Firstly if photography has been your hobby (or worse yet, your profession) for a couple of years now and you’re still calling them Polarizing Lenses, you’re doing it wrong! The beginners and less informed have an excuse but I’m here to set you straight. There’s no such thing. Well, not in the photographic sense anyway. If there were, they’d probably look a little something like this:
Yep, hardly a fashion statement! They’re Polarizing Filters… or ‘Polarising’ if you will. Half of you probably came here to correct me, good! But stick around you might learn something.
Linear, Circular, Screw on, Slot in, Multicoated, Non-Multicoated, Hoya, B+W, Photoshop it, don’t Photoshop it, where do I start? At the beginning I guess.
What You Need to Know About Polarizing Lenses
Do you need one? Of course you do. Photography owns you now and life won’t be complete until you have at least one of everything. If you can’t afford one, don’t dare steal one from a friend! Touching a fellow photographer's gear is like punching Jesus himself.
Is a Linear or Circular Polarizing Filter Best for You?
The visual effect they have is the same. There is a technical difference between the two and it has nothing to do with the shape. I’ll try to explain it in its simplest terms.
The way the light passes through either type of filter is different. A linear polarizer won’t work correctly on your fancy auto focus, beam splitting metering photographic apparatus (basically any SLR/Mirrorless with autofocus, digital or otherwise) – they’ll likely give you focusing issues and underexpose everything to the bejesus.
So, for most of you, you’re going to want a Circular Polarizer, Cir-Pol for short or CPL for shorter. Luckily these are pretty much all that stores keep these days.
On the other hand, all you photo veterans out there still walking around with hand held light meters and a manual focus system that belongs in a museum (like me), it doesn’t matter, you can use either.
Screw-on or Slot-in?
This time I am referring to the shape. You can buy slot-in ‘circular’ and ‘linear’ polarizers just like you can buy screw-on ‘circular’ and ‘linear’ polarizers.
The most common type is a screw-on, similar to your typical UV filter in that it has an amazing feature – ‘a thread’ to mount it to the front of your lens. The other important feature is the rotating glass element to adjust the polarity. It’s what I use and it’s what probably 99% of others use.
The other type; slot-in. Designed to be used in a filter system like Lee’s or Cokin’s. There really is no major advantage to this system and it’s typically used only when a screw on polarizer isn't an option.
Multicoated or Non multicoated?
This mostly comes down to a longevity thing. Multicoated Polarizing Filters have multiple coatings. What? Really….? Funny that!
The coatings provide extra resistance against marks and scratching but generally come at a premium. The coatings also help to cut down flare from the sun, though this should seldom be an issue (more on that later).
Do I recommend spending the extra on multicoated? You bet.
What Are the Best Brands for Polarizing Filters?
Hoya, Lee, B+W…….. there are literally hundreds on brands to choose from. Where to begin with choosing one… Well if you stick with one of the aforementioned you probably can’t go too far wrong.
Hoya make a particularly interesting polarizer, the HD. It’s multicoated, scratch and stain resistant (I’ve seen people go at these with scissors) and it comes out trumps. It also transmits 25% more light than most. (That’s a good thing)
Funny word that……… ‘scissors’
Warning! You Cannot Really Photoshop The Same Effect as a Polarizer!
So polarizers increase the colour saturation and reduce reflections. But you can Photoshop it right? Bump up the saturation, she’ll be sweet. Wrong! A million times. No! Polarizers don’t technically increase colour saturation, the colours and saturation are already there, the sun just ‘bleaches’ it out.
Eliminate the reflections and you reveal the colour. This can only be done prior to capturing the shot.
On your lunch break, do me a favour and stare at bush. Yep, you heard. Sunny or not, take note of the leaves. There’ll be a few that look almost colourless and white. I’m willing to bet it’s more colourful than it leads on. Unless of course you’re reading this in another galaxy, in which case I retract my wager. My knowledge of intergalactic fauna is limited to only that of Avatar.
Side note – send me to take landscape photos on Pandora with the Na'vi any day.
Using A Polarizer – the Correct Way
Polarizers work best when facing 90 degrees from the sun. In other words, midday will give you the best polarized results for most landscapes. (Northern and Southern Pole excepted) Very rarely would you see much effect when shooting into the sun. Should you feel the need, a multicoated filter will help. Here’s an example of the odd occasion when you may want to.
I used a polarizer to reduce the reflections and reveal the lilies in the foreground.
The most annoying thing about polarizing filters (or physics rather) is they’re used mostly for landscapes, as are wide angle lenses. However, you’ll likely regret using the two together. A polarizer on a wide angle lens will do this:
It’ll ruin your blue sky. Uneven polarization, there’s nothing worse. Except maybe stepping on lego barefoot.
To contradict everything I just said; I use a polarizer a lot and I only own a wide lens. I use it when the sky is not a factor or it's heavily obscured. Beneath the trees! Remember the bush?
Now, if you want to use a polarizer on a wide angle you’re likely going to run into another issue – ‘vignetting’. The more expensive polarizers are often (but not always) a slim filter. If you intend on using a polarizer on a wide lens, definitely invest in a slim one. Again the Hoya HD is one of them.
Well, I hope you’re now up to speed on polarizing lenses, filters. I look forward to seeing your polarized shots and I’ll leave you with one of mine.