Circular Polarizer test – B+W vs. Tiffen

After using a Tiffen circular polarizer (hereafter referred to as a CPL) for ten years, I got a good deal on a more expensive B+W MRC CPL.  I paid about $35 for the Tiffen in 2004, and the B+W normally sells for around $130.  So the big question is:  Do you get $95 worth of increase in image quality and durability?

I believe Tiffen has different levels (multi-coated costs more than single-coated, etc.) and I don’t know where mine fits, but judging by the price, I think it’s a mid-level filter.

Now I’m going to post some photos I took earlier today. Each set has the exact same adjustments applied, and all were shot on a tripod at f/16 with no other filters attached.  But since these two filters are doing exactly the same job, it is pretty difficult to see the difference in my exported JPEG files.  Looking at 11MP RAW files at 100% I can see very subtle differences.

No polarizer

No polarizer

Tiffen circular polarizer

Tiffen circular polarizer

B+W MRC Pro circular polarizer

B+W MRC Pro circular polarizer

All these photos were taken with my EF 35mm f/2 IS, using a 72mm to 67mm step ring.  As happens with wider-angle lenses and polarizers at max effect, parts of the sky can be darker than others.  I should mention that these darker areas can be faded by rotating the polarizer back a little to reduce its effect. Lets look at one more set before I get into my observations.

Tiffen circular polarizer

Tiffen circular polarizer

B+W MRC Pro circular polarizer

B+W MRC Pro circular polarizer

Since I started using the B+W, the first things I noticed is that it doesn’t darken the blue skies quite as much, but the reflection reduction looks more natural.  I think the glass in the B+W is a little sharper (or the Tiffen is a little softer), but that is hard to prove here.  Details look a little better defined with the B+W.  I’d need to do some close-up shots with sharp details to really test this, even though the typical application for polarizers is landscape photos.

One more thing I had not noticed in practical use during the last 3 months, is that the colors (without correction) look more natural and neutral with the B+W.  The Tiffen has a sort of artificial look. Most of this is purely subjective and not really scientific.

The B+W has a brass ring which threads much easier than the aluminum ring of the Tiffen.  This was the most obvious difference to me while shooting and changing filters.  The difference of the effect itself is very subtle in practical use.  Could I get by with the Tiffen?  Absolutely, but I like the more natural look and easy threading of the B+W.  Is it worth an extra $95? Probably not, but there is certainly a difference in quality, and I’m not sorry I made the purchase.

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