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Polarizers vs ND Filter: What is the difference?

Polarizers vs ND Filter: What is the difference?


What is the difference between CPL and ND filters? And why every photographer and videographer needs one of each in their camera bag? Well, I'll explain everything in today’s article, let's get moving.

ND filter and CPL filter are more than just 2 pieces of glass to protect your lens from dust and scratches. Whenever you go shoot outdoors, your photos or video will look perfect, bright, colorful, and cinematic. They look the same and a lot of people get them confused. They think they are the same. They are not. They do completely different things.


What are they?


Neutral Density or ND


Polarizers vs ND Filter: What is the difference?

The main difference is that Neutral Density or ND filter lets you control how much light is getting into the camera, so you can control aperture, depth of field, and also your shutter speed. A similar way works CPL or Circular Polarizing filter but is more selective on what light passes through to your camera. They manage glare and reflections and help bring colors which is key for landscape and travel photography.

Polarizers vs ND Filter: What is the difference?


Let’ look at the ND filter or neutral density filter in detail. What this filter can do for you? It doesn’t affect colors in the image but it allows you to use a wide aperture on a very bright sunny day.

Here is a sample where I am not using any filter. The aperture is high therefore you don’t get that beautifully blurred background behind me, that cinematic look we all want.

Polarizers vs ND Filter: What is the difference?


Let me add the filter on, lower the aperture all the way down. Now the footage looks much better.


Polarizers vs ND Filter: What is the difference?

Another thing ND filter allows you to do is to shoot with a slower shutter speed on a bright day. In Video for example, when you are trying to capture time-lapses and motion lapses with that sweet blur effect.

For photography, you can take photos of fast-moving objects with blur effect OR you can take those stunning landscape photos of lakes with that water kind of looking like a glass, or rivers and waterfall where the water is kind of flowing very very soft. For that obviously, you need the ND filter.

Lastly, this filter balances exposure across the whole photo so you will get properly exposed foregrounds and backgrounds and darkened sky.


CPL circular polarizer


Polarizers vs ND Filter: What is the difference?

If you own polarized sunglasses then you know what the effect can do. First of all, it will help you bring natural saturation to the photos and video. So the images will pop. When I was filming in the woods and it was overcast and it was wet everywhere I was using this filter for my B roll so it made the colors very rich and pop. It made my footage a lot more cinematic.

Another amazing use is when you take photos or videos of lakes and waterfall, it will reduce glare and reflections so you can see through the water.

Polarizers vs ND Filter: What is the difference?

The same thing happens with cars. It will make their color pop, it will reduce reflections.

Polarizers vs ND Filter: What is the difference?


I was using this filter when I was filming in that town where I get the sky blue and all other colors pop. To use this filter simply spin it around until you get the desired effect.

Keep in mind though that the strongest effect will happen at 90 degrees away from light sources such as the sun.


These 2 filters are very similar and they often get very confused.

  • ND filter is better for blocking the light.
  • CPL filter is better at bringing the colors and reducing glares and reflections.

I can tell you that I use both filters equally especially when it comes to video. When I am filming myself outdoors then I definitely always using ND filter to reduce the light so the background nicely blurry behind me and I am in focus but when I am filming B roll, where I am not, just kind of the surroundings then I pop on the CPL filter which makes everything just more bright and colorful and darkened sky. It just makes it pop. It makes it look a whole lot more cinematic.


Which size of the filter do you need?

If you grab a lens, I have here nifty fifty, 50mm lens. Then usually in the front at the bottom, here... is a number. Here it says 52mm. That's the size of the filter you need for your lens. You don’t necessarily have to buy all the filters for each different lens if they have different sizes. You can also get what's called step-up rings. They are very inexpensive, they will definitely save you some money.

so, I really do hope you found this article helpful then make sure to give it a share. If you have any questions or comments, or simply want to say hello, or just share something with me, please do so in a comment section below. You know I always read all the comments and I always respond.

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