Lens Filter Buying Guide
Photo by oxime via iStock
With the calendar firmly into 2020, I figured it was time to unleash an updated lens filter buying guide.
There is a wide variety of filters you can have in your camera bag, both in terms of types and manufacturers.
But like camera lenses, lens filters are not all made alike - cheap filters can cause color casts, vignetting, and degrade the sharpness of an image.
In other words, why invest in a great lens if you're going to put a junk filter on the front of it?
Bear in mind that I'm using "cheap" as a reference to build quality, not to price. There are many excellent budget lens filters that will give you excellent results.
Without further ado, let's get to the best lens filters for 2020 - lens filter kits, circular polarizers, ND filters, and more!
Haida M10 Pro Filter Kit
I recently got my hands on the Haida M10 Pro 100mm filter kit, and I have to say that I'm impressed.
I've used other Haida filter systems as well, and they are a great combination of features, quality, and price.
In this case, the kit has a 100mm filter holder that has a drop-in slot for a circular polarizer. This makes it quick and easy to add or remove the CPL as needed. As a landscape photographer, having a good circular polarizer is an absolute must!
In this case, I particularly appreciate the gear on the side of the drop-in filter slot that allows me to rotate the polarizer with much greater ease.
Likewise, the filter hold rotates 360-degrees so I can position the filters with precision. The locking mechanism keeps everything in place, too.
In front of that are three slots for 100mm filters, so you can purchase solid ND filters, graduated ND filters, or reverse grads and add them to the holder for the specific effects you need.
The kit includes four adapter rings to accommodate popular lens sizes (67mm, 72mm, 77mm, and 82mm), a storage pouch, and four lens caps. Get more details in the video below by Ikan International:
With all these components included in the kit, this is a great starter filter kit for any photographer.
And with Haida's extensive line of 100mm filters, you can add the necessary filters to the kit as you go along and build a high-quality system that helps you improve the quality of your photos.
Price: $228.27 at Amazon
Learn more about the Haida M10 Pro Filter Kit
Kenko Nyumon Circular Polarizer
Photo by Gary Gray via iStock
If you ask me, there is no more important filter to buy than a circular polarizer.
That's because a polarizing filter can have a positive impact on your photos in a whole host of ways.
They cut down glare off of non-metallic surfaces like water and they also help boost the contrast in the sky for a deeper blue atmosphere and whiter clouds.
Additionally, a polarizing filter cuts down on atmospheric haze so distant elements in the shot appear to be crisper, as shown in the image above.
If you're after a budget-friendly polarizer, look no further than the Kenko Nyumon polarizer shown above.
This filter is crafted using optical-quality glass that's polished and coated to repel everything from water droplets to the oils from your skin.
On top of that, Kenko has smartly mounted it in a SLIM ring, that way there's less chance of vignetting occurring when using a wide-angle lens.
There's a wide range of sizes available as well, so virtually any lens you have, Kenko likely has a polarizer to fit.
And starting at less than $15.00, these things are easy on your bank account too!
This is a prime example of how budget lens filters can strike a balance between price and performance.
Price: Starting at $43.00 at Kenko Imaging USA
Learn more about the Kenko Nyumon Circular Polarizing Filter
Editor's Tip: Get Kenko’s latest updates and access to promos for discounted gear. Click here to sign up.
PolarPro Summit Filter Kit
Earlier, I mentioned that not all filters are made alike.
The Summit filter kit by PolarPro is an excellent example of that sentiment.
To begin, this system has an integrated circular polarizer.
As you can see above, the polarizer slides into the filter holder to create a light-sealed system. The CPL is both low-low profile (to prevent vignetting) and it installs and removes easily.
What's more, the Summit system has tool-free mounting options, a tool-less rail mount, and a snap-on hood attachment that make using this system a breeze. This is a huge benefit for those instances in which the light is changing quickly and you need to adapt your setup sooner rather than later.
PolarPro has made the Summit system super lightweight, too, so you don't have to carry a big, heavy, bulky set of filters around with you as you seek the next great photo opportunity.
It helps that each filter has an aluminum frame, as that reduces fingerprints on the filter glass while also maximizing protection for the filter.
And since these filters are available in 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, 82mm, and 95mm, you can find the right size for your specific needs.
If you're a landscape photographer and you don't have a good set of filters, the PolarPro Summit system is an excellent option for you.
Price: $599.99 at PolarPro
Learn more about the PolarPro Summit Filter System
Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra ND Filter
A solid ND filter allows you to slow down the shutter speed or open up the aperture when shooting in bright conditions without overexposing the image.
Photos with blurred motion wouldn't be possible when shooting in broad daylight, because all that light from the long shutter speed would result in a completely blown out photo.
ND filters come in all kinds of strengths, with darker ND filters blocking out more light, thus allowing you to get longer exposures or use larger apertures.
Formatt-Hitech's Firecrest Ultra ND filters are a good choice because they offer excellent features without busting your budget.
These filters are bonded, which helps protect the filter's coating from damage. This means that you get a filter that helps you achieve your photographic goals while also giving you longer-lasting and durable performance over the long-term.
Formatt-Hitech also uses a lap and polish technique when manufacturing the Firecrest Ultra ND filters, which results in glass that offers hyper-neutral performance. There is no color casting and you get superb sharpness, minimal aberrations, and enhanced clarity, too.
These filters are available as 100mm x 100mm squares and come in a wide range of popular densities from 1 to 10 stops.
If you're in need of an ultra-dark filter, though, Formatt-Hitech has Firecrest Ultra NDs that go from 13 stops up to a whopping 24 stops!
It's that kind of variety that enables you to select the precise ND filters you need to create beautiful long exposure images, even on the brightest of days.
Price: Starting at $179.00 at Formatt-Hitech
Singh-Ray Variable ND Filter
Years ago, variable ND filters didn't have a good reputation. They just didn't work well and left you with images that had artifacts that ruined your images.
But today's variable ND filters are a new breed, and options like this one from Singh-Ray are among the best.
A variable ND filter is one of the best filters for landscape photography.
In a single filter, you have the capability of blocking anywhere from two to eight stops of light with the turn of the filter in its housing.
If you need to build a run and gun setup, having a single variable ND filter could be advantageous, rather than carrying multiple ND filters to achieve the same feat.
Image Credit: Marco Crupi
As explained earlier, an ND filter is a must-have if you want to introduce motion effects - like blurry water or clouds - when photographing during the daytime.
With this filter, all you have to do is turn the filter to control how much light passes through the lens. And since it's a Singh-Ray, you can depend on quality construction that retains the color fidelity of the scene (and the sharpness, too).
Variable ND filters aren't just for still photography, though - you can utilize them when shooting video as well!
Price: $340.00 at Amazon
Learn more about the Singh-Ray Variable ND filter
Breakthrough Photography X4 Circular Polarizer
Breakthrough Photography's X4 circular polarizer is a top choice of many photographers thanks to its excellent performance and superb build quality.
The durable design is built to withstand the rough-and-tumble world of landscape photography. You can use it in high winds, in the presence of saltwater or dust, and other arduous environmental conditions and not worry that it will fail.
Additionally, these filters are guaranteed to maintain their optical clarity and color neutrality for 25 years thanks to its weather-sealed design.
This polarizing filter is one of our best filters for 2020 because of its nanocoating. Breakthrough Photography utilizes a bespoke nanotec coating that beads water and other elements off the glass. This means a cleaner filter for improved results while minimizing smearing, fingerprints, and so forth.
Paired with the SCHOTT Superwhite B270 optical glass, you get excellent light transmission, particularly in the ultraviolet, visible, and infrared spectrums.
Add to that a state-of-the-art multi-resistant coating that reduces reflections and improves contrast, and you have a recipe for a polarizer you can get a lot of mileage out of (and great results, too).
Price: Starting at $129.00 at Adorama
Lee Hard-Edge Graduated ND Filter
Our Lens Filter Buying Guide 2020 wouldn't be complete without a hard-edge graduated ND filter.
This one, by Lee, comes in various sizes to accommodate different setups, including 75mm x 90mm, 100mm x 150mm, and 150mm x 170mm. They're also available in various strengths, from 1-stop to 4-stops.
These hard-edge grads are perfect for landscape situations in which there is a definite horizon.
The quick transition from darkened to undarkened areas allows you to match up the filter with the horizon and get the desired filter effects for the sky while leaving the landscape below it untouched.
What sets this filter apart from those by other manufacturers is that it is hand-made with a gradual build-up of the ND gradation.
The gradation on the filter is created by dipping the filter into baths of dye. As a result of this hand-made process, you get hyper-accurate results that give you the ultimate in creative control.
With a hard-edge grad or two in your bag, you'll be better equipped to create beautiful landscape images that are well-exposed throughout.
Between the quality build and reasonable prices, you can see why this is among the best lens filters for 2020!
Price: Starting at $113.00 at Adorama
Learn more about Lee Hard-Edge Graduated ND Filters
Argraph Marumi M100 Filter System
Marumi’s Magnetic M100 Filter Holder and their line of magnetic filters are just what the doctor ordered for photographers that are sick of sliding filters in and out of their holders.
The M100 filter holder sports a slim 10mm design with strong magnetic attachments that hold the filter in place. The foam gaskets on the filter holder ensure that there are no light leaks to ruin your photos.
If using a circular polarizer, it rotates independently in the filter holder and features water and oil-repellent coatings on both sides that minimizes clean up.
The filter also has anti-static-anti-scratch, and anti-reflection properties that ensure you have the ideal shooting experience.
The other magnetic filters in Marumi’s lineup have the same features, including their graduated ND filters and solid ND Filters.
The graduated ND filters include hard-edge, soft-edge (as shown above), and reverse grads for photographing landscapes with a definite horizon, a variable horizon, and at sunrise and sunset, respectively.
Of course, there are also many different solid ND filters available from 2-stops all the way up to 15-stops.
Like the other Marumi filters mentioned above, these ND filters are made of durable Schott 5270 glass that offers high-definition results.
When photographing landscapes, the quality of light can change from one second to the next. That’s why this magnetic system is so compelling - by reducing the time spent swapping out filters, you can spend more time photographing the beauty before you!
Price: $149.99 for the M100 Filter Holder, $139.95 for the circular polarizer, and $199.95 for solid ND filters.
Cokin P-Series Soft-Edge Graduated ND Filter
Another popular filter for landscape photographers is a soft-edge grad, like this one by Cokin.
A soft-edge grad is ideally suited for use when there is not a definite horizon.
Unlike the hard-edge grad we discussed above, this one has a much more gradual transition from the filtered to non-filtered areas.
This allows for use in situations in which there are undulations in the horizon line, and when buildings, trees, and other objects that extend above the horizon.
What makes this Cokin soft-edge grad so great is its price - it's one of the best budget lens filters we've yet to find at less than $28.
But don't let that cheap price fool you - this is a well-built filter that performs well (as shown by the before and after photos above), which is why it has 4.5 out of 5 stars on Adorama!
It's specifically designed for use with Cokin's excellent P-series filter holder and features hyper-neutral results that you would expect from a high-quality filter.
This filter comes as a 3-stop, which is an ideal strength for many landscape photography situations in which the bright sky needs to be brought down a little.
Price: $27.61 at Adorama
Learn more about the Cokin P-Series Soft-Edge Graduated ND Filter
Haida NanoPro MC Reverse ND Grad
Last but not least, a great filter to have in your camera bag is a reverse ND grad, like this one by Haida.
A reverse ND grad is specifically designed for sunrise and sunset photos when the brightest part of the sky is along the horizon.
As you can see, the darkest part of the filter is in the middle, and it gradually gets lighter as you go toward the top (with no filtration on the bottom). This means you can manage the brightness of the sky along the horizon without impacting the darker areas of the sky above and the darker landscape below.
As you'd expect from Haida, this filter is well made without a huge price tag.
You get a high-quality, multi-layered filter that helps repel dirt and smudges. These filters are also extremely scratch-resistant, which is exactly what you want for your landscape photography outings.
These filters offer excellent sharpness, zero color casting, and they reduce reflections as well.
The high-grade optical glass is durable, too.
Price: Starting at $90.00 at Adorama