Best Polarizer Filter
Polarizer filters remove non-metallic reflections that are a result of polarized light. This simple tool is extremely valuable when shooting outdoors and in areas with a lot of glass. It can make all the difference between a great picture and one that does not look good at all. There are two different types of polarizers; linear and circular. Here are the very best polarizer filters.
Best Circular Polarizer Filter:
With the rise in popularity of digital SLRs with large mirror boxes bouncing light up to metering and auto-focus sensors, circular polarizers saw a similar uptick in sales since circular (as opposed to linear) polarizers are compatible with SLR metering and auto-focus subsystems.
Typically, circular polarizers use a base linear polarizer plate and stack a quarter-wave plate behind the linear plate which has the effect of "scrambling" the polarized light as it comes from the linear plate. In the end you have non-unidirectional, or circular, polarized light which can be sent off the camera's mirror and off to the auto-focus and metering systems without blacking out the image from those sensors, like a simple linear polarizer would. Suffice it to say, it's not important that you understand how a circular polarizer does its business, but it IS important you use a quality polarizer which doesn't negatively affect your image. That's where this list comes in handy.
The circular polarizers on this list were chosen because they used the best quality glass and polarizing foils that properly polarize the light without introducing artifacts that can harm your image. These polarizers are also highly transmissive so they pass as much light as possible, having a minimal impact on exposure settings. Finally, all the filters on this list use state-of-the-art technology throughout their design and construction, with some filters incorporating features that guard against moisture seeping between the rings and some are both thin yet still offer front threads.
B+W's top-of-the-line polarizer is the XS-Pro HTC Kaesemann Nano circular polarizer and it performs as you would expect a top-of-the-line B+W to perform, flawlessly. Highly transmissive, feature-rich, and built to last a lifetime, this polarizer is the last circular polarizer you may ever buy. Read Full Review
Marumi's circular polarizer line are among the most transmissive polarizers on the market. Their EXUS brand is Marumi's highest quality filter. Hold one and you'll see EXUS are robust and exceptionally well-made. Use one and you'll see their optic quality is among the best. Read Full Review
The Hoya HD3 Circular Polarizer is the result of decades of filter-making expertise and it shows. The HD3 spares no expense in its build and optic quality and is a worthy upgrade to the estimable Pro1 circular polarizer. Read Full Review
Tiffen's most feature-rich circular polarizer, the Digital HT Multi-Coat is pricey, but its performance, build, and warranty justify the expense. If you are in the market for a top-quality circular polarizer, Tiffen's uniquely colored (it's titanium) Digital HT is one of the best on the market. Read Full Review
From one of the most respected names in photographic filters, the Singh-Ray Thin Warming Circular Polarizing is a popular addition in many professionals' bags because it adds a warming effect. This often offers a convenient and creative change of pace compared to the more common neutral circular polarizer, which are usually not truly "neutral" at all. Circular polarizers tend to cool the image, this filters gently warms the image instead. Read Full Review
Best Linear Polarizer Filter:
Linear polarizers differ from circular polarizers in that linear polarizers produce light that is aligned linearly, like rows of window blinds. Since they produce linearly polarized light, they cannot be used in conjunction with cameras that have beam-splitters like a mirror box in the optic path because mirror boxes also linearly polarize the light as they reflect it. This can cause the metering and auto-focus sensors to receive "cancelled out" light, which would appear as blackness to those sensors. However, mirrorless cameras, as the name implies, have no such mirror box in the optic path and are thus perfect candidates for linear polarizers.
There's nothing stopping you from using a circular polarizer on a mirrorless camera. As a matter of fact, most mirrorless owners use circular polarizers if for nothing more than convenience and availability. However, one benefit linear polarizers have over their circular counterparts is linear polarizers block less light from hitting the sensor, sometimes by more than half a stop. This could be a big deal in low light situations where every bit of light matters. Another advantage is they are relatively less expensive compared to circular polarizers. With photography, we should take advantage of every opportunity to save money where we can, which isn't often!
If you're so inclined, you could use a linear polarizer with a DSLR in live view mode which locks the mirror out of the way requiring you to check focus with the rear LCD panel. This setup would be beneficial to DSLR videgraphers since they only use the rear LCD to compose and check focus, and not the camera's viewfinder, auto-focus, or metering sensors, eliminating the use of the mirror box in the process.
Given how popular mirrorless and micro 4/3, another style of camera that does not use a mirror box, cameras have become, there has been a rise in the interest of linear polarizers. Despite this, there are far more circular polarizers on the market than linear. In fact, B+W, one of the most popular screw-on filter brands, as of this writing do not currently even list linear polarizers on their site. Though choices are slim, there are still some remarkable linear polarizers to choose from. This list is of the best five.
The filters on this list were chosen for their exceptional optic quality, many using the same exact glass formulas and grinding techniques found in top-of-the-line circular polarizers. The filters on this list also exhibit industry leading build quality, when you spend money you want to assurances you'll not have to be re-buying a little down the line because the filter rings have come apart! Finally, these filter incorporate features that make them all the more capable and using them all the more enjoyable such as utilizing industry-held color standards in their optics, perhaps reducing the time you spend adjusting your images in post-processing.
The Heliopan SH-PMC has the most features of any screw-on currently on the market, and it has a price tag to match. It's coated against flare, brass-ringed, and made from highly reputable Schott glass to make a winning linear polarizer combination. Read Full Review
Formatt Hitech are a brand more noted for their slide-in square and rectangular filters, but they also make great screw-in linear polarizers. Though not coated, the optics found on the Formatt Hitech Linear Polarizer are among the best of the best. Read Full Review
Hoya is known for their quality optics and filters. The Hoya Linear Filter uses in-house glass to produce a cost-effective, yet solidly performing linear polarizer. Read Full Review
The Tiffen SR Linear Polarizer is a very competative, mid-priced linear polarizer that offers neutral coloring and exceptional polarizing performance. Read Full Review
The Tiffen Warm Linear Polarizer not only performs admirably as a polarizer, it also adds a creative effect to the mix by "warming" the color of your image. This effect is a great option for achieving pleasant skin tones on overcast days or for adding a little pop to overcast outdoor scenes. Read Full Review