I love my Olympus OM-5 camera. Even though I sometimes treat it roughly, I care about it enough to protect it in whatever way I can. The body of the OM-5 is reasonably solid and weather-sealed, but the lens is vulnerable, so I always cover it with a filter.
Lens filters are a simple way to protect the glass from bumps and smudges, and they often enhance the quality and creativity of my images. Filters can transform an ordinary scene into something extraordinary, adding drama, contrast, and vibrancy to photographs.
However, there are some disadvantages. In this blog post, I will explain the pros and cons of using filters on my micro four-thirds camera lens to help you determine if they are a worthwhile addition to your photographic kit.
- Protective Filter: I use a clear protective filter on the front of the lens to keep it safe from fingerprints and scratches. This is particularly useful when I’m shooting in a dusty environment or doing street photography where my lens may be bumped or jostled. It’s better to wipe away grime from a filter than risk scratching the front element of the lens. If it becomes damaged, a filter is cheaper to replace than a whole lens. Premium filters are made from ultra-thin glass that won’t affect the sharpness of the image. And decent filters often have an anti-reflective coating for minimal impact on image quality. The only disadvantage with protective filters is that they sometimes create unintentional lens flare. Avoid using cheap filters as they lessen the amount of light getting through to the sensor, so photos won’t be as crisp, and the full range of the aperture won’t be available.
- Skylight Filter: Many years ago, when I used transparency film, I found that my images often had a cold tone on sunny days. Adding a skylight filter warmed up these pictures because it had a subtle pink tint. Back in the day, it was helpful on a film camera, but the automatic white balance on Olympus digital cameras neutralizes color casts, so a skylight filter is no longer needed.
- Ultraviolet (UV) Filter: A UV filter blocks ultraviolet light, which produces a bluish tint in photos taken outdoors. The sensors on modern digital MFT cameras have ways of dealing with the effect of UV light, so it’s not as essential to have one of these filters on your lens. Still, they have the advantage of increasing contrast and reducing haze in landscape photos while adding a protective layer to the front of the lens.
- Polarizing Filter: I love travel photography, so a polarizing filter is either on my lens or in my camera bag, waiting for an opportunity to be used. A polarizing filter reduces reflections on surfaces such as lakes, oceans, glass, and metal. It darkens blue skies and turns clouds into a stunning feature in a landscape shot. Any scene becomes more vivid due to the extra contrast this filter adds to a shot. I’m often amazed at the difference a polarizing filter makes to a landscape photo. To get the right amount of saturation and polarizing effect, you rotate the ring on the filter. I find I get a better result from a polarizing filter than can be achieved in post-processing with editing software, so I regard it as an essential accessory that I always keep within reach.
- The Neutral Density (ND) and Graduated Neutral Density Filter: Neutral and graduated neutral density filters minimize the light entering the camera lens. Neutral Density filters reduce the overall volume of light, while graduated filters block varying degrees of light in specific areas of the image. When I want to create motion blur effects in water, clouds, or any moving subject, I’ll attach a neutral density filter to have long shutter speeds without overexposing the image. On sunny days, they allow me to shoot at wide apertures to have more options for depth of field. A graduated filter is clear at one edge and builds up density levels toward the opposite side of the filter, so on a landscape shot, it helps me to darken just the sky, which keeps the whole image perfectly exposed.
Using appropriate filters on my Olympus OM camera reduces reflections, improves color saturation, and increases contrast. I love experimenting with a neutral density filter for long-exposure photography, and I use a graduated filter to help balance a landscape image.
Besides the creative possibilities, I keep a filter on my lens to protect it from knocks and scratches. I’d rather risk occasional lens flare than shatter an expensive lens. While there are some potential disadvantages to using filters, more often than not, they usually enhance my photographs.