What are GoPro Filters and Lenses and why do you need them? In photography, you have a vast array of different filters and lenses but luckily the choice is much manageable for action cameras. The camera is equipped with a single fixed lens and the creative freedom comes from the different filters you can use.
The most common GoPro filters fall into three categories: Neutral Density filters, Polarizing Filters, and Underwater Filters. They each have different purposes and they each have multiple options to choose from.
What Are GoPro Neutral Density (ND) Filters?
The purpose of a Neutral Density (ND) filters are to reduce the amount of light (of all wavelengths) that reaches the sensor. This allows the photographer to select the combination of aperture, exposure time, and ISO sensitivity for images that would otherwise get overexposed. If you want to dig deeper, here is the Wikipedia article on ND filters. There are multiple levels of ND filters that reduce the amount of light by specific f-stops (ND number). The most common is ND2,4,8, 16, 32, 64 with the ND2 reducing light just a bit and the 64 looking almost black and reducing light much intensely. Variable filters can be adjusted without swapping them out physically.
ND filters for GoPro?
So why do you need ND filters on a GoPro camera? There are a few situations where a good ND filter will have a huge impact on your videos or images.
If you want to get the smooth milky water texture in an image on a bright day you NEED an ND filter. Even if you turn the ISO down to 100 the shutter speed will have to be really fast to avoid overexposure so the water will look as crispy as for the human eye.
Longer exposure times can also produce cool light trails or blurred motion in still images. In videos, however, the ND filters can help you achieve a more cinematic look. Getting your fps down to 24fps can give you a much sleeker look than what you get with a higher framerate. The slow 24fps gives some blur to rapid movements and makes the footage more suitable for the human eye.
Best ND Filters for GoPro cameras
Camera Butter specializes in high quality ND filters for GoPros, and makes filters with some of the best optics in the business. Their ND filters for the GoPro 9, 10, 11 and 11 mini twist onto the camera, replacing the existing lens cover. This means that not only are they easy to put on and take off, but they do not take up any extra space, so your camera will still fit in mounts properly – even in the dive case. They are also made from nanocoated Corning Gorilla glass, making them the toughest ND filters available in the world -truly made for action!
Their filters for the GoPro Hero 5/6/7/8 and Session 4/5 stick on to the lens with a removeable, re-usable adhesive, making them very low-profile.
Most of their filters are available in many different packs and combinations, including an ND4,8,16 pack, a ND8,16,32 pack, an ND16,32,64 pack and various other 3-packs. Some of their filters are even available individually.
Not only do the Camera Butter filters outperform even the most expensive alternatives, they are also very fairly priced.
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PolarPro has been making GoPro Filters and Lenses for ages and they also make high quality filters. They make filters for GoPros, DJI drones, DSLRs etc.
PolarPro ND Filter Pack includes ND8/16/32. They have a HotSwap Magnetic Filter Base that allows for quick filter changes and removals and Cinema Series Glass +16 coating layers reduce flaring and protect against fingerprints and oils. The price tag on the kit is a bit on the heavy side costing around 79USD depending on the GoPro model.
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Another good option is Freewell that also produces filters for DJI, GoPro and other cameras. They are cheaper but still good and the ND filters perform well. The danger with very cheap filters is that you will see color distortions, especially with ND32 and you will lose image sharpness. Take a look at the image quality of cheap CamKix ND filters in our CamKix Cinematic Filter Pack Review. You will see clear changes in image quality.
Freewell has proven to be a high-quality producer and their ND filters for Hero9 are also polarizing! You can get the standard Freewell ND Filter Kit Includes ND4, ND8, ND16, and ND32 Filter (4-Pack) Compatible with GoPro Hero7 Black, Hero5 & Hero6 Black Camera for just 49USD and the ND/PL set for Hero9 for 69USD.
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Third safe-bet if you want to buy good quality filters is Sandmarc. They cost around 59USD and use Industrial Grade, Ultra Lightweight, Multi-Coated Glass Material. Sandmarc makes accessories (like the Armor Bag )for GoPros and other cameras.
Get the Sandmarc ND Filter set with ND16/32/64 from Amazon.com
You can also find cheaper ND filter kits on Amazon but I highly recommend steering clear from them as they are made of cheap materials and the image quality will suffer a lot!
What are Polarizer Filters
A polarizing filter or polarizing filter is placed in front of the camera lens in photography to darken skies, eliminate or reduce reflections, or suppress glare from the surface of the water (Source: Wikipedia).
In my opinion, a polarizing filter is THE MOST useful and for me at least, the most used. A good Circular Polarizer (CPL) is the most versatile filters that can turn a boring photo into something special without even going to your editing software.
A polarizer can increase contrast in sky saving details in the blue tones.
It can also remove reflections from water or any shiny surface like car windshield or glossy metals.
Polarizing filters can be rotated to maximize or minimize the admission of polarized light. Rotating the polarizing filter will make rainbows, reflections, and other polarized light stand out or nearly disappear depending on how much of the light is polarized and the angle of polarization.
There are two types of polarizing filters: linear and circular. The circular is the way to go and you rarely see any liner filters used anymore with DSLRs as the circular fits in any situation and gives you complete control over the polarizing effect but there are still Linear filters for action cameras.
Best Polarizing GoPro Filters
The top brands are the same as they are for good ND filters: PolarPro is the most expensive but it’s well worth the price. Sandmarc and Freewell are close seconds and cost a bit less but still offer top quality.
Sandmarc CPL filter on Amazon.com
Freewell Multicoated Polarizer Filter on Amazon.com
PolarPro filters on Amazon.com
What are Underwater Filters
If you put your GoPro under ware for just 1m you will already see color distortions. The water blocks out red light and your images and videos will have a blue overcast. It gets bluer and bluer the deeper you go. To counter this you need to either spend time post-processing or eliminate the color cast with red filters.
The most typical underwater filter set comprises of three different filters for different depths.
- The Red filter is perfect for diving in tropical and blue waters from 15 to 75 feet.
- The Magenta filter can be used to capture stunning underwater colors in green water from 15 to 75 feet.
- Light Red- Snorkel filter can be used in shallow water from 2 to 20 feet.
Best Underwater filters for GoPro
There are some familiar brands mentioned for ND filters but I also suggest looking at GoPole underwater filters.
You can get the Dive/Impact Housing + Filter kit for 54USD. This adds an extra level of protection to your camera when diving deep or just using it on dry land.
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Another good choice is PolarPro that is the best quality you can get! You can buy different combinations for different cameras starting from 38USD for three filters. You need to have the protective housing in order to use them.
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I highly suggest not getting really cheap alternatives. You can save on some accessories if needed but anything you put in front of the lens on GoPro or any other camera needs to be top quality or you will ruin the images instead of improving them