5 Filters Go Head to Head in This Neutral Density Shootout

Not all ND filters are created equal.

Even though they're all designed to reduce the amount of light that hits your sensor, neutral density filters can vary quite a bit in terms of what effect they have on your final image, including color casting, vignetting, and exposure changes. But Patrick Hall of Fstoppers decided to test 5 different brands of ND filters, ranging in price between $100 to $250, to find out which ones performed the best.

Hall tests 5 different 6-stop 82mm filters:

  • Hoya
  • Tiffen
  • Formatt Hitech
  • B+W
  • Breakthrough

To test these filters effectively and accurately, Hall needed to control over the lighting in the studio, so using a single monolight, the Profoto D1, he was able to maintain the same lighting condition throughout the entire test.

Here are the results of the different tests:

White Balance

This test is designed to determine which filter is the most color neutral, that is, doesn't bring any additional color to the image.

In this test, the Breakthrough ND filter comes out on top.

White Balance in Lightroom

For this test, Hall brings each photo into Lightroom and uses the WB dropper to see if he can make each image look identical. What he also found was that almost every filter was slightly more dense than they advertised, except for the Breakthrough.

  • Hoya: 1/5 stop more dense
  • Tiffen: 3/4 stop more dense
  • Formatt Hitech: 1/10 stop more dense
  • B+W: 1/3 stop more dense
  • Breakthrough: no change in exposure

Vignetting

Hall is shooting on at 24mm on his lens, which is fairly wide. Expect more vignetting the wider you shoot.

The Formatt Hitech had the most vignetting, followed by the B+W and the Tiffen. The Breakthrough had the least.

Sharpness

Though Hall found the Tiffen and Breakthrough filters to be a tad bit sharper than the others, he said that the difference was barely noticeable. Essentially all of these filters had about the same amount of sharpness.

Price

The Winner

According to Hall, the Breakthrough filter came out on top for several reasons. It performed well in all the tests -- no too much color shift, had the lease vignetting out of the 5, had no change in exposure, and was one of the sharpest. Furthermore, the price was right in the middle -- it wasn't the most expensive, but at nearly $200, it wasn't the cheapest either. (Perhaps the high price affords you the helpful grooves along the edges that will help you screw it on and off of your lens?)

What's your favorite ND filter to use? What is your least favorite? Let us know in the comments below!     

Your Comment

18 Comments

Why did he only test one density?

February 8, 2016 at 1:24PM

0
Reply

These filters are build with photography in mind. They all come in 3 version (3-stop, 6-stop and 10-stop) They aren't build for cinema camera since they don't cut IR which photo camera sensor does.

February 9, 2016 at 9:43AM

40
Reply
avatar
Danny T
Photographer
562

I didn't do that much research on the others; but the Tiffens certainly come in a variety of densities with cinematography in mind. I mostly work with prosumer still-type cameras that have built-in IR filters, but can't you stack a hot mirror with a regular ND filter?

February 9, 2016 at 3:39PM

0
Reply

Hmmm... Judging with my own eye, the B+W has a closer color balance than the Breakthrough which produces a cooler color than the control.

This test also misses out on two big issues with variable-ND filters...

1- Infrared color contamination, which can make your blacks go very red when you've applied a lot of ND with light sources that have a fair amount of IR light in their spectrum.

2- Sharpness with a long telephoto lens, like a 400mm lens with a Full Frame camera. Some variable-NDs work well with anything wider than a 135mm on a Full Frame camera, but get very soft with long telephoto lenses.

February 8, 2016 at 1:27PM, Edited February 8, 1:29PM

16
Reply
Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32829

>>>It's not a comparison of variable-ND filters

Sorry, my mistake.

The IR contamination test would still be a big issue as many ND filters do nothing to stop IR from turning your blacks red.

February 8, 2016 at 2:13PM

5
Reply
Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32829

IR is a huge issue in the world of ND filters. I'd love to see that variable considered as well.

February 8, 2016 at 10:08PM

9
Reply
avatar
Brooks Reynolds
Director/DOP
600

These aren't designed for cinema camera, these are photography filters. I think only the Red dragon sensor does ok with straight non-IR ND filters. Cool video but not to be confuse with cinema ND and NDIR filters.

February 9, 2016 at 9:47AM

4
Reply
avatar
Danny T
Photographer
562

I own the Breakthrough X3 3, 6, and 10-stop ND filters. After going through others and being very dissatisfied, I fell in love with these and didn't mind the price. 100% worth it.

February 8, 2016 at 1:36PM

3
Reply
avatar
David S.
3267

Which camera are you using the filters with? I'm curious to know your result with the 6-stop and 10-stop

February 9, 2016 at 9:48AM

0
Reply
avatar
Danny T
Photographer
562

Primarily the a7s, to combat the base ISO whenever I have to use s-log 2. My results are clean—I've seen no color shift (especially when compared to other filters) and I haven't seen any IR contamination, though I suspect that's more due to the camera than the filter.

February 10, 2016 at 4:06PM

0
Reply
avatar
David S.
3267

would love to see this for variable NDs

February 8, 2016 at 2:02PM, Edited February 8, 2:02PM

25
Reply
avatar
Alex Mallis
Director / DP / Editor
340

You have the link and price wrong for the Hoya filter that fstoppers tested. fstoppers links to the cheaper filter and not to the more expensive multicoated pro1 hoya filter. The B&W and Breakthrough filters are the only filters with coatings in the test, which can be an extremely important consideration for reflections in video.

February 8, 2016 at 2:06PM

0
Reply
Casey Preston
Videographer
449

I agree, but the Hoya ND filter to test is the cheaper ProND filters with a Metallic ACCU-ND coating. ( metal based ND filter instead of traditional dye based ND filter )

Hoya 82mm ProND64 Filter
http://goo.gl/rTLAJn

It was also the ONLY ND filter to get a perfect score in this test of 6 brands of ND filters...

Best ND filter: 6 top models tested and rated
http://goo.gl/kr4Rm7

February 8, 2016 at 2:21PM, Edited February 8, 2:35PM

7
Reply
Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32829

I used to think that it was necessary to spend big bucks to get a neutral density filter that doesn't have too much of a color cast or softening effect. Like many video shooters out there I prefer to use a variable ND which is more flexible when I am in a run-and-gun type scenario. I previously owned the Tiffen variable ND and when I misplaced it on a shoot and had to replace it I decided to try the Zomei Ultra Slim variable ND. Zomei claims it utilizes 18 layers of anti-reflection coating and genuine German Schott optical glass. To my eye and through a series of highly unscientific testing I have determined that this budget ND has less of a color shift than just about anything else I have tried including the non variable Tiffen NDs. At the price these things sell for on Amazon ($56 for the 58mm version) I was able to pickup two for less than the price of one high end ND and now have a matched set to use when I am shooting a scene in bright light with more than one camera. I just wanted to put it out there that it may not be necessary to spend upwards of $200 on a neutral density filter, especially if you are just starting out or if you simply want to save some money on gear.

February 8, 2016 at 3:46PM

10
Reply
Myke Scaffidi
Editor/DP
245

For filmmaking, all of my ND filters that are a fixed density (.3, .6, .9, 1.2, 1.5, 1.8) are 4x5.65 (panavision) Schneider WW's... These are substantially more expensive, but when it comes to color rendition & iQ, they smoke all of these.
My 1.8 is the only one that I got in Platinum IRND, due to price... all the rest are standard and I pair them with a separate IR Hot Mirror whenever I stack past 1.8.
My suggestion to fellow filmmakers... If you're going the route of "fixed ND", spend the money and buy once, or rent.
A great alternative is a Variable ND.
The best I've used for sharpness, reliability, and price is the Genus Eclipse MkII. A good alternative is the B&W OR Heliopan. The best I've used (also rather costly) is the Schneider... the LCW & Tiffen are the only others I've tried and they had very noticeable color shifts and sweet-spots.
IMHO, a good Vari-ND will serve many of you far better than those in the video.
If you do go fixed, your likely on a production where a Mattebox is already in the kit, so I suggest you rent some filters to go with it.

February 8, 2016 at 8:14PM, Edited February 8, 8:16PM

14
Reply
J.M. Anderson
Director of Photography
530

I would like a test like this made with variable ND filters. The always awesome Dave Dugdale did it, but it was two or three years ago. Maybe an update would be very useful.

February 9, 2016 at 5:36AM

0
Reply
avatar
David R. Falzarano
Director / Writer / Editor
1595

I use the Cavision ND filters and for the price ($75 each B&H), they produce decent results. I use these with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and must say, the image does turn muddy when you start stacking these in the mattebox. I would say to avoid cheaper filters unless you have the time and ability to invest in color grading your footage.

February 16, 2016 at 12:52PM, Edited February 16, 12:52PM

0
Reply
avatar
Nicholas Fitch
DP/Content Creator
81

Hi .... thanks for the video it helps but one thing I don't understand.
How should u set the ND filter
i.e. if my camera shutter speed is 1/50 And if I am using ND8 filter
how should I set my camera shutter speed
thanks in advance

January 7, 2017 at 10:34PM, Edited January 7, 10:35PM

0
Reply