Neutral Density (ND) Filters are commonly used by landscape photographers and videographers. Some would even consider it a must-have if you work professionally in these genre.
But what exactly is an ND Filter and how does it help in making your shots better?
Well today, we are talking about ND Filters and list down the best ND filters that are worth buying. There are a lot of options out there but do not be fooled since some of them degrade the quality of your image.
What Is A Neutral Density (ND) Filter?
An ND filter is a lens filter that "reduces the intensity of all wavelengths". This includes colors and light. In layman's terms, it reduces the amount of light that enters your camera.
ND Filters are usually dark in color to block off light from entering the lens and to the camera's sensor. This means you need to adjust your exposure to compensate the lack of light.
Why Use An ND Filter?
Since ND filters reduce the amount of light entering a camera, you may use one to achieve different results that cannot be achieved by the camera alone.
For videographers, the ideal shutter speed is twice the number of frames set in their camera. If they are shooting a 24 FPS video, then they're shutter speed should be 1/50s.
However, shooting with 1/50s shutter speed during daytime means that there is too much light entering the camera. The overall footage would then be overexposed.
This is where an ND Filter comes in. It reduces the amount of light coming in to the lens until it can comfortable shoot with a 1/50s shutter speed.
For landscape photographers, ND Filters are used to slow down the shutter speed. It is used to achieve the silky smooth flow of rivers or waterfalls as seen in the photo below.
Since the photographer here is using an ND filter, he can go slow and make the river look silky smooth. Remove the ND filter and he needs to adjust the exposure by increasing the shutter speed - which means it would freeze the water flow instead. It will remove the silk-like look of the water.
Portrait photographers may also use an ND filter if they want to shoot wide open at around f/1.2 or f/1.4, the sun is too bright and the fastest exposure could not keep up.
Moreover, an ND filter is also used if the the photographer's external flash is not capable of high-speed sync - meaning the camera can only go as fast as 1/200s if using a flash.
Using an ND filter reduces the shutter speed need to an acceptable rate while using an flash gun.
What Are The Best ND Filters Worth Buying?
1. LEE Filters 100x100 ProGlass IRND
LEE Filters has been around in the industry for several years now. It is known to be the makers of fine filters that does not diminish the image quality of your photographs.
The ProGlass IRND filters are square filters with different density options. It comes in at a 100x100mm size to fit the majority of the lenses available today.
These filters are expensive though. It comes in at around $250 per filter and besides that, you need to purchase a separate filter holder too.
Despite the high price, photographers who have used the LEE Filter system swear by its quality. The ProGlass IRND Filters are coated with IR and UV blockers that helps retain image contrast and clarity.
The ProGlass IRND Filters do not reduce image quality too. There are no distortions and color casts as well.
Another advantage of using the ProGlass IRND filters is you only need to buy it once and you can use it on different lenses. Just purchase the filter holder that corresponds to the lenses you have and you are good to go.
2. Cokin Nuances Extreme Z-Pro ND Filter
Cokin is a popular brand when it comes to lens filters. Now, their Nuances Extreme Z-Pro ND Filter takes up a spot on our list as one of the best at an affordable price.
This filter comes it at around $435 for a kit and it already comes with several filters. It also includes a protective case.
The Nuances Extreme filters are made of mineral glass with a nano metallic alloy frame. The colors are accurate and there are little to no color casts at all.
The whole set includes an 84mm, 100mm, and 130mm filters together with the filter holder. The densities are up to 10 stops.
3. Benro Master 100 x 150mm Glass Graduated ND
Benro is more popular for its camera supports like tripods but, the company has another accessory up its sleeve. The Benro Master Graduated ND (GND) filter is considered one of the best in the market today.
It has a price of $240 - which is quite on the pricey side. However, this filter uses top-rated German Schott B270 optical glass and features an Ultra-Low Chromatic Aberration (UCLA).
Besides the UCLA, this filter also has a waterproof multicoating for protection from dusts, scratches, moisture, and dirt. It is a must-have feature considering that GND users usually shoot outdoors.
Image sharpness is retained throughout the image and there are no visible color shifts - a common problem found on cheap or knockoff graduated ND filters.
The Benro Master GND is available in different sizes. It also comes in different stop variations.
Lastly, you can stack multiple filters on top of each other to reach the desired effect.
4. LEE Filters Elements Big Stopper
Here is another filter from LEE. The Elements Big Stopper is a 10-stop Neutral Density (ND) filter. It has 10-stops and can be combined with the 6-stop "little stopper" or the 15-stop "super stopper."
The usage of a 10-stop ND filter is situational but, if you are in a very bright situation and you need to cut off the amount of light, the Big Stopper is a no-brainer option.
This filter has a price tag of $175 which is a little bit in the more expensive side. However, it has no vignetting and only has very minimal color casts. The image quality does not degrade as well.
The big stopper comes in at 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, and 82mm for the circular options. If you already have a LEE square filter holder, there is a 100x100mm square format as well.
5. H&Y K-Series HD MRC ND Square Filters
H&Y is a a newcomer to the filter market. However, it is off to a good start due to the K-Series HD MRC ND Square Filters.
One advantage of using this square filter system is the magnetic filters and adapters. It is is to remove and change filters on the go.
The K-Series 100x100mm square ND filters are available in 6-stops and 10-stops. It has multicoating to reduce vignette, color casts, and to retain image sharpness. There is protection from moisture, dusts, dirt, and scratches as well.
The filter is available for $150.
6. H&Y Revoring Variable ND & Circular Polarizer
Here is another entry from H&Y proving that they are fixated in being on top. The Revoring Variable ND and CPL is a two-in-one filter.
But that is not the most exciting feature of it yet. This filter serves as a base if you want to attach more H&Y accessories and other types of filters. Creativity is your limit as you can stack different filters to achieve your intended shot.
This filter system comes in at around $180 to $260 depending on the configuration. But some would say that is worth considering its features.
If you have multiple lenses, do not worry. This filter has different filter threads with different ranges - 37 to 49mm, 46 to 62mm, 58 to 77m, 67 to 82mm, and 82 to 95mm.
The stops ranges from 1.5 to 10 so it is very viable for a lot of situations.
For the cons, there is a noticeable cross fade if you are going for the higher stop models. It is frowned upon by pixel peepers but for its versatility, this filter is still worth trying out.
7. PolarPro Variable ND Filter Peter McKinnon Edition
Influencer-endorsed products are often a hit or miss but, this time it is a hit with the PolarPro Variable ND Filter Peter McKinnon Edition.
This variable ND filter is considered one of the best in the market due to the top-notch build quality, unaffected image quality and sharpness throughout the image.
The filters has an aluminum frame that houses the glass. The etched markings help in rotating the filter and it does not accidentally slide on its own.
Another neat quality of this filter is the lack of cross polarization. Cheap vari-ND filters have this common problem but for this PolarPro filter, they did a really good job.
All-in-all, this filter is perfect for shooting outdoors. Your image output will have very minimal vignetting and the image quality will remain print-worthy.
These are the best ND filters worth buying in 2022 and for the upcoming years (unless a new model comes out). They might be expensive for the average user, but think of them as an investment. For sure, these filters will last longer than your camera body if taken cared off.