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Thread: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

  1. #1

    Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Hey everyone, first time post here. I was wondering if a knowledgeable person could answer a quick question for me. Do you recommend a variable ND filter or multiple fixed filters for someone like me who mostly does stills (but still dabbles in video). My biggest worry of the variable is the color cast and dreaded 'X's that can ruin stills (especially at the highest settings). If in your professional opinion it really isn't a big deal and the flexibility of a variable filter is worth it, then I'll go that route - otherwise I'll get the multiple fixed filters. I think I'll be buying Tiffen regardless.

    I appreciate you taking the time to read this.

    Happy shooting!
    -Keith

  2. #2
    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Simply put, there is no "right answer", it really depends on your personal requirements. There are some members that swear by Singh-Ray variables while others shoot fixed filters with Lee getting the nod by many. Regardless, there is a lot of truth in you get what you pay for and while I do have some Tiffen filters, they are middle-of-the-road quality wise and I prefer brass filter mounts (they don't bind as much as the aluminum ones, especially in a stacking situation). I've never used a variable, so can't comment from personal experience there.

    Depending on the lens you shoot with, stacking filters can cause vignetting.

    I've recently gone the Lee route purely because the flexibility their system offers when moving between different filter sizes.

  3. #3

    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    Simply put, there is no "right answer", it really depends on your personal requirements. There are some members that swear by Singh-Ray variables while others shoot fixed filters with Lee getting the nod by many. Regardless, there is a lot of truth in you get what you pay for and while I do have some Tiffen filters, they are middle-of-the-road quality wise and I prefer brass filter mounts (they don't bind as much as the aluminum ones, especially in a stacking situation). I've never used a variable, so can't comment from personal experience there.

    Depending on the lens you shoot with, stacking filters can cause vignetting.

    I've recently gone the Lee route purely because the flexibility their system offers when moving between different filter sizes.
    Thanks for the help Grumpy, I appreciate you taking the time to give me an answer!

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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    I'm a big fan of the Singh-Ray Vari-ND, but it's not cheap. All variable filters can get patchy around maximum attenuation (typically 8 stops) with wide-angle lenses, but it's seldom an issue because as you approach the limit - if you REALLY need more attenuation - you can then stack another ND (like a Singh-Ray MoreSlo).

    Personally, I wouldn't "invest" in a Tiffen variable filter -- I've yet to see one of the knock-offs give as good results.

    Variable ND filters make life a LOT simpler -- you can simply choose the aperture you want (for DoF considerations) - choose the shutter speed you want (for motion effect) and then dial in the exact attenuation required to balance the exposure. With fixed attenuation filters you (a) need a number of them (3 minimum) - you need to change the combination as light levels drop (and they'e constantly dropping if you're shooting in the golden hours) - and if that's not bad enough, you'll run into vignetting/obstruction issues with stacked filters. Pass.

    I've written a few blog articles for the Singh-Ray blog that you might find interesting (or you might not!) ...

    http://singhray.blogspot.co.nz/2013/...ck-to-his.html

    http://singhray.blogspot.co.nz/2009/...his-scene.html

    http://singhray.blogspot.co.nz/2010/...-it-helps.html

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    After reading all that Colin had written on here and the Singh-Ray blog and having suffered a sudden rush of blood to the head, I took out a second mortgage and bought the SR thin Vari ND.

    Regrets? None.

    What I didn't properly appreciate was its value not only in helping get to the long exposure shots, but, as Colin has alluded to above, controlling light for the shot you want in very bright conditions. Obvious when you think about it. Just that I had never thought about it!

    It's a great tool for bringing down shutter speed so that you can avoid the need to go into High Speed Sync when using flash in fairly bright outdoor conditions. And being Vari, it's an awful lot easier to adjust than having to muck around with a selection of individual NDs.

  6. #6

    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Thanks for all the great info everyone. I think I'm convinced to go the vari route now, and I'm looking real hard at the Singh-ray. One quick follow up question if you don't mind...
    According to this comparison test (http://www.learningdslrvideo.com/var...lter-shootout/) the gentlemen didn't rank the Singh-ray very high due to vignetting and cost-per-quality considerations. Do you guys think his tests and conclusions are valid? Or did he just get a bad copy of the Singh-ray?

    Thanks again for the help. This just became my new favorite photography forum!

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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nappa19 View Post
    Thanks for all the great info everyone. I think I'm convinced to go the vari route now, and I'm looking real hard at the Singh-ray. One quick follow up question if you don't mind...
    According to this comparison test (http://www.learningdslrvideo.com/var...lter-shootout/) the gentlemen didn't rank the Singh-ray very high due to vignetting and cost-per-quality considerations. Do you guys think his tests and conclusions are valid? Or did he just get a bad copy of the Singh-ray?

    Thanks again for the help. This just became my new favorite photography forum!
    I can assure you that there is no such thing as a "bad copy" of a Singh-Ray Vari-ND

    To be honest, tests and reviews are a dime a dozen on the internet. All I can say about the Singh-Ray Vari-ND is that I've got two of them - had them for years - and they're probably the single highest-quality piece of kit that I own (and I shoot with a 1DX camera and L-Series lenses). If you're shooting with a full-frame camera and an UWA (Ultra Wide Angle) lens then - yes - you will get a little vignetting at less than around 22mm. If you REALLY think it's going to be an issue then get the slim version that's about 3.5mm thinner (but doesn't have front threads). Mine are standard sizes.

  8. #8

    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Thanks a ton Colin, and thanks for your Facebook page. I've already browsed a little and you take fantastic shots! I look forward to discussing photography with you in the future
    -Keith

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    If you're shooting with a full-frame camera and an UWA (Ultra Wide Angle) lens then - yes - you will get a little vignetting at less than around 22mm. If you REALLY think it's going to be an issue then get the slim version that's about 3.5mm thinner (but doesn't have front threads). Mine are standard sizes.
    I've got the thin version and use it on a Tokina 11-16 ultra wide angle mounted on a Canon 40D with its 1.6 crop sensor (and on top of a UV filter). And, yes, at 11 and 12mm there is vignetting.

    Problem? None. Compose your photograph so that you can crop what you don't want, out.

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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nappa19 View Post
    Thanks a ton Colin, and thanks for your Facebook page. I've already browsed a little and you take fantastic shots! I look forward to discussing photography with you in the future
    -Keith
    No worries Keith - glad you enjoy them

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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    My sense of the usage of ND's is that increasingly, photographers are not using them, but taking multiple exposure shots and blending in PP. Also because the DR of cameras has increased, it is possible to get many landscapes within the DR of the camera.

    There is a current thread on Luminous Landscape - when I last looked (2 minutes ago), there was one photographer that endorsed them. Although I've never used them, I was surprised at how many either do not, or no longer use them.
    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/fo...?topic=77953.0

    Software has also improved - since the arrival of Lightroom 4, I've been able to recover many images that were not usable in LR3.

    Glenn

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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Glenn NK View Post
    My sense of the usage of ND's is that increasingly, photographers are not using them, but taking multiple exposure shots and blending in PP. Also because the DR of cameras has increased, it is possible to get many landscapes within the DR of the camera.
    Hi Glenn,

    Are you talking about NDs or GNDs?

    A ND has no effect on DR. You can use multiple exposures to simulate an ND, but you can end up needing a LOT (eg 256 to simulate a single exposure with an 8-Stop ND).

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    I am assuming Glenn means GNDs and not NDs. And on that presumption, what he says may well be right, but I find it a bit of a matter for regret.

    We all know that software has progressed to the stage whereby if we speak nicely to it, it will cook our dinner and iron our shirts. But that doesn't mean that we should allow ourselves to lose (or fail to learn) some important skills that cluster together around the general notion of 'getting it right in camera'. The informed and intelligent use of GNDs not only provides great pleasure and satisfaction in getting it right, but is, I think, part of the art & craft of digital photography.
    Last edited by Donald; 4th May 2013 at 09:41 PM.

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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    I am assuming Glenn means GNDs and not NDs. And on that presumption, what he says may well be right, but I find it a bit of a matter for regret.

    We all know that software has progressed to the stage whereby if we speak nicely to it, it will cook our dinner and iron our shirts. But that doesn't mean that we should allow ourselves to lose (or fail to learn) some important skills that cluster together around the general notion of 'getting it right in camera'. The informed and intelligent use of GNDs not only provides great pleasure and satisfaction in getting it right, but is, I think, part of the art & craft of digital photography.
    For me, doing GND's digitally or traditionally, are simply different tools in the toolbox. With a physical GND you get the advantage of getting the DR compression in a single exposure (with long end-of-day exposures you may not get a change for a 2nd exposure). Also, I think that people need to realise that to get a quality result using the software approach (eg something that will withstand printing to professional standards at 22 x 44") one needs to be quite proficient with Photoshop (it's actually much harder AND FAR MORE TIME-CONSUMING than people realise).

    For me, a physical GND (if suited to the scene) wins hands-down every time. It also makes it much easier to get good feedback at the time.

    I suspect that many of the digital GND advocates are simply part of a groundswell of photographers who think "doing a GND digitally" is going to be cheaper and just as good, without really appreciating the down-side. One of those "sounds good in theory" situations.

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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    If you are using an extreme wide angle lens, it might be worth the cost and complication, to get a larger filter and use it with an adapter ring. The vari-ND might be of a slim type, but nevertheless, it adds a bit more than a slim single filter. The vari-ND is in fact two stacked filters, and on an extreme wide angle lens, it might cause vignetting.

    You should also be aware that vari-ND is prone to reflexes between the two filters causing double edges of some objects, and those might grow worse toward the edges of the frame.

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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    I meant to say GND.

    ND's are useful when the scene is very bright (for example) and one wants to use a slow shutter.

    Of course a GND has no effect on DR - but with higher range sensors, there is becoming less need to use one in order to capture the scene in one shot.

    This is what I'm seeing stated by others - read the comments on the link.

    And just for the record, I use neither GND's nor blended multiple exposures.

    Glenn

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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Glenn NK View Post
    Of course a GND has no effect on DR - but with higher range sensors, there is becoming less need to use one in order to capture the scene in one shot.
    Um, a GND does compress the DR of the scene (assuming it's positioned over the brightest bit!)

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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Um, a GND does compress the DR of the scene (assuming it's positioned over the brightest bit!)
    I suppose a GND could compress the dynamic range of the light reaching the sensor but it actually changes the light levels of the sunset?

    They are truly wonders aren't they?

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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Glenn NK View Post
    I suppose a GND could compress the dynamic range of the light reaching the sensor but it actually changes the light levels of the sunset?
    Yep - that's exactly what they do; eg with a 3-Stop GND you can effectively expose for 8 times as long for the same highlight exposure, which in turn raises your shadow detail by 3 stops. If you don't use a GND (nor multiple exposures) then you have to raise your shutterspeed and thus bury your shadow detail 3 stops closer to the noise floor.

    This shot is probably a good example of how it would have been impossible to achieve with anything other than a GND - it's essentially 3x 1 minute exposures in rapidly fading light (it would have been 5x 1 minute exposures but the filter got some drops of water on it) - by the time I'd finished the sequence it was really too dark to shoot another bracket (one of those "back to the car via torch light situations). But even though I'm shooting directly into the light, I was still able to protect my foreground shadow detail with VERY little noise.

    Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

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    Re: Variable or multiple fixed ND filters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Glenn NK View Post
    I suppose a GND could compress the dynamic range of the light reaching the sensor but it actually changes the light levels of the sunset?

    They are truly wonders aren't they?
    Read it again carefully.

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