With one of the best polarizing filters, you're much more equipped for outdoor photography. Polarizing filters, or polarizers as they're commonly known, are ideal for boosting the vibrancy and contrast in your images.
They reduce unwanted reflections in water and glass, as well as enhance the color of skies by cutting out haze. It's an effect that can't be replicated easily in post-processing, which is why an inexpensive polarizer is such a good buy for pretty much any photographer.
A polarizing filter works by cutting out certain light waves, thereby reducing the level of glare and haze from the sunlight. They come into their own especially when you're photographing large bodies of water like rivers, lakes, or the ocean. Cutting out reflections allows you to capture the character and color of the water with much more depth, improving the overall quality of the image.
Even if you're using some of the best photo editing software, this is a difficult effect to achieve digitally. Much like the best neutral density filters, polarizers have stayed enduring popular in the digital age because they do something unique that happens at the moment of capture.
There are a few good tips for getting the best out of a polarizer. We'd recommend shooting with the sun at a 90º angle for best results, and remember that some polarizers like the newer LEE Elements range allow you to control the intensity of the effect, so you can make adjustments depending on the conditions. For a few more helpful tips, click to jump straight down to our section on what to look for in the best polarizing filters.
Here are our recommendations for the best polarizing filters you can get right now.
best polarizing filters: our top picks
This HD nano Mk II filter is a simply superb circular polarizer. Build quality is epic, the glass is toughened and the nano structure coatings are hard as nails. In our tests, we found that there’s actually less of a darkening effect than usual.
Marumi offers slightly confusing four distinct ranges of circular polarizers, each with different glass/coating combinations. The DHG Super range gets a water and oil-repellent coating, which works well, easily beading away droplets and resisting fingerprints.
The best money can buy
For a long time, LEE Filters were only available as part of a holder system, requiring an extra attachment to get on and off the front of the lens.
The best polarizing filters
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This HD nano Mk II filter is a simply superb circular polarizer. Build quality is epic, the glass is toughened and the nano structure coatings are hard as nails. In our tests we found that there’s actually less of a darkening effect than usual. Compared with most circular polarizers, this Hoya delivers 25 per cent more light transmission, which equates to about half an f/stop.
It’s not only a bonus when using the optical viewfinder of a DSLR, but also when you need to retain speedy shutter speeds under low lighting. It’s available in a wide range of popular sizes, overall performance is spectacular and it’s well worth the investment.
See our full Hoya HD Nano Mk II CIR-PL review.
Marumi offers a slightly confusing four distinct ranges of circular polarizers, each with different glass/coating combinations. The DHG Super range gets a water and oil-repellent coating, which works well, easily beading away droplets and resisting fingerprints, albeit not quite as well as the Lee Polariser.
However, DHG Super polarizers don’t incorporate high light transmission glass, as found in Marumi’s EXUS polarizers, which may explain why our sample filter restricted light by half-a-stop more than the best filters on test. Otherwise, optical performance is excellent, with no drop in image sharpness, and no sign of color casts or vignetting. The latter is mainly thanks to a slim frame design that’s a whisker under 5mm thick. It screws very smoothly into your lens’ filter thread, and the polarizer’s front element rotation is also slick.
With filter thread diameters available in all common sizes from 37mm through to 95mm (and even an elusive 105mm option, if you can find it), there’s a DHG Super polarizer for almost any lens, and most are very well priced, in the UK at least.
See our full Marumi DHG Super Circular PL review
Best money can buy
For a long time, LEE Filters were only available as part of a holder system, requiring an extra attachment to get on and off the front of the lens. However, in 2021, the company finally relented and came out with the Elements series – circular filters designed to be quickly attached and detached from a lens without the need for a holder.
Made from premium glass, the Elements Polarizer also has a useful adjustment ring to allow you to fine-tine the polarizing effect. It won't fit all lenses as its minimum thread size is 67mm, but it covers a range that includes a lot of optics. If you don't mind a slightly higher asking price, we would say that the Elements Polarizer is absolutely worth it.
Best with NX filter holder
The NX-Series is Cokin's latest slot-in filter system, taking 100mm wide filters. The NX CPL has been specifically designed to fit into this frame system - so is best suited to those who want a range of different filters to use with their cameras, rather than just a polarizer.
In our tests, we were impressed that the smart, low-profile aluminum holder is compatible with wide lenses (up to an EFL of 16mm). Cokin sells the NX-Series Holder and CPL filter separately, but they are also available together in a number of kits, including the NX-Series Starter kit which includes 72mm, 77mm and 82mm adapter ring plus a 100x100mm frame and a 100x143.5mm frame for holding Cokin Nuance square or rectangular filters (or other filters of the same size and 2mm thickness). See our full Cokin NX CPL review.
Best for versatility
Lee’s Polariser works in conjunction with the LEE100 100mm filter system. This is based around the LEE100 holder that attaches to your lens via a suitably sized adapter ring. The polarizer then clips to the front of the holder, leaving space for additional square filters to slide in behind.
This system means the polarizer is large at 105mm in diameter, allowing it to cover numerous different lens diameters. It’s also very easy to rotate, and it clips into the holder much more easily than trying to screw a conventional polarizer onto your lens. However, the clip-in mechanism is surprisingly difficult to detach again, requiring more squeeze than is comfortable. Another consideration is the combined filter, holder and adapter ring cost, which is significant.
But that said, you get what you pay for. Lee’s glass has no negative impact on image sharpness, it only reduces light transmission by just over 1-stop, and you needn’t worry about any sign of color casts. This is also easily the best filter for resisting fingerprints and repelling water, with droplets beading away perfectly. Lee even includes a high quality zippered pouch in which to store the filter.
See our full Lee Filters LEE100 Polariser review
Best for most users
Tiffen's hugely reliable filters are known among photographers for being a good affordable option, and so it goes for the firm's Circular Polarizer range. These filters are cheaper than most, and come in a good range of sizes from 25mm right up to 92mm.
There's a slight cool cast to them, but it's not too pronounced, and light transmission and sharpness are generally very good. The high-quality ColorCore Glass construction is what gives the filters their excellent overall quality.
They're a little thicker than some of the others on this list, but not enough to really be a problem.
Best with Cokin's P-series
The well-established Cokin P-series range of filters is known for being affordable and offering a wide range of creative effects, including polarizers. Most of the range is square or rectangular, fitting into the mount via a P-series filter holder. This filter holder attaches to your lens with an adaptor ring, which is available for lenses with attachment threads of between 48mm and 82mm.
The filter holder has three slots for filters. One fits circular filters, such as the Cokin P164 polarizer. However, there are also two central slots that fit square or rectangular shaped filters as well. The knurled outer edge of the P164 polarizer is designed to ergonomically allow easy rotation.
While the Cokin P-series is affordable, we did feel that the plastic holder felt a little flimsy in comparison to the Lee Filters holder, or the newer Cokin NX System. We also found that there was a slight warm color cast and some muddiness in darker areas.
Best for everyday
B+W’s premium XS-Pro circular polarizers come in a huge range of thread diameters to suit lenses from tiny Micro Four Thirds optics through to beefy large aperture super-teles. A cheaper ‘F-Pro’ range is also available, but at the time of writing, the price difference isn’t vast.
Filter thickness is 4.5mm when fitted - not quite as wafer-thin as Cokin's Nuances circular polarizer, but you’re still unlikely to encounter any vignetting. An advantage of the marginally thicker design is that the rear filter element’s frame is slightly easier to grip when screwing the filter onto your lens. The front element is also easy to rotate, being silky smooth, and there’s a secondary thread on the front for stacking multiple filters.
B+W’s HTC (High Transmission Circular) glass is claimed to result in minimal light loss of 1-1.5 stops, and we found this to be spot-on. Optical quality is also first-class, as we couldn't detect any color cast, plus the filter has no effect on lens sharpness.
Less impressive is the MRC Nano coating, however, which is supposed to resist water and fingerprints, but barely beads water away better than a budget filter. It does at least help with filter cleaning, as water can be wiped away quite easily.
We could forgive the lackluster water/fingerprint resistance, if it wasn't for the top-end pricing of these filters, which is hard to justify when compared to equally capable, yet cheaper rival glass.
Best for high-end glass
Designed to update the original Fusion One series, Hoya's Fusion One Next filters are premium, high-quality polarizers for those demanding the best in terms of optical quality. Constructed from 18 coated layers of glass to provide ultra-high light transmission, these filters also have a low-profile filter ring to make them useful even for super-wide shooting. They have a front screw too, so you can stack the polarizer with a UV or protection filter if so desired.
In our tests we noted that the Fusion One Next Cir-PL cuts out up to around 1.3EV of light so the camera settings need to be adjusted accordingly. We also like that this filter is available in such a wide variety of filter threads - with 13 different options currently available. See full Hoya Fusion One Next Cir-PL review.
Polarizing filters explained
What to look for in the best polarizing filters
Generally, when you're working with filters, you'll want to look for a slim mount to ensure you get maximum versatility when shooting. This is because thick mounts can introduce vignetting and can be difficult to work around when you're shooting with a wide angle lens.
If you're using a polarizer that's on the cheaper end, you can sometimes see color casts introduced into your images. This isn't ideal, but you can easily fix this issue in post-processing.
A clearer picture
Some manufacturers will use hydrophobic coatings to help repel water, but we'd still recommend being careful when using your polarizer around water.
Remember that polarizers can restrict around two stops of light, so make sure to keep an eye on your shutter speed. However, it's worth remembering that premium polarizers will often use higher transmission glass in order to help counteract this effect.
One of the most frustrating aspects of owning several lenses is that, unless you've stumbled into a fantastic fluke, they'll likely be different filter thread diameters. However, that doesn't mean that you have to invest in a polarizer several times over to fit your different pieces of glass! Buy one to fit your lens with the largest filter thread diameter, and then use step-up rings to mount it to the others. Sorted!
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