As a landscape photographer, I’ve always carried multiple polarizing filters with me into the field, sometimes just for backup, and other times because I’m planning to shoot with multiple cameras to capture photos, timelapse, and/or video footage.
I took the new PolarPro QuartzLine filters up and down the California coast for some test scene seascapes to try and find specific conditions that would benefit from this unique set of filters. Having a Polarizer with an ND filter built-in is an interesting idea on paper, but how does it get used in the real world?
Watch The Video Review
Why Should You Use An ND Filter?
It seems like a lot of popular opinion lately is that filters are evil and you should never use them. At least among certain types of photographers, not all.
Landscape photographers of course should own a polarizer, plus an ND filter if you’re into the long exposure thing.
Of course, video shooters, who need to achieve BOTH a specific slow-ish shutter speed based on the video framerate they’re shooting, AND often a shallow aperture for creative reasons.
But also, portrait photographers who are similarly constrained by a shutter speed, usually 1/200 sec, and again want to shoot at a shallow aperture for artistic effect.
So basically, a huge variety of both hobbyist and serious or professional photographers should be considering at least an ND filter, and/or a polarizer as well.
PolarPro PL Polarizer Filter
The QuartzLine standard Circular Polarizer offers the amount of exposure stopping (darkening) that most photographers are used to- 1.5 stops. It’s technically listed as 1.6 stops, but I’ve found that whether you have to adjust your exposure by 1 1/3 EV or 1 2/3 EV, depends entirely on the amount of polarization that is happening as well as what types of bright highlights are in the scene.
In short, you might think that “a polarizer is a polarizer” and any will get the job done. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. All of the cheap ones will have an annoying, slightly disgusting color cast to them, (usually magenta, but sometimes green-ish) and many of them will literally fall apart on you, not to mention being super susceptible to scratches or general wearing out of the front coating.
The PolarPro Polarizer is impressively color-neutral. Doing tests with the filter on/off will give you images that seem to have no difference in color aside from the intended effects of polarization.
PolarPro ND8-PL Neutral Density Polarizer Filter
If ~1.5 stops isn’t dark enough for your particular photo or video needs, that is where the ND-PL filters come in handy. The ND8-PL filter darkens the image 3 stops total, instead of 1.5. This might be perfect for your needs, depending on which apertures and shutter speeds you usually use. The ND8-PL could be very useful in scenes where you want to either blur something while polarizing it, such as water and sky together, or achieve shallow depth of field in bright sunlight.
My first impression was that I absolutely love having a polarizer and ND filter in one. I’m actually embarrassed to confess how much I’ve stacked filters in the past, something that any experienced photographer would advise against. (And let me tell you, if you think it’s annoying to have to correct a single, slight color cast, try fixing the color issues that arise when stacking two different filters that both have a color cast! It’s not pretty.)
The question is, is 3 EVs of darkening the right amount for you? Because there’s also the ND16-PL, which darkens 4 stops…
PolarPro ND16-PL Neutral Density Polarizer Filter
The ND16-PL is just 1 stop darker than the ND8PL, giving 4 stops total darkening. For doing videography or flash portrait photography at f/1.4 or f/2.0, the extra stop of darkening might be more useful. On the other hand if you don’t shoot video, or if you have high-speed-sync for your flash portrait photography, then an ND8-PL might be all you need.
Either way, I’m very thankful to the popularity of drones in recent years which has apparently spawned this development in the QuartzLine filters for “ordinary” cameras.
They come in many sizes, but what most photographers will care to know is that they’re available in 82mm and 77mm sizes, the most common for professional photography lenses, as well as most of the other common sizes. Personally however, and especially when using filters on ultra-wide lenses, I prefer to step-up my filters to the next largest size, or the largest size I might ever need, to both future-proof my purchase, and possibly avoid vignetting on my current lenses. (We’ll discuss vignetting more later)
But I digress. While it’s understandable that you’re likely to want to choose between either the ND8-PL or the ND16-PL, personally I’d still want to own both the standard PL and an NDPL filter, so that I have at least two options for different shooting conditions.
PolarPro ND1000 Neutral Density Filter
Most super-dark ND filters have a horrible magenta or green color cast, but the PolarPro ND1000 has none that I can discern in real-world conditions. Very impressive!
By the way, for those of you not familiar with the numbers, ND1000 is equal to 10 EVs of darkening power. I don’t know why filter companies use so many different measurement systems, whether an “X” rating or a decimal rating, however I like the nomenclature PolarPro uses because there’s an easy trick you can use to remember: If you slap on an ND8 or an ND16, then you’d have to use ISO 800 or 1600 to get the same exposure you would at ISO 100. The same thing applies if you ever see an ND32 or ND64, by the way. And in this case, fo ND1000, you want ISO 100,000. Instead of doing a 15-30 second long exposure only to find that you’ve got a horribly overexposed (or pitch-black) image, just check your histogram at ISO 100,000, then dial back to ISO 100 or whichever lower ISO you’re OK with using, and adjust your shutter speed and aperture accordingly. Your long exposures will turn out perfect on the first try!
Sharpness & Color Accuracy
This is probably the most important feature of any type of filter, whether a simple UV filter or an ND and/or Polarizer. So, I’ll get right to the point: These are in fact the most color-neutral of any circular polarizer (CPL) or neutral density (ND) filters that I’ve ever tested! There’s also no sharpness loss, and no added flare that I could notice.
PolarPro states that the QuartzLine’s fused quartz glass elements are capable of resolving 100 megapixel sensors, by the way, and I’m certainly confident in their ability to show no loss of detail/sharpness on today’s 24-45+ megapixel sensors.
So, after years of keeping track of which specific color-correction goes with which of my many filters in order to fix an annoying color shift, it is a real delight to just throw any filter on, and be able to edit the final images without any additional fussing with the tint or temperature. Not to mention, the overall clarity and vibrancy that just plain makes your images look better when polarized through such high-quality (fused quartz) glass!
The following is a comparison that shows the essentially identical color performance between no filter, and the PolarPro PL, ND8-PL, ND16-PL, and ND1000:
Next, a comparison that shows the difference in super-dark ND filters:
Lastly, a comparison between a few different standard polarizing filters:
Build Quality & Use
Right out of the package, I can tell that I really like the large knurls, it makes the filters easy to mount/unmount, while also making it easy to rotate the polarizer.
One of the biggest frustrations in the field is when a filter gets stuck on a lens, and for that reason, I have avoided aluminum filter rings like the plague. PolarPros filter rings are brass, which combined with the knurls give me quite a lot of confidence in saying they shouldn’t ever get stuck on a lens.
The filters feel pretty hefty overall, they’re definitely durably constructed. You’d think filters are easy things to make, but I’ve tested some that literally came apart, and others that were so thin and lighweight that they cracked at the slightest bump. Simply put, overall the QuartzLine feels like it is ready for a lot of abuse.
One thing I always get asked is, “will this filter vignette on my ultra-wide lens?” Unfortunately, it’s impossible for us to test a filter on EVERY ultra-wide lens on the market. I can say, however, that there are only a few ultra-wide full-frame lenses that go to 16mm, and all of them seem to have no problem accepting 82mm or 77mm filters with no vignetting. These filters aren’t annoyingly “ultrawide slim”, like some filters, yet they’re certainly thin enough. I actually find those ultrawide slim filters to be annoying, honestly, because it means you don’t get a bit of extra thread on the front of the filter in case you need to pop a lens cap on really quick to protect the filter from a serious bump or splash.
Durability & Longevity
OK, I’ll be honest, as an avid outdoor photographer, I often do whatever it takes to get the shot. I’d never wipe the front element of a $2000 lens with my T-shirt, however I might just grab a random lens cloth and wipe off my filter if I’m getting incessantly blasted with splashes of water or dust etc. After all, part of a filter’s job is to protect the front element, right?
I used to think that it was therefore inevitable that eventually, even a quality filter would get scratched up, or the outer coating would start to get a little hazy. I’d just have to buy a new filter every few years.
But one of the features of the QuartzLine filters are that they are extremely scratch resistant, with 16 coating layers that make the filter anti-scratch, anti-oil, anti-reflection, and hydrophobic. (That is, “anti-water”, meaning, things like splashes and mist/dew are less of a problem!) I haven’t been able to put these filters through 5+ years worth of heavy abuse, obviously, but that’s where the next thing comes in…
Something which always tells me a company is truly confident that a product will last far, far longer than the competition is having a lifetime warranty. Just like a memory card with a lifetime warranty, I’m not buying the product because I plan to “warranty it” in 50 years; I’m buying it because the warranty represents just how confident the company is in the product, period.
The PolarPro QuartzLine filters range from $199- to $249 for the various options of Polarizer, ND Polarizer, and ND in the 82mm filter size. (If you’re using a much smaller size, such as for a drone, the polarizing and ND filters range from $89 to $119.)
These are definitely high-end filters, and yet believe it or not, as far as “high-end” goes, this is the affordable end. Some high-end circular polarizers cost $300, $400, or more!
Simply put, with such accurate colors and tonal clarity, these filters are absolutely worth the price. Not only are they a competitive quality and price versus other filters that cost more, but also keep in mind that you’re essentially getting two filters for the price of one if you use an ND-PL. Which is a great value of course, but it also saves you from the annoyance (and likely, the loss of image quality) of having to stack filters.
Having said that, I understand if you’re a beginner photographer, and one of these filters costs about as much as your favorite lens. One thing I can promise you is this: whatever low-budget filter you might buy, it’ll eventually get scratched up a little bit, plus you’ll always have to do an extra level of frustrating color correction to make your no-filter images match your filtered images.
Pros & Cons
With a lens filter, pros and cons are very straightforward. Pros: does the filter transmit light with perfect sharpness, clarity, and color? Yes. Is it built tough, and does it handle well? Yes. There’s not much else to it!
On the other hand, the only con you might think of is the price. I understand if you’re a beginner photographer, and a $249 filter is almost as much as your only lens. However, as both a photographer and a long-time gear reviewer, it is one of my pet peeves to see other product reviews where literally everything is great about a product, …and the only con is price. If you’ve just reviewed one of the best products on the market, one which is actually competitive with other products costing even more, …then price itself doesn’t belong in the cons section, it’s simply an issue of budget, and saving up to afford the best!
Here’s a popular mantra that you’ve probably already heard: Why would you put a cheap filter in front of a $1000+ lens, on a $2000+ camera? Your best lens is only as good as the filter you put on it.
PolarPro QuartzLine Filter Review – Conclusion
As I’ve alluded, testing the PolarPro QuartzLine was downright impressive. Not only am I thrilled that I can now use a single filter to achieve both polarization and 3-4 EVs of ND exposure control, but I can do it with better color accuracy than I’ve ever had. I therefore highly recommend starting a collection with at least one of the ND-PL filters, and preferably an additional PL and/or ND filter too.