ND filter vs CPL (Circular Polarizer Linear)

Last Updated on April 9, 2021

Are you deciding between getting an ND Filter vs CPL?

Both of these types of filters have their place in a photographers bag. CPL, circular polarizer linear, and ND filters improve the color of images and can make your nature, landscape, and wildlife photography incredibly stunning.

woman standing by waterfall

What Is The Difference Between ND Filters and CPL

Polarizer filters block light that is reflecting off the surface of subjects within the frame of your shot while ND filters make the entire scene you are shooting darker. Therefore, ND filters are used when you want to block some of the light from entering your lens without changing the color of the actual image.

What Does An ND Filter Do?

waterfall in the forest

ND filters block some light from entering your camera’s sensor. Many photographers will utilize an ND filter when they want to use a slower shutter speed or a wide open aperture when the lighting is very bright.

In other words, you will use an ND filter when long exposure time is needed but cannot be achieved with the given aperture range for the scene you are shooting without a filter.

When using a shallow depth of field in bright light an ND filter will allow you to use a slower shutter speed which in nature photography can allow you to capture the motion of water in a stream. Motion blur would be near impossible to capture without an ND filter in bright light conditions.

What Does A CPL (Polarizer) Filter Do?

river in the woods

A CPL filter will reduce the amount of sun reflecting off from a part of your scene. This is particularly useful when shooting nature scenes with water. Water can cause glare issues when the sun reflects and washes out the rest of your scene. A polarizer filter will reduce that light reflection without altering the color in the rest of the scene.

Keep in mind that light reflection is only reduced on non metallic surfaces. This will help you easily attain contrast within your image by keeping color saturation.

You can adjust your polarizer filter and bring down reflection to the level that you want. A polarizer filter can drastically improve the emotion of your images.

Best Of Both Filters

You can get an ND CPL filter that combines the function of both filters. I still use a dedicated ND and CPL filter but the 2 in 1 filters also are a great way to improve your landscape and nature photography. They work well and if freeing up space in your camera bag is important to you then a combo filter may be the way to go.


When discussing CPL vs ND filters many people are initially confused and that is because both are used by landscape and nature photographers frequently. But this is not a situation where one is better than the other. Instead it is important to know when to use each one to bring your image quality up to it’s fullest potential. In order to do this you should have both ND filters and polarizer filters in your bag and ready to go when you need them.