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10-07-2012, 05:40 PM   #1
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ND Filter

I've seen so many of the neat shots taken with an ND filter, and I'd like to get my feet wet. How strong of an ND filter should I start with? My temptation is to go all the way to something like 10 stops, but that seems so excessive. What's the most useful range to begin experimenting?

Second question, is there one brand or type that's a better value? I know the most expensive is probably the best, and the cheapest one probably isn't worth having, but like many things, usually a very small step down in performance yields a huge savings.

10-07-2012, 05:44 PM   #2
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I have been looking into this as well. f22, iso80 sometime just not enough. I have read a ND8 is a good starting point. So I will be getting that. Now is the question of finding a good one...
10-07-2012, 06:07 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by Kozlok Quote
I've seen so many of the neat shots taken with an ND filter, and I'd like to get my feet wet. How strong of an ND filter should I start with? My temptation is to go all the way to something like 10 stops, but that seems so excessive. What's the most useful range to begin experimenting?

Second question, is there one brand or type that's a better value? I know the most expensive is probably the best, and the cheapest one probably isn't worth having, but like many things, usually a very small step down in performance yields a huge savings.
Honestly, most of the effects you've seen that are so compelling require an 8-, 9- or 10-stop filter. The streaked clouds in broad daylight, milky smooth water at dawn/dusk, etc, all generally done with a 10-stop. When I started, I bought a 10-stop and a 3-stop ND filter at the same time: I have never used the 3-stop by itself, but sometimes I stack it with the 10, for even longer shutter speeds.

The 3- and 6- stop ND filters are often for when you want to increase exposure length only a little bit without adjusting your chosen aperture. I know people use them a lot for waterfall shots, where too long of an exposure makes things boringly over smoothed. Strange as it sounds, I think a 10-stop is more 'general purpose' than a more modest filter.

As for brand -- I use a B+W ND110. It's a good filter, but as with most of them, there is a color cast. In the case of the B+W it's a warm brownish color. Irrelevant in B&W conversions, and generally gives a pleasant extra warmness to your dusk/dawn shots, but still a color cast. I'm not sure how the Hoya fairs. I know Lee also makes a 10-stop "Big Stopper" rectangular filter meant for its filter holder system. I sometimes wish I had that, especially when using my graduated filters in conjunction with the 10-stop screw-in B+W -- it's hard to alter composition once the screw in is on.

Last edited by v5planet; 10-07-2012 at 06:25 PM.
10-07-2012, 06:35 PM - 1 Like   #4
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Consider also when and where you plan to take shots. Every time you add a stop of ND you increase exposure time by a factor of 2.

3-stop: 2^3 = 8 times longer
6-stop: 2^6 = 64 times longer
10-stop: 2^10 = 1024 times longer

Consider a typical exposure length at f/8 in the middle of the day: maybe 1/400 second.

Here's what you get when you put various intensities of ND in front of it:
3-stop: 1/50 seconds
6-stop: 0.16 seconds
10-stop: 2.56 seconds

With clouds, you often don't see any motion in an exposure until you've had at least 30 seconds. The same is true of making rough water seem smooth. So you can see, even with the 10-stop filter, in those light conditions you'd have to stop down to f/22 to approach the length you want.

The story changes a bit once things get a little darker outside, but the same general rules are true. Often people are trying to make their exposures as long as they possibly can without resorting to the diffraction-inducing microscopic apertures above f/16.

10-07-2012, 07:42 PM   #5
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Just to add to the excellent information above. I find the color cast of the B+W ND filter is easy to correct by adjusting the white balance in PP.
10-08-2012, 05:11 AM   #6
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Don't forget, if you add a CPL, it's basically a 2-stop ND filter.
10-08-2012, 12:59 PM   #7
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Just to add to the confusion:

If you do not already have a circular polarizer, that should probably be your first purchase. As stated above, it can act as a 1.5 to 2 stop ND in addition to it's primary purpose of cutting reflections, darkening blue skies and saturating colors.

I bought and use a 3 stop ND filter, primarily for moving water - falls, rapids, that sort of thing.

More recently, I purchased a variable ND that can be set for anything from 1 to 10 stops for those smooth long exposures others have mentioned. It cost more than a set 10 stop filter but the extra control seems worth it.

I think the best advice is to consider what you want to use such a filter for and then buy the best for that purpose your budget will allow. I like to run a search on B&H for a specific item and compare the various options that show up.
10-08-2012, 01:14 PM   #8
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10 stop is the best choice for a first. 90% of the photos in this set were shot with a 10 stop so as you might be able to tell im a fan of it Long Exposures - a set on Flickr

11-18-2012, 03:04 PM   #9
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OK, so I decided on the Hoya ND400, which is a 9 stop filter. I received it a week or so ago and yesterday was the first chance I had to take it out. The skies weren't the best, but here's my experiments anyway:









And without the filter:

11-19-2012, 11:37 AM   #10
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The second one shows the effect the best. Well done!
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