LightCraft Rapid ND Review
A variable neutral density filter
By mattb123 in Hands-On Tests on Nov 10, 2014
Neutral density filters are popular with landscape and nature photographers for slowing shutter speeds to produce blurring effects with clouds or moving water. Portrait and product photographers use them to run wider apertures for a short depth of field when there is lots of light, either naturally or from flashes. ND filters and especially the variable type are also popular with filmmakers who want to have more control over depth of field during daylight.
In this review we will be taking a look at the Rapid ND filter from LightCraft, primarily from a landscape photography perspective.
The Light Craft Rapid ND filter is a variable ND filter that can be adjusted to reduce a variable amount of light from 1.5 to 8.5 stops or ND 2.5 to ND 450. It comes in 58mm, 77mm, and 82mm filter thread diameters and is 2mm thick. It attaches to a lens via a standard filter thread and also has its own filter thread if an additional filter or just a lens cap is needed on top of it.
The package, a small cardboard box, includes a hard plastic case, a one page manual, and the filter itself.
The filter features:
- A small handle for making adjustments which can be removed.
- Markings to indicate how much reduction is being applied.
- Additional filter thread to stack another filter on it if necessary.
- Rapid Deploy Ring (RDR) - A textured ring for grip when screwing/unscrewing the filter to a lens.
- All Terrain Structure (ATS) – structural design for durability and weather resistance.
- Guardian Multi Coating (GMC) – A coating for durability and reduction of flare and reflections.
A variable ND filter has two layers of glass that can be rotated relative to each other. Like doing the same with two polarizer filters, rotating them changes the degree to which the tiny openings in the two layers align with each other. This increases or decreases the amount of light passing through.
The documentation includes the following density chart. The shutter speed column represents the actual shutter speed based on aperture and ISO set for a 1/125 shutter speed without the filter.
The manual recommends Av mode and allowing the camera to set the shutter speed and adjusting with exposure compensation as needed (basically chimping).
One thing to note is that I was expecting a 2-10 stop filter as the description online indicates. The included chart packed with this review unit indicates it is a 1.5-8.5 stop filter. Comparing the maximum end of the range to a B+W 10 stop filter seems to support the chart in that this doesn't go to 10 stops but only 8.5. If this is a significant difference for you it might be worth checking with the retailler or manufacturer to confirm what you would be recieving.
Here are two pairs of images comparing the LightCraft filter to a B+W 10 stop filter. Due to the different sizes of the available filters they are also different lenses: a DA 40mm f/2.8 Limited with the B+W and the DA* 16-50. These photos are lightly edited all with exactly the same settings in Lightroom and no changes to color like white balance were made. Exposure settings are different between images to try and get a similar exposure.
The color cast of the LightCraft filter is much less pronounced and more natural looking than the B+W. Although not hard to fix, it can be nice to not have to fix it.
The filter feels solid and slightly heavy for its size. It attaches easily to the filter threads of the lens and is not difficult to screw on or off thanks to the raised and textured ring. This helps turn the filter against the threads instead of just rotating the adjustment ring and front piece of glass.
Once mounted, the adjustment action is smooth and damp without giving too much resistance. The little handle makes it easy to make adjustments but also prevents a hood from being used with the lens. Having the handle removable is another nice feature if you might be shooting in conditions that would benefit from a lens hood at the cost of easier adjustment.
This filter seems to have no noticeable negative effect on image quality. Photos taken with or without the filter seem equally sharp for static objects in the shot. Also, unlike some other ND filters there is no significant color cast applied. Colors look the same as they would without it. Color cast is usually pretty easy to fix but it's nice not to have to worry about it. There was also no significant flare using the filter vs. shooting without. When flare was observed, it was in a situation where I'd expect to see it with a bare lens as well. For the sample images, the camera was set to auto white balance.
Click on any photo to enlarge.
Varying amounts of light reduction allows for a variety of increased shutter speeds.
For about $150 for the 77mm, this is not a cheap filter. That being said it's very high quality by all indications. Other high quality fixed density filters of the same size are about the same price. So for the same money you can have a variable ND. If you needed more than a single density, then the variable for the same price is an excellent value compared to multiple fixed density filters. Adjusting the density of the LightCraft as also easier than changing fixed density filters and doesn't carry the same risk for dropping something in the process.
This high quality and versatile filter feels solid, has excellent optics, and great handling. Really there isn't anything not to like about this filter except maybe that it doesn't seem to have the range of densities listed on the web. I can forgive that. I would not hesitate to recommend this filter to anyone interested in a variable ND 1.5-8.5 stop filter for photography or video production.
Optically this filter is a 10 and so is the build quality and handling. I deducted one point from the overall rating because of the discrepancy between the online description and the filter I received. As long as a 1.5-8.5 stop filter suits your needs, you can consider this one a 10.