Which ND Filters to Buy?

After explaining how Long Exposure Photography works and the need for ND Filters, the first question that always rises is:

Which ND Filters should I buy?

Well, there a quite a few different ND filters brands out there to choose from and one can seriously get confused when deciding which ones are the perfect balance of performance and price. In this blog I will try and give some background info about ND Filters in general and also address some characteristics you should be considering when deciding which brand is best for you.

Additionally, I will address a few major questions I get asked:

  1. Can I use Variable Filters for Long Exposures(LE)? I personally do not recommend Variable Filters for the use of LE Photography, as from the nature of LE, you will need to know what is the amount of F-Stop reduction you have on your lens and with a Variable Filter, you don’t really know what F-Stop you are on.
  2. Should I buy the circular treaded system or the square holder system? Let me just back up and explain for a minute what each system is and the pros and con of each system:

 

Circular Filter System:  These filters are circular and thread onto the lens, you can thread two filters together (i.e. a 10 Stop and a 3 Stop to get a 13 Stop light reduction).

PROS:

  1. No light leakage through the filters, this system creates a 100% sealed environment, which is very important, as any light leakage will destroy your image by creating ghostly effects.
  2. I personally love using the circular filters because I can place them in my filter pouch that I can slide on my belt. This convenience is priceless for me when out in the field shooting, I don’t have the hassle of dealing with delicate cases and making sure that I have a dry and secure space to spread my camera bag.

NOTE 1: if you do decide to go with circular filters, always choose the 77mm mm diameter and get a stepping ring (which is much cheaper than buying a new set of filters) for each lens (this was discussed in the pervious blog).

two-filters-and-stepping-ring

Image Above: Circular Filters with Stepping Ring

filter-bag

Image Above: Circular Filter Pouch (by Cokin, not sure if they still make them but any brand will do. The pouches have felt slots to place the filters in).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONS:

  • Threading the filters on and off your lens can be a pain and cause you to inadvertently change your focal length, in the case that you are using a zoom lens, so much care must be taken.

NOTE 2: You can purchase filter rings by Xume, I absolutely love these rings, you tread one magnet ring to the lens and the other to the filter and they just pop on and off without the hassle of threading.

  • When stacking two filters together caution must be taken as to not tighten them too much, they tend to ‘stick’.

 

When Purchasing circular filters there is only one brand that makes the rings from brass, that is B+W, other brands make the ring from aluminum. Having a brass ring adds to the durability of the filter. However, don’t go out so fast and buy the B+W filters, we will specific filter brands in the next section.

 

Square Slide in with Holder Filter System:

This system requires you to purchase a filter holder, in which the square filters slide in slots, as well as the filters themselves.

square-filter-holder

 

PROS:

  • In this system you can snap off the ‘slot’ portion f the holder from your camera without much hassle each time you want to change filters.
  • This system enables you to add a graduated filter to darken only the top portion of your fame. This comes in very handy when shooting landscapes as it darkens the sky (which will normally be the brighter portion of your image) while not affecting the foreground. This enables a more ‘bracketed’ exposure in one shot.

CONS:

  • Light leakage is the enemy here. Some holders are better than others, it can be a trial and error, however, you might want to seal with black tap the upper portion of the filters so no light can creep in between each filter.
  • It can be a bit cumbersome to work with as the square filters are larger that the 77 mm circular ones and don’t quite fit a comfortable side pouch, so when setting up, you need to spread your camera bag down on the ground.

A new company that has set itself to provide the BEST filter holder and stand head and shoulders above all other brands is the new Wine Country Camera. The Wine Country Camera 100mm Filter Holder System is the first and only filter holder system designed to solve the challenges faced by filter users, especially landscape, architectural, fine art and long exposure photographers. All other holder systems are sold by filter manufacturers simply as a means to attach the filter to the lens in a rudimentary fashion – allowing them to sell more filters.

 

Wine Country Filter Holder

Wine Country Camera carefully analyzed the needs of outdoor photographers and incorporated the following features into the product to solve various challenges faced by photographers:
– Filters are stored in protective vaults that protect fragile glass filters from breakage during transport. The vaults also prohibit light from entering the side of the filter, eliminating internal reflections. The vaults also keep the filters flat. Other holder system bend and flex the filters causing warping of the filter – and the image.
– Two vaults are available. The ND Vault sits in a light tight recess in the holder system. This completely eliminates reflections making the WCC holder system essential for long exposure photographers. The Grad Vaults adjust vertically with the push of a button making grad adjustment easy and accurate.
– The internal circular polarizer is rotated using gearing. The polarizer is internal, eliminating 100% off reflections and is a quantum leap improvement over legacy polarizer systems that leave as much as 10mm of gap between the polarizer and the lens. The polarizer is a full 2.5mm thick, and features a fire polished surface making it the flattest polarizer on the market. It is the only polarizer supplied with a holder system that is capable of resolving a 100mp camera.
– The system is installed and secured using a thumb screw. This allows the holder to be removed and re-installed without disrupting critical focus. So a user can set critical focus, then add the ND stack. Additionally, the ND Vault can be removed without disturbing focus or altering the position of the polarizers or the grads. So again, critical focus can be achieved before the dark ND stack is installed.
– Bonus features: wood control surfaces won’t get too hot or too cold. The wine coin keeps the filters in place without adding additional size to the vaults. The red latches keep the polarizer from falling out accidentally.
Here’s a video the summarizes the holder system:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LMg3TFr4DA

You can pre order your wine country filter now and your filter holder will be ready by December 7th, 2016.

3. The last and a very important question that gets asked and must be addressed is about the colour cast the ND Filters create. This is important if you want to add to your portfolio of work LE images in colour. If you intend on shooting mainly black and white than this wont be much of an issue for you.

A lot can be said n this topic and different filter brands create different colour casts when shooting LE, one of the most notorious ones are the B+W for their redish colour cast. One theory as to why this is attributes the red cast to the fact that the B+W filters do not block out the IR wavelengths and in longer exposures these wavelengths have residual affect on sensors that still have some IR sensitivity, this results in the redish colour casting. As I mentioned earlier, the B+W, even though they have a colour cast, they have a brass ring which is less prone to denting (I have had mine for almost ten years and touch wood they are still in perfect condition!) and as far as mechanical build, the B+W is by far the most robust, with thick glass, perfect threads and a weighty, solid brass mounting ring. Note that you can always correct the colour casting white balance in post.

 

The Formatt-Hightech are notorious for their blueish colour cast.

Filter Comparison

Another ND Filter that has a colour cast is the Tiffen. Tiffin ND filters tend to have a green colour cast (see image comparison below)

Filter comparison image is provided by Beau Photo

 

The rest of the filter brands have an aluminum ring and perform quite well in eliminating colour cast. I have found the Firecrest 16 Stop Filter buy Formatt-Hightech to be completely neutral.

firecrest-filter-comparison

The Hoya PRO ND and Kenko filters (pretty much the same company) are less expensive than the other brands and have almost no colour cast! From a build-quality standpoint, the Hoya is on par with the Tiffen, having a solid, well machined aluminum casing, just not brass like the B+W.

10-stop-hoya-nd-filter

Image Above: 10 Stop Hoya Filter, exposure time was just a seconds but you can see that there was no colour cast (compliments of Beau Photo)

 

On a budget, I would strongly recommend the Hoya filters due to their almost non-existent colour cast and durable aluminum ring.