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As I am now looking for a decent polarizer for my 18-105mm and 50mm (Nikon D80) I realized how important they are for outdoor photography. So why aren't they directly hard-mounted on every modern lens?

(As a "by-question", which polarizers can you suggest for the above lenses?)

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up vote 27 down vote accepted

A polarizer cuts out light — about one and a half to two stops, give or take. Additionally, one does not always want the effect. In wide angle shots, it can make skies look distinctively uneven.

So, it makes sense to not include them by default.

B+W and Hoya are good brands. It's worth spending a bit more a well-made one with good coatings.

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More like 1-1/2 to 2 stops. – Reid Nov 20 '10 at 16:54
You're right. Corrected. – mattdm Nov 20 '10 at 17:50
Supposedly Hoya's HD Polarizers are only 1-1/6 stops – drfrogsplat Nov 26 '10 at 0:42

I woudnt want a polarizer on my lens all the time - after all you are not always going to need one. You wouldnt use one when shooting portraits for instance (well i wouldnt)

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You'd pay the cost for each lens! Good polarizers are expensive.

Actually, I'd like to see someone build one into the camera. Using a button the camera would slip the polarizer in and out. You'd need an efficient interface to rotate it, like press the polarizer button and use the control-dial or a fly-by-wire ring.

It would be really neat because you'd only pay the cost of the polarizer once and it would be for a small one since it would be at the back of the lens. It would save time too. I find screwing on filters rather slow (Why don't they make bayonet lens-filter connections? It made sense for lenses and hoods and so much faster).

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Even neater would be TWO of such polarizers so you'd have a built-in variable-ND filter. But there's a complication - adding glass between sensor and lens would slightly change back-focal length, so the camera would either have to adjust distance between lens and sensor, or pop out a replacement clear glass when the polarizer is not needed. – Imre Mar 30 '11 at 4:36

Both those answers are good so I won't add to them except to remind you that a good quality 77mm filter plus step-down rings is a worthwhile investment that will likely fit every lens you ever own, even if/when you start buying pro lenses. I made the mistake of buying a 67mm CPL when I bought my first zoom and had to replace it a year later when I bought a lens with a larger filter thread.

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Many lens hoods cannot be used with significantly larger filters :( – Imre May 12 '11 at 10:30
True - that's the downside. – Max Sang May 16 '11 at 22:45

It's another layer of glass that reduces light that goes into the sensor/film and degrades sharpness, so it should only be used when necessary. This is the same reason why we should avoid to stack filters (polarizers, neutral density and gradient filters), something that is tempting to do in low exposures to reduce the amount of light into the camera.

The less things you put in front of the sensor you may have better and sharper results. In the end this is one of the reasons why prime lenses have better image quality than zoom lenses, but that's another discussion

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