A Guide to Neutral Density Filters

76Share

The neutral density (ND) filter is one of those tools that should be in almost every photographer’s camera bag. However, ND filters are mysterious to some, and many folks just don’t understand how, where, and when to use them. Beyond that, manufacturers seem to vary in their preferences as far as how they name ND filters—adding to the confusion. In this article, let us navigate the world of the ND filter together and see if we can make sense of the nomenclature and also name some appropriate times for their use.

What is a Neutral Density Filter?

The ND filter is basically a filter that, placed before the lens (or dropped into a filter slot) reduces the amount of light making its way into the camera. Think of the ND filter as sunglasses for your camera—albeit sunglasses that do not change the color of the light being captured by the camera and lens—hence the “neutral” nomenclature.

Photographs ©Todd Vorenkamp


Morning in downtown Brooklyn after a snow fall. Captured with a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 16-stop ND filter.

What do Neutral Density Filters do or allow you to do?

There are a couple of real-world uses for the ND filter—one involving aperture and one involving shutter speed.

1. Aperture — Shallow depth of field in brightly lit environments

In the world of photography, generally speaking, more light is better. But, if you have ever been outside with an older analog or digital camera and tried to shoot your 50mm f/1.8 lens in broad daylight at wide-open apertures, you might recall seeing your exposure needle seemingly glued to the top of the light meter, or your digital light meter screaming “OVEREXPOSURE!” because the camera’s shutter could not cycle fast enough for the amount of light present.

The ND filter allows photographers to shoot their wide-aperture lenses in bright light without overexposing. This allows shallow depth of field and selective focus effects while under lighting conditions that exceed the shutter speed capabilities of the camera.

Even with the blazing-fast shutter speeds of today’s professional cameras and the previously unattainable shutter speeds introduced by electronic shutters, there is still a place in photography for the ND filter here.


I could shoot cloud abstracts all day with a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 16-stop ND filter.

2. Shutter Speed — Slowing your shutter

The more “classic” use of the ND filter regards its effect on shutter speed. With less light entering the camera, you will need to slow the shutter for a given aperture setting. The slower shutter speed will allow anything moving in your frame to become blurred.

In general, camera blur is not desired, but if you work with a tripod or alternative support with an ND filter and a slow shutter, that which is static in the frame stays static and that which moves becomes blurry.

Where can you use this? Basically in any photograph with which you want to emphasize movement. Popular subjects include waterfalls, vehicular traffic, people (not usually portraits), seascapes, rivers, streams, clouds, and smoke.


The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway during early weekday rush hour. If it only looked like this in real life. This is a 2-minute exposure using a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 16-stop ND filter.

What do the numbers on ND filters mean?

ND filters come in different strengths or darkness levels. For the photographer, the easiest thing would be to have ND filters that tell you how many stops of light they will darken your exposure. Designed by optical engineers, most brands of ND filters label their products with either an ND filter factor number or optical density number. Unfortunately, for the photographer, neither the filter factor nor the optical density number are equal to the number of stops by which the light is reduced.

So, here is a handy chart to reference when shopping for an ND filter or employing a filter you already own.

Stops of Light Reduction
(There are filters that are measured to a fraction of a stop, but, for simplicity, we are using whole numbers here with the exception of a few filters.)
Optical Density Number
(Sometimes prefaced with an "ND" before the number)
ND 1 Number Filter Factor Number
(Sometimes prefaced with an "ND" before the number)
Amount Light is Reduced
0 0 0 (a.k.a. Clear Filter) 0
1 ND 0.3 or "ND 0.3" ND 101 2 or "ND2" 1/2
2 ND 0.6 ND 102 4 1/4
3 ND 0.9 ND 103 8 1/8
4 ND 1.2 ND 104 16 1/16
5 ND 1.5 ND 105 32 1/32
6 ND 1.8 ND 106 64 1/64
6 2/3 ND 2   100 1/100
7 ND 2.1 ND 107 128 1/128
8 ND 2.4 ND 108 256 1/256
9 ND 2.7 ND 109 512 1/512
10 ND 3.0 ND 110 1024 (a.k.a. ND1000) 1/1024
11 ND 3.3 ND 111 2048 1/2048
12 ND 3.6 ND 112 4096 1/4096
13 ND 3.9 ND 113 8192 1/8192
13 1/3 ND 4.0   10000 1/10000
14 ND 4.2 ND 114 16384 1/16384
15 ND 4.5 ND 115 32768 1/32768
16 ND 4.8 ND 116 65536 1/65536
16 2/3 ND 5.0   100000 1/100000
17 ND 5.1 ND 117 131072 1/131072
18 ND 5.4 ND 118 262144 1/262144
19 ND 5.7 ND 119 524288 1/524288
20 ND 6 ND 120 1048576 1/1048576
22 ND 6.6 ND 122 4194304 1/4194304
24 ND 7.2 ND 124 16777216 1/16777216

So, for every stop of ND filter, you halve the amount of light entering the camera. When the light is halved, to maintain the same exposure, you need to double your shutter speed. Add another ND stop; double the shutter speed again.


Sunrise in Brooklyn. The ND filter not only smooths the clouds a bit, but, if you look closely, the steam from building heating systems shows the slow shutter speed. Captured with a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 16-stop ND filter.

Let’s see, in graphical form, how an ND filter effects exposure time:

Original Shutter Speed ND Filter Stops New Shutter Speed
(Rounded to standard camera shutter speeds when applicable)
1s 0 1s
1s 1 2s
1s 2 4s
1s 3 8s
1s 4 15s
1s 5 30s
1s 6 1m
1s 7 2m
1s 8 4m
1s 9 8m
1s 10 16m
1s 11 30m
1s 12 1hr
1s 13 2hr
1s 14 4hr
1s 15 8hr
1s 16 16hr
1s 17 32hr
1s 18 64hr
1s 19 128hr
1s 20 256hr
1s 21 512hr
1s 22 1024hr
1s 23 2048hr
1s 24 4096hr (170 days 16 hours)

Sunlight captured in the windows of a skyscraper. The ND filter permits the shutter speed to be slow enough to allow the clouds to streak even with reflected direct sunlight in the frame. Captured with a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 16-stop ND filter.

Practical Examples

Here is an example of the change in exposure affecting shutter speed when using an ND filter where your goal is to shoot at a slower shutter speed to blur a waterfall. Because of the bright daylight, the original shutter speed, even with the lens stepped down to f/16, is a fast 1/800th and freezes the water. You have a 6-stop ND filter in your bag and you screw it onto your lens. Here is the result:

Original exposure: ISO 200, f/16.0, 1/800.

Exposure with 6-stop ND filter: ISO 200, f/16.0, 1/13.

Here is an example of an exposure adjustment for trying to maintain a specific aperture when using an ND filter. You are shooting in broad daylight and want to take a photo of a flower with a soft background. You open your lens to f/1.4 and your exposure meter is pegged because the camera cannot fire the shutter faster than 1/4000 to get a proper exposure. Add an ND filter and see what happens:

Original exposure: ISO 200, f/1.4, 1/4000 overexposed.

Exposure with 6-stop ND filter: ISO 200, f/1.4, 1/60... still overexposed, but the shutter speed is easily achievable by the camera. So, now you can shoot the same scene at, say, 1/500 and get your shallow depth of field in direct daylight.


A building at sunrise. Again, the Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 16-stop ND filter allows the clouds to blur and the steam to streak.

Stacking Filters

One technique photographers use is filter “stacking.” If you have more than one ND filter, you may combine the two (or more filters) to get more ND stops for different photographic needs. The stacking math is easy: If you combine a 6-stop ND filter and a 10-stop ND filter, you now have a 16-stop ND filter.

The downside to stacking filters is that, for each filter you add, you are forcing light to pass through more and more glass (or resin) elements. The more things that the light has to traverse, the more it is likely to get slightly refracted in some way that causes softness or chromatic aberrations in an image.

Urban landscapes with a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 16-stop ND filter

Filter Shapes

Most “solid” ND filters are round and screw onto the front of the lens. Larger lenses may have circular drop-in filters. However, some ND filters are rectangular or square-shaped and are inserted into special holders that affix to the front of the lens. The filter ratings for round and rectangular filters are identical.


That is the sun, not the moon, in the frame. The clouds were not especially thick, but the shot required a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 24-stop ND filter.

Other Types of ND Filters

Graduated Neutral Density Filter (GND) — The GND filter is an ND filter that transitions from light to dark. The rectangular GND filters are more popular than circular because they allow the photographer to adjust the position of the transition area from light to dark. The main purpose of the GND filter is to balance exposure in an image that contains a bright sky and relatively darker foreground. Landscape photographers are big consumers of GND filters and they perform especially well when capturing sunset images.

Variable Neutral Density Filter (VND) — The VND filter gives the photographer the ability to “dial in” the amount of filtration by turning the outer ring of a dual-ring filter. The maximum and minimum ND rating differ with different filters, but the 2-stop to 8-stop variety are most popular. The advantage of the VND filter is that you only need to carry one ND filter with you to get a variety of darkness levels. The disadvantage of the VND filter is that, due to the design of the filters, as you approach the maximum ND setting, you can get a cross pattern across the image. This is remedied by dialing the ND setting back a bit.

Center Neutral Density Filter (CND) — The smallest category of ND filter, the CND filter has a darkened center and lighter edges. It serves to balance exposure across the frame when using extreme wide angle lenses.

Polarizing Filter — Yep, your polarizing filter is an ND filter that you may already own. Most polarizers give a 2-stop ND filter effect while providing the cannot-achieve-it-in-post-processing polarizing effects of cutting down glare, darkening the blue skies, and seeing farther into water.


Yes, an object 93 million miles away can have motion blur if your shutter speed is slow enough and the Earth rotates during your exposure. This 15-minute exposure was captured with a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 24-stop ND filter. The varying diameters of the sun is caused by refraction through passing clouds.

Solar Photography

This is one more thing you can do with your ND filter(s). Many ND filter manufactures state that filters with a density of 16-stops or greater (shaded in the above table) are suitable for solar photography and solar eclipse photography. WARNING: If using an ND filter (or stack of ND filters) for solar photography, do NOT use an optical viewfinder. Specialized solar imaging and viewing filters not only filter visible light, but harmful UV and IR radiation as well. ND filters do NOT provide this protection. Use them only with electronic viewfinders and/or Live View mode.


The sun captured through a Leica APO-Televid 77 spotting scope with a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 18-stop ND filter. The orange color was added in post-processing.

Recommended ND Filter Factors

Many landscape photographers recommend that you head out into the field with a 6-stop ND filter that should be perfect for slowing your shutter speeds enough to show smooth motion in mountain streams and waterfalls. Add your polarizer to make it an 8-stop ND stack.


Clouds passing overhead. Image shot with a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 16-stop ND filter.

Some wedding and portrait photographers prefer the 3-stop ND filter to give them a wide-open aperture option while shooting in sunlight. Combine this with a 6-stop for a 9-stop combo when needed.

The 10-stop and darker ND filters are becoming popular with many photographers as they allow extremely slow shutter speed shooting and extremely wide aperture shooting under bright sunlight. If you have the time to crank out night photography-like shutter speeds, you can get some pretty cool effects with these super-dark filters in urban and natural settings. At the extreme end, the 24-stop ND filter is great for images with the sun directly in the frame.


Sunset behind Manhattan through a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 18-stop ND filter. Not the smooth waters and sky.

Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra Neutral Density Filters

The images used to illustrate this article were captured using Formatt-Hitech Ultra Neutral Density Filters. Firecrest filters feature extremely neutral optical coatings in between two pieces of optical glass—protecting the coatings from wear and tear and delivering enhanced durability and lifespan over normally coated filters. The new Firecrest Ultra filters are the only photographic filters that undergo an additional finishing process referred to as “lapping & polishing” that brings the filters up to cinema-grade standards of clarity, sharpness, and optical flatness.


The moment of urban sunrise. The sun is directly peeking into this frame, but the Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 24-stop ND filter allows some blurry steam action regardless.

Do you have any questions about neutral density filters or ND filter photography? Do you have some creative uses for ND filters? Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below!

76 Comments

I want to clarify my prior question below that I wouldn't be using my Grad ND filter with the newly purchased ND for the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, just the two step up rings.  But I was also wondering if I could use the Galen Rowell Grad ND by Singh Ray in the Cokin P filter holder along with the two step up rings with my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens without vignetting.  Thanks again.   

Hey Edwin,

I've read both of your messages and replying here...

Will you get vingetting at 24mm? That is a good question and I honestly don't know the answer. I suspect it is possible, but going with thin-ring filters might be the way to go to eliminate or minimize the vignetting. There are a few things to consider with this topic...1) you can remove some vignetting in post processing and, 2) depending on the subject, sometimes vignetting isn't the end of the world. Proof of this is that post processing software not only allows you to reduce it, but increase it. Sometimes vignetting adds to the overall aesthetics of an image. And, finally, just because you get vignetting at 24mm doesn't mean you will get any at 28mm. If the composition or your viewpoint allows it, step back and zoom in a bit knowing there are additional advantages to not shooting at the extreme ends of a zoom focal length.

All three of the brands you have mentioned are solid. It really depends on your budget. In my experience, I find very little (if any) difference between mid-range filters and high-end filters. Higher-end models might have better/different coatings, but I have gotten unwanted reflections on high-end filters at times.

6-stop vs. 10-stop? A 6+polarizer is an 8-stop, so the 6 gives you a bit more flexibility. I carry a 6 and an 10 in my bag and sometimes, when its bright out, the 6 isn't dark enough and in failing light the 10 is too dark! I don't get commission from sales driven by my comment, but maybe having both a 6 and 10 is a good option. If you are budget limited, you can maybe get mid-range models of both. I think Hoya and B+W have some of the best values in the filter market based on price point and performance.

I think I got all of your queries. If not, or if you have follow-ups, please let me know!

Thanks for the kind words and thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

I am looking for advice as to what density of ND filter to get.  I have the the Nikon D850 with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and hope to use that with a 72 to 82 step up ring. ( I have a Galen Rowell Grad ND in a Cokin P type filter holder already fit with a 67 to 72 step up ring that fits my Nikon 70-200mm f/4 lens size , therefore the need for a 72 to 82 step up ring to my 24-70mm lens). I realize that I will need an 82mm size ND.  Will I have any vignetting with the two step up rings and the new 82 mm ND with this set up at my 24mm focal length?  Do I have to look at a thin ring style of ND, and if so, what brands would be best?  B+W, PolarPro, Heliopan? I would be looking to use it predominately in landscapes in sunlight for waterfalls and seascape settings esp.  Would a 6 stop suit my purposes or would I need a 10 stop?  I do usually use a circ. polarizer as well.  Thank you for your article and help.    

Hi Edwin,

I replied to this one above.

Thanks!

Best,

Todd

Excellent article, Todd, which I could only be aware of last week (through B&H).

I have a point on ND filters (or any solid filter, for that matter) which concerns to digital cameras. Since they are all programmable, I believe they could have an option for reducing light sensitivity of their sensors to emulate a filter (many of them already have the option to increase or reduce it in thirds from -3 to +3, some go beyond that), or somehow decrease one color´s wavelength sensitivity to emulate red, green, yellow, etc.). That is (yet) not possible to do with polarizing and graduated filters. The feature would reduce the need to buy (solid) filters, light refraction and vignettting effects.

Hi Angelo,

Thank you for the compliment!

I believe your awesome tech idea is already out in the wild. Some cameras have built-in "Live ND" filter functions that simulate the use of an ND filter and others can simulate red/green/and yellow B&W filtration in their film simulations.

Let me know if you have a particular camera or cameras you'd like to take a deeper look into for these options!

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

Mine is a Sony A7III (ILCE7M3). As far as I could dig into the menus, I have not seen those features.

Hi Angelo,

I don't think the a7III has a built-in simulated ND filter, but some cameras, like the new OM Systems OM-1 have this capability.

The a7III does have "film simulations" under the Creative Style menu, but does not have simulated colored filters like FUJFIILM cameras do.

https://helpguide.sony.net/ilc/1720/v1/en/contents/TP0001653152.html

The a7III is a great camera...but I guess it doesn't have all the cool features of its competition! :)

Let me know if you have more questions!

Best,

Todd

Hi Todd,

I have been searching online for an article that explains ND filters use cases in a simple and organized manner, and this one definitely does. I am glad I found it. Thank you for sharing it with us.

I currently have three lenses. A 100-400 telephoto (f 4.5-6.3), a wide angle 18-35 (f 1.8) and another wide angle (16-50mm f/3.5-6.3) lens.

I mainly shoot both photos and videos in daylight and sometimes indoors. My work is centered mainly around wildlife, but sometimes I find myself shooting photos and videos of indoor aquariums and animal enclosures (where light is much less bright). Which stops of light do you recommend for such scenarios, both for bright daylight (outdoors, eg. in the mountains, desert..etc) as well as indoors (aquariums, animal enclosures, animal sanctuaries...etc).

 

Many thanks!

 

Hi Tariq,

Thank you for the kind words!

Great question. I think a combination of a polarizer (2-stop ND), a 6-stop ND, and a 10-stop ND filter will cover many scenarios for outdoor shooting.

In general, you will not want or need an ND filter for indoor shooting as light is often at a premium (especially at aquariums!). In those scenarios, you want to gather as much light as possible to keep your shutter speeds up and ISO settings manageable.

Please let me know if you have more questions!

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

I'm so happy to have found this article...and see that the author was still active with replies! I have an Olympus Pen F and only have 400 film. The shutter speed tops out at 1/500. I have a 40mm f1.4 lens (to f16). Where do I start? I typically take sunny day shots of street life--but with high contrast between sunny skies and shaded alleys (I live in Beijing and the narrow hutong alleys are great for photos but the light is hard to manage.) I am really struggling. Any guidance on ND filters would be very much appreciated! Thank you!

Hi Mary,

I am glad you found this article as well! :)

And, yep, part of my job (and one of the best parts of my job) is "answering the mail" here, so thank you for your query!

For your setup, I would normally recommend starting with a 6-stop ND filter and seeing if that does the trick, but you might want to grab a 4-stop, too. Not knowing the exact lighting, a 6-stop might be too heavy. If you already have a polarizer, you can start with that (it should be 2-stops) and see how that works for you.

Which lens, exactly, do you have?

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

Hi, Todd! I have the Olympus G.Zuiko Auto-S 1:1.4 f=40mm for my lens. Generally speaking, Beijing sunny days (sans pollution) feel like noon in Miami or most summer days in Italy minus the gelato and "special light". I don't currently have a polarizer. If you look at the third photo down on this page: [Link removed] there are four photos all together of pretty typical lighting situations in BJ, especially the ones where people are on bicycles. Heavy shade and bright sun all at the same time. Would love to hear your thoughts! Thanks again!!!

Hi Mary,

Thanks for the info and example images. That is a cool lens!

I am going to recommend two filters for you:

1) a circular polarizer

2) a 4-stop ND filter

Everyone should have a polarizer, and for brighter days, you can combine the two to make a 6-stop ND filter.

I would "wear" the polarizer anytime you are shooting during the day, and slap on the 4-stop if you need to make the world a bit darker.

Standing by for follow-up questions!

Best,

Todd

This article was really helpful and cleared things up for me. My only problem is, I don't know where to start looking when it comes to what is best for the photography style I'm into. I just bought a new lens for my canon m50 mark ii (Canon 32mm). I love doing portaits and I part take in urban street style photography! Do you have any recommendations? Thank you!!

Hi Kara,

I am glad this article was helpful for you!

Are you asking what ND filter would be best for your style of photography? If so, here are some thoughts:

1) An ND filter can be useful for outdoor portraiture as it will reduce the amount of light getting to the sensor on a bright, sunny day when you have your aperture wide open. Sometimes, the combination of a large aperture and bright sunshine will be so bright that the camera cannot capture a proper exposure—even at its lowest ISO and fastest shutter speed. Using an ND filter in this scenario can allow you to keep your aperture wide open and darken the image enough so that the camera's shutter can handle the amount of incoming light.

2) In street photography, you usually want to have your camera firing at fast shutter speeds. The ND filter can be a creative tool to slow your shutter down for some artistic blurring of street scenes, or, just like I mentioned above, allow you to shoot wide open on bright and sunny days.

For either purpose, starting with a 6-stop ND filter would be a good idea, in my opinion.

Please let me know if you have more questions...or if I misread your original query!

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

The thread size on my lens is 67mm. Would I get a 67mm ND filter or do I want to use a step up ring and use bigger filters. I thought I read someplace that you need to use the biggest one on wide angle lenses like my sigma 16mm

Hi David,

Good question!

My answer is: buy a filter and/or step-up rings for the largest lens (filter diameter size) you own...or hope to own in the future. Unless, of course, you want to buy a bunch of different sized filters.

My personal example: My largest lens filter diameters are 77mm, so I have 77mm ND filters, light pollution filters, and a polarizing filter...and step-up rings to allow those 77mm filters to fit on all of my smaller-diameter lenses.

Some ultra-wide-angle lenses will vignette when filters are applied, so do some research for your Sigma lens. There are times where a step-up ring will exacerbate the vignetting (or not change it) depending on the lens.

Let me know if you have more questions and thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

Which type of nd filter should I buy for landscape , street and documentary photography?

Hi! I'm a student in India at Raghu Rai centre for photography. I want to buy nd filter for canon 18-135mm lens. Which type of nd filter should I buy?

You may want to consider the Urth ND2-400 (1-8.6 Stop) Variable ND Lens Filter (67mm), BH # URVND240067 to fit your Canon EF-S 18-135mm lens. 

 

https://bhpho.to/3uFQkA9

I am trying to decide between a 3, or 4 stop solid ND filter for my Canon EF 100mm f 2.8 L lens. Which would you purchase and why?

I appreciate your guidance.

Thank you

Steve

Hey Steve,

Good question and the answer depends a bit on what kind of photographs you are taking. In my experience, I have a 6-stop and a 10-stop ND filter for normal use (the heavier ones don't get carried around much)...and I often find myself reaching for the 10-stop for daylight photography while the 6-stop does well in less light.

Based on my experience, I would grab the 4-stop for your Canon. You can usually get a stop back by bumping up ISO or opening your aperture...but it is can be more difficult to go the other direction.

Let me know if you have follow-ups and thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

I am interested in landscape photography.  I have 3 lens, fuji 18-55, 10-24 and a 70-300. Which lens would I most use a ND filter on? It seems ridiculous to buy  a 3,6,or a 10 stop filter for each lens. Your advice would be helpful.  

Hey Paul,

Great question and I do have a (hopefully) great answer for you:

Step-up/down rings! [https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/buy/Step-Up-Rings/ci/420/N/4026728361]

Your lenses have a 58mm, 67mm, and 72mm filter thread. So, you can buy 72mm filters and a 72-67mm ring plus a 72-58mm ring and use the same filter on all three lenses.

You might actually think of getting a 77m filter and rings to allow room for future lens purchases/growth. I believe 77mm is the largest filter size on any current FUJIFILM X-mount lens (except the monstrous 200mm).

Please let me know if you have more questions.

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

 

Hi there , this is such a good article. Im only new to this stuff but does any ND Fliter fit any lense or are the brand specific? I have been looking at a few online but they dont seem clear as to what camera models they are for so my thought process is maybe they are universal as long as you have the correct size for the camera lense thread?

 

Thanks

 

Greg

Hi Greg,

Thank you for the kind words on the article!

Yes. In general, they are universal as long as you have the correct size diameter for your specific lens(es).

What I do, to save money (and weight in my bag), is I have ND filters that fit my largest lens and then I have step-down rings so that I can use those same filters on my smaller lenses. This is much more cost effective than having ND filters for each lens size.

Let us know if you have more questions!

Thanks!

Best,

Todd

If I purchased a variable ND filter would I be able to leave it on all the time. i.e. turn it down for indoors and ramp it up for outdoors on sunny days etc.?

Hi Dominic,

Thanks for your question!

Technically, yes, you can leave a VND filter on all the time but you generally wouldn't want to because it will always be darkening your scene to some extent. You cannot dial the VND filter to "zero ND." You will also have a degradation (maybe imperceptible) in sharpness as you are adding more glass elements between your sensor or film and your subject.

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

 

What special challenges, if any, with wide-angle photography and ND filters?  Is this specially a problem with Variable ND?

Hi Thomas,

Great question. I guess the "challenge" of an ND filter with a wide angle lens is the threat of vignetting, especially if stacking filters. If you are using an ultra-wide-angle lens and stacking an ND filter on a UV filter or stacking more than one ND filter on a UV filter, you'll likely start to get vignetting.

To help battle this, I would remove the UV filter when using the ND filter and try to avoid stacking by getting heavier ND filters so that you don't have to stack when you want to go darker.

The dreaded X with the VND filters effects all lenses, not just wide-angle glass.

I hope that helps! Let us know if you have more questions.

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

so this means that you have to buy an ND filter for each lens you have? or at least, each thread size? or is there an adjustable thread size ND filter?

Hi j p.,

Good question and, no, you don't. Huge oversight on my part, so I will amend the above text, but what you can do (and what I do) is buy filters for my largest diameter thread size lens (77mm in my case) and then get step-up/step-down rings for my smaller lenses. There is a risk of vignetting if stacking filters, but it works just fine to get a stepping ring to put a 77mm filter on a 52mm thread lens.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/buy/Step-Up-Rings/ci/420/N/4026728361

Thanks for your question and I apologize for the oversight!

Best,

Todd

With regard to your response to Nitish P, I propose use of "exposure time" in place of shutter speed, which accurately reflects the physics behind it.

Hi Roy,

This is the moment when I kick myself for not having thought of that earlier! Where were you 6-months ago? :)

Thanks for the help and thanks for reading Explora!

Best,

Todd

"When the light is halved, to maintain the same exposure, you need to double your shutter speed." Here, if the shutter speed is increased the speed at which the shutter closes is increased thereby decreasing the amount of light, technically it should be the 'shutter speed number' that has to be increased and decreasing the shutter speed to maintain the same exposure. It's quite misleading without reading further.

 

HI Nitish,

I won't disagree there.

Ironic that the term "shutter speed" doesn't refer to a speed, but a duration of time and that, in itself, can cause confusion. I will add some text to make it a bit more clear.

Thank you for the note and thanks for reading!

Great ND guide, thank you !

ND filters are very useful, I use x16, x32, x64 ND filters.

I tried different brands and I found the Hoya ND Pro1 digital series to be the more neutral filters with the minimum color shift. 

Thanks for reading and for the kind words, Alexandre!

In the first chart, last column "Amount light is reduced", Isn't that supposed to be "Amount light entering sensor".

Hi sainikhil,

I think that, in the circumstances of that chart, that the two terms could be used interchangeably.

Do you think?

Best,

Todd

Getting ready to 'slow down' my photography with ND filters.

Question - Is there a disadvantage to using an ND-CP over a straight ND?

To me it seems a no-brainer to just purchase the ND-CP's.

BTW I'm not into stacking filters - which I'm guessing could pose a problem with the polarizing aspect.

Hi Rich,

Sorry for the delay. I actually do not work at B&H anymore, but was bored (not really) and thought I would "check the mail." :)

If I follow your question, yes, there is a disadvantage by using ND-Circular Polarizers. VND filters are basically two CP filters stacked. If you turn them too "far" you get a dreaded X pattern on the image.

Check out this article: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/variable-nd-filters-what-are-you-paying-for

Best,

Todd

If I have a variable nd filter and a .6 graduated nd filter what other size should I have if I can only but one more graduated nd: .3 or .9 or 1.2?

Hi Monica,

Thanks for your question. I guess that all depends on how much darkening you are looking for. Your 0.6 GND filter gives you 2-stops of reduction. A 0.3 gives you 1 more stop, a 0.9 gives 3 more, and a 1.2 gives 4 more.

I would suggest the 1.2 for a 6-stop reduction when combined, or a 2-stop or 4-stop when used separately.

Let me know if you have follow-up questions!

Sorry for the delay in replying. We were on holiday!

Great, clear and short-ish (important) overview. Excellent. The cheat-sheet tables are especially good. Thanks.

Thank you, David! And, thanks for reading Explora!

From the land of electronic mail...

Thank you for the primer on ND filters at B&H.com. I found it very useful. As a relative newbie to digital photography and a complete stranger to ND filters, I would like to ask your advice. I've read a lot of reviews and my head is swimming a little bit.

I currently have a Sony A7iii and the 24-105 F4 G lens. Additional lenses I hope to acquire include the 16-35 F2.8 GM and the 100-400 G telephoto. So that would mean 2 lenses have 77mm thread and one 82mm thread. 

I am interested in ND filters for landscape and cityscape photography. I could envision my self someday wanting to stack filters for effect.

What set-up do you recommend? Color accuracy, image clarity and convenience are important as is durability. 

Single circular lenses sure are convenient but they preclude stacking filters don't they? 

I appreciate any help you can offer.

Thank you,

Roy 

Hi Roy,
 
Good morning! Thanks for the kind words on my article!
 
Good questions, but I will start from the bottom up…
 
You can stack circular filters as long as the filters have front threads (most do…there are exceptions). The possible negative side-effect of stacking circular filters is vignetting, especially with wide-angle lenses like the 16-35mm…so I wouldn’t stack more than 2 filters on that lens, but you can easily experiment to see what you can get away with. Also, many filters are marketed/sold as “thin”…look for those when you can.
 
If you were going with circular filters, you could get 82mm filters and then a step-down 82-77mm ring so that you can use the 82mm filters on the 77mm lenses. This might also help battle the vignetting a bit as the filters are wider than the lens front element, but sometimes the step-up/down rings add unwanted thickness to the setup.
 
Note that not all vignetting is objectionable or unwanted. Some photographers employ this to their advantage or they can remove/reduce it in post-processing.
 
The other option is a rectangular/square filter holder and rectangular/square filters…popular for wide-angle landscape photography, but not really used much in the telephoto world. Also, these are less portable than the circular filters and take up more space in your kit bag. An advantage is the ability to vary the position of the filter to achieve flexible graduated ND effects.
 
One alternative to stacking is investing in heavy ND filters. You can stack a bunch of filters to reach 24-stops, or you can just get a single 24-stop ND filter. The advantages to this is that you 1) aren’t stacking and 2) are reducing the amount of glass you are shooting through as each air/glass interchange effects image quality.
 
And the tough question…which brand(s)? Yes, you can get dizzy looking at love/hate reviews online all day long. Sometimes you just have to go for it and make a decision. B+W is a top brand and great value with their filters as is Hoya, Haida, NiSi, and Tiffen. Yep, I just named 5 brands to narrow your search. Oops. Regardless, my experience with filters is that, if you want quality, stick to the middle or upper price points and you will be fine. 
 
And, lastly, starting out, I would use a polarizer and 6-Stop ND filter…and add a 10-Stop if you wish later on.
 
Thanks for reading Explora! Let me know if you have follow-up questions!
 
Best,
 
Todd

Great article.Thanks for sharing. 

What filter would you recommend for capturing Digital Media? Thanks

 

BStrong

Hello BStrong,

Thanks for the kind words on the article!

Are you referring to still images or video?

For photo, I always recommend a circular polarizer (2-stop), 6-stop, and 10-stop filter as a good combination for many scenarios.

Let me know if you have more questions and thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

Show older comments