High 5: Optical Filters

Five must-have optical filters for every shooter's kit.


Haze or UV
Often used to protect lens surfaces, haze filters can remove upt o 75 percent of ultraviolent light, a contributing element to the blush cast that can rob distant landscapes of color and contrast. If you shoot a lot of scenics and you're rough on lenses, get a haze (or UV) filter. We used the HOYA Haze UV (0) ($21, street). for info:www.thkphoto.com; 800-421-1141.

Split Neutral-Density
Typically available in one-or-two-stop strengths, split neutral-density (ND) filters tame high-contrast scenes by narrowing (even equalizing) the dynamic range between highlights and shadows. Gray on one end and clear on the other, the shift can be hard or soft (graduated). Get both types. Also, square ND filters are preferred over threaded rings for the flexibility they offer in positioning the divide between highlight and shadow. (With rings, the line is always center-frame.) We used the Coken P-series Gradual Neutral Grey G2 ($24, street). For info: www.omegasatter.com; 410-374-3250.

Soft Focus
Prized by portraitists for downplaying wrinkles, soft focus go by many names (diffusers, mist filters, etc.) and come in many stykes and strengths. Besides rejuvenating, they tone down garishy saturated colors, decrease over all contrast, create halos and highlights, and add romance to old time landscapes. Use them on camcorders to give video the softer look of a motion picture. We used Lee Soft Focus filter ($60 for a set of five, street). For info: www.leefiltersusa.com; 800-576-5055.

One of the few lens accessories whose effects can't be replicated with software, a polarizer can minimize (even eliminate) annoying reflections in glass, water, and foliage (but not from metal or mirrors); add saturation; darken and intensify blue sky; and boost contrast. It's a must for foliage-filled landscapes. Circular is safer then linear. We used Tiffen's Circular Polarizer Filter ($51, street). For info: www.tiffen.com; 800-645-2522.

Essential for slides, warmers counteract the blue cast of light under trees or overcast skies; they also give a healthy glow to portraits. Their designation is usually taken from Kodak's Wratten filters, numbered, in increasing strength, 81A, 81B, 81C, etc. In b&w at the maximum (81EF), they add dramatic contrast between clouds and sky. We used the B+W KR-3 [81C] warming filter ($70, street). For info: www.schneideroptics.com; 800-228-1254.