Lens filters come in a range of styles, from inexpensive UV protectors to multicoated pro-grade options with three-figure asking prices.
Their cost is reflected by a number of factors: the optical materials used, as well as the type and number of coatings, for example, all of which determine how well they can transmit light and reduce reflections.
Their external construction also varies with price; more expensive filters boast matt finishes to reduce reflections, and shallow profiles to minimise vignetting, where the edges of the frame darken due to the edges of the filter creating an obstruction. There are many varieties available, but here's our selection of our six favourite camera lens filter kits.
Although the effects created by many filters can be successfully replicated in image editing software, polarisers and neutral density filters are the two that are useful to have on as you shoot, because some of their more useful effects can't be recreated easily (or at all) with software.
Neutral density filters reduce exposure. As such, they're useful when you may not, for whatever reason, want to decrease the aperture of your lens.
It's possible to buy these in different strengths, and you can combine multiple filters for extreme effects, although multiple filter use can introduce reflections and cause vignetting, particularly with cheaper varieties that may not be manufactured to exacting standards.
Graduated neutral density filters are ideal for balancing bright skies with darker foreground details, which explains why they're traditionally employed for landscape use. Here, you will need to buy square filters because circular grad filters are impractical (and so, rarely made).
Unless you already have one, you may need to buy a holder of some kind for mounting a square filter, as these do not simply screw onto a lens in the same way as a circular type. Fortunately, these are generally inexpensive (although you can pay a lot for some) and may enable you to mounts a range of other square filters designed for different systems.
Polarisers come in linear or circular varieties, although for a DSLR you should always go for the latter type as the former can confuse both metering and autofocus systems.
The use of a UV filter to protect the front of your lens is a point of contention among photographers. Proponents argue that their use makes sense when the cost of a broken filter is weighed up against the cost of a damaged lens, while others argue that adding any further optical elements to a lens stands to degrade image quality.
A sensible compromise between the two would be a high-quality filter with multicoatings and a shallow profile, although these come at a cost.
Kood Light Yellow Gradient Filter - £12 (about $18)
These individual Kood filters slot into a Cokin P-series holder. They cost a little more than half the price of similar Cokin filters. However, Kood only make ND grads in ND2 and ND4 options (soft or hard transition).
This yellow grad filter is ideal for emphasising clouds against blue skies, and its subtle effect is useful when other filters are inappropriate. However, a sturdy case would be welcome.
Cokin H200A Portrait 1 Filter Kit - £40/$57
This kit's P027 81B warm-up filter will give you warm skin tones. The P840 Diffuser 2 gives a soft-focus look and a flattering finish. Finally, a P071 Centre Spot Warm Incolour 2 filter keeps the central area of the frame sharp while throwing everything else out of focus.
SRB P-size ND Grad Kit - £46 (about $72)
Unusually, this high-quality resin-based filter set includes not three but four P-sized ND grads, adding a four-stop ND16 to the usual mix of ND2, ND4 and ND8 filters. This means that up to four stops of light can be cut from the brightest part of an image using a single filter. This should be more than enough for most situations, but if not, the filters can be used together.
The filter holder costs an additional £5 and is identical to the Cokin P-series holder. Thanks in part to their chamfered corners, the filters slip in to the holder easily.
SRB filters come in a choice of soft or hard transitions; hard is best for clean horizons, while soft works better for trees or mountains. At this price you can afford to buy both. We found the filters are neutral and didn't impart any colour cast, making them ideal for retaining detail in white clouds.
Cokin H250A ND Graduated Filter Kit - £50/$79
Graduated Neutral Density filters even out exposure differences in landscapes and these square filters are particularly useful. The kit comes with P121L (one-stop), P121M (two-stop) and P121S (three-stop) filters of darkening, plus a standard filter holder, so the only extra you need is an adaptor ring, which costs about £13.
We identified a little vignetting on ultra-wide lenses, but a wide-angle filter holder is also available for around £13.
Cokin H117 Creative Filter Kit - £60/$108
Cokin's P-Series kits typically include a filter holder that can accommodate up to three square filters and three filters. You get the P056 Star 8 filter for turning lights into stars, a P123 Gradual Blue to turn grey skies blue and a P830 Diffuser 1 for a soft-focus effect.
Hoya Pro1 77mm Digital Filter ND8 - £70/$88
This filter cuts exposure by three stops, and boasts multi-coatings for improved light transmission. Its slim profile makes it less susceptible to causing vignetting, and image quality is high.
Hitech 100mm ND Grad Kit - £71/$158
This collection of three filters is available with either soft-edge or hard-edge transitions. Excellent quality is matched by a superbly engineered aluminium filter holder, although this costs an extra £56. The holder includes a front-mounting adaptor ring to enable you to fit extra 105mm screw-in filters or a lens hood.
Hoya Pro1 Digital Twin Filter Kit (58mm) - £75/$152
These filters are super-slim to cut the risk of vignetting and have advanced multi-coated surfaces to reduce ghosting and flare. This kit combines a clear lens protection filter and a circular polariser to add drama to landscapes.
Tiffen Digital HT Ultra Clear 77mm - £75/$80
This scratch-resistant protective filter has anti-reflective coatings, which are durable enough for repeated cleaning. It's well made, and light transmission is high, although you pay for the privilege.
ExpoDisc Pro White Balance Neutral Filter - £79/$100
A pocket-sized custom white balance tool that thrives when auto white balance falters.
Hoya Pro1 Digital ND4 and ND8 (58mm) - £90 (about $140)
On sunny days, ND filters enable you to use large apertures to minimise depth of field. These screw-in, non-graduated filters offer a two- or three-stop reduction respectively, or you can use both for a five-stop reduction.
B+W XS-Pro Digital MRC Nano KSM Circular Polariser - £195/$210
Nearly 200 quid/over 200 bucks is a lot to pay for any kind of filter, although most can't claim to be constructed to the same standard as this polariser from B+W. It features seven layers of anti-reflective coatings, in addition to an eight layer Multi resistant nano Coating (MrC) to better repel water droplets for easier cleaning. B+W even claims that with this coating being harder than glass, the filter is protected against scratches.
The brass filter ring is painted a matte black to minimise any reflections, and has a shallow profile of just under 7mm. Because of its size, however, it can be awkward to remove from the lens. still, it doesn't appear to introduce any vignetting (even at wide apertures), and image quality remains high overall. another premium- priced product that justifies the outlay.