How to Save Money on Lens Filters

Lens filters are a great tool when it comes to shooting photo and video. Filters allow you to control light in order to get the shots you want, whether that’s using an ND filter to block light out, or a polarizer to eliminate reflections coming off of water.

While filters are great, quality filters can run you a pretty penny. If you’re shooting with a variety of lenses with different lens diameters, you have to make the decision of what filters you need for what lenses or you have to buy multiples of the same filter just so you have ones that fit on all of your lenses. Fortunately, people got frustrated with this situation a long time ago, and came up with a solution that not only fixes this problem, but doesn’t impact the quality of the images you produce. That answer, is stepping rings.

What Are Stepping Rings

Stepping rings are metal rings that can take a filter that is made for a lens of a certain diameter, and adjust it to fit on a lens with a different diameter. The rings screw into the front of your lens just like a filter, and then stack in increments either up or down to get to the diameter of your filter. Step-up rings allow you to put a larger filter onto a smaller lens (think you are stepping the diameter of your lens “up” to meet the diameter of the filter), while step-down rings allow you to fit smaller filters onto larger lenses.

How They Work

What stepping rings are doing is making up for the difference in the diameter of your filter and your lens. This is best demonstrated with an example.

In this image, I have a lens with a diameter of 52mm, and a lens filter with a diameter of 72mm. In order to get my filter onto my lens, I need to use the rings to step up from 52mm to 72mm.

First I’ll take the 52–55mm step-up ring and screw it onto my lens, making the diameter 55mm. Now, I can either screw this onto a 55mm filter, or add the next ring to fit it to a larger one. Since I need to get up to 72mm, I’m going to take my 55–58mm, 58–62mm, 62–67mm, and 67–72mm rings and screw them into the 52–55mm ring.

The final result will look something like I have above, with the filter at the top of the stack, the lens at the bottom, and all of these rings in between.

Once everything is screwed onto your lens, you are good to go. Your images will come out just like you’d hoped and since the filter you’re using is wider than your lens, your camera is none the wiser.

One Caveat

Unfortunately, when using a lens filter that is drastically smaller than the lens you are adapting it for, you run the risk of getting some vignetting on your image. You can crop out this vignetting in post, but the better solution is to keep this in mind when you are buying filters and adjust the size filter you buy to avoid this problem. When you buy filters, buy the largest filter you think you will need and you will never have this issue.

Closing Thoughts

Stepping rings have been a game changer for me when it comes to using filters. No longer do I have to trade off quality for quantity, and instead can buy the best filter for a particular use case without having to worry about buying multiple. If you use filters for your photo and video work, I think you’ll find them to be a game changer as well.

I hope this article helps you in your ventures ahead! If you’re interested in the stepping rings I talked about today, I’ve provided a link below. Full disclosure, the link below is an affiliate link.

If you want more content from me, follow me on Instagram, checkout my website and subscribe to Vagabond Cove (my weekly mailing list on photography and adventure)!

Instagram: @alexlostak
Website: lostakphotography.com
Vagabond Cove: lostakphotography.com/cove

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