The best solar filters are perfect for use in solar eclipses. These events are some of the most awe-inspiring and humbling events that nature produces. Created by the passage of the moon in a path that brings it between the sun and the Earth, the moon creates a shadow visible from certain parts of our planet.
In some areas, the moon fully blocks the sun for a matter of minutes, creating total darkness, fascinating umbras and light artifacts, and dazzling transitions from light to darkness and, once again, to light.
The one downside to solar eclipses is the risk they pose to one’s eyes and electronics. The extreme brightness of the sun, combined with the sudden shifts in brightness, allow for damage to retinas and image recording equipment. (Photographing a solar eclipse is not like putting up a solar trail camera.)
The simplest solution to this problem is a solar filter. For cameras, the filter prevents the aperture, which will be wide open while the moon is blocking the brightness of the sun, from letting in too much light when the sun suddenly reveals itself. Solar filters block the vast majority of ultraviolet, infrared, and visible light, protecting cameras and humans alike.
Read on to discover our picks for the best solar filters available for purchase in 2020, some advice about how to handle the risks posed by solar eclipses, and even when you can next expect to enjoy one from your part of the world.
What Are Solar Filters Again?
Solar filters are designed to be used to look at the sun and moon during solar eclipses. During these events, the rapid transition from darkness to extreme brightness leaves the viewer vulnerable to significant retinal damage.
The same principle holds true for electronics. The quick and sudden shift from darkness to light can cause serious damage to internal electronic components in binoculars, cameras, and telescopes. In order to avoid this damage, solar filters are employed.
Solar filters for camera lenses filter out the majority of the visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light emanating from the sun. While they allow for a clear view of an event like an eclipse, they don’t allow through enough light to damage the electronics of a camera or similar device.
What Should I Look for in a Solar Filter?
There are a couple of features that should stand out when you’re looking for solar eclipse camera filters. Here are just a few of them.
You’ll want to make sure that, whatever solar filter you get, it is ISO certified. ISO stands for the International Organizations for Standardization, and their 9001 certification certifies that the quality management system for the relevant product is up to accepted international standards.
Nasa also certifies solar filters as safe for human eyes and electronics. Keep an eye out for the NASA logo on the boxes of any solar filters you buy. They are NASA after all. The rocket scientists should know what they’re talking about. Remember that the purpose of these solar filters are different than solar screens for home windows. The former is for safety, the latter for comfort.
You’ll need to make sure that the solar filter you’re buying is going to fit with whatever camera you’re using. Check the specifications on the camera and on the solar filter to make sure they match. There are as many sizes of filters as there are cameras so, while you should always be able to find one that matches, you should definitely be careful to pick the right one.
You’re literally trusting your eyesight to these little gadgets. Just wearing a solar escape hat isn’t going to do the trick. If you value it, as most people do, you’ll want to go with a trusted manufacturer to ensure that you’re still able to see after staring down the lens of your camera. Thousand Oaks Optical, the manufacturer of the items on this list, is a US-based company with 30 years of experience in developing and manufacturing solar filters that won’t leave you with vision damage after even the most dazzling eclipse.
While some products might be suitable for bargain-hunting, solar filters definitely aren’t. As I’ve already mentioned, your eyesight depends on these things. Even if Thousand Oaks Optical products weren’t reasonably priced, which they are, it would still be worth shelling out any amount of money to stick with a reputable manufacturer of a product that’s going to keep you from going blind.
Different solar filters can create different types of images when the sun is viewed through the lens to which they’re attached. You’ll likely want a solar filter, like the ones above, that create a gentle orange hue with a great deal of contrast. This will allow you to best capture the brilliance of a solar eclipse without causing permanent damage to your electronics.
The reason you’re going to see at least some distortion of color and contrast when viewing an eclipse through a solar filter is that the filter works by blocking out over 99% of infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light. As a result, the color and contrast of the image changes with the exclusion of much of the visible spectrum.
At the end of the day, it’s a small price to pay to keep one’s eyesight intact.
Ease of Use
Some people prefer plug-and-play functionality, while others prefer the do-it-yourself experience. It’s really a matter of preference but you’ll want to know which camp you fall into before deciding on one of the products listed above. Do you prefer things to work right out of the box? In that case, go with one of Thousand Oaks’ premade lens filters. Just make sure you grab the right size and it will screw onto your camera with hardly any trouble.
Do you prefer to do things yourself? Then you might want to consider the solar filter sheet mentioned in number four of our list. You can make your own solar filter for cameras by attaching this sheet to any camera, binoculars, telescope, or other image recording or capturing device. It’s more versatile, but you’ll definitely need to be at least a little bit handy to make everything work.
Do Solar Filters Work for Telescopes?
Or, for that matter, do solar filters work in binoculars, video cameras, instant cameras, or any other image capturing device?
The short answer is yes. A properly applied solar filter will work in any image capturing or viewing device, like a telescope. The tricky part here is the “properly applied” part. Unlike pre-made filters that can screw onto a camera lens, some devices may not have premade parts that simply attach with no fuss. You may need to use a solar filter sheet and some electrical tape to jury-rig a solution to your device.
When you do this, you’ll want to make sure that you manually check for any light leakage. Find a dark room and shine a bright flashlight directly at the protected telescope, binoculars, or whatever device you’re using. Look through the product and, if you can see light shining in through the corners, you’ve got a leak.
If this happens, fix the leak with more opaque electrical tape and repeat the process until you don’t see any bright light shining in from anywhere.
When Is the Next Total Solar Eclipse?
April 8, 2024, is the next time we’ll be able to enjoy the spectacle of a total solar eclipse. Certain parts of Mexico, the USA, and Canada will be lucky enough to be in the path of totality. Whether or not the clouds will part and the weather cooperate is a question yet to be determined, but we can all cross our fingers and hope.
You’ll want to prepare your camera and other electronics, as well as yourself, with plenty of time to spare before the eclipse itself. Solar filters are hard to come by as the eclipse approaches and its best to do your shopping and preparation well in advance of the event.
What if I don’t Use a Solar Filter?
Some intrepid (read: foolish) individuals insist on photographing solar eclipses without solar filters. You can usually meet them the day after the eclipse at the store, buying a new camera and looking sheepish.
Trying to take a photograph of a solar eclipse with an unprotected lens can literally melt the insides of one’s camera. That’s why these aluminized filters have been developed. As alluded to earlier, a camera’s aperture opens wide during the totality portion of an eclipse when the moon casts its shadow over the earth. But as the moon begins to move away from the sun again, a sudden burst of daylight-strength sunlight will wash over the photographer and into the camera, possibly melting many of the components inside.
Even if the components, like the shutter, sensors, and image stabilizers, don’t melt, they are likely to be permanently damaged by the influx of visible and ultraviolet radiation pouring into the camera.
Don’t forget that the photographer is likely to suffer injury as a result of being exposed to the eclipse without a filter. If he or she was unlucky enough to be looking through the viewfinder at the time the sun came back into view, major retinal damage, and potentially even blindness, could occur rapidly.
I won’t pretend that all attempts to photograph a solar eclipse without protection end in catastrophic injury. But the risk is high enough that the more advanced techniques of solar filter-free eclipse photography should only be attempted by experienced professionals. (Keep in mind as well that some research has suggested that common UV filters may be toxic in and of themselves.)
What are these techniques? Some photographers, in an attempt to capture the phenomena known as Baily’s Beads or the “diamond ring,” remove their solar filters during the totality and put it back on before the moon moves away from the sun. I would be remiss to fail to note that this technique carries massive risks to both the photographer and her equipment. Failing to execute the technique correctly can result in serious injury and damage. It requires perfect timing and close concentration to do correctly
A solar eclipse can be one of the most breathtaking natural experiences a person sees in their life. But enjoying it properly, and without suffering permanent damage, requires a significant degree of preparation and care. The purchase of solar eclipse camera filters can allow one to fully enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime event without worrying about the safety of one’s eyes or camera equipment.
Our full-throated recommendation goes to the Threaded Black Polymer Solar Filter for Cameras by Thousand Oaks Optical. There’s a good reason it won our Editors Choice award. It’s a great plug-and-play solution to your solar viewing needs.
But if you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, and you’d like to cobble together your own custom solution, or if you have other equipment that needs protection, you may wish to go with the 8″x8″ Solar Filter Sheet for Telescopes, Binoculars and Cameras. This way, you can construct your own custom solar filter sheet for your own devices and even make a pair of solar glasses while you’re at it.
You will want to make sure that you test the resulting homemade solution for light leakage and keep an eye out for tears. But assuming that the filter you’ve created is sound, this ISO-certified solar filter paper will keep you and your expensive gear safe from harmful solar rays.
Once you’ve decided on a solar filter solution, you’re ready to go and view the next eclipse. Just remember to keep our safety tips in mind and you’ll be in for one of the most powerful displays of celestial majesty ever witnessed by mankind.