Is the big price premium of Hoya's state of the art polarising filter worthwhile?
A polarising filter can be a very useful accessory to keep handy in your camera bag. It can enhance the vibrance of blue skies and the contrast in cloud details, it can reduce glare, and you can scythe through reflections on water surfaces. You can also use a polariser as a neutral density filter to reduce the light transmitted to the lens on very sunny days. Versatility is a polariser's second name. Digital camera users should ensure they use a circular polariser as the old fashioned predecessors to circular types can fox autofocus and metering systems.
Now that we have established you probably ought to own a polariser, what about choosing one? This is where it gets very confusing. In this article we're testing the Hoya HD CIR-PL circular polarising filter, and our example happens to fit a 72mm filter thread. The range of prices that this filter sells for is depressingly wide. The cheapest I've seen it for is around £95, which is already a lot of cash, but I've seen the same item on sale for £145, and various prices in between. It's also twice the price of Hoya's own Pro-series coated circular polariser. Whatever, this is a lot of money for a circle of thin glass mounted on a metal screw thread. My research also reveals that you can obtain 72mm circular polarisers from as little as £4, no, really! So how does Hoya justify such a high price?
First of all, I'd like to let Hoya's Glenn Nash demonstrate the benefit of Hoya's HD filters:
So let's recap; Hoya HD (high density) filters are made from a special optical glass that's four times as strong as the usual type of glass used in filters, the top coating on the glass is resistant to marking and scratches, and the construction is ultra slim to avoid vignetting with wide angle lenses. In addition, Hoya HD filters are anti-reflection coated, with 8 layers in all; most polarising filters are not anti-reflection coated at all.
But there are other reasons for spending more on a polarising filter. I have come to expect cheap polarising filters to be accompanied by a slight, but detectable, colour cast in my images. So I decided to compare some other polarising filters from my accessories box - with the Hoya HD polariser. I dug out a 67mm Marumi, and a 77mm Hakuba S-Wide. First, I did a white balance test, photographing a colour chart, using flash for a constant colour temperature. I pre-aligned the filters by rotating until another polariser in front of the test target was at its darkest. This is because the colour cast produced by a polariser can vary according to the angle of rotation of the filter.
The Hakuba (left) is even slimmer than the Hoya, while the Marumi (top) is a much thicker design. The Hakuba is also more prone to attracting dust than the others.
I shot the test pictures in RAW, and then used the grey level dropper in Lightroom to correct the white balance. In this test I only compared the Hoya HD with the Hakuba. I was interested to find that there was a 700 Kelvin difference between the Hakuba and the Hoya HD; that's a lot, with the Hakuba being noticeably cooler than the Hoya HD. Repeating the test without the filters mounted showed that the Hoya was by far the closest to the correct white balance, only being about 100 Kelvin different.
While I was testing the filters I noticed that the Hoya HD appeared to be much less dark than either the Hakuba or Marumi filters. This is clearly shown in this picture:
Notice how much lighter the Hoya HD (bottom right) filter is compared to the others.
Out came the light meter. fitted with a flat diffuser to negate the possible effects of the rotational position of the filter (which proved to be only 0.1 EV) and the measurements showed that the Marumi darkened the image by 1.7 EVs, the Hakuba by 1.9 EVs, and the Hoya HD by only 1.1 EVs. Light is a valuable commodity to a photographer and up to almost a whole stop is worth thinking about.
Only the Hoya HD (right) out of the three offers anti-reflection coating.
I also noticed that the Hoya HD was less prone to attracting dust than the other filters. Being multi-layer reflection coated is of great benefit for Hoya HD users, too, avoiding flare and ghosting in challenging lighting conditions, and it really does make a difference.
There is no question that the Hoya HD circular polariser is a superb example of its type. It will survive more physical abuse and its optical attributes are superior. But is the price justifiable. That's really your decision. I find it difficult to comprehend that a filter can be more expensive than something like a camera lens, when that has electronics, an iris aperture mechanism, autofocus motor, and multi-coated lens elements, and other precision components. But hey, if money was no object, I'd have the Hoya HD without a moment's further consideration.
Check the latest price or purchase options for the Hoya HD Circular Polarising filter via
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