Polarizing Filter Shootout: Tiffen vs Hoya vs B+W vs Nikon

I've been putting some of the most popular circular polarizing filters to the test. Here are some side-by-side results.

While I’ve been spending some time down at Washington DC’s Tidal Basin for the annual blooming of the cherry blossoms I decided to take the opportunity to do some side by side testing of polarizing filters.

In practice, polarizing filters are something I use less often these days. But they can make a dramatic difference, especially on skies and water.

First, though, if you haven’t used a polarizing filter before, one of the considerations to factor in is that they cut down the amount of light coming into the lens. Precisely how much varies filter to filter, but it’s generally somewhere around 1 to 2 stops. Here’s an illustration of what that looks like in practical terms. The first shot is without a polarizing filter. The second is with a polarizing filter but using exactly the same exposure settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc) without compensating for the light loss.

[before-after viewer_position=”center” orientation=”horizontal” label_position=”one” overlay_color=”#ffffff”  label_color=”#000000″ label_one=”Without polarizing filter” label_two=”Same exposure settings with polarizing filter”]


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Side-by-Side Examples

Since I had all of the filters on hand, I shot a series of side-by-side tests. These are all on the same camera with the same lens with exactly the same exposure settings (including white balance).

They were shot on a Nikon D810 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED lens, with the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. The 24mm lens has a 77mm filter thread. As you can see in these examples, there are issues when using a circular polarizer on a wide-angle lens, but I did that deliberately because it also shows more clearly how aggressively the polarizing effect is being applied.

Because of the way that circular polarizing filters work, there can be some variance in the strength of the effect based on the rotation. And the “right” spot is something you just eyeball. I’ve tried hard to keep these consistent with the point of rotation where the maximum effect is applied, but it’s an imprecise process.

Hoya Circular Polarizing Pro1 Digital Multi-Coated Glass Polarizing Filter

Hoya have traditionally targeted the consumer end of the market, aiming for good filters at affordable prices. This one includes a front thread, which is handy if you want to attach some other kind of filter or threaded accessory on top of it.

In use, I ran into an issue I’ve come across with other Hoya filters I’ve tried–a slight color shift. The results are a little muddier and not quite as crisp as the other filters here, and it’s a shade more aggressive than the others here.

Buy at B&H Photo and Amazon.

Hoya Circular Polarizing Pro 1Digital Multi-Coated Glass Polarizing Filter

Tiffen 77mm Circular Polarizing Filter

Another company that has long aimed at the affordable end of the market, Tiffen started with filters but has since branched out into acquiring some other notable accessory companies like Domke and Steadicam. Tiffen actually puts out a whole range of polarizers, including a warm polarizer and low-light polarizer. This one is their general-use model. It has a front thread; there’s also a slimmer version for wide-angle lenses that dispenses with the thread.

Considering it’s lower price point (Tiffen’s MSRP is $44.99), this one came as a nice surprise. While it has a slightly cooler color, it’s performance is remarkably good, rivaling even the much more expensive Nikon filter. The Nikon’s effect is a bit smoother, especially near the edges, but the Tiffen performs surprisingly well. For the price, it’s very hard to argue with.

Buy at B&H Photo and Amazon.

Tiffen 77mm Circular Polarizing Filter

B+W 77mm XS-Pro HTC Kaesemann Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Nano Coating

B+W consistently make some of the best filters available. I’ve used a lot of their filters over the years and am yet to come across one that I didn’t think was excellent. Like the others tested here, this uses coated glass for protection and glare reduction. This one also includes a front thread.

This one is in their “high-transmission” range, which lets more light in but trades off against a lighter polarizing effect. That makes it a good choice for low-light situations where you need to squeeze out all the available light you can while still having a polarizing effect. On a wide-angle lens like the 24mm, that more subtle effect is an advantage because it doesn’t result in as much banding. And just in looking at this through the camera I could see that its polarizing effect of this was less aggressive than some of the others–in bright conditions and scenes that don’t include large smooth regions ripe for polarizing (like the sky in this shot) it can be a little trickier to eyeball where to rotate the filter to.

Buy at B&H Photo and Amazon.

B+W 77mm XS-Pro Kaesemann High-Transmission Circular Polarizer MRC-Nano Polarizing Filter

Nikon 77mm Wide Circular Polarizer II Filter

Nikon are better known for their lenses, but they’ve always applied that outstanding expertise in working with optical glass to make top-shelf filters. They don’t tend to go in for the fancy model names or marketing, but you can count on a Nikon filter being very good. It includes a front thread.

This one definitely has a stronger polarizing effect than the B+W one above, but its optics are, as expected, excellent.

Buy at B&H Photo and Amazon.

Nikon Circular Polarizer II Polarizing Filter

It’s worth noting that even though this is a Nikon filter, that does not mean you can only use it on Nikon lenses. It has a standard filter thread that can be found on most DSLR lenses, regardless of brand of the lens.

Other Polarizer Filters

There are, of course, other polarizing filters available, and as the opportunity arises I’ll aim to add to this list.

Images and product information from Amazon Product Advertising API were last updated on 2019-09-22 at 05:58.

View Comments

  • I do indeed! I'd taken the sign-off form down temporarily but have just now restored it. You can find it at the very bottom of the page.

  • Hi, Great site and resource for those less skilled. I am wondering if you have a news email letter?

    Thanks,

    Doug

  • Hi David!
    Thanks for the article. In matter of fact it’s time to me make a decision where invest money to buy best possible cpl to my Nikon D810 with nikkor 24-70 f2.8 vr version .... currently I’m using Hoya Revo which is not bad for me but got some badly scratched on my last bike ride ,and because of my lack of experience with other brands ( except Marumi which I have fitted to my 70-200 f2.8 vr lens with Nikon d750 ) I cannot say there’s a big difference between them. Yes- by this article I’m convinced to buy BW one ... but please advise me which one has the strongest polarising effect.... I’m strong efect lover....
    Thank
    Artur

  • For almost 40 years or more I have been a loyal and happy Nikon user of their high end cameras and lenses. I have always used a Nikon polarizing filter on my all lenses particularly my favorite 50mm 1.2, I had no problem what so ever with the results. Only botheration was removing it for indoors and replacing with a UV filter, sometimes I used Polarizing over UV when I felt lazy.

    Now my issue is if I order 77mm Polarizing filter from Nikon it is so expensive and I see so many affordable options which I didn't have back in those days.

    Currently using D750 with a 24-120mm F4 a full frame camera and matching lens.

    Should I and can I compromise on filter without losing on absolute quality. I do not want oh the price is less so a little less quality works, no. That doesn't go with me.

    Will someone please tell me what is the best Polarizing filter shall I invest on? And can someone please tell me if I can dispense with the UV filter altogether. Do these filters discussed have a UV elimination built in? Will be grateful for your advice and thanks for your answers.

    • Like you, I used to use Nikon filters almost exclusively. I then shifted to B+W and am very happy with them. I've used quite a few of their filters over the years and have found them to be unfailingly excellent. But that doesn't solve the price issue because they tend to be in the same ballpark price-wise as the Nikons. For a less expensive option, I've been very impressed with the Tiffen; they can come in around 1/2 to 1/3 the price of the Nikons and B+Ws.

      As for using a UV filter, you'll get answers both for and against. It's my understanding that modern sensors have at least some UV filtering built in. It's not exactly the same wavelengths as an add-on UV filter, though, so it's not a direct replacement. I used to leave UV filters on pretty much permanently, but about a decade ago I took them all off and haven't looked back. From time to time I miss the protection they offer but I could always put on a clear filter if I felt strongly enough about it (I don't).

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