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If you ask me, the number one filter any landscape photographer needs to have in their camera bag is a polarizer.
Sure, a graduated ND filter is great to have, as is a solid ND. With those, you can manage the wide dynamic range you often find in landscapes and extend the shutter speed for beautiful long exposures, respectively.
But while I would say those filters are optional, I'd say a polarizer is a must-have...
Polarizers Help Minimize Glare
A polarizing filter is a must-have because it helps manage glare off water and other non-metallic surfaces.
That means that instead of taking a photo with a bright blob of sunlight blinding you off of the lake, pond, or sea, you instead get a beautiful look at the water.
In fact, if the water is clear enough, a polarizer can actually help you see what's under the water.
Obviously, this is a much more preferable outcome than being blinded by sunlight!
Polarizing Filters Also Boost Contrast in the Sky
Another advantage of having a polarizing filter is that they boost the contrast in the sky.
That means deeper blues of the atmosphere and brighter whites in the clouds for a much more dramatic look.
What's more, polarizers help reduce atmospheric haze. This is advantageous because it helps distant elements - like far-off mountains, for example - appear clearer and more defined.
With a more defined background, your landscapes will have more pop and clearer layers, which will give the impression of more depth as well.
Get a Quality Polarizer for the Best Results
Just like not all lenses are made alike, not all polarizers are made alike, either.
Sure, you can pick up a cheap knock-off for just a few bucks, but a cheap knockoff polarizing filter will get you results that are commensurate with its cheapness.
Now, this does not mean that you need to spend hundreds of dollars on a polarizing filter in order to get something that's top-quality.
In fact, there are a few excellent polarizers out there that offer excellent performance without breaking the bank.
I've been testing the Kenko Nyumon SLIM Circular Polarizer for a while now, and I have to say that I've been extremely impressed.
This filter comes from Kenko Tokina Co., Ltd, the world's largest photography optical accessory manufacturer.
In other words, these guys know what they're doing!
That's evident in the construction of this filter because it has multi-coated polished optical glass that resists environmental conditions. That means that if you accidentally drop the filter, dust and dirt won't stick to it. The same goes for the oils on your skin should you accidentally touch the glass.
This particular model also has a SLIM ring which helps minimize unwanted vignetting, even if you use it on a wide-angle lens.
That means that you get all the benefits of a polarizer - minimized glare, better contrast in the sky, and less atmospheric haze - without having to worry about vignetting ruining the look of your photo.
Best of all, these filters are budget-friendly - the 72mm model shown above is less than $40.00.
So, Kenko has managed to do what so many filter companies have not. They've crafted a top-notch polarizer without it being cost-prohibitive.
That means you can pick up a polarizer today and start creating better photos sooner rather than later!