The Cokin System: A Beginners Guide

Shooting with a "square" filter system can dramatically change the way you take pictures but for a beginner it can be downright confusing. So much so that you avoid even taking a chance at trying them. So we put this simple step-by-step guide to help take the confusion out of the process and get you on your way to creating amazing images with the Cokin filter system. 

Step 1: Identify the filter and holder series you will need.

This is the most important step in the process, once you’ve have determined the series of filters and holders you will be using the rest falls into place.

Follow these steps:

    1. Identify your camera's sensor size from the first column
    2. Then determine the widest angle lens you intend to use with your sensor size
    3. Cross reference to determine which series you will be using
    Cokin Filter Size Chart

        * A note about this table. It was tested with a full-frame 17-35mm lens with 82mm filter threads and each holder turned to a 45° angle which has the greatest opportunity for vignetting. With the holder straight on you will pick up a couple more millimeters of focal length. APC-S was tested with an 11-20mm lens and Micro 4/3rds was tested with a 12-40mm and 7mm lens using the same procedure as the full-frame.

        Now that you selected the series you will be using lets move on to choosing the filter holder that is right for you.


        Step 2:  Select a Filter Holder

        This is pretty simple. In step one you determined which series fit your needs. Below we have listed all three series holders with a list of features that help differentiate them. It is important to note that the L Series holder is the most versatile because the number of filter slots can be adjusted from the standard 3 slots to 1 for those times when you want to use a wider lens than we recommend.

        M series filter sizes
        Cokin filter holders

         Step 3:   Find the filter size of each lens you'll be using.

        The filter size will be printed somewhere on the lens. Look for a circle with a line through it next to a number as shown below. This is the filter thread for your lens. It is usually on the front where the filter goes but sometimes it is not possible to print there so the manufacturer will put is somewhere else like the picture below.  If for some reason you can't find it check under your lens cap for the same symbol and number.

        * Some ultra-wide angle lenses have large curved front elements and do not have filter threads. If this is the case with your lens check out this Blog to help you choose the correct filter adapter.


        Step 4:  Select your Filter Adapter Rings

        Once you know the filter size(s) and the series of filters/holders you will need, selecting the right adapter is easy. Let’s say you’ve decided on the L series and your lens has a 82mm filter thread. Just select the L Series 82mm filter adapter ring. 



        Note- If you have a lens that uses filter sizes smaller than 49mm you will need to purchase a step-up ring (sold separately).


        Step 5:  The Filters

        You did the hard part, now lets talk about the fun stuff: FILTERS! I’ve selected some of the most popular filter categories and linked them to their pages for more details but feel free to browse the entire site and check out the cool things filters can do for your images.


        Circular Polarizer – This filter darkens the blue sky making the white puffy clouds stand out. It does this by filtering out polarized light. This also has the effect of taking the sheen off of water and it can greatly reduce the reflections from glass.



        ND (Neutral Density) – This filter is like a pair of sunglasses for your camera. It reduces the amount of light entering your camera lens by a measured amount so you can use slower shutter speeds for blurred motion effects or wider apertures to focus more attention on your subject. ND filters are neutral, so they have no effect on the color of your photos.


        Graduated ND – Available in several grades these filters are half clear and half neutral density. They are rectangular so the transition between clear and ND can be moved around to suit your composition. The transition from clear to ND is not a hard line so the effect subtly fades into the ND area.   It allows you to balance out brightly lit and shadowed areas of a photo without having to resort to software.


        B&W - These are colored filters that change the tones of colors for Black & White photography. Red, orange, yellow and green are the most common colors used. For instance, a red filter will render blues as darker tones of gray making skies appear darker so white puffy clouds stand out more.


        Graduated Color – (AKA Color Grads) Similar to Graduated ND filters, only these come in colors. They are rectangular filters like the graduated NDs so you can position the transition to suit your vision. Some of the most common Color Grads are Blue, FLW and Tobacco.


        Step 6:  Set up your System

        You have all the pieces you need now you need to get it all on your camera. Below is an illustration showing you in what order you should assemble Cokin filter system. 

        1. Attach the Filter Adapter Ring to your lens
        2. Attach the Cokin Filter Holder by sliding it on to the adapter ring
        3. Slide the filter you will be using into the holder

        It's that simple. You are now ready to get out there and start shooting. Remember to have fun and not be afraid to experiment. If you still have questions about the Cokin system give us a call 800-421-1141 or email us at

        written by Michael Burnham