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The best polarizing filters in 2021: top circular polarizers for photographers

Included in this guide:

best polarizing filters
(Image credit: Future)

The best polarizing filters are the perfect way to reduce pesky reflections and enhance the colors and tones in your images. Investing in one of the best circular polarizers means that glare and haze in your shots will be reduced, enabling you to capture clearer photos. 

The best polarizing filters are able to do this because they can filter the light waves that hit the camera's sensor, reducing the glare at the point of capture. This means that you don't have to spend hours editing out the effect in one of the best photo editing software programs later. 

This is particularly useful when photographing a body of water, such as a river, lake or the sea. Polarizers enable cameras to capture the view under the water's surface, giving users the ability to see underwater details such as plant and aquatic wildlife. 

Meanwhile, the best polarizing filters are also a great way to give your colors an extra boost. We particularly love the way that polarizers can enhance the blues of a bright sunny sky. Plus, they're also a great way to capture a balanced exposure, helping to prevent blown-out highlights or shadows that are too dark. Just remember that you'll need to shoot with the sun at a 90º angle to your camera in order to get the best results. 

To help you find the best polarizers for you, we've collected our favorites below…

10 things you need to know about camera filters!

Best polarizing filters

The best polarizing filters

best polarizing filters

(Image credit: Future)

1. Marumi DHG Super Circular PL

This is one of the best polarizing filters for value for money

Specifications
Thread diameter range: 37mm-105mm
Thickness: 5mm
Reasons to buy
+Top image quality+Good water and oil resistance+Plenty of size options
Reasons to avoid
-US pricing is on the high side-Light transmission could be better

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 fame 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.

best polarizing filters

(Image credit: Future)

2. Hama Polarizing Filter, circular, AR coated

A budget polarizer that performs well above what you might expect

Specifications
Thread diameter range: 37mm-82mm
Thickness: 6mm
Reasons to buy
+Rock-bottom price+Reasonable optical performance+Loads of size options
Reasons to avoid
-Image sharpness could be slightly better-No water/fingerprint resistance

In the world of polarizers, you really don’t need to drop big bucks to get a decent filter. Hama’s entry can be had for very little money, yet it offers solid performance and comes in an extensive filter diameter range of 37-82mm.

You can forget about fancy glass and coatings though, as water and fingerprints stick to the front element annoyingly well, making it difficult to clean. There is at least an AR anti-reflective coating to enhance light transmission, and it works, as we were able to shoot at the same exposure settings as with class-leading filters like the Lee Filters polarizer, equating to a 1 ⅓-stop light loss. A 6% drop in image sharpness is technically the worst performance on this list, but it’s still negligible, and the polarizer doesn’t introduce any color casts.

Physically, Hama’s polarizer stands out from the crowd, not least because it’s the thickest polarizer here at 6mm - not great if plan to use it with an ultra-wide optic, where slight vignetting could be noticeable. There’s also a removable pin to help you rotate the front element. It’s not particularly useful in good weather, but is a handy feature when it’s cold and you’re wearing gloves.

best polarizing filters

(Image credit: Future)

3. Lee Filters LEE100 Polariser

It's the best polarizing filter for optical quality and versatility

Specifications
Thread diameter range: 105mm
Thickness: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Unparalleled optical quality+Versatile - can be used with lots of lenses+Unrivaled water resistance
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive if you only use it with one lens-Clip-on design could be more refined

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.

best polarizing filters

(Image credit: Future)

4. Cokin P-series P164

This polarizer is compatible with Cokin's P-series range

Reasons to buy
+P-series system means this filter can be used across multiple lenses+Affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Warm color shift-Muddy edges

The 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. We also found that there was a slight warm color cast and some muddiness in darker areas. 

best polarizing filters

(Image credit: Future)

5. B+W XS-Pro Digital HTC Kasemann MRC Nano

A good filter, but up against equally capable rivals that are significantly cheaper

Specifications
Thread diameter range: 49mm-77mm
Thickness: 4.5mm
Reasons to buy
+Excellent optical quality+Lots of size options+Minimal light loss
Reasons to avoid
-Very pricey, especially for larger sizes-Disappointing coating performance

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 polarizing filters

(Image credit: Future)

6. Hoya PRO1 Digital Circular PL

Looking for great quality? Look no further

Reasons to buy
+Good build quality+Fantastic results
Reasons to avoid
-Can be difficult to screw in

The Hoya PRO1 Digital Circular PL polarizer is a great option for photographers looking for something slightly cheaper that's still great quality. This filter is Digital Multi-Coated (DMC) to reduce lens flare and ghosting caused by reflections, making it an effective option for shooting bodies of water. It also features a Low Profile Frame (LPF), which consists of an ultra-thin filter frame that will help to avoid vignetting on wide-angle lenses. Usefully, this filter can also hold a lens cap too.

The PRO1 filter is noticeably good quality, with a lightweight build and a black matte almite frame. The black rimmed glass also decreases the chance of light reflecting off the edge. 

We were also a fan of the fact that the filter comes with a UV protected case, which is designed to lengthen the life of the filter.

Polarizing filters explained

What to look for in the best polarizing filters

best polarizing filters

Before/after: Polarizers cut through reflections on water and glass, and improve contrast and colours of skies (Image credit: Future)

Thin frames
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. 

Color control
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.

Lighten up
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.

Maximizing value
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! 

Read more:

10 things you need to know about camera filters – and which ones to buy
Use a polarizing filter to cut through reflections
How to use polarizing filters for colorful cross-polarization effects
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