Optical filter

Optical filters, generally, belong to one of two categories. The simplest, physically, is the absorptive filter, while the latter category, that of interference or dichroic filters, can be quite complex. Optical filters selectively transmits light having certain properties (often, a particular range of wavelengths, that is, range of colours of light), while blocking the remainder. They are commonly used in photography, in many optical instruments, and to colour stage lighting. In astronomy, optical filters can be used to eliminate light from the Sun or from a star much brighter than the target object. Even seeing Mercury can necessitate using optical filters from extreme northern latitudes like Scandinavia or Alaska where the sky is invariably bright whenever the planet is above the horizon due to the low angle at far elongations.

Absorptive filters are usually made from glass to which various inorganic or organic compounds have been added. These compounds absorb some wavelengths of light while transmitting others. The compounds can also be added to plastic (often polycarbonate or acrylic) to produce gel filters, which are lighter and cheaper than glass-based filters.

Alternately, dichroic filters (also called "reflective" or "thin film" or "interference" filters) can be made by coating a glass substrate with a series of optical coatings. Dichroic filters usually reflect the unwanted portion of the light and transmit the remainder.

Dichroic filters use the principle of interference. Their layers form a sequential series of reflective cavities that resonate with the desired wave lengths. Other wavelengths destructively cancel or reflect as the peaks and troughs of the waves overlap.

Dichroic filters are particularly suited for precise scientific work, since their exact colour range can be controlled by the thickness and sequence of the coatings. They are usually much more expensive and delicate than absorption filters.
They can be used in devices such as the dichroic prism of a camera to separate a beam of light into different coloured components.

The basic scientific instrument of this type is a Fabry-Pérot interferometer. It uses two mirrors to establish a resonating cavity. It passes wavelengths that are a multiple of the cavity's resonance frequency.

Etalons are another variation: transparent cubes or fibers whose polished ends form mirrors tuned to resonate with specific wavelengths. These are often used to separate channels in telecommunications networks that use wavelength division multiplexing on long-haul optic fibers.

Infrared (IR) or heat-absorbing filters are designed to block or reflect mid-infrared wavelengths but pass visible light. They are often used in devices with bright incandescent light bulbs (such as slide and overhead projectors) to prevent unwanted heating. There are also filters which are used in solid state video cameras to block IR due to the high sensitivity of many camera sensors to near-infrared light.

Ultraviolet (UV) filters block ultraviolet radiation, but let visible light through. Because photographic film and digital sensors are sensitive to ultraviolet (which is abundant in skylight) but the human eye is not, such light would, if not filtered out, make photographs look different from the scene that the photographer saw. This causes images of distant mountains to appear hazy. By attaching a filter to remove ultraviolet, photographers can produce pictures that more closely resemble the scene as seen by a human eye.

A longpass (LP) Filter is an optical interference or coloured glass filter that attenuates shorter wavelengths and transmits (passes) longer wavelengths over the active range of the target spectrum (ultraviolet, visible, or infrared). Longpass filters, which can have a very sharp slope (referred to as edge filters), are described by the cut-on wavelength at 50 percent of peak transmission. In fluorescence microscopy, longpass filters are frequently utilized in dichroic mirrors and barrier (emission) filters. Use of the older term of highpass to describe longpass filters is now discouraged because it more accurately refers to frequency rather than wavelength.

A shortpass (SP) Filter is an optical interference or coloured glass filter that attenuates longer wavelengths and transmits (passes) shorter wavelengths over the active range of the target spectrum (usually the ultraviolet and visible region). In fluorescence microscopy, shortpass filters are frequently employed in dichromatic mirrors and excitation filters.
Combining an LP filter and an SP filter produces a Bandpass (BP) filter. These filters usually have lower transmittance values than SP and LP filters, and block all wavelengths outside a selected interval, which can be wide or narrow, depending on the number of layers of the filter.