Owning and using lens filters is one of the marks that distinguishes a casual or novice photographer from a serious camera slinger. They allow you to take shots in a wider variety of situations and even improve the quality of your photos without the need for post-processing.
They’re also a fairly inexpensive accessory that’s easy to integrate into your kit! Below is everything you need to know about camera lens filters – and how the savvy smartphone photographer can use them to their advantage.
What is a camera lens filter?
A camera lens filter is a transparent material that alters the characteristics of the light that meets the lens, and eventually the sensor.
They were developed long ago for use with analog or film cameras when editing was either impossible or impractical. Despite that, they’ve aged incredibly well. Lens filters are not only useful in modern photography but, in many cases, still a better option that post-processing with a digital image!
There is an intrinsic difference between a physical filter and a software filter (like the ones slathered all over Instagram posts). Namely, editing the light that hits the sensor is less “damaging” to the photo than editing pixels in post-processing.
No matter how good the software, a computer won’t be able to accurately predict and modulate an image to equal the real-life counterpart. That’s why you should preferentially use a light hand when editing and instead rely on superior photography skills.
A lens filter helps you accomplish that.
Types of Camera Lens Filters
Traditional camera lens filters come in two types: screw-on and friction (or square) filters.
Screw-on is exactly what it sounds like – the filters screw on to the end of your lens. A friction filter is a “box” of sorts that is attached to the lens, then different square filters can be slotted in and out or even combined.
For camera phone filters, the preferred method is a one-size-fits-all clip-on lens that will go directly over the camera (or sometimes on top of phone camera lenses). These have the benefit of being supremely easy to equip and remove.
There are many different types of lens filters, but here are a few of the most common and widely-applicable ones. Most of these come in varying strengths as well. If you’re not sure, lean towards the less powerful versions until you get a good idea of their effect.
UV / Haze Lens Filters
These filters help to reduce the amount of interference from UV light, as well as ambient conditions that amplify the light. They tend to make an image a little warmer.
For example, when shooting near a large body of water, across far distances, near snow, or in a place with a lot of air pollution, light will usually be reflected and wash out the photo. UV, or haze filters, cut out the amount of ultraviolet light that gets to the sensor.
Polarizing Lens Filters
Just like your fancy sunglasses, polarizing lenses totally change the way light enters the sensor (or your eye, for that matter).
There are a few things you’ll notice immediately when trying one out:
- Reduced, or totally removed, glares and reflections. Now you can see into windows or clear water!
- Rich, saturated colors. Try looking at clouds or mountains.
- Landscapes look better every time.
While most polarized lens filters come in grades, there are some that you can twist to manually choose the level of polarization. These lens filters are a must for any photography that’s done outdoors, really – bright beaches, reflective cities, and sunset shots all benefit.
Neutral Density Filters
These are particularly nifty lens filters for photographers that like to do any kind of slow shutter or wide-aperture work. A neutral density filter (ND) is essentially just a gray filter that reduces the total light that enters the sensor. It just makes things darker… and that’s really helpful.
After all, long exposures are practically impossible during the day. The photo is invariably too exposed. You can also adjust your aperture, or f-stop, as much as you want without fear of a similar problem. Without an ND filter, these techniques are only really usable during the morning or evening.
Not anymore, baby! Long exposure all day!
Are there camera lens filters for phones?
Yes, there are! In fact, there are a fair few lens filters made just for phones.
That’s necessary because traditional camera lens filters are usually made to fit a certain lens dimension (often 62mm). These aren’t going to fit on your phone camera’s clip-on lens. Most phone lenses, and thus the filters, are 37mm.
Fortunately, since phone lenses are often clip-on, it means that most of them are compatible with just about any phone. Yup, you can use the same lens for iPhone and Android, as well as the same lens filters.
What are the benefits of using camera lens filters?
The chief reason for using a camera lens filter is that it broadens your pool of possible photographs in a given situation. By adjusting the light that the sensor receives, you have more potential pictures.
Here are some more advantages of using camera lens filters:
- Reduce or eliminate the need for editing (saving time and picture quality)
- Manipulate light levels to take pictures at any time or in any place
- Reduce glare in a reflective environment
- Take pictures that can see into water
- Increase resolution in telephotography by reducing haze
- Increase or decrease contrast
- You look more impressive with fancy gear
Best Camera Filters for your Smartphone
APEXEL offers a solid selection of camera lenses (and filters) for an affordable price with this bundle.
While they aren’t professional quality lenses, they’re more than sufficient for people looking to explore the effects that lens filters can have on their phone photography. The equipment in this kit should be suitable for almost any smartphone, but note that it might block the flash depending on your model.
Note that this kit also comes with a wide angle lens and a macro lens that thread together and allow the filters to be applied on top. The thread size is 17mm.
These are a step up from the previous entry, both in diameter and quality. The Neewer Lens filters (and accompanying 0.45x wide angle lens) are high-quality lens filters suitable for work at any level.
The kit includes a modern CPL (circular polarizer filter) and an adjustable neutral density filter rated at ND-2 400, which is a good midrange ND filter. Also included are a range of graduated color filters. Although not widely applicable, the color filters can make for some interesting and unique shots.
And the microfiber cleaning cloth is a nice touch.
How to Adapt Camera Filters for Smartphone Use
There’s an easy way to do this and a hard way.
The hard way involves scissors, tape, rubber bands, and frustration.
The easy way is to use the incredible new Moment Filter Mount.
This isn’t a filter itself. It’s a mount that allows you to use any standard 62mm screw-in filter with your smartphone. The obvious use is recycling the camera filters you use for your traditional camera.
But, for the hardcore among us, it’s also a way to utilize really high-end filters (like Kaeseman filters) on our smartphones.