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It’s all about controlling the exposure

For anyone who doesn’t know, ND stands for Neutral Density. The ND filters photographers use allow them to control light better by darkening areas of the frame, as with gradual ND filters, or to darken the whole frame with full ND filters. So as an example, if you take a photo and the sky is blown out and much too light, but the fore and mid ground element is exposed correctly, you can put an ND filter over the front of the lens to darken the sky part of the photo.

In my case I wanted a specific type of gradual ND filter, a reverse gradual ND filter. This filter is half clear and half darkened. The darkest part is just off the centre with a gradual decrease in darkness to the top of the filter. I will be using this filter for when I’m shooting into the sun at sunset. It will allow me to darken the brightest part of the frame, where the sun is going down. You can watch this video where the author describes it better than me:

Decisions, Decisions

I’ve not got an endless pot of cash so finding ND filters that I could afford but still offer good results was difficult for me. I had decided on a 100mm system, where the filters are 100mm wide. This allows me to place them on all my lenses without vignetting when using them, maybe with the exception of the 10-20mm ultra wide lens at it’s widest. There are a couple of components in the filter system;

  • The holder
    This is the component that sits in front of your lens, the filters slide in and out of the holder. As mentioned, I decided on a 100mm system. More specifically I’ve bought a Cokin Z-Pro holder. This will allow me to use 100mm lenses from manufacturers such as Cokin, Lee and Formatt Hitech. All the major filter manufacturers sell adaptors with prices varying a lot. I chose the Cokin Z-Pro as it’s cheaper than the likes of the Lee holder but still works well.
  • The adaptor rings
    These are screw in adaptors that screw on to the front of your lens and then the filter holder slots on to it. They come in a range of sizes for the different lens sizes. I bought the Cokin Z-Pro Expert kit, that comes with 4 adaptor rings, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm and an 82mm adaptor. So I have enough adaptor rings to suit my lenses. I have to say some of the options out there are ridiculously priced for what these adaptor rings actually are.
  • The filters
    As mentioned, I bought the Cokin Z-Pro Expert kit, this comes with 3x grad ND filters. A 1 stop hard edged ND, a 2 stop hard edged ND and a 3 stop soft edged filter. This left me in the position where I’ve had to get a reverse ND filter for sunset/ sunrise shots. For this I chose the Lee 3 stop reverse ND filter. It’s an expensive bit of kit but I’ve heard very good things about it and seen some fine examples of it in use.

Only the start…

I’d been using circular filters before and have had some great results with them. Moving over to the 100mm system means spending some cash to replace the circular filters but in the long run I should be saving money. The circular filters are lens size specific, but you can step down lens sizes by using a step down ring. Even then though it’s not ideal. By making use of the 100mm system with adaptor rings, I can use the filters across all my lenses.

Once my wallet has recovered from the shock, I’ll be adding to the filter system with full ND filters and a couple more gradual ND filters. I’m heading out to Mam Tor in the Peak District as soon as I get the chance, where I’ll be putting the new filters through their paces!

What’s your take on ND filters? Do you use them or prefer processing in Lightroom? Have any recommendations of ND filters and accessories? Please do share in the comments below!

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