In the last few months everyone has been writing quite a bit about filters. There is a lot to say and the level of depth can be very broad on the topic. I have been using filters for many years. I typically have a UV protective filters on every lens I own, but that was about it. Then I decided to get a little more into it and got some ND filters for video and creative effects. At some point I realized it’s time to put a big overview together with some essential options, their purposes, and how to keep your filters safe. I now own too much stuff to keep it in separate pouches to I gathered all the best pouches on the market and tried them out to see how different they are. Turned out they are very different and I’ll talk about each one in details. This general filter review will walk you though different purposes of filters, their kinds, and how to store them safely. You can end up spending a lot of money on different filters before you find your perfect combo kit and at that point your costs on all this will add up. I wanted to do this write-up to save you time and money and bring up some key decision points that can help in building the perfect kit for your needs right from the start. I didn’t find anything like this when I needed to. I can’t say I was really looking. But I wish I stumbled on a similar overview and didn’t have to deal with $500 in obsolete gear expenses. If you want to read up on more technical details, I’ll provide a few helpful links at the end. This i meant as a quick overview with the focus on filter bags. So here we go.
General info on filters
Filter explanations can be confusing, so I’ll give some basic explanations and how I use each specific type, if I do that at all. To me some filter types are absolute because so much can be done in post production, but the key information is still needed in an image to pull colors and info from it.
I use UV filters on all my lenses as a basic protection measure. I tried different brands and I like quality and build of B+W filters, so these are my UV filters of choice. I got my first one because I thought for this price it must be really good and I never regretted that purchase and kept buying B+W since then. Some people say you may lose sharpness if you use filters on your lens. I found that if the filter is really well made, you’re not losing anything. I just wouldn’t put a $10 UV filter on a $1500 lens. So for my purposes, I buy multi-coated slim MRC 010M UV filters by B+W. I like the fact that they are slim and don’t add bulk to my lenses and are helping to prevent vignetting, jamming, and provides additional strength with this thinner ring. Standard (non-slim) filters are great as well. All new ones I buy are slim, but I do own quite a few regular ones.
I recently got one of these. It’s meant to deal with glare and improve colors and contrast, so I want to use it for shooting surf and ocean stuff. This filter type is really geared towards outdoor shooters. I didn’t save on this one and went all out with the Lee Filters Circular Polarizer – Glass 100x100mm for $220. It’s my most expensive filter, but I do large prints and details in every shot really matter to me.
- ND & Variable ND
For everyone shooting video, these ND filters are essential. They help deal with different shutter speeds and wider f-stops in the outdoors. For example if you want to shoot video on a bright sunny day, an ND filter will allow you to go from f22 to f8 or f5.6 let’s say. You can have more control over the shot having this ability. I tried an variable ND filter by Tiffen since it’s much more convenient to have different stop increments and I definitely recommend going with a single filter rather than buying a kit of three. I made that mistake and I would definitely recommending spending a little more, but not losing out on some shots because that other filter is in the bag inside a building and you need to get the shot right that moment (wedding shooters, for example).
- Graduated ND or Color
If you want to control only a portion of the photo, then a graduated filter is your way to go. You may want to have darker skies or warmer tones for the sunset sun. I personally don’t use these much, but for my needs there will be a tool I’ll talk about soon.
- Color filters
I find these unnecessary in my work, but a lot of my analog friends still use them. I think these are needed if you have a specific task at hand that you cannot achieve in any other way. For me most of this can be done in editing.
These usually serve as a cheaper alternative to macro lenses, but after giving them a try I’d say you’re better off buying a dedicated lens. For me these did a poor job on sharpness, even for $100 a set.
- Special Effects
There are all kinds of special cool effects you can achieve with special filters. I’ve been thinking of getting a prism filter that can let me go crazy on creativity. There are many options and you can even build these yourself. I typically try to stay away from these because some of these effects don’t seem too professional to me personally. But it’s everyone’s choice.
Ring Filters vs 4×4 or 4×6
The most important question for me is figuring out what will be used the most and what kind of filter build I want. I’ve been buying filters for years, and even more so lately. But at some point it was time to decide whether I need screw on filters or a kit where I can slide the same filter on multiple lenses with the help of adaptor rings. There are a few basic guiding principles.
Sometimes specific filters by a specific brands (Lee Big Stopper let’s say) are not available as a screw on option. But the key is to break your kit down into what will stay on the lens at all times (UV filters in my case) and what will be needed on temporary basis. Question of money is next. I typically buy filters in $100-250 range for a single piece of glass or resin. It’s expensive. I buy new lenses and often the diameters of those lenses are different. So to me it’s too much money to buy each needed filter for my lenses. I turned to Lee Starter Kit as an option and it’s what I’ve been using for the past few years.
Filter kit is a 3-piece system: adaptor ring for each of your lens diameters, the 4×4 filter (or bigger ones, like 4×6, if necessary), and the frame that holds it all together. This means I’m only buying each filter and this holder kit once. After that all I need are adaptor rings. It’s easy to unmount all this from the camera in seconds and you can also stack multiple filters easily.
To put this in the cost perspective, here is my breakdown and the comparison to screw on options.
- $90 LEE Filters Foundation Kit (Standard 4×4″, 4×6″ Filter Holder) (Requires Adapter Ring)
- $35 x 5 for adapter rings (e.g. LEE Filters Adapter Ring – 67mm)
- $140 LEE Filters 100 x 100mm Big Stopper 3.0 Neutral Density Filter
- $200 LEE Filters 4×4″ Circular Polarizer Glass Filter
- $130 LEE Filters 4×4″ Neutral Density (ND) 0.9 Resin Filter
- $125 LEE Filters 4×4″ Neutral Density (ND) 0.3 Resin Filter
If I were to go the screw on way, here is the total on that for my 4 main lenses. I’m using a single diameter and ND value for this.
4 lenses x $140 for each filter like B+W 77mm 3.0 ND MRC 110M Filter. I sold three lenses I had other filters for, so add another $300 to this.
So in my case the totals are identical, but with one set I know my kit is complete for good and the biggest extra expense will be the $30 adaptor ring. In the other case I’m vulnerable to many more expenses. This is a personal choice. You won’t need all this in the beginning. Building a kit takes time, I just wish I started it the right way and invested in the 4×4 system sooner.
I originally chose Lee Filters because I liked that they had a all the essentials (holder and adaptor rings) available on B&H. When you look into filters, Lee Filters typically are the most popular ones. They are reasonably priced and they have a very solid and quality build. I started with them and to be honest I have no reason to look for anything else. I purchased everything myself and it’s an honest opinion.
When you get more technical with filters and especially get to the expensive ones, there will be an option to buy the same filter made of glass or resin. I didn’t know anything about the difference when I was making my choice. Glass is more high quality and more fragile, can stretch and break easily. More difficult to store as well. I went with the resin option ($125 vs. $190) for longevity and at these price points the quality difference is for the most part on par. So I’d recommend going with resin options until you’re so good or sell so many prints that you definitely need a bit better option.
Just this week Sigma announced a brand new construction for lens filters out of ceramic. They are supposed to be much more durable and provide fantastic quality. I haven’t tried them myself but they seem to be a great new option on the market. Here is more info about them.
Best Combo for Your Needs
My first introduction to filters was out of necessity. I wanted to have my lenses protected. I invested in UV filters. I try to always have a new filter arrive prior to getting a new lens. This way I have no gaps or windows where the lens is bare. My next set was ND filters, Big Stopper for water shoots, and then the polarizer for surf and ocean stuff. It was a sequence and not an all-in one purchase. I think letting your kit evolve organically is the way to go.
Right now I’m at a point where taking care of that $860 in filters is a necessity. I do not want to lose or damage anything. Even less so I want to have slowed workflow during the shoots. I need to know where things are and be able to use them feeling secure. I got a bunch of filter pouches to try out and so for me this review is much more focused on the carrying systems. At first I thought it’s all the same thing, but every filter pouch is quite different from another and I picked the best options on the market to personally explore their build. There are four key things to pay attention to.
They’re quite simple, but provide a benchmark for making a choice in the filter pouches.
Best Filter Carry Options
MindShift Filter Nest Mini Filter Pouch ($25 B&H Photo Video)
I spent a few hours online looking at different filter pouches/holders and this is my favorite of the small ones. Some kits come in with the pouch already and that’s fine. Those work ok, even though the level of protection is not the same as this one. It’s very light, small, really well-made, and protective. It fits only small round filters. Mind shift gear is a sub-brand of Think Tank, so you should never worry about build and functionality. I’ve been a fan of both brands and I think MindShift Gear makes some of the best filter pouches on the market and this one is a great option for a small kit. There is a slightly bigger option but the concept is the same. I like the texture of the material and inside there are color markers to help you figure out where each filter is. Most filter pouches have no labels, besides Clik Elite.
MindShift Gear Filter Hive Mini Filter Pouch ($30 B&H Photo Video)
The next model up from the Nest is Hive Mini, a great lightweight and much flatter option for carrying filters. It’s still geared only towards circle filters and can fit up to 10 filters. There is no way to label the sections, but in terms of materials and quality the whole MindShift lineup is great. The padding inside is well main, the top velcro cover is secure, but it’s not comparable to having a zipper. I prefer this side load in any filter pouches and I’ll show you why in a bit. It’s not huge and cannot fit any of my bigger Lee filters, so I personally don’t have much use for this one or the Nest. They are definitely nice options for film shooters and someone who has just a few circular filters for occasional use.
Clik Elite Square Filter Valet (Red) ($36 B&H Photo Video)
Clik Elite has been on the market for a while and there are some die hard fans of this company. This is my first product that I get to use with my gear and it’s definitely build really well. It’s the heaviest of all pouches I’ve tried. It’s got a very thick secure outer padding. Inside the sections are very deep and for me it was a challenge to get filters out without having my fingers all over them. It’s also the only pouch that let’s you put individual labels correcposing with each filter sleeve. Lee Filters just gives you a numbered sheet. This pouch doesn’t have any attachments, so it’s sort of completely by itself. You’ll see the difference and comparison with LowePro pouch. I also found the material inside to be very sensitive to dust and dirt. The sand wouldn’t come off easy. But at the same time the benefit of having deep pockets ensures that the dirt doesn’t get to the filter and stays on top and on the sides of the pouch. It’s also the only colorful pouch which makes it easy to find inside your camera bag that usually is pretty stuffed when you plan a shoot that requires many lens filters.
LowePro S&F Filter Pouch 100 ($23 B&H Photo Video)
LowePro and its S&F system is probably the one that the majority of photographers tried at least once in their lives. I’ve had lens pouches and camera pouches from this series and I’ve always been very happy with them. It’s a versatile pouch that can be attached to almost anything. You can put it on your belt or attach to your backpack. Inside is quite soft, but still padded enough. This pouch has removable filter insert section that attaches to the bottom with velcro. The filter inserts are quite weak and not really padded that well in my opinion. But the key benefit of the sleeves compared to others is that they have these cutouts for easy removal of 4×4 filters. It’s yet another vertical pouch and the price is always right with LowePro.
Lee Filters Multi Filter Pouch ($45 B&H Photo Video)
Lee Filters pouch is very different from the rest. I wasn’t sure if I should try it or just stick with others, but here it is. The reason for my concerns is that I didn’t really find many people who gave it a try and also because not too many people have posted their own photos of the pouch to see how it is in person. To me it’s an important factor. So, getting back to the pouch, it’s not too heavy, but on the heavier side. It’s got a zipper and nice stiff outer padding. Zippers are a big thing for me because I will use my filters in sandy conditions like on the photos and I need to make sure I keep my filters safe. So zipper is a big plus. Inside you’ll find jewelry level sleeves that are very gentle and not too thick. You can fit many filters into this case. I really like the material inside. I think this is what I’d like to see across the board in filter pouches, just with extra thickness. Filters go side by side, so they support each other back to back. Pockets are deep and you’ll need to spend more time taking your filters out. Index card is good to have but not too helpful in finding the filter you need. And finally this pouch is free-standing like Clik Elite and doesn’t have any attachments.
MindShift Gear Filter Hive Storage Case ($55 B&H Photo Video)
Finally it’s time for the big boy. This is my favorite one because it’s exactly what I need in my kit. It’s the most expensive one, the biggest one, and with most pockets and zippers. It will take up a lot of space in your bag. It can carry circle filters, 4×4 or 4×6 ones, can carry my adaptor rings and my Lee Filters frame/kit. It could fit even more if I had more. I really like that in this one filters are stored sideways and the depth is more shallow compared to others. It helps me to quickly figure out what filter is inside. I love the ability to carry everything together. The internal section is removable and has it’s own velcro cover. The outside of the pouch has a zipper and the most attachment options. You can even hook it up to your tripod while you’re shooting. I think this is the most well-thought out design of all these pouches. It’s very light, which is surprising because of how much this thing can carry. There is an outside zipper for more little items and an extra inside zipper. Usually you’d carry screws or something similar for your filter frame. This pouch costs $56 and it’s definitely pretty expensive. But I have $860 in filters, so I can at least store them well.
In general, Mindshift Gear family is my favorite of all the brands I looked at. Their products are pretty new and it seems that they’ve definitely taken in all feedback from people who use filters and came up with these awesome options. There is one more pouch I didn’t try, I didn’t see it in store at that time. A lot of thought went into the making of these and I have a feeling they will become a very popular option for landscape shooters. Here are some more shots of how they compare in size.
This post has been in the making for a long time and I really wanted to make sure I cover all the basics and provide interesting insights when it comes to filter pouches. I talked about circle and square filters and I hope that that info was helpful. To me filters are becoming really important in my work and this guide is the collection of everything I’ve learned about filters so far without making it too technical and complicated. Enjoy your gear and happy shooting!
As promised, here are some very good resources if you want to learn more about filters: