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How-to's Accessories Reviews

What Filter System?

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

Keywords: flash, studio, lighting, filter, guides, tips

The Two Basic Filter Systems

There are two basic filter types or systems to choose from, the screw-in and the slide-in types. The first are circular integrated filters with a mounting ring that screws into the front thread of a lens, and with a thread on the other end to screw other filter(s) or attach a hood. The second consists of a threaded adapter to screw into the front of a lens and a filter holder with one or several slots, where square or quadrangular optical resin filters slide-in. Most filter holders also allow for the use of a rotating circular polarizer.

Screw-in and slot slide-in type filters and holder

The advantages of one system are more or less exactly the disadvantages of the second and vice versa: 

Screw-in type

Slide-in type

Good quality filters are common and easier to find in many brands; generally and comparatively a little more expensive

Good quality filters are more difficult to find at local stores however, comparatively less expensive

Typically made of glass, scratch resistant; they don't warp

Made of plastic resins that may scratch, crack and break easily

More convenient to carry

One needs special care to carry them

More convenient to use

Most frequently require use from a tripod

Easy to have on at all times

Hard to keep on at all times

With step-up rings same filters can be used on different size lenses

With size ring adapters same filters can be used on different size lenses

Allow for use of the original lens hood

Require special modular or Pro hoods 

Stacking two or more filters can cause vignetting on wide angle lenses unless oversized

Easier to avoid vignetting even with 4 filters if a large holder model is chosen

Best for frequent and constant use filters: Polarizer, Warming, Color Enhancer and Soft-focus

Best for color correction filters, multiple combinations and precise positioning of split or graduated Neutral Density ones

A little more expensive in the short run

A little less expensive in the short run

Best for most situations. Except for tricky lighting landscapes, without the ability to exactly position a graduated filter transition. 

Best for versatility; for creative color effects, and specially effective for landscapes with high contrast areas and tricky lighting.


The French photographer Jean Coquin, invented the concept of creative filter photography. Introduced in the market either in the late 70's or early 80's, it soon became most popular. Of course I immediately tried it. The standard plastic holders have four slots, one for rotating filters, three for rectangular. A common practice among pros then was to saw off the last slot to maximize vignetting prevention with wide angles.

There are four Cokin sizes: "A", "P", "Z-Pro" and the "X-Pro" series, to fit different diameter ranges of lenses.


Cokin P System



THE "A" MODEL fits lenses with diameters from 36 to 62mm, well suited for most 35mm prime lenses, down to 28mm focal length and camcorders; with holder for quadrangular filters measuring 66x72mm. 



THE "P" MODEL covers diameters from 48 to 82mm and is generally preferred for everything, particularly wide angle lenses. Filters are rectangular, depending on brand are either 84x100mm to 84x120mm or 85x107mm to 85x110mm.

The "P" model is the one I first owned and recommend for not so fast and not so wide-aperture wide angle lenses. It takes Cokin, Tiffen, Hitech & Singh Ray "P" filters. You may want to get a single slot holder for your super wide-angles to prevent vignetting and the regular 3-slot one for longer focal lengths.


THE Z-PRO fits lenses of up to 96mm diameter, allows for 4x4 (100mm Kodak, Sinar, Lee, etc..) square and rectangular graduated 4x5 and 4x6 (100x150mm) filters. Although geared towards medium format cameras, it works very well with modern fast AF-S wide-angle lenses and even fisheyes. This is the model I primarily use now.
There is a Z/P adapter for the X-PRO holder with a single slot.



THE X-PRO MODEL fits 62 to 118mm lenses (and Hasselblad's B60, B70, Rollei's B6) lens front element thread diameters; for those having both large 35mm with fishe-eye lenses and medium format camera systems.
The X-Pro holder is made for filters 130x170mm in size.

Other brands of slide-in filter systems are Lindahl, Lee, Sailwind, Hitech, B+W, Nikon, Tiffen and Kenko. The Cokin system of holder, adapter and filters is the least expensive but Cokin filters seem more prone to scratches and breakage and some -intended as neutral- used to have a slight color cast. On the other extreme of both high price and high quality are the Singh-Ray filters. If you are on a budget use the Cokin ones, just remember to treat them with special care. If you are somewhere in the middle, Hitech filters by Formatt from the UK are a very good.

Screw-in type filters are the choice of many Nikonians, and that is fine for most filters (warming, enhancers, circular polarizers; Nikon, B+W, Hoya Pro 1). To prevent flare and ghosting, get the multicoated variety.
However, as one progresses in photography and more so if hooked on landscape photography, somehow there is always this uncontrollable urge to try the slot slide-in type for precise positioning of graduated neutral density filters and maybe even the very special color effects ones, like the available "sunset" filters. 

I have filter of both systems. Silly, but in the not so distant past seldom carried the slide-in ones as it got bulky in the bag.  Although to have more than 160 choices was very tempting, I had the uneasy feeling it would lead me more into creating special effects than into better compositions.

However, now that I have replaced my badly scratched slide-in Cokin graduated neutral density filters with Hitech ones, these increasingly get more use in the field. Now I know they should.


Cokin P holders

Whatever system you choose ... or not ...

Have a great time


(1 Vote )

Originally written on January 21, 2003

Last updated on December 7, 2017

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza García, Mexico
Admin, 46140 posts


Bob Chadwick (Bob Chadwick) on May 21, 2018

Thanks for the info JR. Struggling with the filter choice right now. At first I was going to go with the Cokin P Series and then got talking with Eric about light leakage at longer exposures. Choices, choices, choices! Bob

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on December 13, 2017

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

Thomas, I do remember seeing those rings advertised. Never tried them. I only use slide-in rectangular filters now.

Thomas W Horsch (Tomh1313) on December 12, 2017

What about the magnetic type of filter holders? I don't remember the brand name but you attached a magnetic ring to the front of your lens and somehow the filters attach.

User on January 1, 2014

To avoid vignetting, make a Novignett filter holder. Check out photo.net and search for "per johannessen", or "freephotoguides" forums and geartalk. You may also find this on flickr, if they can get their act together.