Field Test: Save Yourself Sky Replacement with Inexpensive Grad Filters From H&Y

H&Y filters are selling inexpensive DSLR-friendly grad filters that can save you time in post.

For a long while, grad filters were a must on all exterior shoots, pushed to amazing creative heights by Slawomir Idziak on A Short Film About Killing

With the increasing latitude of high-end cinematography cameras, the pressing need to pop in a grad filter on a day exterior and "bring down the sky" no longer feels as important as it used to. On top of that, with features like "match move" coming to editing platforms like Resolve, digital sky replacement is easier than ever to use if the sky clips out.

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=29&v=W-zARWeMOP8

A ND graduated filter is something we're less likely to rent or buy, as it doesn't feel as desperately necessary as it did in 2009. On top of that, on lower budget productions, filters can be one of the more fragile things on set (we know of more than a few that have broken and eaten through contingency budgets), so the new H&Y filters built on Gorilla Glass—the same material used in iPhones—were particularly interesting.

We wanted to give the low-cost filter solution a try, however, to see if we still found it useful to have an ND grad in the kit for image quality alone.  

Full disclosure: While we tested a set of H&Y Gorilla Glass filters, we did not drop them on concrete in an attempt to test its durability, and so we just have to hope that the Gorilla Glass is as tough as that phone you dropped 20 times before it finally broke. We wanted to give the low-cost filter solution a try, however, to see if we still found it useful to have an ND grad in the kit for image quality alone.  

This was especially interesting as ND filters always introduce a color cast. And though the more expensive the filter, the less the color cast exists, there's no "perfectly neutral" neutral density filter. Lower cost NDs are the ones that make the most sense for us, as we're mostly working with a $2,000 camera these days (the XT2), and if we're going to buy an ND, $200 fits in the budget much better than $800 does.

While high-end cinema cameras are getting more and more latitude, most of us shoot with mid range gear, and it was nice to have a ND back for a few weeks.

We put the H&Y ND grad through the paces, especially to see if the Gorilla Glass had more of a color cast than a normal optical glass filter. It's $199, and H&Y makes a filter tray that lets you lock the filter in a variety of positions and angles for not much more ($229), and it slots in at a price where an ND grad can continue to be part of the package.

Credit: Charles Haine

While high-end cinema cameras are getting more and more latitude, most of us shoot with mid range gear, and it was nice to have a ND back for a few weeks. It truly is a better way of working, using filtration on camera to put the sky back down within the exposure range. Sure, it can always be blown out again in post, but in the short term, you've got the option of controlling it if you want, and you have more room for it to operate while it occurs. 

The H&Y grad performed well for this purpose. Yes, it gives up a very slight green cast (which we only saw against neutral backgrounds), but we found that green cast timed out easily in post-production and was so unnoticeable in actual footage that we didn't even feel the need to remove it.

You can tweak out the color cast of the ND with almost instantaneous ease in a way you couldn't before.

Even if we had, having properly exposed sky that we need to tweak is still faster than keying the sky and adding fake color (or doing an entire sky replacement). It's funny, but the digital toolsets that have made NDs less popular also, in some ways, make them more useful. You can tweak out the color cast of the ND with almost instantaneous ease in a way you couldn't before.

Rotatable locking knob.Credit: Charles Haine

The H&Y filter itself did its job admirably, helping control sky exposure while allowing us to open exposure and view more detail below. The filter thread mount had a variety of nice details, including a notched and marked holder that allowed for consistent placement and incremental changes useful when replicating setups. Admittedly, we're a little nervous about any system that works with filter threads instead of rods, since it's designed to screw in to mount. This makes it a great option for those of us shooting on mirrorless and DSLR rigs without rods, but, as thread mount systems are never as secure as rod systems, there is the potential for some amount of shift in the system.

For your establishing shot, grads are still a great tool. 

However, once threaded on, we never had the filter tray move, and you can rotate it separately from the thread while adjusting angles. For many of us with handheld rigs, skipping rods is a great weight-and-cost-saver. In addition, the traditional caveats for all ND grad shots apply: you can't really move the camera much beyond a simple pan, and people crossing up into the sky look odd. But for your establishing shot, grads are still a great tool. 

Establishing shot after grad.

In our tests, we didn't need to grad out much color cast in the H&Y filters. For instance, in the sample above, the grad was used to bring down the sky so that we could see more detail in the building; assuming that the building is the subject of the shot, having clear detail on the building was important for us to establish, and a grad helped accomplish that. Both images are graded identically, and if there is any color cast introduced by the filter in the graded sky, it's too subtle to notice.

Are the results dramatically different between our samples?  No, but, in the end, cinematography is about constant polish, doing everything you can to keep refining an image, and the small difference in the image is worth working toward.

If you are thinking about adding affordable graduated filters to your package, give the H&Y set a look.

Tech Specs:

  • Corning Gorilla Glass
  • Low reflection
  • Perfect Gradation
  • Double-sided coatings
  • High transmittance rate
  • Water/Scratch/Oil resistant

Your Comment