Before you spend the hard cash on filters and accessories, read this whole article.  Filters solved a great variety of tasks in FILM photography. Having lesser usage in the digital era if you have good after or post processing software, understand light and what you are doing.  Today they serve specific purposes.  

They can; Match the illumination to the type of color bias you are shooting under. Enhance contrast and colors;  Attenuate the amount of incoming light; Make the structures invisible to our eyes visible to the film;  Offer numerous optical effects for creative composition or for abstractions.

For film, filters made it possible to achieve photographs that simply could not be made without them by correcting and enhancing light or image. In digital, it may be just as important. For digital the critical filters are Polarizers, Neutral Density and Special effects.

It all started when camera dealers sold the filters more for added profit than added value. Competition from a new upstart in the retail industry called K-Mart started the price wars and that lowered prices and camera margins for the independent dealer.

Thus the accessory filter business was born. You matched the K-Mart price and then sold the customer additional lenses, with protective filters of course on everything to “protect” the lens.  The additional profit makes up the difference or slack in the deal. K-Mart usually just stuck to selling the cameras.

After a while, no-name or 2nd tier quality filters came on the market costing about a dollar a piece that retailed for nine dollars and that helped the bottom line. This was about the same time dealers sold you the Nikon or Canon with a “better lens option” like a 2nd tier, Quantum (Ritz) Sigma (Dr. Yamachi) or Tamron.  

So you got a new camera of good quality and cheaper aftermarket glass with cheaper aftermarket filters and you wonder today “Where did all the camera stores go”?  You also wondered about the quality of the photos that combo created.   "When I see these guys go under, I think of the car business and for years the same old game with the undercoating and glaze packages".  


Cutting to the chase, filters are made in three levels,  I did not say qualities. Vendors build filters in all the price ranges so they corner the market. Good old merchandising 101. 

Level one is the manufacturers own brand kept to a high tolerance because his name is on it. Level one is simple. The manufacturers own brand may contain rare-earth elements similar to those used in their proprietary glass and a better match for their lenses. Examples of these are the offerings made by Nikon with appropriate pricing because they make you think they were made by the Hubbell telescope company.

Level two is an independent with extremely good intent on producing a quality product still at a savings from level one.  Level two where I feel the most comfortable with and are filters made by B+W. which can replace and are on a par or better than level one.

Level three is “what do we have to do to get your money”. Level three includes the budget line of Hoya filters. For those on a budget or merely trying not to go broke Hoya’s can be an OK cost effective solution for photographers. 

Level four is CRAP - The flood of no-name off-shore garbage is unreal and found on eBay and some remaining retail stores. This is stuff they would not use in Petri Dishes, preferring plastic. They will be sold on eBay as long as Coke still bottles it's product in glass.

The B+W filter manufacturing company was founded in Berlin in 1947 by business partners Biermann and Weber. In 1985 the merger with the Jos. Schneider Optical Works in Bad Kreuznach expanded the B+W line of products with optical filters for science and technology.  

B+W also generated significant progress in multi-layer coating systems (MC). As a result, B+W became the first manufacturer of filters in the world to offer the innovative water-and dirt repelling MRC multi-layer coating process, which, in addition to its reflection-preventing qualities is also regarded as being especially scratch-resistant.  

B+W glass filters are manufactured virtually exclusively from glass supplied by the German Schott Group. In Bad Kreuznach, fabrication machines produce highly precise filters in an impressive variety of types and diameters. Quality controls are integrated at all key stages of the production process, and a final inspection of every individual filter ensures the renowned high B+W quality standard.

Glass rings and retainers were used in telescopes in Columbus’s day so the principle is not new. New is GPS, sure a GPS would of made his life easier. How an Italian, conned a Spaniard to hock her jewels, based on the theory that his own deep dish square pizzas (love Chicago) were not an accurate rendition of the world, and that a soccer ball was more accurate was one hell of a selling job.

However some filter propaganda contains mysterious multi-coatings, fairly invisible to the eye, secretive formulas and special rare-earth minerals add a mystique to the equation and we are all for believing in things and ultimately paying for it. Nothing like paying a premium for something you can't see.  After all a good story, right setting, eight hours sleep, and we believe in tooth fairies. It is also done every Sunday and it is tax-free. Just throw the money in and you receive many benefits.  You get my drift. Caveat Emptor.


They make basic level filters, sometimes called “green box filters because they come in green for profit boxes”. They are made in the Philippines.  Then you move up a notch, add some of the above mentioned coatings and make the glass thinner, do it in Japan and you have the HMC middle priced line of filters.  

I think Blue or Black boxes carry it further.  They add the proper word accelerator like: PRO, SUPER, Ultimate, Heavy Duty, Extreme or Maximum to the packaging more than the feminine products companies could dream of, and raise the price another thirty percent. Again, it’s the promise of better, better, more, more for your dollar, dollar.

I believe Hoyas are the biggest seller because they cover the price market best.  Their line makes the most profit for the dealer on the levels he sells at.  With internet fast shopping and price comparisons on line, lets face it, most folks if offered best price as a selection tool or option will punch that key first.

Tiffin get some grief because their filters are two pieces of glass with the color bonding layer sandwhiched in between. this make the filter thicker and adds two aditional bonded surfaces to the construction. the jury is still out and this has been talked about in the industry for years.  I'll pay the price and stick with B+W.

One drawback to most heavily multi-coated filters involves cleaning.  Layers of metallic coatings on a glass surface are not totally even and incorrectly cleaned or too much cleaning can abrade theses delicate surfaces and you wind up with an expensive piece of bad glass and in some cases can be seen by the naked eye.

This pertains to all manufacturers, primary and secondary since most of the secondary lines are renamed or supplied with private label.  The store may say RITZ but the filters are low-line HOYA most likely, for the econo tier and then they step it up with their deluxe which is probably the HMC version.  PRO or PRO-Master is a Hoya base-line for their stores. Just merchandising folks, that’s all there is. 

Tiffin is about the same in quality steps. Don't believe half the hype you hear. I have gotten some really bad product from Tiffen in the past at our store and we had to send it back.  Dirty glass, opened packages, they must have dumped returns on us. Hopefully they are cleaning up their act because they had some of the nastiest representatives at the PMA shows till I found one or two that were friendly. With a lessened PMA they better be nicer.

One of things we see on these higher end multi-coated filters is a haze or cleaning marks left by improper cleaning.  Yes these coatings are sensitive, and I hear idiotic suggestions from forum gurus  suggesting "nail polish remover " or micro-cloths which can totally ruin a filter or worse a lens. Washing a micro cloth and leaving residual soap in it is just as dangerous.  I use ZEISS wipes on glass period, use and throw away. Never twice.

Regardless of brand most of these multi-coated filters are difficult to keep clean and match one of these filters with a photographer with “CCD” (Compulsive Cleaning Disorder) and you have a problem.



Protection filters for Digital SLR Lenses - Usually clear optical quality glass (we hope) simple for protection of the expensive front element of the lens. In most cases all digital needs is a protective filter, and thats if you are careless, shoot in extreme conditions, cautious about damage to your lenses, and suffer from CCD (Compulsive Cleaning Disorder).  Digital post processing techniques can duplicate or correct many problems a filter would correct in pre-processing.  Even “white balance,” which may be corrected and fine tuned with a special cap or filter called an Expo-disk.


This group of slightly tinted filters is often left in place on the lens similarly to the clear optical filters above.  The purpose is to protect the camera lens from dust, moisture, and scratches. The UV filters aka skylight absorb the ultraviolet rays.  They may interfere with color balance so I go neutral.


Circular Polarizers – Neutral Density - Preferred for use with auto focus cameras to reduce reflections from surfaces. I call mine the “Glare Killer”.  Make sure to choose the appropriate type. It also increases color and saturation by reducing the flare a reflection brings to the picture especially when shooting at the beach or at other bright arenas. 


Neutral density filters: Either halve or quarter the light (commonly, there are others) so you can shoot long exposures by daylight whereas the scene would be too bright or you needed to show action such as a stream of water. In other words to lower the ASA/ISO or for f-stop and speed changes one can also use a Neutral Density filter which comes in different strengths.


  •  Starburst filters  (Make your own) use a diamond glass cutter and etch lines 3/16 apart in a grid fashion.
  •  Diffusion filters, mist/fog filters, (Make your own)  Use Krylon clear spray paint in frost or matte finish applied lightly to a plain glass filter.
  •  Soft focus filters, ( Make your own) Use Krylon approach as above but place a coin, depends on size in the center of the spray laying on the glass. After it dries, flip off the coin. Larger filters use a quarter, smaller a dime.

I have three lenses that all use 77 millimeter filters (pure luck) my stack is very small. I have clear optical, a digital polarizer and a neutral density in B+W quality in two sets.  The rest is done in HDR and Photoshop.

 © copyright aljacobs Stardate 10-18-2012