If you joined Backcountry Journeys for our recent webinar where we introduced the brand-new and exciting Vermont Fall Colors trip itinerary, you may have noticed when we recommended an unheralded piece of gear, one some might not even known existed. Step-up rings can be a quick and (can be) inexpensive solution to a common problem, and since we’ve not mentioned step-up rings in the past, we thought that now would be a good time to introduce them, and explain their use for those who are unfamiliar.
In the following article we’ll explain exactly what step-up rings are, when you might use them, and have a quick discussion on why some are so cheap while others cost more. Do you need these in your camera bag, and if so, which should you buy? Find out below!
Why Step-up Rings?
If you utilize screw-on filters, you can use step-up rings to take advantage of the cost and organizational savings that come with. Take a look at your collection of lenses, most specifically those wide angle lenses. If you check their thread diameter size you will likely find that size varies lens to lens. You may have a 24-70mm lens with an 82mm thread diameter and a 16-35mm lens with a 77mm lens diameter, like I do. You’ll already know this if you’ve purchased filters for your lenses because you had to buy one size filter for your 16-35, and another size for your 24-70. Unless, that is, you bought yourself step-up rings.
Step-up rings offer a solution to having to buy, and organize, more than one of the same screw-on filters. The rings allow you to buy, for example, just one circular polarizer, and then use the appropriate step-up ring and apply it to another lens of smaller thread diameter.
Let’s say you have three lenses that you’d like to use your CPL with. These lenses are 67mm, 77mm, and 82mm. Buy your CPL for the largest diameter lens, so in this scenario it’d be the 82mm CPL. Next you’ll get a pair of step-up rings, 67-82mm and 77-82mm. These will allow you to couple the larger 82mm filter to the smaller-diameter thread sizes. That’s it! Sort of. Those are the diameters you’ll need to make your system work. But, if you search for these items online you’ll notice pricing is all over the place. Which should you buy?
Why the Cost Differences?
Step-up rings are available from a variety of manufacturers with price tags all over the map. So what is the difference? Do you need the most expensive step-up ring, too, or can you save a few bucks and go cheaper? The difference in cost is mostly about the material from which each is made. You’ll typically see step-up rings made from aluminum, hard-anodized aluminum, or from brass. While step-up rings of all materials essentially perform the same function, the better the material the better the performance, consistency, durability, and reliability.
Perhaps more importantly, though, is making sure to know what the rings are made of versus what the filter is made of. This is because if the threads of what you’re attaching are made of the same material as the stepping ring, and are not machined to the same high standards, there’s a risk of jamming your filter and step-up ring. So, if your filter is made of aluminum and you buy a cheaper aluminum step-up ring there is a chance the performance will be less than stellar (ae they’ll jam up).
It’s hard to knock the advantages of stepping rings. Simply stated, if you own lenses with varying filter-thread sizes, stepping rings weigh and cost less than multiples of comparable glass filters and lens accessories. You could say stepping rings are a win-win solution that should please both your wallet and your gear-besieged shoulders and back. While stepping rings can be stacked, it is best to use as few rings as possible to reduce the chances of vignetting or ghosting.
Step-up rings can be a nice way to save some money and simplifying your gear by allowing you to purchase a set of rings that allow you to utilize the same screw-on filter across different diameter lengths instead of buying an expensive filter for each lens of differing diameter. Anything to lighten the load on your gear and your wallet. Anyone out there already using step-up rings? We’d love to hear how they work for you!
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers, and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Olympic, Redwood, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica & Brazil. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14’ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and spent roughly five years writing and photographing for the award-winning Omaha World-Herald newspaper, out of his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of trip leading and guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens, to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.