Glassy Eyed
Back in the day when film-based still cameras were as good as it got, you went to the camera shop and the salesperson took you through the whole process: choosing a body, a lens, a bag, cleaning supplies and filters. The idea with the filters was to have something to protect your pricey lenses. If you shot in a dusty environment, you only had to clean the filter. If you scratched the filter, you breathed a sigh of relief that it was just the filter and not your lens.

Filters are still a good idea now. Many videographers that we know buy clear (possibly UV) filters to protect their lenses, which generally can’t be replaced on consumer camcorders. But there’s more to filters than just protecting lenses. Here are some of the most common filters used by videographers and how you might use them:

  • UV, Skylight and Haze filters can make good all-purpose lens protectors while also blocking ultraviolet light that shows up as blue haze in the picture.
  • Star filters catch gleams of bright light and accentuates them by radiating rays of light outward. Works great with lights at night, candles in romantic shots or even brightly reflected sunlight off of a car or lake.
  • Polarizing filters help to reduce glare in bright outdoor settings by only allowing light from certain angles to pass through. Good for shooting through glass windows or, less commonly, trying to see below the surface of water. Polarizers can also make skies seem bluer and more rich. Since the direction of the light is important, circular polarizing filters can rotate on your lens to maximize the effect you want.
  • Neutral-Density filters are simply gray filters that block light without changing its color, allow you to open up your iris when you shoot in very bright settings (e.g. outdoors in sunlight), giving you more exposure latitude. An open iris also has a shallower depth of field, which gives you better artistic control over your shot. ND filters come in different densities and can be stacked.

    Visit a local camera store or filter manufacturer’s Web site to learn more about the benefits of these filters. You’ll also need to know the diameter of your camera’s filter threads. Look on the ring around the lens barrel to find the lens diameter, in millimeters, e.g. 37mm or 52mm. Unfortunately, not all camcorders have threaded lens barrels.

    There are a number of filters that are probably better to leave off of your camcorder. Color, spot, mist, diffusing and fog filters, for example, were useful in the days before computer post-production. Today, we can effortlessly (and optionally) add these effects in post.

    Take Control
    If your camcorder has the appropriate electronic connection, such as LANC, you can attach a lens controller, giving you the flexibility to control your camcorder without touching it and causing vibrations. The beauty of using a lens controller is that you can have your controls at your fingertips, while your camera is at a distance.

    This is the perfect accessory if you are using a studio tripod or you’re using a jib and you can’t reach your camcorder. If you’re using a Sony or Canon camcorder, you’ll use a LANC connection. If you’re using a camcorder from another manufacturer, notably Panasonic and JVC professional divisions cameras, you might find a different proprietary lens controller connection.

    There are a myriad of lens adapters on the market that can, for example, double the focal length of your lens or can make the shot wider when shooting in close quarters. All of these adapters screw into your camcorder’s filter threads. Prices vary widely, and are dependent on the filter’s size and function, but they tend to be more expensive. Better optics cost more money and are worth paying for. Another example is a 16:9 widescreen adapter for creating spectacular anamorphic DVDs.

    Consult the buyer’s guides and manufacturer list that accompany this story to get the scoop on what’s available in the world of filters, lens accessories and lens controllers. Whether you need the protection or UV filter (you do), a lens controller for use with a boom or a wide-angle adapter, there’s sure to be a lens accessory in the wild that will fit your needs.

    Charles Fulton is Videomaker‘s Associate Editor.

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