Desert environment includes actual desert, some water (yes, I said that), some (dusty) city scenes, some POSSIBLY shiny buildings and pools of water.

The research on this suggests that ND polarizers are better. I'm asking this pre-purchase, so my knowledge is purely theoretical until I get the practice; in short, it seems that dropping the light coming in with the ND filter gives you more flexibility if you want to open up the aperture, shoot against the sun (say, with some external lighting), and so on.

But desert environments are sunny, and the sun is high up, so stuff reflects. Since stuff reflects, depending on the stuff being shot (such as the water in the list above), a polarizing filter might be helpful.

Based on YOUR experience in the field, which of these filter types might lend to more flexibility in the field?

Or is there something else that went unmentioned (like NOT using a filter)?

Note, by "better" I mean in terms of maximum flexibility / variety in the field where it's likely to be sunny, bright, sandy, and .. desert-y. Expected conditions, unknown subject matter.


2 Answers 2


Obviously the two filters have totally different uses so you can't say one is strictly better than the other, but if you only buy one filter I'd say a polarizer is more useful as it cuts through the haze, enhances skies etc. it will also act as a 1 stop ND.

Provided your camera goes up to 1/8000s you should be absolutely fine without an ND. The only use for an ND in the desert is if you want to shoot at f/1.4 or f/2.0 which will be rare unless you're shooting portraits. If I were you I would use a long focal length f/4 or f/5.6 if I wanted to shoot portraits with background separation.

Another use for ND filters is for long exposure motion blur shots, but I'm not sure how much motion there is out there to blur, and you can always wait until night to get that sort of shot.

A possible solution is to get a good quality variable ND filter. These use a pair of polarizers to reduce light levels so will give you both ND and polarization. Be aware you wont be able to use wide angle lenses or you'll get interference effects.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, Matt. But the thing is, maybe I should've mentioned this, too: my camera goes up to 1/180th with a flash, which is part of what we'll be doing is. Outdoor flash, against the sun, might be on the menu. More importantly, I do want to say that my question is around what's the most flexible arrangement, rather than what's 'better' per say, like vanilla is better than chocolate ice cream. That said, I think you did bring up an interesting point, that a polarizer might be equal to a 1 stop ND. Sounds more flexible for sure! Thanks. \$\endgroup\$
    – Emmel
    Feb 22, 2013 at 18:07
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Why not take both? Not like they take up a lot of luggage space. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22, 2013 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that different pol filters have different ND effect. The parallel light transmission ranges from 50-90% depending on the pol filter you get. Hoya HD is the brightest of them all. B+W slim is also pretty bright (75-80% I believe). Pro1 and most others are around 50-60%. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22, 2013 at 18:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ A good quality variable ND filter will give you both ND and polarization, but be aware you wont be able to use wide angle lenses or you'll get interference effects. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Feb 22, 2013 at 19:41

If you shooting wide angle you'll want to avoid polarized filters. You get a varying polarization affect across the frame. Not pretty at all.


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