Inexpensive Circular Polarizing Filters (CPL): Not great but good enough

Started Oct 26, 2011 | Discussions thread
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markgv
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Inexpensive Circular Polarizing Filters (CPL): Not great but good enough
Oct 26, 2011

PART 1

I'm still rather new to DSLRs and my K-x, but I have discovered a few things that have helped me take better pictures. One issue that regularly comes up is Circular Polarizers (CPLs). I've tested and compared a few of the middle range ones to see if they are good enough.
First, here are some of my initial premises:

  • In general, I don't use any filters (or protector filters) at all.

  • In general, a hood is more important than a filter. I almost always use a hood.

  • I don't use a CPL on my lens unless the situation demands it.

So, the next issue is what CPL to buy. Yes, you can buy some for under $10 and some will cost you hundreds. Yes, I know that the general sentiment around here is that it is absurd to put a cheap filter in front of your expensive equipment. BUT...

I'm on the low end of photographic excellence with my K-x and a used Pentax DA 16-45 as my most expensive lens. (I'm not complaining. I'm happy w/ the pics I'm able to get with the budget I'm working on.) So, it also seems somewhat absurd to me to put a CPL that costs $100+, that I only use occasionally, on front of my modest gear.

So, I've read the posts here and looked at that very helpful Lenstip review ( http://www.lenstip.com/115.4-article-Polarizing_filters_test_Results_and_summary.html ), and I've tried to find somewhat inexpensive CPLs that are admittedly not great but certainly good enough. I'll share some of my experiences, and perhaps it will help others of you in a similar boat.
Here's what I have:

  • Kenko CPL Digital Filter High Quality 72mm ($19 on$bay)

  • Vivitar Series 1 CPL Multi-coated 67mm ($15 @ Adorama)

  • Marumi CPL DHG 58mm ($21 on $bay)

  • Massa CPL 52mm (given to me; usually less than $10)

OBSERVATIONS

  1. Each brand has various quality levels of CPLs.

  • The Kenko is probably an older one and does not have multi-coating like most of the new (and much more expensive offerings) do. From what I could determine, Kenko is the Japanese edition of Hoya.

  • I was mistakenly shipped a Vivitar CPL that was not Series 1. It was not good at all, and I sent it back. The Series 1 is quite nice and advertises its VMC=Vivitar Multi-Coated.

  • The Marumi received a very good review on Lenstip. (I think I got lucky on $bay, since what I paid for mine is usually what the cheaper Marumi line sells for. There is also a Super DHG line above the one I have, but I see those are available for $55 in the 58mm size.) The Marumi does not say anywhere on the front of its packaging that it is multi-coated, but the back side does point out its special "ultra-low reflection coating for digital cameras."

  • The Massa actually has some kind of coating.

  1. CPLs can sometimes be a bit tricky getting on/off the lens and adjusting the filtering. These are all fine but getting them off the lens occasionally takes a little extra effort.

  2. These are all smooth glass filters. (Some filters apparently have something of a texture to them.) They all can be cleaned up if you get a fingerprint on them, but it seems harder to clean them as compared to a camera lens.

  3. Someone should correct me where I err, but as I understand it, it is the nature of a CPL is to have different characteristics at 90 degree increments and depending which side you view it through. A simple test is to hold a CPL up against a bright monitor. Below you can see the most yellowish tint and the most blue-ish tint at 90 degrees turned.

  • I have to believe that the extreme yellows/blues of the Massa are a sign of its lower quality.

  • This test also indicated a significant imperfection in the Massa. (Somewhat hard to tell on these pics, but there is a discoloration spot at 11 o'clock on the yellow = 8 o'clock on the blue.)

I next turned the CPLs around to view the polarizing effect.

  • It was hard to get these all nicely lined up! The Vivitar does get a little darker and less blue.

  • It doesn't appear so on this pic, but the Massa actually allowed the most light through. (Not what you want.)

  • There was an obvious imperfection with the Kenko. You can see it from 12-3 o'clock, but it actually goes all the way around. It's as if the polarizing effect does not go all the way to the edge or perhaps the glass was stressed. I was not able to notice any effect of it on any pictures I took.

Go to PART 2 for Results and Conclusions

 markgv's gear list:markgv's gear list
Pentax K-x Pentax K-30 Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di Macro Pentax smc DA 18-135mm F3.5-5.6ED AL [IF] DC WR +2 more
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