27 comments on “The Low Down on Choosing ND Filters

  1. Great article but a slight correction for you. There is another option to those not wanting a screw in variable nd filter. Light craft workshops makes a drop in matte box variable nd filter option that I’ve heard is excellent. With excellence almost always comes a big price tag and those are no exception. Really just made for video though.


  2. Dave,
    Just passing by a few pages on GND filters and I have to say I found your post to be very clear and pedagogical including a lot of interesting thoughts and experience, thank you!
    Just one thing I thought to add, and that is regarding the disadvantages of screw-on filters where you mention the cost of purchasing new filters for each diameter lens in your collection.
    I agree, however one can (at least potentially) avoid this particular disadvantage by buying a single set of filters to fit your largest diameter lens together with one or more much cheaper step-up rings. The risk being possible vignetting at wide angles due to the overall thickness of filter and ring(s). I recently bought as good as I could afford 77mm CPL and VND filters along with a Kood 72-77mm step-up ring (costing only an additional 7GBP). This then covers both my 10-22mm and 18-200mm EF-S lenses. Job done. I haven’t tested it yet for possible vignetting at the wide end however. Maybe only 12 or 13mm will be possible for example.
    Thanks again and will enjoy reading your other posts I’m sure!



    • Hi Adrian, thanks for your comments πŸ™‚

      You make a very good point about step-up rings which indeed can help keep the cost of purchasing screw-on filters down, just make sure you start with the largest diameter lens you are likely to purchase in the near future.

      77mm is certainly a good size to start with as you should be covered for most wide angle lenses.


    • One very important caveat about adapter/step up rings. Watch out for galling! When two pieces of the same metal are joined or threaded together , they tend to bind. And because most filters and adapters are aluminum, and are very thin, they can be a disaster to remove, That is why almost all of my filters are by B&W – they’re not aluminum. Brass, bronze, steel, it matters not so long as they are different. And for all you Tarzans out there – finger tight is enough. Nuff said.


  3. Great post! I have a Cokin filter system and a few screwable high quality filters. I’m thinking about replacing my Cokin System (I’m not happy with the color cast and lens flare) with a Lee Filters System (but the high price tag dissuades me) or buying a few additional screwable filters.

    When I was reading your post I said to myself “wow, his pictures are great. I’m going to use the same set-up as this guy” (as I was really a bit lost in my search for the best solution). At the end of the post you say there are no nd filters used in the photos of this post and I thought “this is amazing. Let’s forget about ND grads.” (I also really like HDR and do quite a lot of work in HDR too, but I nevertheless use some filters.)


    • Hi Steve thanks for dropping by, you’ve got some great shots on your Flickr page πŸ™‚

      I must admit I like to keep a simple & spontaneous approach to my photography and having to attach and remove filters is a bit of a pain, I’d much rather just grab my camera and start shooting what nature puts in front of me.

      I believe ND grads are always a compromise and I’d much rather spend the time in Lightroom & Photoshop getting my images just the way I like them (my wife tells me I’m a bit of a perfectionist lol).

      I also believe it’s important to have your own style and to keep evolving it which means avoiding using the same formula for every photo you take. These days there are many landscape photographers out there and it seems they all have a gallery of stunning long exposure seascapes, rivers & waterfalls, not that there’s anything wrong with that but there are plenty of other approaches to taking photos with moving water.

      Never be afraid to experiment and have fun.,Photography, after all, is an artistic expression πŸ™‚


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  5. I was reading your article and remembered something I had seen on the Schneider web page. This is taken from your article on variable nd filter drawbacks: “Only come as screw-on filters (that I know of) so see below for the pros and cons of screw-on vs filter systems”.
    There are variable nd filters for the lee system from schneider: https://www.schneideroptics.com/ecommerce/CatalogItemDetail.aspx?CID=466&IID=8088
    It’s called the true-match nd kit. Comes for 4×4″ and 95mm.


    • Thanks for your comments Hans, this is obviously another option for use of ND filters though it would appear from watching their video that (due to the use of dual polarizing filters) this setup cannot be used with wide angle lenses.


  6. Dear Dave,
    Thank you for an insightful article. I am an amateur photographer enamoured by the effects of an ND filter whether it be waterfalls, the sea or streets during the day!
    I was suggested to buy a non variable ND filter and was recommended B+W 72mm ND 3.0-1,000X with Single Coating (110). Is this a variable or non variable ND filter? Look forward to your response before I invest in the same.


  7. Hello Dave,
    My name is Travis and I am
    Wondering if you think I could achieve
    Some great photos using a 58mm Inca
    ND filter just learning at the moment
    Trying to improve my skills I would really
    Appciate some feedback if you can Travis)


    • Hi Travis,

      I’ve never used Inca filters but I gather they are mid range as far as quality goes and don’t appear to have a coating which won’t help.

      One thing to be cautious of with low to mid range filters is that they can degrade image quality and possibly cause a colour cast on your images.

      I would recommend searching for some comments about them on Google first.

      As with most things you buy in life, you get what you pay for so if you’re going to put something in front of your lens then make sure it is the best quality you can afford πŸ™‚


  8. Dave, thanks for the article. under the options you state- “ND filters are generally used to either increase shutter speed to smooth out motion or” don’t you mean decrease the shutter speed not increase it? Thanks, Mark from Freehold, NJ


    • Thanks for stopping by Mark πŸ™‚

      Fair comment, you could read it either way. By “increase shutter speed” I mean increase the time the shutter is open by using a longer shutter speed not making the shutter speed faster which has the opposite effect.

      What I should have said (and have now changed it to) is “lengthen shutter speed” which hopefully makes it clearer, thanks for pointing that out πŸ™‚


  9. Thanks, Dave, for a very thorough & comprehensive discussion of the various ND filters. When I looked into these filters a few months ago, I couldn’t even get a sensible description of the difference between hard & soft ND grads direct from the manufacturers, which rather startled me. And I see lately there’s a “reverse screw in ND grad”, which enables you to point straight at a setting sun & lower the level of light in the area of the sun, to bring up the colours of the rest of the scene – a bit specialised, for most of us, I think.


    • Thanks for your comments Pete.

      I hadn’t heard of reverse ND filters before, sounds like it would be tricky to get the exposure just right as the light changes so fast with the setting / rising sun.


  10. Hi Dave, thanks for a clear summary about the ND filters. It’s a lot to consider when trying to decide on which filters to purchase! After reading your article, I think I might hold off on buying ND filters for now. I am however still looking at getting a polarising filter though. From what I have read, it is not possible to remove glares from a scene using lightroom or photoshop, hence polarising filter is the only way to solve this. Is that true from your experience? Also, do you have any polarising filter that you recommend or steer clear from? Thanks


    • Hi Lee, I’m glad you found the article useful πŸ™‚

      What you are saying about polarising filters is partially correct, while you can reduce the glare and haze to some degree in post processing it will never achieve the effect that using a polarising filter would give you. If it is the effect that a polarising filter has on the sky and clouds then that can be achieved more successfully with post processing.

      However there is one simple solution that eliminates the need for a polarising filter, shoot with your back to the sun so there is no light bouncing off the water into your lens. Not always possible I know but often just positioning yourself appropriately can make all the difference and eliminate the problem with how a polarising filter gives uneven blue sky on wide angle lenses.

      Having said that, under the right circumstances there’s nothing wrong with using a good quality polarising filter. I am not familiar with which brands are best but I would look at getting one aimed at professional use, it’s definitely a scenario where you get what you pay for. The important things to look for are the quality of the glass, the coating on the filter and the quality of manufacturing. I know Singh-Ray filters are very good (and expensive) also Tiffen, Hoya & B&W all do good filters just steer clear of their low end ones and cheaper brands like Cokin if you can.

      I have recently written an article on my new blog with some tips for getting long exposures without using ND filters which you may be interested in


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