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Neutral Density Shootout from Dave Dugdale: Which Variable ND Filter Should You Buy?

12.17.12 @ 7:19PM Tags : , , , ,

By now Dave Dugdale and his site Learning DSLR Video should be fairly familiar to you because of his honest personal experience and no-nonsense gear reviews. In our modern, lovely era of acquisition technology — particularly regarding the proliferation of low-cost, high native ISO cameras — the need for Neutral Density filters inevitably arises. That said, there’s quite a few options out there, but like lenses themselves, quality concerns must be heavily weighted against price-point. Dave has recently created an ND filter shootout that incorporates both of these key considerations into his conclusion. Read on to find out which ND filter just may be the right choice for your needs.

Here is the list of the NDs Dave shoots-out in his great review, followed by the video itself:


Dave makes a lot of good points, and it’d be fairly difficult to argue with how he arrived at his findings. That said, you may choose the less expensive Genus, for instance, if it better suits your needs and the finer (and therefore more obvious in revealing imperfections) resolution of stills simply isn’t something you work with in the industry. As is the case with any such shootouts, you may simply need something even cheaper, or you may prefer the higher quality options for your standards –but this review is certainly a good foundation to build upon in your own search.

Which among these ND Filters have you guys used, and preferred, in your past shooting experiences? Have you used any alternatives not reviewed by Dave, and if so, do they compete in price-range and quality?

ND Filter Image courtesy Dave Dugdale (license here).

Link: Variable ND Filter Shootout — Learning DSLR Video

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Description image 24 COMMENTS

  • I own a few Polaroid ND filter for my Minolta lenses, and think they’re okay in certain lens combo/ f-stops. I had recently ran a test on sharpness and color haze with them: http://youtu.be/MfW1WanZA9Y and confirmed a few suspicions I had:

    For lenses that are already soft wide open, they tend to exacerbate the issue, but for lenses that sharp wide open I didn’t notice (to my eye at least) that much drop off in sharpness.

    The color haze was very noticeable, but easily corrected by reseting the custom white balance.

  • Random comment: “lens gears” worked best for me to unstick my ND from a UV filter (which was a bad idea anyway — horrendous vignetting at 24mm). Available for about $2 from eBay.

  • Thanks for the great detailed review!

  • Two months ago I bought the Polaroid VND for $35. It’s OK for my run-n-gun stuff, it’s easy to rotate on-the-fly to maintain shutter speed, ƒstop, and ISO, and I’ll continue to use it in that vein. All my lenses are decent, and I think overall the resolution is OK. However, as with Dugdale, many reviewers were totally negative on this filter for softness and color shifts. Definitely not usable professionally, so I plunged further.

    Heeding to general consensus and Philip Bloom, I bought the Heliopan, the new version with front thread. I had to order it from the UK on eBay. It does not vignette on my 24mm lens (Lumix 12-35 ƒ2.8), but likely it will on other wide angle lenses, especially full frame. It looks as if Dugdale also has the threaded version. Heliopan warns of possible vignetting and recommends the slim (non-threaded version) to elude such an anomaly. Maybe not a fair test, accordingly, because it looks as if most of the others in the test do not have front threads.

    My critical tests show that Heliopan indeed compromises image quality and introduces a color shift. A stack of Cokin P ND gels is no better in my tests. Ultimately I think a selection of round ND filters might be the sharpest route, and of course adjust the illumination if in a controlled environment. Nevertheless, Dugdale included price in the equation, and hence not really an accurate synopsis vis-a-vis if based mostly on IQ impact.

  • I’ve got the Genus, and it’s absolutely superior to my old LightCraft fader in every way imaginable.

    Also, does anyone else actually kinda like the textured bokeh? I think it adds a level of character to images that’s really hard to re-create in any other way. I mean, I wouldn’t want to use it for everything, but for the most part, I find it to be quite an aesthetically pleasing effect. Anybody else feel that way?

  • The Tiffen 77mm Variable ND is on sale at B&H for $130 through 12/20/12. Not a bad price.

  • antoine serviette on 12.18.12 @ 3:50AM

    i use the cheap 34 dollar polaroid for run n gun and quick stuff, but for everything else, matte box and filters

  • I sold my LCW Fader ND mark2 after running these tests:
    http://www.similaar.com/foto/lenstests/lenstestsn.html

    Yes, screw-in filters are a pain to use, but if you want the best image quality, that’s the way to go.

  • tested both the singh-ray and LCW mk II. under 70mm both are acceptable. over 70mm LCW loses too much resolution compared to the singh-ray. both have a slight color cast that is easily corrected if necessary. singh-ray’s scale is actually usable; the filter comes in a good case, but is expensive.

  • I’ve been using the LCW exclusively for almost two years. Whether on Epic with Canon glass or 7D with Nikkor AI it looks great to me.

    • Hmm, had it too but changed to Heliopan when I bought a Scarlet. I actually found the LCW to not hold up good enough.

  • Why wasn’t Schneider’s Vari-ND mentioned? Does anybody have info on the Schneider?

  • DSLR News Shooter posted an article not too long ago on the newer generation of Genustech Eclipse faders, which seem to be better than just the regular ones.
    http://www.dslrnewsshooter.com/2012/12/06/genustech-eclipse-fader-nd-filter-sets-new-standard-all-for-165-us/

  • I have the Heliopan, but in Germany it only cost me 200€, that’s around $260. Using it for 4K and it’s very good.

  • Have 58mm and 62mm Genus ND Faders…love them both. They’re must-haves for video shooters especially if you keep the shutter speed at 1/48 and like shooting wide open. Also makes changing exposure easier because now the exposure ring and focus ring are next to each other, similar to a video camera. An extra $100 can be tough to stomach if the lens only cost $300-$400, but I can’t imagine working without them now.

    • Let me guess, you bought the 58mm first? If the other way around, I would imagine you would have just used the 62 with a step-down ring on your lenses that have 58mm filter threads.

      I bought one 77mm fader, and use a 67-77 step up ring on my Nikon 28 1.8 and 85 1.8 G lenses. Unfortunately it’s not a good fader ND (Neewer) and softens the image. So I retired it, and went back to using standard Tiffen NDs which work great, but are nowhere near as convenient. Time to invest in a good fader ND.

  • Moses! The Schneider Vari-ND is a complete work of art, I used the LCW (screw in, just an aweful filter) Then the Singray (amazing in compassion) All the while BEGGING Schneider to custom cut their Vari in a 4×4 (2piece). When it finally arrived I was in heaven in a genuis mattebox its an unstoppable rig ready for the sun or a gaffer to move. Not cheap but the best possible Images.

    • I’d love to see how the Schneider compares to one of the top performers in the traditional screw-in range as tested above. Are you using the regular screw-on Schneider, the half screw-on/half rotating 4″ filter, or just two 4″ filters?

  • I have used the LCW previously and didn’t care for it at all. Odd color cast and softening of the picture. You get what you pay for there.

  • Nicely done; always liked Tiffen. Why no Hoya in the mix?

    B+W (B&W) are great, you know that is Schneider Optics and yes, most well-made (close-tolerance) accessories will expand/contract rapidly (in a thin ring) when made from aluminum due to temp. Brass and steel are better materials for that but have other issues.

    X-Pattern and abnormalities; I use individual ND’s, found it best all around.

  • Just wondering how the community feels about using a mat box with square ND-Glass, As I think about this, does the circle ND glass introduce itself onto the sensor, creating the vignetting and would a square glass (Mat-box) stop the vignetting effect?
    Thanks for your understanding that as a new-be entering the field, I welcome your positive support.

  • Thank you so much for the review.
    I’ve been eyeing the Tiffen for a while now, but have always wondered if the quality for the more expensive ones was that much better,
    Thankfully you have shown me that I don’t need to break the bank to get a ND filter.

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