Filtration Basics: Cost, Uses, & Filters You Should Never Leave Home Without

Caleb Pike
Using filters can help give your images subtle improvements and changes that are otherwise difficult to capture and repeat consistently in post. Caleb Pike of DSLR Video Shooter offers a great introduction into filtration: why we use filters, rectangle vs. round, cheap vs. expensive, and which types are must-haves.

There are many, many, many different filters that give different results, like warming and cooling filters, but probably the ones you never want to leave home without are Neutral Density (ND) and Polarizing filters. While polarizers help to reduce (or completely get rid of) reflected light (like in water), ND and GND (Graduated ND) filters have a bunch of uses, but mainly they're used to darken areas of your frame that might be too bright, (the sky, for example), allowing for a more balanced exposure (with the ground).

These ND and GND filters are the ones Pike covers in his video. Of course, many of them don't come cheap, but cost isn't the only thing you need to think about when choosing filters. It's vital to know the differences between rectangular and circular filters, as well as the (often subtle) effects each type will give you. But understanding that using filters, as opposed to color correcting in post, is more often than not a better solution will save you a ton of headaches in the long run. No one wants to get into post and see that their footage isn't as consistent as they'd like. 

Be sure to get into the habit of testing out your filters with your specific camera before you shoot to make sure that you're getting the product you're going for, since most filters give off a color cast. Don't make that all too common mistake of slapping any old filter onto your camera thinking it'll give you the look you see on the box -- or on the internet -- or anywhere else. All filters, cameras, lenses, and all combinations thereof are different, so just be aware that there may be some pollution you might have to deal with.

Head on over to Pike's original post for more info on each of the filters he used in the video. Also, this is only the first installment of his filtration series, so stay tuned for more.

Which inexpensive/not so inexpensive ND/GND filters would you recommend? What filtration advice would you share with a beginner? Let us know in the comments.     

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I used a cheap ND filter on my 11-16mm Tokina. A big black "X" shaped blotch appeared in the center of my footage...yes the filter was cheap, but I later read that you can't really use ND filters (perhaps they only meant the screw on type?) with this lens...does anyone know if this is true?

September 20, 2014 at 9:12PM

Ed Wright
Director, DP, Writer

Most variable ND filters will give you that X when used at or near 100% - you can only really use the bottom 80% or so, if that makes sense.

September 21, 2014 at 4:06AM

Katie Cutting
DoP, Documentarian

This is just because variable NDs are made of two polarizing filters in opposite direction. Polarizing filters are not advised on super wide lenses because the strength of the effect depends on the angle for the light relatively to the sun so the angle difference on a very wide shot is to big to create a uniform effect.

With normal NDs or GNDs there should be no "blotch".

September 21, 2014 at 8:31AM

Haroun Souirji
Director / DP and Producer

I avoid variable ND like the plague. I don't meter through the lens except on some documentaries, so it's too much a hassle. You don't know what you're getting, even though some are marked.

Another problem with a variable ND on the 11-16 is that wide angle lenses in general require more out of can shoot with a dirty filter on a telephoto and sometimes not even realize it, but not wide angle---you're doubly screwed with variable ND on that particular shows the problems that are always there with all variable ND.

September 21, 2014 at 1:45PM

Daniel Mimura
DP, cam op, steadicam op

you CAN use variable ND on the 11-16, but you can't push a cheap filter to the max. use a decent one at mid strength and you should be fine. the thing to watch out for with that lens is vignetting. I step it up to 82mm then use a variable ND with an even larger outside diameter to avoid vignetting.

September 21, 2014 at 9:44PM


I used cheap filters , Cokin P. I got beautiful images with my new camera Panasonic AJ-PX270PJ . I think first of all is important to have sensibility to use colors and
to know light and a lot feelings.
This my video

September 21, 2014 at 3:18AM

claudio ciummo

Something else to consider (which Caleb mentions in a few of his videos) are these nifty magnetic adapters for your filters.

Really handy to have on your basic ND filters so you can quickly slap em on.

September 22, 2014 at 12:49AM

Zack Wallnau
Cinematographer & Tinkerer

The guy's video was nice, but so extremely oversimplified, and geared towards a specific workflow.

September 23, 2014 at 10:31PM


If you can't afford good NDs (or other filters), try asking nicely at local rental houses - they've often got all sorts of top quality stuff that they can't hire out any more because it has a bit of wear and tear - I got a set of Tiffen NDs for free through a friend at one, and a load of other bits and bobs from other places, just by asking nicely.

September 25, 2014 at 1:46AM

Alex Richardson

He did not mention polarizers (except for the negative effect they might have when used in variable NDs)

I have a circular polarizer for every lens, be it photo/stills lens or video lens. I even have circular polarizers for all my eng 2/3" lenses at work. I like nice landscapes with beautiful skies, and a polarizer can really make these images pop.
Almost every time I shoot some of the footage with a polarizer, people will go "oh, nice!" when they see the shot - even when they don't have a clue what makes those shots pop out.

I'd definitely add a polarizer to my essential filters bag, no matter what camera or lens!

September 26, 2014 at 11:24AM


I think the "X" will show up on any variable ND (cheap or not) as it maxes out. However, cheap faders (e.g. Chinese) can ruin your sharpness at any setting, especially on telephoto lenses. I just about returned a newly purchased Canon "L" series 200mm, thinking it was defective. But upon removing my cheap fader the results were very sharp. So I replaced all of my Chinese faders with Tiffens; problem solved. Try looking through your fader at a light source, twisting (as in "whacking", not rotating) the fader on its axis to a 45 to 75 degree angle. (So you're looking through an ellipse.) If you see pronounced ripples you likely have a soft fader.

September 26, 2014 at 1:35PM

Douglas Boe