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A Guide to Understanding & Using Camera Polarizer Lens Filters

Polarizer lenses can improve color saturation and reduce reflections, and they are one of the few lens filters that cannot be replicated with digital photo editing.

A Guide to Understanding & Using Camera Polarizer Lens Filters

They are an essential tool that every photographer should have in their camera bag. Developing an intuition for how a polarizer might affect a photograph often causes extensive experimentation.

This article aims to speed up that process by demonstrating how and why polarizing filters can help–and, sometimes, harm–various types of scenes.

About Polarizing Lens

A Guide to Understanding & Using Camera Polarizer Lens Filters

A polarizing filter, also known as a “polarizer,” is a photographic filter that is placed in front of a camera lens to reduce reflections, reduce atmospheric haze, and increase color saturation.

In photography, they keep a polarizer lens or polarising filter in front of the camera lens to darken skies, manage reflections, or suppress glare from the surface of lakes or the sea.

Because reflections (and skylight) are usually at least partially linearly polarized, a linear polarizer can alter the light balance in the photograph.

The filter’s rotational orientation is adjusted to achieve the desired artistic effect.

A circular polarizer (CPL) is commonly used in modern cameras.

This comprises a linear polarizer that performs the previously described artistic function, followed by a quarter-wave plate that further transforms the now-linearly polarized light into circularly polarized light before entering the camera.

This extra step helps to avoid problems.

How to Use a Polarizer Lens for Best Results

A Guide to Understanding & Using Camera Polarizer Lens Filters

Polarizers, which are placed in front of your camera lens, work by filtering out sunlight that has been directly reflected toward the camera at specific angles.

This is helpful because the remaining light is frequently more diffuse and colorful; however, it causes a longer exposure time (since it has discarded the light).

1. You can control the filtered angle by rotating the polarizer, and it controls the strength of the effect by adjusting the camera’s line of sight relative to the sun.

2. When you put polarizers in front of your camera lens, it will filter out sunlight that reflects toward the camera at specific angles.

This is helpful because the remaining light is frequently more diffuse and colorful, but it causes a longer exposure time (since light has been removed).

3. You can control the polarizer’s angle of filtration by rotating it, and it controls the strength of the effect by changing the camera’s line of sight relative to the sun.

4. Light reflected from a non-metallic surface becomes polarized. Reflections from shiny surfaces (e.g. vegetation, sweaty skin, water surfaces) are also reduced. This allows the natural color and detail of what is beneath to come through.

5. The effect is visible in a band of 15° to 30° measured from the optimal direction.

Using a polarizer Lens, in the correct direction, will filter out the polarized component of a skylight, darkening the sky; the landscape below it, and clouds, will be less affected.

Types of Polarizer Lens

A Guide to Understanding & Using Camera Polarizer Lens Filters

There are two types of polarizing filters readily available: linear and circular, both of which have the same photographic effect.

However, because the beam splitters used to split off the light for focusing and metering are polarization-dependent, the metering and auto-focus sensors in certain cameras.

Virtually all auto-focus single-lens reflex cameras (SLRs), will not work properly with linear polarizers.

Instead, manufacturers are focusing on producing high-quality circular filters with excellent light transmission qualities.

These filters work perfectly on modern mirrorless cameras but I do not recommend them for use because of a lack of high-quality alternatives.

Because mirrors and beam splitters split circularly polarized light, the same way they split unpolarized light, this works with all cameras.

I easily distinguished linear polarizing filters from circular polarizing filters.

The Best Polarizer Lens

Polarizing filters are excellent for increasing image vibrancy and contrast. They reduce unwanted reflections in water and glass while also improving the color of the skies by removing haze.

A low-cost polarizer is an excellent investment for almost any photographer.

A polarizing filter works by cutting out specific light waves, reducing glare and haze from sunlight.

They shine when photographing large bodies of water, such as rivers or lakes. By removing reflections, you can capture the character and color of the water in greater depth.

Below are some polarizer filters that I highly recommend:

1. Marumi DHG Super Circular PL

Marumi has four distinct ranges of circular polarizers, each with a different glass/coating combination.

However, unlike Marumi’s EXUS polarizers, DHG Super polarizers do not include high-light transmission glass.

This may explain why our sample filter restricted light by half a stop more than the best filters on the test.

Other than that, optical performance is excellent, with no loss of image sharpness and no evidence of color casts or vignetting.

It screws smoothly into the filter thread of your lens, and the polarizer’s front element rotates smoothly as well.

With filter thread diameters ranging from 37mm to 95mm, there’s a DHG Super polarizer for almost any lens, and most are very affordable.

2. Hama Polarizer Lens, Circular, AR Coated

Hama’s entry is inexpensive, but it provides solid performance and is available in a wide range of filter diameters from 37 to 82mm.

There is at least an AR anti-reflective coating that works to improve light transmission.

Water and fingerprints cling to the front element infuriatingly well, making cleaning difficult.

A 6% decrease in image sharpness is technically the worst performance on this list, but it is still insignificant.

3. LEE Elements Circular Polarizer

LEE Filters were previously only available as part of a holder system, requiring an additional attachment to get on and off the front of the lens.

However, in 2021, the company relented and released the Elements series, which are circular filters that are quickly attached and detached from a lens without the use of a holder.

They made the Elements Polarizer of premium glass and includes a useful change ring for fine-tuning the polarizing effect.

It won’t fit all lenses because the minimum thread size is 67mm, but it covers a wide range of optics.

If you don’t mind paying a slightly higher asking price, we believe the Elements Polarizer is well worth it.

4. Lee Filters LEE100 Polariser

They designed Lee’s Polarisers to be used with the LEE100 100mm filter system. This is based on the LEE100 holder, which connects to your lens via a suitable adapter ring.

The polarizer is then clipped to the front of the holder, leaving room behind for additional square filters to be inserted.

Another factor to consider is the high cost of the combined filter, holder, and adapter ring. Lee even includes a high-quality zippered pouch to keep the filter in.


Tiffen’s highly dependable filters are well-known among photographers for being a good value, and we can say the same for the company’s Circular Polarizer line.

These filters are less expensive than most and come in a wide range of sizes ranging from 25mm to 92mm.

They have a slightly cool cast to them, but it’s not overpowering, and light transmission and sharpness are excellent.

The filters’ excellent overall quality is because of their high-quality clerical Glass construction.

They’re a little thicker than some of the other options on this list, but not by much.

6. Cokin P-series P164

The Cokin P-series filter line is known for its low cost and wide range of creative effects, including polarizers.

Most of the range is square or rectangular and fits into the mount via a P-series filter holder. The filter holder has three filter slots.

They designed one to fit circular filters, such as the Cokin P164 polarizer. While the Cokin P-series is inexpensive, we found the plastic holder to be flimsy compared to the Lee Filters holder.

7. B+W XS-Pro Digital HTC Kasemann MRC Nano

B+W’s premium XS-Pro circular polarizers are available in a wide range of thread diameters to accommodate lenses ranging from tiny Micro Four Thirds optics to beefy large aperture super-teles.

A less expensive ‘F-Pro’ range is also available, but the price difference isn’t significant at the time of writing.

The slightly thicker design has the advantage of making the rear filter element’s frame slightly easier to grip when screwing the filter onto your lens.

B+W’s HTC (High Transmission Circular) glass is claimed to have a 1-1.5 stop light loss, which we found to be accurate.

The MRC Nano coating which is supposed to resist water and fingerprints but barely beads water away better than a budget filter, is less impressive.

8. Hoya Fusion One Circular Polarizer Lens

Hoya’s Fusion One filters, designed to replace the previous PRO1 series, are premium, high-quality polarizers for those who demand the best optical quality.

They also include a front screw, allowing you to stack the polariser with a Fusion One UV or protection filter if desired. The filters are water-resistant and smudge-resistant, making them simple to clean.

The only disadvantage they currently have is that they have been in and out of stock and can be difficult to obtain. Our advice is to buy them right away if you see them for sale.

What to Look for in the Best Polarizer Lens

Thin Frames

When working with filters you’ll want to look for a slim mount to ensure maximum versatility when shooting.

This is because thick amounts can cause vignetting and are difficult to work around when shooting with a wide-angle lens.

Color Control

You can sometimes introduce color casts into your images if you use a low-cost polarizer. This isn’t ideal, but it’s easily fixed in post-production.

A Clearer Picture

Although some manufacturers use hydrophobic coatings to help repel water, we still advise caution when using your polarizer near water.

Lighten Up

Remember that polarizers can reduce light by up to two stops, so monitor your shutter speed. However, premium polarizers frequently use higher transmission glass to help mitigate this effect.

Maximizing Value

One of the most inconvenient aspects of owning multiple lenses is that, unless you happen upon a fantastic fluke, they will almost certainly have different filter thread diameters.

However, this does not cause purchasing a polarizer multiple times to accommodate your various pieces of glass! Buy one with the largest filter thread diameter to fit your lens, and then use step-up rings to attach it to the others. Sorted!

Other Effects

Depending on how much of the light is polarized at the filter angle, the polarizer lens reduces the amount of light passing through to the film or sensor.

Some companies make neutral density filters with two linear polarizing layers that can be adjusted.

They let almost no light in when they are 90° apart, gradually increasing as the angle decreases.

Although wide-angle lenses aren’t ideal, rotating the polarizing filter can make the effect appear more realistic.

One method is to align the most pronounced polarization with the image’s edge or corner.

This makes the polarization change appear more like a natural gradient across the sky (such as how the sky might appear during twilight).

Optimizations of Polarizer lens

LCD monitors emit polarized light, typically at 45° to the vertical, so no light passes through when the polarizer axis is perpendicular to the polarization of the light from the screen (the polarizer appears black).

When the polarizer is parallel to the polarization of the screen, light can pass through and the white of the screen can be noted.

Sun Angle & Filter Rotation When Using Polarizer Lens

When one’s line of sight is perpendicular to the direction of the sun, a polarizer lens will have the greatest effect.

A good way to visualize this is to point your pointer finger at the sun while straightening your thumb.

The polarizer has the greatest impact wherever your thumb points when you rotate your hand (while still pointing at the sun).

However, just because the filter has the greatest effect in the above directions does not imply that this is where the image will appear most affected.

The best way to get a feel for this is to rotate the filter while looking through the camera’s viewfinder (or rear LCD).

Notable Facts About Polarizer Lens

At one extreme, you can rotate your filter so that the maximum polarization direction is perpendicular to the sun’s directions.

If you rotate it slightly (say, 10-20°), you can shift the angle of maximum effect slightly towards or away from the sun – but the polarizing effect will be less pronounced.

At the other end of the spectrum, once the filter has been rotated a full 90°, no polarizing effects are visible.

Any more rotation than these causes the effect to increase once more, and the cycle to repeat.

Saturation of Color

One of the first things you’ll notice about polarizers is how they increase color saturation.

Polarizers have a much stronger influence on clear, sunny days than on overcast or rainy days.

When direct reflections are reduced, a greater proportion of the subject’s light becomes diffuse, resulting in a more colorful representation.

It will render the foliage in brighter green, the skies will be rendered in a deeper blue, and the flowers will be rendered more intense.

Saturation is not always increased uniformly. This is all dependent on whether an object is at an optimal angle to the sun and whether it is highly reflective.

When using a polarizer, more reflective objects will see a greater increase in saturation.

Polarizer Lens: Windows, Reflections, and Transparency

A polarizer filter can be a very useful tool for eliminating reflections and isolating objects that are wet, underwater, or behind a window.

A polarizer can also remove unwanted reflections when photographing through a window or other transparent barrier.

When photographing objects in store windows, out of a moving train, or within a glass case, for example, this can be a very useful tool.

However, polarizers can sometimes produce an unrealistic-looking rainbow or ripple effect on windows that are uneven, tinted, or coated.

A good example of this is “birefringent,” which appears when taking a polarized photo through an airplane window.

Contrast & Glare

Because polarizers reduce direct reflections, they frequently have the unintended consequence of reducing image contrast.

This makes it easier to capture scenes with a wide dynamic range.

Such as balancing a bright sky with relatively unreflective land (which can even make using a graduated neutral density filter or high dynamic range less important).

However, less glare/contrast is not always desirable. In most other situations, however, a glare reduction is desirable and results in a more pleasing photograph.

In other cases, polarizers can increase contrast. Using a polarizer on clouds and skies almost always increases contrast, but if the subject is highly reflective, a polarizer will almost always decrease contrast.

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How to Clean a Polarizing Filter

Many polarizers have a special coating that, if not handled carefully, can easily be damaged. B+W filters, for example, have a Multi-Resistant Coating that helps the lens stay clean for longer.

The more you clean these filters, the more likely it is that the coating will be damaged or the glass will be scratched.

Cleaning a polarizer filter should be done only if the image quality is suffering.

So, how does one go about cleaning a polarizer filter?

1 The first step should be to use your Giottos Rocket Blaster, as knock-off blowers do not have the same force. Please do yourself a favor and get yourself some Giottos.

If you have a DataVac blower, these works well; however, you must make sure your filter is not attached to a lens and is securely fastened. If they connect it to a lens, it can cause damage to the lens.

2 Then, take a clean lens pen and write on the lens. I’d buy one pen specifically for your filters and not for the viewfinder, rear screen, or eyeglasses.

Inadvertently transferring oil from your viewfinder to your filter is possible. I’m speaking from personal experience.

3 Make sure there is nothing on the lens that could scratch it, such as sand. Then, take out the Pre moisten Zeiss lens wipe and clean the smudge.

Replace that wipe with a new one and clean the filter until all the alcohol has evaporated.

4 Get a bottle of Zeiss lens cleaner and some Kimwipes, also known as Kimtech wipes. These are available from Amazon, BH, and Adorama.

Allow the cleaner to sit for 30 seconds on one side of the filter. Then wipe until completely dry.

Disadvantages of Polarizing Lens

While polarizing filters are undeniably useful, they have the following drawbacks:

1 They can cause the exposure to require 2-3 stops (4-8X) more light than is normally required.

2 They are among the most costly types of filters.

3 For maximum effect, you must angle the camera at a right angle to the sun.

4 Because the polarizer lens must be rotated, it can take longer to compose with.

5 If the filter isn’t kept perfectly clean, they have the potential to degrade image quality.

6 They can be difficult to see through the camera’s viewfinder.

7 We cannot use them with stitched panoramic photos or wide-angle shots.

Read Also:

A polarizer lens can sometimes improve the color and contrast of a rainbow by darkening the background clouds, but only if the filter is rotated precisely.

Including both ends of a rainbow usually causes the use of a wide-angle lens, which may cause the scene/rainbow to appear uneven.

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