Best Polarizing Filters: Top 5 + How to Choose the Right One

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When it is time to step out of your comfort zone and expand the capabilities of your camera gear, a polarizing filter should be your first purchase.

Polarizing filters will allow you to take your photography to the next level creating vivid colors and brighter contrasts while reducing the haze a reflection that can occur while shooting outdoors.

Landscape photographers around the world recommend polarizing filters to get a beautiful shot the first time without having to touch it up in post. 

Nevertheless, it is important to understand why you should use these filters, how to use them and what they do to the image you are trying to capture. Here are a few things to note before purchasing your first polarizing filter. 

Top 5 Best Polarizing Filters

PRODUCTDESCRIPTION 
Best Polarizing FiltersHoya Alpha Circular Polarizer Filter
-3x3x3 inch Dimension
-0.8oz in weight
-Available in: 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm & 82mm
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Best Polarizing FiltersAmazonBasics Circular Polarizer Camera Photography Lens
-2.1x2.1x0.3 inch dimension
-0.64 oz weight
-Available in: 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm & 82mm
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Best Polarizing FiltersTiffen Circular Polarizer
-3.5x2.9x0.6 inch
-1.6 oz weight
-Available in: 28mm, 30mm, 34mm, 40.5mm, 43mm, 46mm, 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm & 82mm
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Best Polarizing FiltersHOYA PRO1 Digital Filter Circular Polarizer
-0.4x0.4x0.4 inch
-1.12 oz weight
-Available in: 37mm, 40.5mm, 43mm, 46mm, 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm & 82mm
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Best Polarizing FiltersNikon Wide Circular Polarizer II Filter
-2x4x4 inch
-10.6 oz weight
-Available in: 62mm, 67mm, 72mm & 77mm
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Quick Answer: The Best Polarizing Filters


How To Choose the Best Polarizing Filter


Why Purchase a Polarizing Filter?

Banff National Park photographed with a polarizing filter

Outdoor landscape photography is where polarizing filters really shine. For example, if you are shooting a mountain scene against blue skies and harsh sun your pictures may take on a “washed out” appearance.

When a polarizing filter is added that light is softened and the contrasts among the colors of the landscape become more vivid.

Similarly, when shooting on the water the glare from the light on the surface may throw off your white balance. A polarizing filter will diminish this effect giving you haze-free photos without having to adjust them later in photoshop. 

Also, if you have ever shot through a window you know how difficult it can be to get a clear picture without picking up the barrier. With a polarizing filter you can get great city-scape photos during the day that are completely glare free. 

While these adjustments can be added to the pictures in post-processing, it can never fully replicate the benefits of using polarizing filter.

Instead, you will spend more time in front of the computer editing potentially corrupting the integrity of the original shot. This is why a polarizing filter is an indispensable tool in a landscape photographers’ arsenal. 

How Polarizing Filters Work

Beach in the Galapagos Islands photographed with a polarized filter

A polarizing filter accomplishes these aforementioned improvements by changing the way your camera sees and treats light, specifically reflections and glare. Polarized light is that which is being reflected from the surface of an object and traveling only in one direction.

This is what causes glaring and the reduction of color intensity in high light environments.

A polarizing filter utilizes a layer of Polaroid (synthetic plastic) between two glass plates which reduces how much polarized light can reach the sensor within your camera. This is how it restores color intensity and reduces the haze. 

On average, a polarizing filter decreases light exposure by 2 f-stops, but the exact decrease can be measured by putting your camera into aperture priority mode and looking at your shutter speed before and after you put the filter on. 

The simplest way to think of a polarizing filter is like a pair of sunglasses for your camera. By slightly bringing down the intensity of light you are able to see more defined and colorful images.  


Types of Polarizing Filters


Kayaks on a beach in the Philippines photographed with a polarizing filter

Before we can dive into how to use a polarizing filter, we must first understand the two types available, circular and linear.

Both of these filters serve the same purpose of reducing the polarized light reaching your camera’s sensor, but they serve different purposes, have different effects, and are specific with their camera compatibility.  

Linear Polarizing Filters

Seascape on Easter Island photographed with a linear polarizing fllter

Linear polarizing filters selectively allow plane polarized light to pass through the camera at a certain orientation. This can be used to allow only vertically polarized light in or turned 90 degrees to only allow horizontally polarized light.

These affordable filters are the perfect accessory when shooting through water to capture the details of the rocks and marine life beneath or when shooting through glass.

This is because both glass and water reflect light more strongly and in a straight line. That means as you adjust your filter, it will cut out the reflected linear light removing glare, reflection and atmospheric haze. 

The downside of linear polarizing filters is they cannot be used on any cameras with TTL metering and/or autofocus, which is every modern DSLR.

This restricts you to only shooting with pre-1970’s or view cameras when using this filter, even though they tend to be more effective than their circular counterparts.  

PROS:

  • Inexpensive 
  • More effective 
  • Simple to use 

CONS: 

  • Extremely limited camera compatibility
  • Only blocks polarizing light at 1 angle 

Circular Polarizing Filters

Fiji Beach - Photographed with a circular polarizing filter

A circular polarizing filter accounts for both linear and circular polarized light that is reflected off of a landscapes surface. It accomplishes this by utilizing two elements, a linear polarizer and a quarter wave plate.

The quarter wave plate is attached to the back of the linear polarizer and as adjusted will allow the light that passes through to be circularly polarized. 

These filters can be used with almost any modern DSLR camera/lens rig and do not cause the metering errors seen when using linear filters. 

The only problem is their effectiveness is much subtler. While it will still decrease the haze and liven up your colors, it is not as surprising as the effects achieved from linear filters.

These filters also tend to be more expensive due to the additional parts and compatibilities.  

PROS: 

  • Can be used on almost all modern cameras/lenses
  • Eliminates metering errors
  • Accounts for the two types of polarized light

CONS: 

  • Not as powerful
  • More expensive 

How to Use a Polarizing Filter


Kayak in the Philippines photographed with a polarizing filter

When using a polarizing filter, you will be attempting to reach the maximum degree of polarization.

This is achieved by restricting the light coming from the main light source, generally the sun, by aiming your camera filter perpendicular to your light source. 

The easiest way to create maximum polarization is by pointing your index finger directly at the sun while sticking your thumb straight up.

When you rotate your wrist, while keeping your pointer finger on the sun, your thumb will move along the plane with the greatest impact.

You may aim your camera anywhere along this plane, you will have the strongest effect your filter can offer. 


Features to Look For in a Polarizing Filter


David Stock Jr in Baja photographed with a polarized filter

Now that you understand more about the basics of polarizing filters, we should look at some of the features found in the best polarizing filters. 

  • Slim rims: Filters that have larger rims can potential cause a vignette effect on your photos. That is why looking for filters with slim rims is particularly useful.  
  • Index mark: If you are shooting with a camera that does not have through-the-lens viewing, it is important to look for a filter that has an index mark printed directly on it. This will make it much easier to correctly align the filter. 
  • Filter bracket: This is a very useful feature if you want to avoid buying different filter sizes for each lens. The bracket instead hold the filter in front of the lens glass, so you don’t have to worry about the diameter of the filter that would otherwise be threaded directly onto the lens. 
  • Multi-coated: These extra coatings on the filter help to further reduce lens flare and ghosting caused by reflections. While a little more expensive than mono-coated filters, it is worth it to get the most out of your polarizing filter. 

Best Polarizing Filter Recommendations


Hoya PRO1 Digital Circular PL

Hoya PRO1 Digital Circular PL

The Hoya PRO1 is one of the highest quality polarizing filters you can purchase at a reasonable price.

This filter is packed with technology designed specifically for digital cameras and produces stunning image results, boosting the colors and contrast of your subject without affecting the overall color balance of the shot. 

SPECS: 

  • Digital multi-coated 
  • Low profile frame
  • Ultra-thin filter frame 
  • Lightweight build 
  • Multiple sizes compatible with most DSLR lenses

Check HOYA PRO1 Digital Filter Circular Polarizer price at Amazon


Tiffen Circular Polarizer

Tiffen Circular Polarizer

Tiffen is a leading name throughout the camera field and with good reason. Tiffen pays close attention to the quality of both the images produces from their filters as well as the construction.

In fact, they have so much confidence in this product they offer a 10-year warranty. Tiffen boasts an exclusive Colorcore process as well as an Academy Award for their technology.

You can’t get much higher accreditation than that in the camera world. 

SPECS: 

  • Screw in filter 
  • Standard compatibility range 
  • High quality Colorcore glass 
  • Black aluminum filter ring 
  • Slim, low profile frame 

Check Tiffen Circular Polarizer price at Amazon


AmazonBasics Circular Polarizer

AmazonBasics Circular Polarizer

One of the most popular special-effect filters, the circular polarizer helps outdoor photographers–professionals and aspiring enthusiasts alike–capture that awe-inspiring image.

Unlike a static single film polarizer, the circular polarizer gives you control over the angle of the polarizing effect in relation to the light. By reflecting certain light rays, the polarizing filter only allows select light rays to enter the camera lens.

From vibrant sunsets over the ocean to vast mountains and grand canyons to family photos in the backyard, the AmazonBasics circular polarizer will help take your outdoor images from simple to sublime.

SPECS:

  • Circular for control over the angle of the polarizing effect
  • Deepens the intensity of blue skies
  • Reduces or eliminates glare
  • Waterproof layer
  • Multi-coating reduces reflection
  • For use with auto-focus and non-auto-focus cameras

Check AmazonBasics Circular Polarizer Camera Photography Lens price at Amazon


Hoya Alpha Circular Polarizer Filter

Hoya Alpha Circular Polarizer Filter

The Hoya 49mm alpha Circular Polarizer Filter helps to reduce reflections and glare by filtering out light that has become polarized due to reflection from a non-metallic surface.

The light from the sun naturally becomes partially polarized due to reflecting off electrons in air molecules, causing the light to scatter into what appears as haze.

SPECS:

  • Helps to Eliminate Reflections and Glare
  • Reduces Haze in Landscapes
  • Circular Polarizer Filter
  • 3 to 4x Filter Factor, +1.6 to 2 Stops
  • 3x3x3 inch Dimension
  • 0.8oz in weight

Check Hoya Alpha Circular Polarizer Filter price at Amazon


Nikon Wide Circular Polarizer II Filter

Hoya Alpha Circular Polarizer Filter

The Nikon Wide Circular Polarizer II Filter dramatically reduces reflections from water and glass as well as rendering blue skies darker.

These Nikon filters enable shooting through glass windows and minimize glare from reflective surfaces and are compatible with both color and monochrome photography.

SPECS:

  • Dramatically reduces reflections from water and glass as well as rendering blue skies darker
  • Minimizes glare from reflective surfaces
  • Enables shooting through glass windows
  • Compatible with both color and monochrome photography

Check Nikon Wide Circular Polarizer II Filter price at Amazon


Not finding what you are looking for? Check out our favorite places to go shopping for travel gear.

  • Shop Columbia: The industry leader in outdoor apparel and products; You can find anything from great jackets, gloves, hats, shirts and travel pants.
  • Shop REI: They offer some of the best outdoor gear around. We love REI since they have a year Love it or hate it no questions guarantee.
  • Shop Moosejaw: Has a huge selection of outdoor gear at killer prices.

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA



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