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I just got a Nikon 10-24mm lens that I'll be using on my D90 (DX) lens. I expect to be using it a lot outdoors for landscape shots.

In general, I know what kinds of filters would help landscape photography:

  • UV/Clear, for general protection
  • Polarizer, for cutting reflections / enhancing the sky
  • Graduated Neutral-Density, for controlling sky brightness / enhancing the ground

But I'm also aware that vignetting is a problem with filters on wide-angle lenses like this one. I've read some posts that go as far as to claim that it's "not compatible with filters."

What filters are worthwhile on this lens (especially for landscape photography)? What properties are more important as the focal length decreases?

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FWIW, there's general advice on filters here:…. I'm looking for advice that still applies at these extreme focal lengths. – Craig Walker Jan 24 '11 at 22:35
You can buy low profile filters specificly designed for wide-angles to reduce vignetting. – Matt Grum Jan 26 '11 at 15:49
@Matt Grum: Yup, my only question is will they be low-profile enough. – Craig Walker Jan 26 '11 at 15:56
up vote 14 down vote accepted

There are a couple posts here already on what filters are available and why you would use them, having been around the block a couple times on filters used for outdoor photography I'll try for an answer from a different angle: what I actually wind up using.

Polarizing filters: Loved them at first, never use them now because they give an unnatural look to wide angle photographs that include skys (giant dark blue gradient in skys) and cause problems w/stitched photographs. Still nice for tighter focal lengths or shots w/out sky, especially of foliage but overall I just never carry one.

Split ND filters: Great idea in theory, kind of a pita to use in practice, especially if your exposure differential isn't a straight line (flat horizon). I'm sure these were more useful back w/film where you had to get it in one shot, but now I'd rather take 2-3 shoots and create the gradient in post, not necessarily HDR but thats an option too. Plus cheap split ND filters are resin or plastic (who wants plastic in front of a $1000 lens?) and just one SND filter doesn't cut it, you usually need 2 or 3, so to get 2 or 3 nice glass ones plus a holder... $$$.

UV/Clear filters: never use these anymore because they're so prone to flare. The only time I take one is if I'm shooting near something that might spray the lens (ocean).

ND Filter: This is the only filter I actually carry anymore because if you're already at ISO100 and stopped down to f16 or f22 and you still can't get a long enough exposure, this is the only way to do it. Or if you want to shoot at a wide aperture in bright daylight this is the only way to reduce the amount of light. I picked up a 10-stop ND filter and its awesome. Another option is to get a Polarizing filter and just turn it till its polarization is 'off' and this'll give you 1.5-2 stops of ND.

My two cents.

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"what I actually wind up using" is exactly what I was hoping for; thanks! – Craig Walker Jan 24 '11 at 23:09
Quite true. I arrived to the same conclusions too. – Itai Jan 25 '11 at 1:30

You can use filters on wide and ultra-wide angle lenses, but some produce undesirable results. Fish-eye lenses on the other hand, depending on the element design, are not compatible with standard screw on filters.

But generally, for wide angle lenses:

  • UV/Clear and solid colored filters are fine.
  • Circular Polarized filters will produce unevenly lit skies when shooting landscape shots
  • Graduated ND can be used, but is some cases the filtering will be more noticeable and distorted
  • Etched (star burst) filters will produce awkward bursts with distorted light sources
  • Soften filters will work, but there will be some distortion and vignetting.

I'm sure there is more to be added, but that's all I know of and have experienced.

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Of the ones you mentioned, UV/Clear filters really are generally rather useless, unless you actually make a habit of leaving greasy fingerprints on your front lens element. A hood gives good physical protection without any chance of compromising image quality, unlike a clear filter. I'd skip the UV filter, unless actually shooting on the beach on a windy day or something like that, where it would give protection the hood cannot.

Polarizers must be used with care on ultrawide lenses, as noted by another poster. The darkening effect on the sky only happens in a very restricted set of angles vice the sun; an ultrawide catches so much sky that this will appear as a narrow dark blue band which looks extremely odd. Polarizers are still useful for cutting reflections off glass or water, and have surprisingly good effect on surfaces such as roof-tiles or stone. I'd get a polarizer, but be careful about how you use it!

Graduated ND... the screw-in ones are a so-so idea generally speaking, they require you to place the horizon dead center which is rarely where you want it to go. The square ones from Cokin or Lee or what have you that you mount in a frame in front of the lens can be very useful, but are a bit time-consuming to adjust just right... OK for tripod use but not for handheld. Solid ND filters on the other hand are good to have, either for dragging the shutter speed or for opening up the aperture in bright light.

Re ultrawides: Some are absolutely not designed to be used with filters, ie the ones with protruding bulbous front elements like Canon's 14mm f/2.8L or the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8. The ones without such a front element do not pose this problem, but you should be aware that some filters can bee too thick, physically, so that the filter frame shows up in the corner of the image of an ultrawide lens. Not a good thing - on such lenses stick with the dedicated "thin" filters that are made for this purpose.

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You can use p-series tiffin or cokin square sliding bracket filters which comes in over size. Vignetting is old story now.

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Any idea if the Cokin P (slim) will work at 10mm (which works out to 15mm EFL on the D90)? – Craig Walker Jan 26 '11 at 15:27

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