Best Lens Filters

Updated January 2021.

You may think that filters are no longer necessary and that you can accomplish everything you need in your photo editing software.

You’d be wrong. Filters still play a vital role in digital photography.

Controlling the amount and quality of light that reaches your sensor is essential to creating high-quality images. But keep in mind that adding a filter in front of your expensive lens can have negative effects as well.

So avoid those cheap filters that camera stores try to bundle in with their cameras. Better to go without one for now and save up for a quality filter.

Here are the ones we recommend…

Circular Polarizing Filter

The circular polarizer is probably the first filter you want to get. This type of filter will help you control reflections and glare off shiny and wet surfaces. It will also let you eliminate the reflections of the top of water and allow you to see (and photograph) whats under the surface more clearly.

Another type of polarizing filter is a “linear polarizer” but don’t get those. They were useful back in the film days but don’t work with digital cameras.

Top Pick | Kase Wolverine

Before deciding to write this article and looking for as many filters as I could try, I hadn’t really heard of Kase Filters. But I am really happy I discovered them.

Click below to check availability and pricing…

There are a lot of good filters on the market. They are getting better and better with every new one that comes out.

So much so that we’ve reached a point where the differences between the image quality among the top options is so small that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart with the naked eye.

This is why Kase made the top spot on our list. They are right up there with the best of the best when it comes to image quality. But what sets them apart is that they are just so easy to use. All you need is an adapter ring for each of your lenses and the filters just snap on magnetically.

The polarizing filter turns freely while staying securely attached with the magnet and its incredibly easy to stack other ones on top of it.

Spoiler Alert: Kase is our top pick for the ND Filters below too…

Budget Option | K&F Concept

K&F Concept filters are a relatively new player to the game and very well might be the best performance to dollar value filters on the market.

Click below to check availability and pricing…

Normally, I avoid budget filters at all costs because they do more harm than good to your images but these are different. You won’t get the same image quality and performance as the Breakthrough Filters above, but at a fraction of the cost you can get about 80% of the way there.

My favorite use case for the K&F Filters are for my smaller backup camera that I keep with me for personal use, family outings, etc. I still use the higher end filters for professional work, but the cost savings make these perfect for casual use.

PRO TIP: You don’t need a separate filter for every size lens. Just get all your filters in the 82mm size and use step up rings for smaller lenses.

You just need a step-up ring for any lens that has a filter diameter smaller than 82mm. For example, if you have a lens that takes 77mm filters, you just need to use a 77mm to 82mm step-up ring.

Best Screw On Filters | Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL

Breakthrough produces great quality glass and their screw on filters are easy to grip and work with.

Click below to check availability and pricing…

After testing a number of filters, the Breakthrough Filters were at the top of the list when it came to image quality along with the Kase Filters. I saw no color cast and minimal to no loss of sharpness.

So aside from the excellent image quality that Breakthrough Filters provide, what I like most about them is the build quality.

Many CPL filters are a pain to get onto the lens and even more of a pain to rotate without having them come loose.

The Breakthrough lenses have ridges all around that make it easy to get on and off and easy to rotate when you are shooting. This also makes them a little more rigged and durable. I have dropped them and so far haven’t broken one.

Despite these benefits, the reason Breakthrough Filters aren’t my top pick is that the magnetic Kase filters are just so much easier to work with and offer equal image quality.

Neutral Density Filter (“ND”)

The Neutral Density (“ND”) filter is the best friend of the landscape photographer. They are essential if you want to shoot long exposure photography.

An ND filter blocks a specified amount of light from reaching your lens without affecting the color or sharpness of the image (at least the best ones do). This allows you to shoot at longer shutter speeds (and get all the cool effects that slow shutter speeds provide) even when it’s not dark enough outside.

Portrait photographers will find these useful as well. An ND filter can make it possible to shoot at wide open apertures (and blur your background) even in the brightest of sunny conditions. They can also be helpful if you are using a flash during the day.

My Top Recommendation | Kase Filter System

Same as the CPL above, my favorite ND Filter to use is the Kase. Since it is really more of a complete system then a single filter, this is really the exact same thing as the link above.

Click below to check availability and pricing…

I would recommend getting the package equal to your largest diameter lens (for me that’s an 82mm) and then getting adapters that fit each smaller lens.

Kase does have step up adapters (for example an adapter that fits on a 72mm lens thread but takes an 82mm filter). That way you don’t need any step-up rings either, which helps to eliminate or minimize vignetting.

The magnetic system really shines when you are using the ND filters. Especially when it comes to the stronger NDs, you will need to take it off to compose the image and focus and then put it on to shoot.

So being able to do that without having to screw it on and off saves a ton of time and that can be the difference between getting the shot and missing it.

Runner-Up | Breakthrough Photography X4 ND

Same as above, the Breakthrough Filters are exceptional. If you prefer a more traditional screw on filter, then these are the way to go.

Click below to check availability and pricing…

As an added bonus, it’s not the most expensive. You could pay upwards of $400 for an ND filter and still not get the sharpness and color neutrality of the Breakthrough filters.

Start with the 3-stop and the 6-stop before you go for the 10-stop. You can always stack the 3-stop and 6-stop together if you need more strength. Eventually, you’ll want to have a 10-stop as well.

Breakthrough also has a 15-stop which is overkill for 99% of shots but can let you create some cool long exposure shots even in daylight.

Graduated ND Filter

This filter is similar to an ND filter in that it blocks a specified number of stops of light from reaching your lens. The difference is that it only blocks the light on half the frame. This allows you to darken half the image and not the other half. The typical use case for a graduated ND filter is to darken the sky and not the ground so that you can capture the entire range of brightness is a single shot.

The graduated filter may be one filter that is becoming obsolete as a result of improved post processing. You can accomplish virtually the same thing by taking 2 shots of different exposures (bracketing your shots) and blending them later in Photoshop. This take a little skill with the software but can often lead to better quality results.

Graduated ND filters don’t work too well when your horizon is uneven. Things like trees, mountains, buildings, and just about anything sticking up in front of the sky will get darkened as well. Just about the only time they work perfectly is when your horizon is the ocean or some other large body of water.

Our Recommendation: None…learn to blend images in Photoshop instead

UV Filter

A UV filter does exactly what it sounds like, it blocks UV rays. May people also buy it to “protect” the front of their lens. A UV filter has absolutely zero positive effect on your image quality and the lower quality UV filters can hurt your image quality.

The only time they might be useful is if you are shooting in harsher conditions and want to keep the conditions off your lens. For example, a windy day at the beach where the sand is blowing in your face might be a good time to use a UV filter. However, you can also just use a polarizing filter for those rare instances.

Our Recommendation: None…save your money and get something more useful.

Filter Holder Systems

A filter holder system is a necessary piece of kit IF you are using square filters.

Keep in mind that some lenses have front elements that stick out. For these you will likely need a specialized filter holder system AND larger square filters. These can be very helpful when shooting landscapes and stronger ND filters. The holder easily snaps on and off so you can get your focus and composition while the scene is visible, then snap on the holder with the filter in it and take the photo.

Our Recommendation: Breakthrough Photography X100 Holder

If you’re going to go with the Breakthrough filters, then you might as well get their holder. Actually, as far as holders go, it’s one of the less expensive options out there at $49.00 and it’s every bit as good as any of the options out there.

CLICK HERE to check out the X100 Filter Holder.

Variable ND Filters

Variable ND filters are a tempting option for some beginners. You can have one filter and adjust it to varying degress of ND strength. They do this by putting two pieces of glass together on one filter. As you rotate the front one, the glass matches up in some way to block more or less of the light.

The downside to variable ND filters is that by the very nature of how they work, they will negatively affect image quality compared to a standard (single strength) ND filter. They simply aren’t as good. Better to get 1 or 2 standard ND filters to start and pass on the variable.

However, if you want to shoot video, a variable ND filter can be very handy to have. Video shooters use them all the time. The loss in image quality is less of a concern because (1) the image is moving and any sharpness loss is less perceptible, (2) even 4K video is much lower resolution than most dSLRs and Mirrorless cameras, and (3) the ability to adjust the ND strength without removing the filter is extremely valuable to video shooters and outweighs any sharpness concerns.

Our Recommendation: None…unless you shoot video.

Pete LaGregor

Pete LaGregor

Pete is a photographer in New Jersey and specializes in portraits and commercial photography, but loves shooting landscapes and video for fun. You can check out his work on his website.
Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    shares