What Is the Difference Between a Camera UV Filter & a Polarizing Filter?

by Angela Tague
Filters attach to the front end of your camera lens.

Filters attach to the front end of your camera lens.

If you venture into the world of image-altering creative filters for your single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, you'll find hundreds of options to choose from. Two of the most common filters are UV (ultraviolet light) and polarizing filters. Although these filter types create very different effects on your photographs, either one can remain attached to your lens at all times to enhance your everyday photographs.

UV Filter Features

Reduce the amount of UV light entering your camera by attaching a UV filter onto your camera lens. This type of filter reduces the blue cast often seen in photographs taken at higher elevations. UV filters also make pictures of distant subjects taken with a telephoto lenses look more clear than what the naked eye sees. This clarifying effect earned UV filters the nickname "haze" filters. UV filters should not alter the color-cast of your photographs, but instead render your image with true-to-life color.

Using a UV Filter

Interestingly, the most common use of a UV filter doesn't have anything to do with reducing extraneous light or clarifying pictures. The inexpensive lens attachment works as a cheap insurance policy for your camera lens. If a liquid -- for example raindrops or a spilled soda -- splashes on the UV filter, the protective coating on your lens remains unharmed. This combination of general photo improvement and lens protection makes a UV filter an oft-used and convenient choice that you may leave attached to your camera lens.

About Polarizing Filters

While polarizing filters inadvertently absorb some UV light, a polarizing filter absorbs all light that would otherwise get reflected away from the camera lens. Light reflected off of shiny surfaces -- such as the top of a lake or the shiny front of a glass display case -- gets absorbed by the filter, making it easier to see what lies beyond the shine. Using a polarizing filter does cause a small amount of saturation loss in the areas hiding behind the shiny surface. However, selective digital editing on a computer can remedy saturation issues.

Using a Polarizing Filter

By twisting the front mobile half of a polarizing filter left and right while composing a picture, you will see the glare reduce before your eyes. Try using a polarizing filter to take pictures of fish feeding near the surface of a pond, or of a store-front display behind a reflective glass window. In both scenarios, a polarizing filter will make it easier to see the entire scene, rather than losing part of the image detail to light reflected off the camera lens. But polarizing filters do not reduce sun glare on shiny metal objects, such as chrome car bumpers.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images