filter graduated filter landscape photography Long Exposures ND Photographic Filters polarizer

Screw-on Filters Vs. Square Filters. Which is best?

Do you have to use screw-on filters or sq./rectangular filters in your images?

As we speak I assumed we might contemplate the variations between the 2 major forms of photographic filter, and then weigh up the pros and cons of every of them for specific kinds of images.

My chosen writing subjects are often triggered by issues I’m doing with my very own images business and this was something I’ve been taking a look at lately. My filter package was a bit beat up and I’ve not been totally proud of all the alternatives I made once I put this set together.

As I started to put a brand new package together shaped by extra years of experience within the subject, I made a decision to swap a couple of sq. filters for some spherical, screw-on filters this time round.

Screw-on circular filters

A Breakthrough Images X4 ND filter

These filters screw onto the thread on the entrance of your lens. The dimensions of filter you want is dependant on the diameter of your specific lens and you have to have a filter that is a minimum of as vast as the diameter of your largest lens.

For instance if in case you have a lens that has a 77mm thread, and a lens that has a 67mm thread, you’d purchase a 77mm filter after which use a “step up” thread adapter (these are the perfect ones) to let you mount the 77mm filter on a 67mm thread. You can’t go the other approach though, because a 67mm filter would not cover the complete width of the 77mm lens and would subsequently be visible in your photograph.

For most people this challenge surrounding selection of filter sizes for his or her lenses is the most important drawback they face when shopping for filters. In case you have many lenses with many various thread sizes then you must carry numerous totally different adapter rings. Typically these adapters get caught on filters and develop into a pain to cope with in cold climate. Ideally, you’d only ever buy filters which are the identical measurement as your lens, but that’s not financially sensible for a lot of people, particularly with costly polarizing filters.

Further Studying: The easiest way to remove a caught filter or filter step-up ring.

Another probably problematic state of affairs is that you simply buy filters for one measurement of lens, after which later you understand you need to get a lens that has a wider filter thread. Now all of your filters are too small for that new lens and there’s nothing you can do about it.

This occurred to me when Canon launched their 24-70 f/2.8 L II which has an 82mm filter thread. All Canon’s previous L-Collection lenses had a 77mm filter thread so that is the dimensions of filter I had been buying for years. All of a sudden I had to purchase new 82mm filters and it value me many tons of of dollars!

Let’s break it down before speaking a bit more:


  • May be left on the lens for quicker setup
  • Might be easily stacked together by screwing them together
  • Smaller and simpler to retailer
  • Extra sturdy


  • Adapter rings are essential to fit a single filter to a number of lens sizes
  • Can get stuck on lenses and be exhausting to handle in cold weather

For many individuals, the rationale for using screw-on filters fairly than sq. or rectangular ones comes right down to portability and ease of use. Screw-on filters may be fitted in a short time and there’s no requirement to deliver anything with you aside from the filters themselves.

Plenty of occasions you possibly can even depart filters hooked up to the lenses while capturing an analogous scene from a number of angles. Should you’re out for a day of panorama images, there’s an excellent probability you’ll be able to simply depart your screw-on round polarizer on the lens all day after which it’s prepared at a second’s notice. Multiple screw-on filters are additionally straightforward to pack in your bag in small filter wallets, and they are fairly durable until you hit them arduous with a blunt object or drop them on rock.

There are lots of forms of screw-on filters, however the most typical ones are UV filters which individuals typically use for lens safety, neutral density filters for attaining a slower shutter velocity in landscape photographs, or a round polarizer for chopping down reflections on water or enhancing colour within the sky.

Further Reading: These animations present precisely why it is best to personal a round polarizer.

Square and Rectangular Filters

These filters are constructed from glass or resin, and are sometimes used at the side of a filter holder that attaches to the entrance of a lens. They arrive in quite a lot of sizes to go well with totally different digital camera varieties, however for DSLRs the most typical are the 100mm (4 inch) sort.

The sq. filters are subsequently four×4 inches, and rectangular ones for the same system are four×6 inches. Identical to screw-on filters these square/rectangular ones are available quite a lot of varieties, although the most typical are neutral density filters (sq.) and graduated impartial density filters (rectangular).

Further Reading: In case you are not sure, I have written a guide that explains the distinction between impartial density and graduated impartial density filters.

The primary advantage of this technique is that you simply don’t have to get totally different sized filters to fit totally different sized lenses. As an alternative, all you want is quite a lot of adapters on your filter holder which are specific to the diameter of your lens.

The filter holder adapter screws on to the lens, after which the filter holder attaches to the adapter. The adapters are low cost, so it’s not a problem to adapt a large number of lens diameters to work with a single filter holder and set of square filters.

It’s additionally relatively straightforward to stack multiple filters together as most holders may have a number of filter slots. This allows you to use a number of ND filters simultaneously, or an ND and a graduated ND at the similar time. Conversely, stacking a number of screw-on filters together typically leads to vignetting until you’re using costlier extremely thin filters. The thinner glass or resin square filters don’t cause vignetting fairly so simply, though you need to be sure to put them in the filter slots closest to the lens aspect.


  • One set of filters may be easily used with many lenses
  • Straightforward to stack a number of filters
  • Simply adjustable filter position for utilizing graduated filters


  • Physically larger than screw-on filters and in addition extra fragile
  • Very lengthy exposures require a filter holder to be carried
  • Attainable vignetting from filter holder on wider lenses
A Breakthrough Images X4 GND

One thing that I need to point out is that you simply don’t need to use a filter holder for a graduated neutral density filter. It’s completely potential to carry a grad filter up towards a lens for a shot with a relatively fast exposure. You might very simply use a screw-on polarizer and a hand-held rectangular grad ND. Actually I’m doing exactly that in the photograph under!

Now, if you wish to shoot long exposures of water or shifting clouds, you then’re going to wish to make use of the filter holder on your NDs at that point. It’s not attainable to hand-hold an ND for a number of minutes without shifting it about and by chance letting mild in on the edges.

A observe on circular polarizers

Circular polarizers are virtually all the time of the screw-in selection since you need to have the ability to rotate them to any angle to seek out the perfect setting for the angle of sunshine falling on your scene. While it is attainable to purchase a sq. polarizer, it doesn’t make a lot practical sense as a result of in the event you rotated the square filter holder to regulate the polarization, you wouldn’t be capable of use the holder for any graduated impartial density filters on the similar time. Since a filter holder and a sq. polarizer are far more cumbersome to carry and use than a screw-on filter, there’s really no purpose to provide it a attempt.

In case you’re questioning the way you go about utilizing the recommended round polarizer as well as a filter holder for sq. or rectangular filters, then you’ve gotten a couple of options:

  1. Use a screw-on polarizer that has one other thread on the entrance of it, thereby permitting you to attach your filter holder to the entrance of the polarizer. I recommend the Breakthrough Images X4 CPL and the X100 holder.
  2. Use a larger polarizer (typically 105mm) that sits in a special thread on the entrance of some filter holders (see image under).
  3. Use any sort of screw-on polarizer after which maintain your graduated neutral density filters in entrance of the polarizer while taking the shot.
  4. Use a “Cokin style” polarizer that really sits in the filter holder in one of many similar sort of slots that often holds your impartial density filter.
  5. Use the unique Darkish CPL filters from Breakthrough Images which combine an ND filter and a circular polarizer into the identical filter.
105mm thread on front of square filter holder. Usually used for a circular polarizer.105mm thread on front of sq. filter holder. Often used for a round polarizer.

Which is the perfect technique? All strategies can get the job finished, so there’s undoubtedly some personal choice concerned with this selection. Options 2 and four require purchasing polarizers which are effectively much bigger in diameter than your lens. With top quality polarizers already being pretty expensive, this could make these bigger sizes unpractically costly for some individuals. It additionally signifies that you all the time should have a filter holder with you, even in the event you’ve no intention of utilizing other forms of filters. Typically you may need to use a polarizer in a state of affairs the place ND filters merely aren’t vital and I find it nice to have the ability to just carry a screw-on polarizer for that purpose.

The primary disadvantage of choice 1 is that it moves the filter holder additional away from the front component of the lens. It will barely improve vignetting within the corners of your image so chances are you’ll find that you would be able to’t shoot at such a wide angle as you otherwise would do before the vignetting appears within the shot.

It’s because of this that I have a tendency to make use of choice three myself. With just a screw-on polarizer on the lens, and a hand-held graduated neutral density filter, I don’t have any vignetting issues. Choice 5, the Darkish CPL is also useful once I need to use an ND and never a GND.

A Notice On Graduated Impartial Density Filters

The wonderful thing about rectangular graduated filters is that you could reposition the darker space of the filter over the brilliant portion of your picture. You will have some flexibility to shift it up or down, and typically set it at a slight angle.

While they aren’t seen very often, it is also attainable to get round screw-on graduated impartial density filters. Screw-on graduated filters don’t have that flexibility, and the dark part of the filter tends to be positioned within the prime 1/3 of the image. In lots of instances that’s in all probability still better than utilizing no graduated filter when you have got a vibrant sky in your shot, nevertheless it undoubtedly limits potential and could pressure you into selecting your composition based mostly on your filter design.

Should you solely have one graduated ND filter, make it an oblong one and not a screw-on one. The one state of affairs that I can think of where you may need to select a round graduated filter over an oblong one can be when carrying the typically fragile rectangular filters isn’t potential. Glass graduated filters might be brittle, whereas a screw-on fashion one would fit into a small pouch and be much more durable.

Even this is a barely dubious argument because nowadays glass filters aren’t the only choice. Resin filters have come a great distance and actually that’s what I’ve been utilizing for the previous few years. They are much more durable than glass filters and I have no qualms about bringing them on even my most rugged journeys.

Photographing the mysterious traveling rocks of the Racetrack Playa with a filter holder and graduated ND filter.Photographing the mysterious touring rocks of the Racetrack Playa with a filter holder and graduated ND filter.

Utilizing ND filters for vast aperture purposes

Nearly all of individuals use ND filters to cut down on mild getting into the digital camera and permit longer exposures that render motion in exciting methods in a photo, see the article on understanding shutter velocity for more particulars.

Typically, though, an ND filter is also used to can help you shoot in vibrant mild with a really large aperture. For those who needed to get a very shallow depth of area then it’s a must to shoot with a large aperture but issues can arise on vibrant sunny days. Even at ISO 100, a wide aperture in the range of f/1.8 – f/1.2 may end up in a vital shutter velocity that far exceeds that which a digital camera is capable of. Professional cameras often max out at about 1/8000 of a second most shutter velocity, however some will only go to 1/4000. If this shutter velocity isn’t quick enough to permit a correct exposure at extensive apertures, you’re pressured to make use of a smaller aperture and hence get extra depth of area.

Because of this, should you’re a portrait or style photographer then you definitely may need to use an ND filter in your lens to cut down the general exposure and pressure a slower shutter velocity at that nice large aperture you need to use! But would you employ a round screw-on ND filter? Or a sq. one?

The choice is fairly clear on this case; a round filter can be the best choice. Square filters that require filter holders are wonderful for utilizing on a tripod, however they don’t actually lend themselves to being used in a extra fluid method as you’d be in a portrait shoot state of affairs.

Filter holders are a bit cumbersome and to be frank, most filter holders I’ve tried don’t really feel that secure when mounted to the digital camera. They’re designed for use by panorama photographers with tripods, and never moved round frantically capturing multiple angles while a model is pulling 20 poses a minute in entrance of your digital camera.

There’s merely no approach I might need to use a filter holder and a sq. filter for this type of capturing. It will not be long earlier than you knock it off the digital camera, or the fixed switching from portrait to panorama loosened it and despatched it crashing to the bottom. Screw-on filters are the best way to go in case you are trying to work with wider apertures for portraits, wedding ceremony and road images!

Using ND Filters For Capturing Video

ND filters are sometimes used when capturing video because shutter speeds must be stored low to ensure that the video to have a fluid “filmic” look to it. A video with a shutter velocity of 1/1000 for example, seems jittery and bizarre. The overall rule with video is to make use of a shutter velocity that is twice what your body fee is.

In case you are capturing 29.97 fps video, you’d use a shutter velocity of 1/60 second. That’s truly a reasonably sluggish shutter velocity and it’s exhausting to realize on a brilliant sunny day until you all the time put your lens at f/32! ND filters permit the slower shutter velocity and a wider aperture for use.

Whether or not you must use round or square filters for this can rely on your capturing type. In case you are hand holding the digital camera in a “run and gun” type, I feel screw-on filters make rather more sense for all the explanations mentioned within the previous section about portraiture. They’re just much less more likely to get in the best way and get broken! Should you’re capturing from a tripod, though, there’s no purpose not to use sq. type ones. In truth, many people use a matte field which is like a mixture of a filter holder and a lens shade multi functional. These cinema specific equipment typically take a unique measurement of ND filter to nonetheless images ones, so watch out when purchasing.


Some decisions are fairly clear. For circular polarizing filters you’re higher off getting a screw-on filter, and for graduated impartial density filters the best choice is rectangular filters.

The primary selection comes when choosing common neutral density filters and speciality filters corresponding to a warming filter. There are execs and cons to each selection, and a few of it should come down to non-public choice and your fashion of capturing. I personally assume that in case you are wanting to make use of a single ND filter and a polarizer, the only answer is to make use of screw-on filters and stack them collectively.

By getting the extremely skinny fashion polarizers that don’t have a entrance thread to them, you’ll be able to maintain your stack thickness comparatively low and limit any potential vignetting problems. This obviously works greatest if all your lenses have the same filter thread diameter, although.

For those who plan on needing to stack a number of ND filters collectively, then you definitely’re in all probability higher off with a square filter system that uses a filter holder.

BONUS: What’s does my current filter package include?

After receiving a couple of questions, I’m including a quick listing right here of my present filter package after its current restructuring.

What’s in your package?

Depart a comment under and let me know!