Cruise Vacation Photography
Screw on Filters


In this section, I will review the photo equipment I typically take on board cruises, how I pack the equipment, and some photo examples. I rarely take all of the equipment on a given cruise, but rather tailor what equipment I take to where we are going.

Some photgraphers don't use them, and others would not be without one. It used to be, in the day, when film cameras were the norm, you always needed a color compensation filter for incandescent or fluorescent lighting when taking photos indoors without a flash. Fortunately today, with the modern digital cameras, color compensation can be done within the camera itself. So do we still need filters? Depends on how much of a purist you are.

Perhaps the most popular filter of all is a UV or haze filter. Unfortunately, I have not found these to be very effective for UV or haze, but they are typically used to protect the glass of expensive lenses. UV filters are relatively inexpensive, are generally optically neutral (at least the good ones are), and its not uncommon for photographers to permanently install a filter on each of their lenses.

Filters are usually screwed on the front of the lens. Other filters exist, such as Cokin and others that use a different mounting method, but 99% of the time, the screw-in filter is what you will find. Lenses - even from the same manufacturer, tend to have a filter size that corresponds to the physical diameter of the lens. This means that if you have several lenses, you will likely have several different filter sizes that you need. To prevent draining your wallet by buying a bunch of filters in different sizes, the conventional wisdom is to purchase a filter the diameter of the largest lens, then buy step-down rings to mount those filters on smaller lenses. That way, you only need to purchase a single size filter that can be used for all of your lenses.

Notice:

Two types of filter rings are available; Step-Down allows you to put a larger filter on a smaller lens. Step-Up allows you to put a smaller filter on a larger lens. Make sure you purchase Step-Down rings.

The largest filter size you are likely to encounter will be 77mm, which many pro-level lenses have. However, if you never intend to buy $1,000 lenses, you can buy a smaller diameter filter for your largest lens. Like anything else, the larger the filter, the more expensive it is, so try to determine the largest diameter you will need, now and for any future lenses you may think you will buy. A 52mm UV filter can be as little as $15, while the 77mm version may be as much as $75. So you will be making expensive mistakes should you buy the wrong size, or if you have to buy several sizes of filters.

Buy good glass. You don't want to lower the performance of an expensive lens with a cheap filter. This is generally achieved by selecting a good brand of filter. The camera brands (e.g. Nikon, Canon) are usually quite good, as well as B+W. Here is one place where (other than asthetics) a Nikon filter will work on a Canon lens, or vice-versa. While you may find some criticizm on Tiffen and Hoya, I like both of these brands as they are usually pretty well made, and a bit less expensive. Stay away from Sunpak and others in that price range. A given filter might vary in price between $80 and under $10, depending on the brand.

Filter type: UV, Haze, Sky
Popular sizes: 52mm, 55mm, 62mm, 67mm, 77mm
Price range: $15 to $80, depending on size and brand.
 

Polarizer: Probably the most "useful" filter beyond lens protection is the polarizer. As the name suggests, a polarizer reduces polarized light, not unlike polarized sunglasses. This cuts down on glare from reflected surfaces in direct sunlight, most noticeably glass and water. A second benefit to a polarizer is that it can enhance the blue sky, turning it deeper. Polarizers typically rotate on the lens, so its an adjustable filter. You normally adjust the filter to match the angle of reflected polarized light. Polarizers do have a down-side though, as they typically reduce the light transmission by one to two EV. This means they are best suited for daylighy; but then again, that is where you will typically encounter polarized light.

Polarizers some in two styles, linear and circular. A film camera can use either type, but the sensors in most digital camreas have trouble getting the exposure correct with a linear polarizer, so you generally need to use a circular polarizer with a digital camera. You can also buy some polarizers in different intensities, with 0.6 being the most common.

Filter type: Circular Polarizer
Popular sizes: 52mm, 55mm, 62mm, 67mm, 77mm
Price range: $25 to $160, depending on size and brand.
 

Neutral Density: The purpose of this filter is to reduce the light into the camera. What? Why would you want to do that? The combination of the lens'es minimum aperature, shutter speed, and ISO setting provides a certain range of light you can work with. While the camera's settings are sufficient for most situations, sometimes the creative need exceeds the capability of the camera. Landscape photography is the most common use of a Neutral Density (ND) filter, and a good example of this is taking photos of running water. If you were to take a photo of a bubbling brook, with the normal settings in the camera, the water will appear sharp and static. However, photographers often like to give a sense of motion by blurring the water. This is achieved by using slow shutter speeds so that the moving water is blurred, while the non-moving scenery is sharp and in focus.

However, on a bright sunny day, the camera cannot achieve a shutter speed low enough, even with the lowest ISO speed set. And in many cases, the aperature setting will be restricted due to depth-of-field considerations. The solution is to wait until early evening when the light is not as bright so you can use a slower shutter speed... or use a Neutral Density filter. ND filters, as they are called, are generally available in different intensities; ND=0.3, ND=0.6, and ND=0.9, with ND=0.6 the most common. From the chart below, a 0.6 ND filter will allow you to reduce your shutter speed by a factor of 2 EV.

Optical Density
EV Change
% Transmittance
0.3 (2x)
-1 EV (1 f-stop)
50%
0.6 (4x)
-2 EV (2 f-stop)
25%
0.9 (8x)
-3 EV (3 f-stop)
12.5%

 

Filter type: Neutral Density (ND) Filter
Popular sizes: 52mm, 55mm, 62mm, 67mm, 77mm
Optical Density:0.3, 0.6, 0.9
Price range: $25 to $160, depending on size and brand.
 


Creative Filters

Graduated Neutral Density: Until now, the discussion was centered on correcting problems. Now the discussion changes to filters that change the photograph in a creative way. The first of these filters are a Graduated Neutral Density filter (sometimes called a Grad filter). As you conceptually know what a ND filter is, a Graduated ND filter is simply a filter that has a zero density change on one end, with the maximum density change on the other as shown in the photo below.

Like ND filters, you can purchase a Grad in densities of 0.3, 0.6, and 0.9 - again with 0.6 being the most common. The Grad filter also rotates in a similar fashion to a polarizer so that you can tailor the filter to the scene. However, some photographers prefer a sheet-type filter (one that does not screw into the lens) and hold it in front of the lens so they have maximum flexibility in positioning the filter. However, our objective is to pack light and compact for cruise travel, so having a sheet of plastic or glass may not be an easy thing to carry.

What purpose do Grad filters have? Since we know that the graduated part of the filter reduces the light, they are often used to reduce the intensity of the sky in a landscape photo. They are arranged so that the graduated part is against the sky and the clear part is placed over the land, mountain, sea, or whatever the terrain. This tends to increase the dynamic range of the photo, meaning the highlights retain detail as well as the low lighted areas. Many professional photographers use grad filters rather than post-processing HDR (High Dynamic Range) images in software as it provides instant results, and is easier done with moving objects. In contrast (no pun intended), HDR photos require several photos taken with different EV values, requring a tripod as well as non-moving subjects. HDR is beyond the scope of this discussion, other than realizing it's existance.

Filter type: Graduated Neutral Density (ND) Filter
Popular sizes: 52mm, 55mm, 62mm, 67mm, 77mm
Optical Density:0.3, 0.6, 0.9
Price range: $25 to $160, depending on size and brand.
 

Star: Star filters are special effect filters that create a starburst effect in the photo from light sources; sunlight (either transmitted or reflected), lamps, and so on. They achieve this effect from the filter having etched lines in a cross-hatch pattern in the filter glass. Different types of filters are available, including 4x, 6x, 8x, with 6x perhaps being the most common. The numbers indicate the number of facets from the light source. A 6x filter for instance would consist of 6 facets of light radiating from the light source. Some filters can be rotated so that the star effect can be changed. One notable filter is Tiffen's North Star filter, which gives brilliant results (but at a premium price). Like any other special effect, it can provide a great effect if it is not overused.

Filter type: Star Filter
Popular sizes: 52mm, 55mm, 62mm, 67mm, 77mm
Typical Facets: 4x, 6x, 8x, NorthStar (multi faceted).
Price range: $25 to $160, depending on size and brand.
 

The example below was shot with a Tiffen 6x star filter. It shows brilliant radiant points of light eminating from the light sources. While this kind of filter is capable of breath-taking photos, it should not be overused.


Centrum ceiling - Monarch of the Seas

Summary: There are a lot of other special effect filters, some which are quite attractive, and some of dubious application. I have provided links a the bottom of this page for catalogs of two of the largest filter makers. When using filters, be sure to know that when you add more than one filter to a lens, you can end up with vignetting, an undesireable effect where the filter interferes with the extreme corners of the photo, resulting in dark areas. This can usually be solved by ensuring only one filter is ever used at a time. Even then, some wide angle lenses have problems with just one filter. In those situations, you may need to purchase a "low profile" filter, which is thinner (and even more expensive) than a normal filter.

Remember, when going on a cruise, you have to lug all this stuff with you, so don't go overboard with filters. A UV, Polarizer, ND, Grad, and Star filter are plenty.

Filter Accessories


Step Down Ring Set
(Adapt filters to smaller lenses).

Filter Wrench Set
(Remove stuck filters).

Filter Stacking Set
(Easy way to store filters).

Filter storage case
(Store loose filters).

Filter Pouch
(Easy way to store filters).

References:

Tiffen Filters Catalog Made in USA
Hoya Filters Catalog World's largest maker of optical glass.


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