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Rear lens filters are an interesting concept and have proven to be extremely useful photographic tools.
But what are rear lens filters? These are regular photographic filters that fit inside a lens or behind the rear element instead of being mounted up front.
Why Use Rear Lens Filters?
We’re pretty used to screw-in lens filters and filter holder systems so why would we use rear lens filters vs traditional lens filters?
Two main reasons for the existence of rear lens filters are size and specialty lens design. Let’s talk size first.
Very fast lenses tend to have large front elements. Especially fast telephotos. In the past, some camera and lens makers recognized that buying and handling a set of 122mm size lens filters can become rather inconvenient, so they included two options for filters, the front screw thread or a drop-in small filter near the rear of the lens.
Lens design, such as very wide angle lenses with a huge front diameter and also often a protruding curved front element make attaching front filters extremely difficult to do if at all. In certain lenses, a rear mount is available to use for filters.
The thing is, not all lenses with these issues have a filter holder or rear mounting screw thread for adding filters. That’s when you need to consider other options. Just because we don’t have a front screw thread doesn’t mean we can’t use any filters.
Haida Rear Lens Filters
One of my favorite lens filter manufacturers has come up with a great option for adding filters to lenses with no easy filter options. Haida has a filter mounting kit that fits in the back of certain lenses.
As examples, let’s look at rear lens filters for two pretty amazing lenses, the Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 and the Sigma 14-24mm f2.8 Art lens for Sony FE or Leica L mount.
The only way to use filters on the front of these lenses is to attach a large filter holder to the outside of the built in lens hood with set screws due to the very large diameter but mostly because of the protruding curvature of the front element. This adds quite a bit of bulk to the already large lens.
But, you want to use some ND filters for selective focus or long exposure techniques, what do you do? Well, either find a filter holder and ND large enough (which is still a good, if bulky, option), or use the new options of rear lens ND filters.
Here is the ND rear lens filter kit for the Sony FE 12-24mm, and this one is the rear lens ND filter kit for the Sigma 14-24mm. Both of these kits feature rear lens ND filters in strengths of 3 stops, 4 stops, 6 stops and 10 stops. The filters fit into a specialty adapter that fits neatly in the back of the lens. You choose your filter, put it in the adapter, place the adapter in the rear of your lens, and remount the lens to your camera.
Ten full stops of exposure change can take you from a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second to 16 full seconds, enough for some nice water motion effect, while 3 stops can change your aperture from f/8.0 to f/2.8 for selective focus effect even with a lens this wide. Or you could adjust any combination of exposure triangle factors to get what you want for exposure value.
Which Is Best?
There will be other adapters for different lenses as time goes on, so we may have a decision to make. What are the factors to consider for rear lens filters vs traditional lens filters?
Size, convenience, cost. As for size, the rear lens filters will be smaller, no question about that. As for convenience, front filters will need a large holder with a specialty attaching method, while the rear lens filters require you to remove the lens from the camera to add, remove, or change.
Cost differences can be significant, rear lens ND filters costing much less, but that might be an issue for you considering how much you obviously are willing to invest in photographic equipment having one of these lenses and the camera to use them.
One thing for sure, since you spent the money on these high priced lenses and cameras to use them on, you definitely want the filters to be high enough quality to match the superb optics. So, stick with top brands such as Haida for whatever ND filters you choose, front kits or rear lens filters.