04 Apr Cheap Polaroid Close-Up Filter Review
Each Polaroid close-up filter punches well above its weight in terms of the creativity and utility that they add to my photography go-bag. They are a mainstay of my photography kit. They live in my camera kit ready to help me shoot creatively when I’m out and about.
If you’re not familiar with close-up filters and what they do, they’re quite simple. They act like a magnifying glass that you screw onto the front of your lens. This enables you to reduce the minimum focusing distance of your lens. It essentially turns your lens into a macro lens (for much less money than a regular macro lens).
This photo shows the difference that the filters can make. On the left is a picture of a sunflower shot with my Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 lens. I took the image as closely as I could, which is 28cm on this particular lens.
The image on the right was taken with the +10 Polaroid close-up filter attached. You can see how much closer it allows you to get to the subject, and then how much it throws the background out of focus compared to the image on the left.
When you’re buying close-up filters the measurement that you will need is the filter ring size of your lens. You’ll find it in the manual, or just by searching online. Make sure you buy the correct size otherwise they simply won’t fit.
The main advantage of a Polaroid close-up filter over a dedicated macro lens is the price. £13 to add a macro option to your photography kit rather than several hundred for a lens is a considerable difference.
The price point of cheap close up-filters compared to macro lenses means that if you’ve never tried macro photography before you can jump in and have a go without spending a fortune.
The pack of four filters is also small and easily fits in a side pocket of a camera bag. I like my gear bag to be as light as possible so carrying extra lenses is something I like to avoid.
Quite frankly, the quality of the glass in these filters sucks. You can buy more expensive close-up filters that have better quality glass. But in my opinion, if you want to pixel-peep and shoot very high-quality macro images then you’ll want to look at purchasing a dedicated macro lens.
Basically you lose clarity on the images. The sharpness isn’t very good at shallow apertures because of the way that the light refracts through the glass and interacts with the lens elements. You get this slightly peculiar dreamy effect that begins to look a bit like a Lensbaby Velvet.
But you can get around that somewhat by stopping down your aperture setting. The two images above were shot with exactly the same kit. The one on the right was using a razor-thin aperture of f1.4. The one on the left I stopped it down to something like f8. You can see that I have gained a lot of sharpness just by stopping it down, but have lost some of the lovely shallow depth of field.
So working with cheap close-up filters can be a compromise. You don’t get the full macro lens experience because you’re not paying anywhere near the same amount of money. And so in this respect it does require a bit more skill to get good shots with them.
Use the downsides creatively
Of course, what you can do is exploit these flaws to your advantage. This can be great if you’re looking to experiment with things like shape and form to create fine art photography.
By pushing the strange, dreamy qualities of the lens you can begin to create images that don’t look like just another macro shot. The backgrounds feel slightly unreal, and the colours begin to blend into one another in a way that isn’t quite like more expensive photography equipment.
When combined with some careful post-processing afterwards you can start to shoot images that don’t feel like either conventional digital or analogue photographs. And that’s a really exciting thing to be able to do.
If you do decide to give a Polaroid close-up filter a try then let me know how you get on with it. They’re not a big investment compared to the rest of your kit, And they’re fun even to play with just in the garden or around the house! If you’d like to read more about these close-up filters, you can read the article I wrote about using them for flower photography.
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