Updated August 2021
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Buying guide for best polarized lens filters

Photographers love to shoot beautiful nature scenes that show blue sky, open water, and forested areas. And while these landscapes seem like an easy scene to shoot with no fast-moving subjects, it occasionally ends in disappointment.

With bright sunlit photos that have a lot of sky in them, the photos sometimes end up washed out. This means the colors aren’t vibrant, the details in the scene are lost, and the photo doesn’t duplicate what you’re seeing with your eyes. One way to bring vibrancy back to this style of photo is with a polarized lens filter. The polarizing filter alters the way the camera measures the light from the scene. The filter reduces the effects of glare and reflections, preventing hot spots and washed out areas.

You must pick the right size of polarizing filter to fit your lens. And this type of filter doesn’t work with every kind of camera, including smartphone cameras. We’ve collected some ideas to help you use polarizing filters properly.

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Polarized lens filters improve the look of an outdoor scene with bright, direct sunlight by removing haziness from the scene. This results in brighter, vivid colors in the scene.

How do you know if the filter will fit your camera’s lens?

With a DSLR lens or mirrorless camera lens, you’ll often screw the filter into the end of the lens of the camera. The filter has threads that match the threads inside the edge of the lens. A smartphone or fixed lens camera won’t have the threads needed to screw on the filter.

Manufacturers create specific filters to fit specific lenses. You can’t just buy any polarizing filter and add it to any DSLR or mirrorless lens. It has to match the diameter of the lens.

Each lens should have its diameter marked in millimeters on the front end of the lens. The number usually will be signified with a circle and a diagonal or vertical line through it. It usually will not have “mm” next to the number. Common sizes are 52mm or 67mm. The lens may be marked like ϕ52 or ϕ67.

Other cameras make use of a filter bracket. This attaches to the end of the lens and holds the polarizing filter in front of the lens glass. You don’t have to worry about the diameter of the filter fitting your lens with a bracket. This is a nice feature when you’re using lenses with different diameters with your DSLR. You don’t have to buy different sizes of filters for each lens when using the bracket.

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Did you know?
Some photographers keep lens filters attached to the lens at all times. This protects the lens from scratches. After all, it’s cheaper to replace a filter than a lens.


Some photographers think of a polarizing filter like sunglasses for the camera. In fact, for basic cameras that can’t accept actual polarizing filters, some people will hold sunglasses in front of the lens to try to achieve the polarizing effect. But polarized lens filters has a few features you need to pay attention to that sunglasses don’t have.

Circular vs. linear

All polarizing lens filters are round in shape, but you can purchase either a linear or a circular filter. This term refers to the way the filter works instead of the shape.

The linear filter blocks glare better than the circular filter. However, it’s also more expensive.

Even though it doesn’t work as effectively, the circular polarizing filter is more commonly used with cameras. The circular filter allows you to use the autofocus and auto exposure features of your camera. The linear filter inhibits the measurements the camera uses to set these automatic features, leaving them ineffective.

When using a circular polarizing filter, you often can change the way the filter affects your photos by just twisting it a little bit inside the lens. This alters the way the filter blocks the light, ensuring you can find the right level for each photo.


Some polarizing filters have a color tint in them, which can result in incorrect colors in your photos. Look for a polarized lens filter that is color neutral, so it doesn’t affect the quality of the images.


With certain lenses, a filter with a thick rim can cause vignetting in the image. This is the loss of color quality and image sharpness at the edges of the photo. Thinner rims on the polarizing filter are preferred to avoid vignetting, but these filters usually cost more.

Polarized lens filters prices

Polarized lens filters typically don’t have a high price tag, especially compared to the cost of a lens. That’s why some people will use an inexpensive filter as a protection for the lens glass against scratches. (If you’re only seeking lens protection, UV lens filters are even cheaper than polarized lens filters.)


The least expensive polarized filters will cost $8 to $15. These filters will have wider rims, which may cause some problems with vignetting when used with a wide-angle lens. Additionally, they may not have high quality glass. However, they will work fine for everyday, amateur photography.


The majority of photographers can have an acceptable level of image quality with a mid-range polarized lens filter. These models will cost $15 to $40. Expect a good quality of glass in the filter and small thickness in the rim.


A high-end polarized filter can cost anywhere from $40 to $200. These filters will have very thin rims, outstanding glass, and excellent build quality. Only advanced amateur and professional photographers can take advantage of the quality of these high-priced filters.

We also should mention that the polarized lens filters will have varying costs based on the diameter of the filter. One model of filter can have a price difference anywhere from $25 to $50 between small and large sizes.

"Understand that using a polarizing lens filter blocks some of the light in the scene from entering the lens. You’ll need to adjust for the use of the filter in the camera’s settings."


Polarizing filters are not useful in every photographic situation. For example, you don’t want to use them for indoor photos. We’ve collected some tips to help you figure out which types of photos work best with a polarizing filter.

  • Photographs of foliage. Sunlight can reflect off certain types of leaves. This may cause washed out green colors when photographing a group of trees. With a polarizing filter, the green in tree leaves will be more vibrant.

  • Photographs through glass. When trying to shoot an object that’s behind glass, the reflection can cause problems with the photo. The polarizing filter cuts down on the glare and reflection, making the object clearer.

  • Photographs of shiny objects. Anytime you’re photographing an object that reflects light, a polarized lens filter cuts down on the glare. This results in fewer hot spots and better overall quality.

  • Photographs with sky. Photos with a lot of sky in the scene may seem hazy on a bright day. This leaves the sky a weak blue color with little detail from clouds visible. The polarized lens filter deepens the blue in the sky, while maintaining details.

  • Photographs around water. Bodies of water will have quite a bit of glare on a sunny day. This can cause white spots on the water and a washed out color. With the polarizing filter, the water takes on a deep, bright blue color, while minimizing the effect of the reflections.
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Polarizing filters sometimes can be paired with other types of lens filtration in a single filter. Things like warming, diffusion, and enhancing filtration may be paired with a polarizing filter.


Q. How does the polarizing filter work?

A. When shooting scenes where the sunlight creates a glare, the polarizing filter blocks some of the reflection. When sunlight strikes certain surfaces, it reflects and causes polarization. The polarizing filter absorbs some of this reflected light, reducing the effects of the glare. It also increases the details found in skies, bodies of water, and forests.

Q. How does a circular polarizer filter differ from a linear polarizer filter?

A. The two filters look the same, except for the way the circular polarizing filter is designed. The circular filter contains what’s called a quarter wave plane, which is not included in the linear filter. The quarter wave plane slightly changes the way it absorbs the polarized light, allowing for more accurate autofocus results and auto exposure measurements. You’ll need to use manual focus and set the exposure manually when using a linear polarizing filter.

Q. How does a polarized lens filter differ from some other types of filters?

A. A UV filter eliminates haze in the atmosphere, including heavy humidity in the air. A neutral density filter blocks significant amounts of light from the scene, allowing you to shoot scenes like solar eclipses safely. Some filters have color tints in them. A yellow filter is called a warming filter, while a blue filter is called a cooling filter. Color filters can add certain moods to a scene.

Q. What are the most common types of glare you’ll block with a polarizing filter?

A. Glare spots from water, glass, and other reflective surfaces can cause a problem in your photograph. These bright white spots are distracting in the final image. They also cause a loss of detail in those areas of the photograph. But the polarizing filter reduces those effects.

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