Polarized

Shortly after I bought my first DSLR, about a year and a half ago, I added an inexpensive filter set (around $10) to my holiday wish list. I knew that if I was going to be at all serious about photography, I would need to understand how to use filters… and $10 seemed like a good price for that. My son obligingly fulfilled this item on the list. I didn’t know of any good way to test the filters out at the time, so I put them away for a sunny day.

Well, you guessed it! Today was sunny and a bit hazy, a good day for testing out the circular polarizer filter.

To cut to the chase, here are some comparison shots I took this afternoon. The shots with the filter in a neutral position are on the left, the polarized shots are on the right. I haven’t done any post-processing on these other than some crops.

(Disclaimer: these are not especially good photographs. They’re here for illustrative purposes only.)

On the first set, some grass by the lake, I immediately noticed that the filter smoothed out the differences in exposure and warmed up the colors a little:

Grass without filter     Grass with filter

In this next pair of shots, I was expecting to see some difference in the way the light reflected off the water. Instead, I saw (once again) the warmer, softer colors in the trees and grass:

Without filter     Boat with filter

So I tried once more at a nearby pond, and this time saw a huge difference in the amount of glare. (Yes, that’s a frog in the middle):

Pond before filter     Pond with filter

You may have noticed, as I did, that all of the above shots seem kind of blurry. To test this, I followed up with a couple of shots of my dog’s ball (I know – exciting subject) – and found this difference, when I zoomed in on the results:
Ball without filter      Ball with filter

Yup – looks pretty obvious! On very close inspection you can see that the filter causes some amount of blur.

So the verdict is that the circular polarizer really helps when the sun is harsh, but the critics are right when they say that putting a cheap filter on a good lens is a waste of good lens. I think the lesson was worth the $10, though, don’t you?

(In the “if I knew then what I know now” category: I could have used a good filter on last year’s trip to Sycamore Gardens!)

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