Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sunpak PicturePlus 55mm Circular Polarized Filter - Great Color and Sharpness

Sunpak makes filters for many sizes of camera lenses. I have been using different diameters of Sunpak circular polarized filters for many years on my film and digital cameras. It all started when I wanted to get a circular polarizer filter for my Nikon N55 camera's Nikon Nikkor 28-80 AF-G lens, which has a 58-mm filter thread diameter. I didn't want to spend too much money on it, so the expensive filters, like of Tiffen were out of the question.

I found that Sunpak produces inexpensive filters and decided to give their circular polarizer a try. In Sunpak PicturePlus package, for less than $30 (shipping included), I have not only received a 58mm circular polarizer but an UV filter as well. I have been using that combo in my cameras that needed 58-mm filters.

But I also needed a 55mm polarizing filter for my other cameras, e.g. Panasonic DMC-FZ5. So I went the same route, purchasing a 55-mm combo of a circular polarizing filter and a UV filter. As I recall, the price was also below $30. This is a very low price for a circular polarizer, even disregarding the extra UV filter. Let's talk about the 55-mm polarizing filter, which I since used on Panasonic mega-zoom cameras and on a lens of the Nikon D60.

Circular Polarizer and Why You Need One 

In my opinion, the easiest way to improve the color and clarity in your photos, is the use of a polarizing filter. The polarizing filters help you get rid of unwanted reflections in your pictures.

The reflected light often becomes polarized (light is essentially an electromagnetic wave) and the polarizer filter helps you get rid of it. Using a polarizer, you can make the sky look deeper blue, accentuate the clouds, make the water surface more transparent and make the color in the picture softer and more natural-looking.


The filter comes in a transparent plastic box with a lid. My filter is made in Japan.


The filter has a 55-mm diameter thread on the forward edge, which lets you attach one filter to another. I usually attach the UV filter to the camera's lens and the polarizer to the UV filter. That way, I can either use them both as a combo, or detach just the polarizer, leaving the UV filter on the lens to protect it from scratches, dirt, elements and fingerprints.

Regardless, you can use one filter only if you so desire. The polarizing filter has an outer ring/barrel that needs to be rotated to obtain the maximum effect. First, you have to focus, then, while looking through the viewfinder, rotate the ring until the scene looks better. Obviously, you have to use an SLR camera (or a digital camera with electronic viewfinder) to see the changes. I have used this particular filter on few cameras, including the Panasonic mega-zooms and Nikon D60 digital SLR.

Example of use: I focus on infinity, point the camera on the cloud and rotate the ring until the contrast between the cloud and the sky is the greatest.

Most inexpensive SLR lenses, have an outer barrel that rotates when you focus (in fact, I rotate it myself for manual focusing, which I do most of the time). Unfortunately, this makes the filters rotate together with the lens. Since the polarizer has an outer barrel that you have to rotate to adjust the polarizing effect, this necessitates holding the outer barrel of the camera's lens with one finger while rotating the polarizer ring with two others.

The aforementioned slight annoyance is the fault of the lens itself and not of the polarizer. And the effort required is by no means excessive.

I have also used the 58mm version of the same filters with digital and film cameras that have 58mm thread, all with great results. Both the 55mm and 58mm versions are easy to attach or detach to/from the camera's lens.

The 55-mm diameter makes this filter suitable to be used with cameras that specify this filter size. Examples include many Panasonic mega-zoom digital cameras as well as some SLR lenses. When I used this filter with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5, I was able to attach the lens cap to the filter when it was on the lens in the same way I could to the lens when no filter was on it.

There was no interference with the lens hood supplied with the camera either.


The 55mm filter performs very well, at least for the price. I have taken the same shots with and without filters and the difference was dramatic. The shots reveal that without the filter, the sky is hazy and less blue; the objects in the distance are hazy and has grayish color. With the filter, the sky is deep blue with contrasting clouds; the objects have purer and more life-like colors. The filter makes colors more pleasant and reduces harshness of light In brightly-lit daylight shooting.


One thing to keep in mind is that the polarizer affects the exposure. I noticed that as the polarizer ring is rotated, as the scene darkens the required exposure time increases (at the same aperture setting). The change in exposure reached about 2 stops, which means you might want to use either the film with higher ISO (or higher ISO setting on the digital camera), the longer exposure time (hint: tripod may be required) or wider aperture (if available and if depth of field allows).

I used the polarizer with ISO 100 setting and got good results shooting handheld in bright sunlight. In dimmer conditions, the polarizer still could be used with ISO 100 setting in cameras with optical image stabilization (Panasonic FZ cameras and the IS lens of the Nikon D60), but in those conditions there might be no need to use it. In other words, when shooting handheld, the optical image stabilization compensates for the need for longer exposure if using a polarizing filter. ISO 100-200 is sufficient in most outdoor conditions if the camera has IS. And, of course, cameras have settings higher than ISO 100 for even dimmer conditions.


The 55mm filter proved to be durable. I have not subjected it to any kind of extreme abuse, but I have dropped the 58mm version while taking photos in London. It fell from the height of about 4 feet on the hard asphalt and surprisingly didn't break. The outer metal edge was bent, which I corrected using pliers. It still works fine as there was no damage to the glass. Do not try this at home. Since the 55mm version is very similar to the 58mm one, I expect it to be durable as well.

Pros: Low price, excellent performance, build quality, durability, color and sharpness, looks
Cons: None


The 55mm Sunpak circular polarizing filter is a great value and a must for somebody who doesn't want to spend the big bucks and still wants to improve the picture. This filter brings with it the deep blue sky and better, less hazy landscapes. Not getting this filter is a sacrilege.

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