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ND filters for HDSLR

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Danny Grizzle
ND filters for HDSLR
on Jul 30, 2010 at 5:49:44 pm

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 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:

  • The latest version is larger diameter on the outside threads than on the inside. Mine is 77mm with 82mm, I think, on the outside. Design intended to better avoid vignetting, a factor considering this filter has two pieces of optical glass and thus requires a thicker filter mount.

  • The larger outside diameter means you cannot fit a Canon lens hood while the filter is in place. The front of the filter is larger in diameter than the hood bayonet. Also, it seems impossible to mount the filter with the hood already installed. No room for fingers to screw filter on, and it would be difficult to adjust and impossible to read settings in any case. Be prepared with a french flag or assistant if, like me, you don't have a matte box.

  • Singh-Ray also makes a variable ND, which I'm sure is outstanding. It is also much more expensive than the Lightcraft Workshop varaible ND. I'm happy with my Lightcraft.

  • Even if you buy a variable ND, you also need a full set of standard ND filters because you will sometimes need to use both a standard ND plus the variable ND in bright sunlight.

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.

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