Photographers and videographers are always looking for the latest and greatest gear to enhance their craft. One essential tool that should be in every photographer and videographer’s kit is an ND filter. ND filters, or Neutral Density filters, are crucial for controlling the amount of light that enters the lens and can help create stunning images and videos. With so many options on the market, it can be challenging to choose the right one for your needs. In this post, we’ll explore the 10 most worthwhile to experience ND filters for 2024, taking into consideration factors such as price, quality, and compatibility. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a beginner, this guide will help you make an informed decision when it comes to investing in an ND filter. So, let’s get started!
Why you should use a ND filter?
ND filters have gained popularity among photographers, even for beginners. However, the reasons for getting an ND filter may not be clear to everyone. In this section, we will delve into the key reasons why you should consider using an ND filter in your photography.
Using an ND filter is a crucial tool for effectively controlling the exposure in your photographs. It empowers you to manage the amount of light that enters your camera’s lens, providing greater control over the exposure settings.
In situations where the available light is too bright, like during midday or in well-lit outdoor environments, capturing properly exposed images can pose a challenge. Without an ND filter, you might find yourself having to make compromises by relying on a fast shutter speed, a narrow aperture, or even both, thereby limiting your creative options.
With an ND filter, you can effectively reduce the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor. This, in turn, allows you to experiment with longer exposure times or wider apertures while still maintaining the desired level of exposure. This feature proves especially valuable when aiming to achieve mesmerizing motion blur effects, such as capturing silky smooth waterfalls or streaking clouds.
One of the notable creative effects achievable with an ND filter is long exposure photography. By using a long exposure and an ND filter, you can capture the passage of time in a single frame. This technique is particularly useful for capturing mesmerizing light trails from moving vehicles, smooth water surfaces that resemble glass, or even creating dreamy and ethereal effects in landscapes.
Moreover, an ND filter allows you to blur motion intentionally while maintaining a sharp focus on static elements in the frame. This technique can be employed to create artistic images where a subject, such as a person or an object, remains clear amidst a blurred background. This technique is often used in street photography or portraiture to add a sense of dynamism and visual interest to the composition.
Additionally, an ND filter can help you achieve a shallow depth of field even in bright lighting conditions. By using a wider aperture, you can create a pleasing separation between your subject and the background, resulting in a beautiful bokeh effect. This is particularly useful when photographing subjects such as portraits, flowers, or other close-up shots where a shallow depth of field adds an element of visual impact.
Balancing Highlights and Shadows
When photographing a scene with a bright sky and darker foreground, without an ND filter, you might end up with an overexposed sky or an underexposed foreground. By using an ND filter, you can reduce the intensity of the light entering the lens, thereby bringing the dynamic range within manageable limits.
The ND filter helps in reducing the brightness of the sky while allowing you to properly expose the foreground. This enables you to capture more detail and maintain a balanced exposure throughout the image. As a result, you can retain information in both highlight areas, such as clouds, and shadow areas, such as landscape or architecture, producing a visually pleasing and well-exposed photograph.
This feature of the ND filter is particularly beneficial in landscape photography, where scenes often have a wide range of light intensities. By using an ND filter to balance highlights and shadows, you can capture the scene’s full dynamic range and convey a more accurate representation of the landscape’s beauty.
Depth of Field Control (DOF control)
Typically, in bright environments, achieving a shallow depth of field can be challenging because you would need to use a wider aperture. However, this can result in overexposed images since more light enters the camera. By using an ND filter, you can reduce the amount of light, allowing you to use a wider aperture while maintaining the correct exposure.
With a wider aperture, you can create a shallow depth of field effect, where your subject remains in sharp focus while the background blurs softly. This technique is widely used in portrait photography to isolate the subject from the surroundings and create a pleasing, dreamy aesthetic. It can also be applied to various other genres, such as macro or still life photography, to draw attention to specific details or create a sense of depth in the composition.
By using an ND filter, you expand your creative possibilities by being able to achieve a shallow depth of field even in bright lighting conditions. It allows you to have more control over the focus and visual impact of your photographs.
With an ND filter, you can effectively reduce the amount of light entering your camera, which enables you to keep your desired shutter speed and aperture settings unchanged. By doing so, you can achieve the desired depth of field, motion blur, and other creative effects, all while ensuring optimal exposure.
Whether you’re capturing a breathtaking landscape, an action-packed scene, or conducting interviews under bright sunlight, an ND filter empowers you to maintain the visual quality and effects you desire. It allows you to work with wider apertures for a shallow depth of field, optimal shutter speeds (usually 2 times the frame rate), or any other settings that suit your artistic vision.
By using an ND filter, you add an extra layer of protection to your lens. It acts as a shield, safeguarding your lens from dust particles, water droplets, and accidental touches. This protection not only helps in maintaining the optical quality of your lens but also reduces the need for frequent cleaning, which can potentially introduce scratches or damage to the lens surface.
Additionally, an ND filter can be a cost-effective measure for protecting your lens. Instead of investing in expensive lens repair or replacement, a relatively affordable ND filter can take the brunt of potential damage, ensuring the longevity and performance of your lens.
Whether you’re shooting in rugged outdoor environments, capturing fast-paced events, or simply want peace of mind when handling your camera gear, an ND filter provides an added layer of protection for your lens investment.
Considerations when choosing an ND filter
Getting the right ND filters for your camera requires some effort in seeking information and making informed decisions. There are several factors you need to consider before buying ND filters to ensure they meet your specific needs and deliver the desired results.
Lastly, consider the purpose or intended use of the ND filter. Are you primarily interested in landscape photography, long exposures, or video recording? Different purposes may require specific features or qualities in an ND filter.
For example, if you frequently capture landscapes, a high-quality filter that maintains color accuracy and minimizes color casts is essential. If you focus on long exposure photography, you may prioritize a filter that is resistant to reflections or flare. For video recording, a filter that offers smooth and even light reduction is beneficial to maintain consistent exposure.
Type of the filters
When considering an ND filter, one of the primary choices you’ll encounter is the filter type. There are two main types: square filters and circular filters.
Square Filters: Square filters are versatile and commonly used by professional photographers due to their flexibility and ability to stack multiple filters. These filters require a filter holder system that attaches to your lens. You can easily slide square filters into the holder, allowing for precise control over the positioning and combination of filters. This setup is particularly beneficial when using graduated ND filters, where you can adjust the positioning of the transition line. Square filters are popular among landscape photographers who require maximum control over their filter setup.
Circular Filters: Circular filters, also known as screw-on filters, are the most common type of ND filters. They have a threaded ring that allows you to directly screw them onto the front of your lens. Circular filters are convenient, quick to use, and portable, making them a popular choice for photographers who value simplicity and ease of setup. They are suitable for various photography genres and are particularly handy for those who don’t require stacking multiple filters or precise positioning.
Another important consideration when choosing an ND filter is the filter density, which is measured in stop levels. Filter density refers to the amount of light reduction provided by the filter. The higher the stop level, the greater the light reduction.
Here’s a general guide to filter density based on stop levels:
- Lower Density (1-3 Stop): Filters in this range offer a mild light reduction, allowing you to slightly extend the exposure time without significantly darkening the image. They are useful for achieving subtle motion blur effects or reducing the brightness in moderately lit scenes.
- Medium Density (4-6 Stop): Filters in this range provide a moderate light reduction and are versatile for various photography situations. They allow you to extend the exposure time for smoother water motion, create a shallower depth of field in bright conditions, or balance the exposure in scenes with a wide dynamic range.
- Higher Density (7-10 Stop): Filters in this range offer a substantial light reduction, allowing for longer exposures and more creative effects. They are ideal for capturing dramatic long
- exposures, creating silky smooth waterfalls, eliminating moving objects from a scene, or emphasizing cloud movement in the sky.
Keep in mind that the specific stop levels may vary slightly depending on the filter manufacturer. Additionally, some filters may offer variable stop levels, allowing you to adjust the density within a given range for enhanced flexibility.
Filter sizes are measured in millimeters (mm) and are typically indicated on the front of your lens or in the lens specifications.
To determine the correct filter size, you can either refer to the lens cap or the lens barrel, which often displays the filter thread size. Common filter sizes include 77mm, 67mm, 52mm, and so on.
It’s important to select an ND filter with the same filter size as your lens to ensure compatibility and proper attachment. If you have multiple lenses with different filter thread sizes, you may need to purchase multiple filters or consider using step-up or step-down rings. Step-up rings allow you to adapt a larger filter size to fit a smaller lens, while step-down rings enable you to attach a smaller filter size to a larger lens.
Step-up and step-down rings are affordable accessories that provide flexibility in using the same filter across various lenses. However, it’s important to note that using step-up or step-down rings may introduce additional vignetting, particularly with wider-angle lenses. Therefore, if you frequently use lenses with different filter sizes, it may be more convenient to invest in multiple filters.
Top 10 ND filters most worthwhile to experience in 2024
1. Cokin Nuances Extreme ND 10-stop Filter
|84 x 100mm
|Other Key Features
|Tempered optical glass
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The Cokin Nuances Extreme ND filter is a remarkable addition to any photographer’s camera bag, offering both quality and affordability. Cokin, a well-established filter brand, has been producing filters since the 1970s, and their Nuances Extreme series takes a step toward the professional market while maintaining an attractive price point.
The Extreme series features two different densities, offering options for both 6-stop and 10-stop light reduction. It is available in two sizes, 100 x 100mm and 130 x 130mm, catering to different lens setups and preferences.
As a neutral density filter, the Cokin Nuances Extreme ND aims to provide a neutral color cast, and it succeeds admirably, offering no noticeable color shifts. This is achieved through their new uniform coating process applied across the Extreme range.
Although you may encounter slight vignetting with the denser filters, it is minimal and should not discourage you from considering this exceptional ND filter. Any vignetting can be easily corrected in post-processing software such as Photoshop or Lightroom.
The Cokin Nuances Extreme ND filter utilizes a new tempered optical glass that is four times stronger than their previous series. This enhanced durability ensures that the filter can withstand accidental drops and resist scratches, making it ideal for outdoor photographers who often venture into rugged terrains.
Being a square filter, the Extreme ND requires a filter holder to attach it to your lens. While this may take a little more time and effort compared to a circular filter, it offers greater control and the ability to stack additional filters, such as graduated filters, for more creative possibilities.
It’s worth mentioning that Cokin also offers a 6-stop ND filter in a smaller size (84 x 84mm) and a 100 x 100mm version specifically designed for use with the Cokin L (Z) holder. For those who prefer an even larger filter, there is a 130 x 130mm option compatible with the Cokin EVO XL (X) holder.
2. Lee Filters ProGlass IRND 10-stop Filter
|100 x 100 mm
|4-stop, 6-stop, 10-stop
|Other Key Features
|Coating to block infrared and ultraviolet light
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The Lee Filters ProGlass IRND 10-stop filter is an impressive choice and comes in a very close second on this list of top neutral density filters. While its price point is aimed at professionals, it’s justified considering the exceptional quality it offers.
Lee Filters is renowned for its high-quality optical glass construction, and the ProGlass IRND range maintains this reputation. Designed initially for the movie industry, the range’s success led to the development of photography-friendly filters.
The ProGlass IRND series includes three different densities: a 4-stop, 6-stop, and the highly regarded 10-stop filter. To use these filters effectively, it is recommended to invest in the Lee100 square filter system holder.
One standout feature of these filters is their specialized coating, which effectively blocks both infrared and ultraviolet light. This not only enhances color accuracy but also preserves finer details when using neutral density filters.
If you’re seeking the best professional option, I highly recommend the ProGlass IRND Filter from Lee Filters. Its exceptional performance ensures you won’t experience any excess vignetting or color tints that could compromise your images.
The main consideration with this filter might be its price. However, when you invest in Lee Filters, you’re choosing a brand known for producing reliable and high-quality products. It’s no surprise that their filters are trusted and widely used in the film industry.
Choose the Lee Filters ProGlass IRND 10-stop filter for uncompromising performance and the assurance of exceptional image quality. Let me know if there’s anything else I can assist you with.
3. PolarPro Peter McKinnon Variable ND Filter
|67, 77, 82 mm
|2-5 stops, 6-9 stops
|Other Key Features
|Option to change filter density
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The PolarPro Peter McKinnon variable ND filter stands out as the most aesthetically pleasing neutral density filter on this list. Immediately noticeable is its variable nature, allowing you to adjust the density according to your needs.
Variable filters often face challenges like color inconsistencies or stop-time inconsistency. However, PolarPro has done an outstanding job in ensuring the accuracy of this circular filter.This versatile neutral density filter is available in three different sizes and offers four density ranges. These ranges are divided into two editions: Signature II and Mist II.
Photographers primarily seek the Signature II category, as it provides variable neutral density without additional diffusion. The Mist II versions, on the other hand, incorporate diffusion for filmmaking purposes. While usable for photography, most photographers prefer sharper images without diffusion.
The quality of both filter sets is exceptional. PolarPro claims to eliminate vignetting, although we have observed minimal vignetting at the highest density. Fortunately, this can be easily corrected using photo editing software.
While the PolarPro variable ND filter comes with a higher price tag, it is undoubtedly a valuable addition to the bag of any landscape photographer. The ability to have four different densities within a single filter provides convenience and versatility in various shooting scenarios.
Consider investing in the PolarPro Peter McKinnon variable ND filter if you prioritize image quality and require flexibility in adjusting the density for your landscape photography.
4. H&Y Fixed ND 10 Stop Filter
|100 x 100 mm
|3-stop, 5-stop, 6-stop, 10-stop
|Other Key Features
|Magnetic filter system, water repellant
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The H&Y K-Series fixed ND 10-stop filter is part of a range that offers different density options. Along with the 10-stop filter, you can choose from 3-stop, 5-stop, and 6-stop versions. What makes this range special is that the filters have a magnetic feature.
The magnetic system brings several advantages. It allows for easy attachment and removal of the filter. You can also stack multiple filters on top of each other using this magnetic system.
These filters are made with high-quality German glass and have special coatings to prevent fingerprints and repel water. They provide excellent color reproduction and maintain image quality without losing sharpness.
However, one downside of the magnetic system is that there may be slight possibilities of light leaks due to the foam edges of the frames.
The H&Y K-Series 10-stop filter is part of an outstanding range of neutral density filters that will impress even professional photographers. The magnetic mounting system is a convenient option, especially for those who use multiple filters. Overall, the H&Y K-Series offers great neutral density filters.
5. Lee Filters Elements Big Stopper Circular Filter
|67, 72, 77, 82mm
|Other Key Features
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The Lee Filters Elements Big Stopper circular filter is the long-awaited solution for photographers seeking a high-quality neutral density filter. Previously, to obtain a Lee ND filter, photographers had to purchase one of their square filters.
Fortunately, Lee now offers the Big Stopper in a circular form, catering to photographers who desire a powerful ND filter without the need to invest in a complete filter setup.
The Big Stopper circular filter incorporates the same advanced technology found in Lee’s other filters. This includes multi-layer optical coatings, providing benefits such as anti-reflective properties, water and oil repellency, and scratch resistance.
Available in four different sizes, the edges of the filter are knurled, ensuring a secure grip when handling these delicate glass components.
If you are seeking a single, high-stop ND filter, investing in the Lee Filters Elements Big Stopper circular filter is an excellent choice. Its convenient size and form make it effortless to add to your camera bag.
While it carries a higher price tag, the filter performs exceptionally well, delivering outstanding sharpness and color reproduction, as expected from Lee Filters’ renowned quality.
6. Hoya Pro ND Kit
|49, 52, 55, 58, 62, 67, 72, 77, 82 mm
|3-stop, 6-stop, 10-stop
|Other Key Features
|3-filter ND kit
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The Hoya Pro ND Kit (77mm) offers an affordable and versatile set of neutral density filters, making it ideal for those who want to experiment with different exposure effects. Hoya is well-regarded for producing high-quality filters at reasonable prices, and this kit is no exception. It is also available in various other sizes, including 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, and 82mm.
These filters feature transparent optical glass and have a metal coating on both the front and rear surfaces. This coating effectively reduces light transmission across a wide spectrum range, including the infrared area. As a result, you can achieve a more balanced and neutral color rendition in your images.
The Hoya Pro ND Kit includes three different ND filters: a 3-stop, a 6-stop, and a 10-stop. Unless you specifically require a graduated neutral density filter, these three filters will cover most of your ND filter needs.
The 6-stop ND filter is perfect for creating a soft, misty effect in water scenes, while the 10-stop filter takes this motion blur to the extreme. With the 10-stop filter, you can make bustling cityscapes appear deserted during daylight hours or transform flowing water into a mystical, mirror-like surface.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive range of ND filters, the Hoya Pro ND Kit (77mm) is an excellent choice. The circular mounting system ensures a secure fit and minimizes the risk of light leaks.
7. B+W XS-Pro Digital Vario ND Filter
|52, 72, 77 mm, 82 mm
|Other Key Features
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Let’s take a look at the B+W XS-Pro Digital Vario ND filter (77mm). This is a variable neutral density filter that offers four different density options. It is also available in three other lens sizes (52mm, 72mm, and 82mm), ensuring compatibility with your favorite lenses.
These filters are equipped with a multi-resistant coating, providing protection against dirt, dust, and water. They excel at maintaining accurate color reproduction and sharpness, particularly at the lower density settings.
However, as you move towards the higher densities, you may notice a gradual decline in filter quality, leading to less precise color reproduction. Achieving correct results may require exposure compensation.
In terms of sharpness, the higher-density filters may exhibit some reduction in sharpness at both the center and edges of the image. Nonetheless, the B+W XS-Pro Vario ND (77mm) remains a viable option for those seeking a variable neutral density filter.
It’s unfortunate that this filter carries a hefty price tag, as there are better options available in terms of value for money. It would have been an ideal entry-level ND filter if not for its higher price, which places it beyond that category.
Though the price may be a deterrent, the B+W XS-Pro Digital Vario ND filter (77mm) still offers reliable performance for photographers looking for the flexibility of a variable neutral density filter.
8. Marumi DHG Super ND Filter
|48, 52, 55, 58, 62, 72, 82 mm
|Other Key Features
|Low-reflection and multi-resistant coating
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Consider the Marumi DHG Super ND filter (72mm) as a cost-effective option for your needs. This circular filter is available in seven different sizes, providing flexibility for various lenses.
The specific version we’re discussing is the big stopper ND 1000, but there is also a smaller density ND 500 filter available. At first glance, this circular filter stands out for its minimal color casting and vignetting.
Marumi has incorporated several features to ensure the success of this ND filter. They have applied a low-reflection coating to prevent ghosting and flares. Additionally, the outer rim of the glass is blackened, and a satin finish is used to minimize internal reflections.
The filter’s small frame helps to avoid vignetting, and it also features a water and oil-repellent coating.
Personally, I find the Marumi DHG Super ND filter visually appealing. I highly recommend it to photographers who are looking for a filter that offers great value for money. Although the price may not be beginner-friendly, it is worthwhile to invest a bit more to avoid outgrowing a cheaper filter in the long run.
Choose the Marumi DHG Super neutral density filter for its quality performance and cost-effective nature. It will serve you well and provide a reliable solution for your photography needs.
9. H&Y RevoRing Variable ND Filter
|37-49 mm, 42-62 mm, 67-82 mm
|Other Key Features
|Variable filter thread size and variable density
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Let’s now explore a different style of ND filter, the H&Y RevoRing variable ND filter (42-62mm). While we are accustomed to variable neutral density filters that adjust the filter’s density, this one offers an innovative twist—it adjusts the filter thread size!
Traditionally, square filters have provided a way to carry a single filter for multiple lenses, but they required the appropriate filter mount for each lens. By having a circular filter that allows you to adjust the thread size, you can further lighten your photography kit. This particular model is compatible with lenses ranging from 42mm to 62mm.
H&Y also offers other versions of the RevoRing variable ND filter, accommodating lens diameters ranging from 67mm to 82mm or 37mm to 49mm. This feature proves especially useful if you have lenses with the same diameter or if you own a lens for which finding a circular filter is challenging.
In addition to its variable ND capabilities, the RevoRing filter also incorporates a circular polarizing filter. This adds another dimension to the ND filter, enabling you to create stunning photographs by combining the effects of both filters.
While this filter excels as an all-in-one solution, it does have limitations when used with wide-angle lenses at higher density settings. Some cross-polarization may occur, potentially compromising the quality of your photographs.
10. Formatt-Hitech Firecrest ND Filter
|39, 46, 49, 52, 58, 62, 67, 72, 77, 82, 105, 127 mm
|1-stop, 2-stop, 3-stop, 4-stop, 5-stop, 6-stop, 7-stop, 8-stop, 9-stop, 10-stop, 16-stop
|Other Key Features
|Multi-resistant coating, threaded rings for stacking
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Finally, let’s take a look at the Formatt-Hitech Firecrest ND filter, which offers a wide range of sizes and densities to cater to different photographer preferences.
This filter is available in 12 different sizes, each offering 11 unique densities. This variety is particularly beneficial for photographers who have specific requirements. Unlike traditional filters that use dyed resin or coatings, the Firecrest ND filter utilizes a carbon metallic coating to achieve neutral ND results.
The filter incorporates water-repellent, anti-reflective, and flare-resistant properties. These attributes not only enhance contrast but also ensure accurate outcomes even in challenging shooting conditions.
Despite these notable features, it’s worth noting that there may be a slight color shift when using the Firecrest ND filter. While it is always preferable to avoid such shifts, they can be easily corrected during post-production editing.
I recommend this range of filters for photographers who do not require extremely dense ND filters. Additionally, the threaded rings on the filters allow for easy stacking, enabling you to achieve a greater ND filter factor if desired.
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