ND filters for HDSLR
I've bought a bunch of ND filters lately. Here's a few anecdotal observations:
1) I bought a Tiffen 77mm ND 0.9 through Amazon.com because it was in stock and deliverable overnight.
This filter is cheap in comparison to all my other B+W filters. Turns out this is a wonderful ND, perfectly neutral and no color cast.
2) I added a B+W 77mm 106 ND 1.8. This ND is not color neutral at all. It imparts a pronounced redish color cast.
3) I ordered a Lightcraft Workshop Fader ND. This is a wonderful variable ND that is essential for every HDSLR user. A couple of notes, however:
My workflow right now is to move all camera HDSLR into Aperture 3, then export as needed for processing in Magic Bullet Grinder and Final Cut. Today, I was shooting with two different lenses, the Tiffen ND on one and the B+W on the other. When I completed the import and saw the same subject side by side, and knowing I shot with manual white balance set to daylight, I was stunned at the color mismatch. These shots will definitely have to be color corrected to be intercut. And it is the B+W ND where the problem lies.
I own a lot of B+W filters, and I like this brand very much. And I will point out that the B+W is darker than anything available from Tiffen. I have read elsewhere about color shift problems with high density ND, so don't get the idea that I am bashing B+W. At the same time, my observation is the Tiffen is a terrific filter and much less expensive. My buying advice is buy a full range of ND from Tiffen, plus a variable ND from Lightcraft Workshop. For digital cinematography, that's probably all you need.
For stills, certain techniques require extreme density. A couple of things come to mind: long exposures for silky smooth water and extremely long exposures for empty freeway or empty city scenes. For this kind of thing, extremely dark ND is necessary. B+W may be your only choice.
I ran across a lot of opinions in online reviews that were basically, "Why compromise - buy the best." Yes, B+W is expensive and their filters have a lot of heft due to brass rings. But I'm convinced now that I need make no apologies on image quality when I use Tiffen filters, or Lightcraft Workshop.
I also think that a variable ND filter is a must for HDSLR shooting. I use it as I would an Iris control on a camcorder. Love it. But I have one filter to use for all my lenses I have right now. I have a rubber collapsible lens hood on the filter at all times. I have no problem screwing the filter on to the lens with the hood on. I then use the hood to adjust the ND level. Then I just buy a lens cap that fits the front of the hood. The hood also gives the filter added protection in my camera bag, with the other side I just use a cheap UV filter that I remove before but the ND filter on.
I went with the Fader ND Fader filter, yes that name is confusing. I have been extremely please with that brand also. M recommendation would be to use the variable for a while before buying extra ND, if you fine you need them then buy them.
Since DSLRs are mostly about shallow DoF, controlling exposure at wide open apertures under most light circumstances can only be achieved with these filters, which are basically two rotating circular polarisation filters combined.
I did buy a mattbox and a set of glass filters, but truth be told, I have not really used them. It is just not practical to carry around with you, whereas a VariND or FaderND filter is easy to carry with you and fast to switch when running and gunning.
I have both a Singh-Ray VariND 77mm and LightCraft Fader ND 72mm and 82mm. Singh-Ray is indeed a lot more expensive, but in the end, I think they are well worth it. Since my favourite lenses are all 77mm threads, I continue to reach for the Singh-Ray, time and again.
The build-quality seems to be better and the filter seems to be somewhat smoother. Hold up the Fader NDs at a 30% angle and you'll see 'teardrops', which the Singh-Rays do not.
However, I wish the Singh Rays would be more readily available - afaik you can only order them on their website and get charged ridiculous import and tax levies.
Richard van den Boogaard
cameraman / editor / video marketing consultant
re: LightCraft "teardrops"
I just took my Light Craft Workshop Fader ND Mk II out into direct sunlight and inspected it closely at a variety of rotation angles, and also viewing angles off perpendicular. I even took my giant magnifying glass.
If my filter has any optical glass flaws or polarization interference artifacting, I can't see it.
Definitely not knocking Singh-Ray. I have known for decades they make superb filters. In fact, the only reason I didn't buy Singh-Ray was they were out of stock - no doubt a run on orders by HDSLR filmmakers. I think B&H is the only outlet in the U.S., other than manufacturer direct on their website. Both were out of stock at the time I was trying to buy.
Light Craft Workshop, which I had seen Phillip Bloom mention on his blog, was also out of stock. But I registered my email address, and shortly got a notice that the Mk II design was now available.
I can't fault build quality, either. Rotation is silky smooth.
Delivery was prompt. I couldn't be happier with this filter.
I consider a variable ND to be absolutely essential for HDSLR filmmaking. So important, in fact, I might consider a second copy just for backup, should I drop one during a lens change or something. It would ruin my day -- and maybe my week -- if something were to happen to this filter.
BTW - Light Craft Workshop is now available through Amazon.com. Go to Amazon and search for "Light Craft Workshop". Unfortunately, I think they are just getting this set up. The Amazon link on the Light Craft Workshop website is broken, and Amazon is missing the 77mm size which is essential for most Canon L series lenses.
BTW - some people are saying, "You don't need a specialized variable ND. Just stack a circular polarizer on top of a linear polarizer."
No way I would put up with that kind of jury-rigging in a real production situation. Too many rotation rings, too much filter threading, too thick a mount, too much trouble.
Plus by the time you buy 2 halfway decent Cir Pol filters you are close to the price of a LCW or Fader filter anyway.
Hey guys, can someone point me in the right direction as to what size ND filter (fader nd is my price range) I need to get for my new rig. I'm brand new to the dslr world so I'm just learning I'm sorry if this is a dumb question!
canon 7d with a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM lens.
The filter size is dependent on the filter thread size of whatever lens you are using. Your Sigma lens has 62mm filter threads.
If you use multiple lenses with different filter thread sizes, you either must buy different filters for each lens or use step-up/step-down rings. The rings sometimes aren't ideal since smaller filters will vignette on larger lenses, and larger ones will block flashes/lens hoods on smaller lenses. Depends on your needs.
Thanks Micah, I appreciate the answer and the explanation behind it. You've been a big help.