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Gadget Bag: Polarizers For Fall Color

Having a good polarizer on your camera can do more to bring out fall color than hours of work in Photoshop
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Shooting with a good polarizer may just be your single best way to get more vibrant and dramatic colors this fall. These filters are thin slices of magic—there’s no better way to describe them. For fall foliage images that are richly saturated with deep and vibrant hues, polarizers are a must.

The way polarizers work is simple. The results they produce, on the other hand, are extraordinary. Polarizers remove glare—the distracting light waves that radiate from smooth surfaces like shiny leaves or water. With the glare eliminated, you capture the true color and texture of the subject. They also deepen blue skies without altering the color of the clouds. Brilliant red and orange foliage really pops when framed against an indigo sky.

Several types of polarizing filters are on the market. The one you want to buy is a circular polarizer. Don’t be tempted by the lower price of a linear polarizer—it can wreak havoc on your camera’s autofocus and auto-exposure systems.


The Cokin Creative Filter System has been around for 30 years. Filters fit in a special holder that attaches to the lens via an interchangeable metal ring. You can use the same filter and holder on lenses with different thread sizes simply by changing the ring. That can mean a significant savings if you have a large collection of assorted lenses. Cokin offers high-quality products that are versatile and fun. On a dull, cloudy day, you can use a Cokin graduated blue filter in the same holder with the polarizer and put a little color in the sky.


B+W filters are widely recognized for outstanding quality as well as technological innovation. B+W was the first filter manufacturer in the world to offer multilayer coating that repels water and dirt. The coating is harder than glass and protects the filter from scratches. The filter rings are precisely machined with clean, sharp grooves and a great finish. B+W offers over 1,500 different filters and many related accessories. For the last 25 years, B+W filters have been manufactured by the legendary Schneider-Kreuznach and distributed in the United States by their subsidiary Schneider Optics.


Tiffen produces professional-quality filters. It takes a lot of know-how to win two Technical Achievement Awards and a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as an Emmy® Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. That proficiency is apparent in every Tiffen product. Using a Tiffen polarizer doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get any closer to Hollywood, but it does mean that you’re using a product with quality high enough to satisfy even the most demanding professionals. Tiffen polarizers are widely available in all popular sizes.


Hoya is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of optical glass, including glass used for camera lenses, eyeglasses and photographic filters. Their production process involves the introduction of raw elements and chemicals to molten optical glass to produce a filter of uniform coloration. With the exception of circular polarizing filters, they never produce sandwich-type laminated or surface-colored filters. Hoya filters are likewise famous for being plano-parallel, which means that at every point, each side of the filter is perfectly flat and parallel to the side opposite it.

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Made from Schott-Desag B270 Crown Optical Glass, the Formatt line of circular polarizers is available in a variety of diameters. The company has a long history in the film industry and a reputation for making excellent filters, and this is reflected in its emphasis on making filters that will perform up to the requirements of current, high-tech HD video cameras and HD video DSLRs. As with most polarizers, the construction consists of two pieces of clear, optical glass that sandwich a piece of polarizing film.


Singh-Ray calls its polarizers “lighter, brighter,” meaning that they transmit more light than average and consequently require less exposure compensation. That also means more light is transmitted through the viewfinder, so it’s easier to compose and focus. Singh-Ray’s latest product, the Vari-N-Duo, is just the opposite. It combines a polarizer with an adjustable ND filter, which allows you to adjust density from about three to eight ƒ-stops. Available only in a 77mm diameter, this is the perfect choice if you’re shooting outdoors on a bright day, but want to use a long exposure to blur subject movement.



Heliopan filters are made from glass supplied by Schott (wholly owned by Carl Zeiss) and set in black anodized brass rings that screw in with precision. They’re available in every conceivable size and configuration, including 13 different types of polarizers and special-effects filters. Heliopan thin circular polarizers accommodate ultra-wide-angle lenses as wide as 21mm. All of the polarizers are in rim-calibrated mounts to help find proper settings in cameras without TTL viewing or when LCD screens are washed out because of sun glare. The filters also are edge-calibrated.

The full line of Pro-Optic circular polarizers ranges in popular sizes from 49mm to 77mm. The filters are thin and well made, and produce excellent results. You’ll also find an interesting line of filter accessories, including Slinger filter wallets, stack caps (that simplify storage) and pincer-style filter wrenches for loosening filters that have been attached too tightly.

Best Results From Your Polarizer

To find the area of the sky that will be most strongly affected by a polarizer, make an “L” shape from your index finger and thumb and point it at the sun as though you were shooting a rubber band into space. (Your thumb doesn’t have to be perpendicular to the ground—you can rotate your hand through an arc; just keep your finger pointed at the sun.) If your index finger is aimed at the sun, your thumb will be pointed toward the portion of the sky where a polarizing filter will deliver maximum results.

B+W (Schneider Optics)
(800) 228-1254

Cokin (OmegaBrandess)
(410) 374-3250

(201) 818-9500

Heliopan (HP Marketing Corp.)
(800) 735-4373

Hoya (THK Photo Products)
(800) 421-1141

Pro-Optic (Adorama)
(800) 223-2500

(800) 486-5501

(631) 273-2500