May 2008 see also All About Filters.
NEW: Hoya HD Filters.
Hoya filters have been my favorite for decades.
This is because even the least expensive Hoya filters that I've seen have always been coated to prevent ghost images. Hoya also makes multi-coated filters in every color I can imagine. Sure, Nikon makes a multicoated UV (L37c or NC), but if I want an 81A or A2, Nikon only makes single-coated filters. I'm told that there is a cheaper series of green-box filters that aren't coated, but I haven't seen them.
Hoya filters, except for some weird ones like multi-image and grads, are solid glass.
Hoya has been the world's largest maker of optical glass for decades. Not that anyone goes on record about this, but as far as I know, everyone, including Nikon, Canon and Leica, use some Hoya glass whenever they need certain types that they can't get elsewhere. Hoya also makes special-order glass when lens makers ask for it. Optical glass making involves a lot of trade secrets, so if Hoya makes something someone needs in a lens design, even if they know exactly what the glass does, they still can't make it themselves.
Hoyas are also the least expensive filter brand, so couple Hoya's low prices with highest quality and I'm sold.
Tiffen, B+W, Heliopan, Nikon and others
I use Tiffens when I need mechanical durability. Uncoated Tiffens can be washed with soap and water between my thumb and forefinger under a faucet. Tiffens also are laminated glass, so when I shatter one, it stays as one piece with fewer deadly shards. I also prefer Tiffen ND grads over others because Tiffen grads are both made of glass (others are plastic) and really are neutral (others often have slight color tints).
B+W and Heliopan are excellent, but they are bigger, klunkier, not always as well coated, and blindingly expensive.
Nikon (and I presume Canon, Minolta and Pentax) filters are also excellent, however, they only come in a limited range of colors and coatings. If I want a multicoated filter, only the UV and protective filters come that way. Nikon has always made exquisite polarizers.
I avoid off-brands like Quantaray and Promaster. I was given some Crystal Optics brand filters, and they weren't flat, leading to fuzzier photos. They were marked "Multicoated," and weren't!
Checking Filter Quality
You can check the flatness of any filter by looking through it with a telescope or one side of a pair of binoculars. The image should look unchanged, but even the most insignificant lack of flatness will look weird ort change the focus when magnified.
Hoya Filter Types back to top
NEW: Hoya HD Filters.
In the old days, Hoya made two kinds of filters. The regular ones always were coated, but not marked that way. Hoya's slightly more expensive multi-coated filters were called Hoya HMC (Hoya Multi-Coated).
As of 2008, Hoya makes about a zillion different kinds of filters. Remember, they are the world's largest maker of optical glass, so it's only fitting that they make so many kinds even the best of us can get confused.
Guide to Hoya Filters (terminology explained below)
*The glass in HD filters is hardened, so at 2mm thickness it's tougher than 3mm glass. The polarizer uses magic polarizing film that transmits 1/3 stop more light with the same polarizing effect. The polarizer uses two sheets of 1mm thick hardened glass. They ought to start shipping in June 2008.
The chart only lists specifications for circular polarizers, UV, skylight and protective filters.
All the other colors, like 85C and Red 25, come as listed for HMC UV/Sky and UV/Sky.
The chart lists the range of sizes for every possible filter in each line. Some filters come other sizes, too.
Hoya makes single-coated filters as large as 95mm, and HMC filters as large as 86mm. For even larger filters, Hoya's Kenko broadcast brand goes up to 127mm.
I see Hoya filters as small as 39mm.
Kinds of Coatings
Uncoated, single-coated, and HMC multi-coated (green)
Coatings are applied to lenses and filters to reduce reflections.
Uncoated glass reflects light, just like reflections in window glass. These reflections can lead to blobs of light (ghosts) that appear opposite sources of light in your images. Some lenses are prone to this, most aren't.
Coatings reduce these reflections.
Good: Single-coated (mono-coated) is the basic one-layer coating. Reflections are a dim blue, and it's usually the only coating you need. Even the cheapest Hoyas, except some polarizers, have this. (You never shoot a polarizer into a light source, so coating isn't needed anyway.)
Excellent: HMC (Hoya Multi-Coating). Hoya's original HMC multicoating is a triple-layer coating on each surface. Reflections are an almost invisible dim green.
Excellent: DMC (Digital Multi-Coating). Hoya's DMC is a redesigned three-layer coating. It's better, newer and uses different materials than HMC.
Superb: Super HMC. Hoya's S-HMC, in the black-and-gold boxes, are the best they, or anyone, make. It has six layers on each side. The glass is pretty much invisible. If you can see any reflection (by putting the filter on black velvet), all you see is a dim greenish-brown reflection.
Superb: HD. Hoya's HD coating is 8-layers, with 99.35% transmission of visible light between 400~700 nm.
What kind of filter coating do you need?
Most of the time, even though I dislike them on principle, an uncoated filter is fine. In fact, almost all of Tiffen's filters, the standard of the motion-picture industry, are completely uncoated.
Single-coating is fine. It's much better than no coating, and even Hoya's least expensive filters have it. That's why I like Hoya's filters so much; they've always been coated.
If I have a lens prone to filter-induced ghosts, I'll use an HMC, Super-HMC or Nikon L37c filter.
Honestly, with my few lenses that have filter-induced ghosts, I pull off the filter when shooting into sunsets or brilliant light sources. Duh; this eliminates filter-induced ghosts is better than any filter coating and it might save you a few dollars if you're even cheaper than I am.
It's easy to tell if your lens is prone to filter-induced ghosts. Take some photos into a sunset, both with and without a filter. Look at the photos and see if there are any additional ghosts on the shot made through a filter.
What kind of filter ring (frame thickness) do you need?
Thicker rings are more likely to cut off the corners of your photo. This is more of a problem on ultra-wide lenses and lenses made before 2000. The problem happens when the lens tries to see out the side, but might be blocked by the filter ring.
I report on this in most of my lens reviews.
Tele lenses never need thin mount filters.
Most modern wide angle lenses are now designed with filter rings big enough that even a fat filter won't vignette. The problem lenses were older models, like the Nikon 20mm and 18mm manual-focus lenses, that were designed so that only a Nikon brand filter was thin enough to work well.
Therefore, it's unlikely that you need to pay extra for a thin-mount filter. If I don't cover this in a lens review, check it yourself by shooting the sky at a lens' widest setting with and without the filter.
If you stack filters, this becomes more critical, but watch out, since some thin filters are made thin by removing the front threads!
Cleaning Coated Filters
I use dry fuzzy microfiber towels. They suck off fingerprints and crud, leaving no residue. If I have a real problem, I'll breathe on the filter first.
This gives me much better results than my old wet method of using drug-lab pure methanol, which often left residue.
Recommendations back to top
Anything from Hoya is great, although I'd steer clear of any plastic special effect filters for sanity's sake, and I prefer Tiffen grad NDs.
As far as I'm concerned, the best filters on planet Earth, regardless of price, are the Hoya Super HMCs. You don't need to use them, but since they aren't that expensive and still much less than B+W, you may as well go with the best.
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