be obtained by making several adjustments in Photoshop or similar editing programmes.

However, using a lens filter will shorten your post-processing times. So, it is definitely still worth investing in some lens filters.

As with most other photography equipment, learning the fundamentals is key. You need to know how and when to use lens filters properly. Taking the time to experiment and practise is vital to broadening your photography skills.

Hopefully, this guide has helped you to understand the different types of lens filters, as well as giving you the basic principles of how and when to use each of the different types of lens filters.

DISCLOSURE: I may earn a small commission from some of the links above. For the benefit of the doubt, please assume all links might be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

close up of a camera lens

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