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10 Apr 2014
Are expensive polarizers better than cheap polarisers?
Posted by Todd Sisson
Once upon a time, in a moment of fiscal exuberance, we were convinced to drop $220 on a single Heliopan circular polarizer. Ever since that rare moment of madness we have gone cheap with our polarizers - all our lenses are fitted with Marumi DHG polarizers these days.
I have never noticed any adverse effects from fitting the Marumi filters to our most expensive lenses but I have always wondered if there is a visible difference between the German made 'Mercedes of filters' and its Japanese sourced 'Toyota' competitor. Cue a short 'real-world' field test.
Here they are (I have included an amazon display ad so as you can compare up-to-date pricing):
Both filters are about four years old and both still in good physical condition with little wear and no scratching. The Heliopan is definitely a better built filter - using brass or bronze threads, but I can buy four Marumi filters for the price of one Heliopan. It is also worth noting that the DHG is Marumi's mid-range polarizer - the multi-coated Super DHG Circular Polarizers ($95 on amazon at time of writing) seem to be much more popular with buyers on amazon. Here in New Zealand the Super DHG is almost double the price of the DHG so I give that one a miss.
I decided to test these two filters in a real world test at common landscape settings using a 200mm telephoto lens. I elected to use 200mm as any imperfections will be far more apparent than on an ultrawide due to the magnification at this focal length. Here are the details:
results compared in Lightroom without any processing
I am testing for any visible or material degradation of image quality from using these polarizers.
Firstly, let's see if using a polarizer on destroys fine detail.
Non polarized (L) vs the cheap marumiDHG polarizer. Obviously the colors have altered due to polarization, but I can't spot any quality degradation or loss of fine detail here.
Non polarized (L) vs Heliopan polarizer. Once again I can't spot any quality degradation here. Maybe, just maybe, the Heliopan is a smidgeon softer than the non polarized image - maybe...
MarumiDHG polarizer (L) vs Heliopan polarizer. I just can't see any meaningful difference between these two shots. Can you? If anything, the prestige German filter looks a little softer. However, we are not lawn tractor product photographers - how do the two compare on natural subject matter.
Both polarizers produce lovely colors and detail in the grass region of this image. Again, the cheaper filter looks a touch better to my eye, but any variation is utterly insignificant.
I can't see anything in these results that would:
deter me from using a polarizer. As I detail in this article, the benefits of polarization are so great for landscape photography that I would happily trade off a little acuity - fortunately this is not a choice I have to make with either of these filters!
convince me that spending 200%-300% more for a prestige branded polarizer is a worthwhile move. We will continue with our tight-fisted filter purchasing policy!
I hope this has been of assistance, feel free to comment below.