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I have access to a vast collection of old filters from 20-30 years ago (for Canon cameras if it makes any difference). Can I use them on new DSLR cameras?

I have searched a lot to find an answer for this, but all articles talk about reusing old lenses with newer cameras. I am just interested in the filters.

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Yes, there is no reason that these would not work, assuming that their filter diameter matches your lenses, of course.

As with lenses in general, there have been improvements in design and manufacturing which may make newer filters nicer. For example better coatings are available, and older filters are less likely to be multi-coated. You may also find newer filters available with ultra-slim profiles, in order to reduce vignetting with wider lenses.

(Of course, newer isn't necessarily better — plenty of cheap junk available in any era.)

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    Of course, older filters may result in some interesting side effects as a result. Could be fun just for that reason. :) – John Cavan Apr 9 '15 at 14:36
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    @JohnCavan Absolutely — technical perfection (whether of gear or technique) is not a requirement for great photography. – mattdm Apr 9 '15 at 14:38
  • @JohnCavan What kind of interesting side effects? This sounds interesting and I might want to experiment. – SailorCire Apr 9 '15 at 15:00
  • @SailorCire - Flaws in the glass or the coating could lead to odd flares and light patterns. They may all be really good, but if some are not, then they may still be fun under the right circumstances. – John Cavan Apr 9 '15 at 15:06
  • @SailorCire Reflections off the back of the filter are usually the culprit. Digital sensors and the filter stack directly in front of them, are much more reflective than film. So reflections bouncing around in the optics are more of an issue with digital. – Michael C Apr 10 '15 at 1:35
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As Matt noted, there's no general reason that you can't use them if the diameters match up with your lens elements. The only thing I would note in addition to that is that you may run into linear polarizers which may not work correctly with your camera's metering and autofocus systems.

That's not really an issue for focussing if you manually focus. For metering you can either:

  • take some test shots and adjust exposure settings appropriately
  • meter before using the filter and then adjusting
  • manually meter the scene using an external light meter
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    +1 for noting the possible problems of a linear polariser – user1207217 Apr 10 '15 at 0:06
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Yes. The only thing you want to look out for is "linear" polarizing filters, which interfere with TTL metering and autofocus. If your old gear doesn't have those features, your polarizing filters might be of the linear type. Newer polarizing filters are of the "circular" type, which doesn't cause problems with modern systems.

(Despite the name, "circular polarizing filters" don't select for one of the two circular polarization states; they select for one linear polarization state, just like linear filters, and then they use a quarter-wave plate to convert the linearly polarized light to circularly polarized. Since circularly polarized light appears as an equal mix of linear polarization states, AF and AE are unaffected, but you can still cut out unwanted glare.)

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YES!!! Definitely! some (polarisers) will work differently but that's just part of the fun.

I use red, yellow, orange and blue filters for BW and they work perfectly.

Some may argue that this is not necessary as you can filter on colours in post-processing, but postprocessing will definitely diminish the amount of information (bits!) of the image while using a filter will not as it works before the light (information) enters the sensor.

I have also tried a variety of Cokin filtes such as flares, degradations, etc... I'm particularly fond of the blurring filters

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Besides polarization, color filters are the main compatibility problem you are likely to run into between film and digital cameras. While you may not have any color filters for your lenses, watch out for color flash filters. For example, there are some common green gels to match your flash color to fluorescent lights, and orange gels to match incandescent. Gels that work well with SLRs may be too strong for DSLRs. In my experience, it’s easy to get half-orange gels for DSLRs, but half-green gels are much harder to find.

  • I’m not sure why gels work that way with DSLR, so I posted a question about it. – Bradd Szonye Apr 9 '15 at 23:04
  • He's talking about lens filters though, not gels for lighting. – John Cavan Apr 11 '15 at 14:35
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You may find that some lenses (both DSLR or SLR ones) rotate their front element when focusing. If your DSLR does and your SLR doesn't, it may be a pain to use graduated or polarising filters. More info:

http://www.ephotozine.com/forums/topic/filters-and-lenses-that-rotate-the-front-element-27373

Also DSLRs don't need UV filters (maybe except to protect the lens from scratches and dust!)

  • That's a general problem for filters, not specifically an issue with older ones. – John Cavan Apr 11 '15 at 14:34
  • Yes, but it addresses OP's question whether his old filters can be used on new DSLRs. – Gnubie Apr 13 '15 at 11:18

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