Don’t buy a variable ND filter if you’re a photographer

Don’t buy a variable ND filter if you’re a photographer

Don’t buy a variable ND filter if you’re a photographer

I’ve got many different types of ND filters, from circular filters right through to soft grads and had grads on a special bracket. However when I first wanted a filter, I looked at and thought a variable ND filter would be great all in one solution.

Little did I know that this really isn’t the case….

An ND filter is basically like sunglasses for your camera. There are many different types and after years of spending, I have a lot of different types. The first one I started on was a variable ND filter…..after a lot of research, it seemed like the ultimate solution to carry one slightly bigger filter around instead of a whole stack of them, as it covers everything from a 1 stop to a 10 stop and beyond!

Normal ND filters are darkened bits of glass that are balanced so they don’t throw a colourcast on your image. You can get everything from a slight drop in light to a huge drop in light.

Variable ND filters are different in that they have two bits of glass in them. As you rotate the outer ring, the amount of light getting through drops, until you can’t see anything. This is basically using two polarised pieces of glass. Each one only lets in light from one wavelength angle, so when they are at 90 degrees to each other (in the way that they let light in), they cut out all of the light…..or this is how I believe it works…..if I’m totally wrong let me know in the comments on my youtube page.

Now this is all well and good, but as you go towards the darker end of the filter, you start to get this weird cross pattern. The wider your lens, the more accentuated this pattern is. But it renders the image useless. Unless you want to spend hours balancing out the colours in the sky.

This also doesn’t seem to be any different with the more expensive filters either.

My tiffen variable ND starts at the minimum of 1 stop of light and then gives me about 5 stops of usable ND onto of that. After that I get the X pattern appearing.

It can still drop the light by about 6 stops but its no where near a 10 stop ND filter.

In theory you could have this in your bag instead of a 3 stop and a 6 stop ND, but as its bulky and two bits of glass anyway, you might as well get single filters.

At the moment, I use circular filters, but I’m slowly buying (as I can afford it) some square filters and a bracket. I own, a 3 stop a 4 stop and a 10 stop circular ND set as well as a polariser and the Variable ND.

I also have some grad filters from Cokin (the Z type) They do give a little bit of a colour cast but they’re much cheaper than lee filters…..which I’m actually saving up for…..

Now the variable ND filters do have their uses, but this is more in videography than photography. When I’m shooting in harsh sunlight, I’ll put the variable ND on to give me the shallow depth of field look when I want it but I’ll be very careful at the darker end not to go into the dodgy X territory….and this can be a pain. I’ve been filming at some events where I had an Variable ND on, and I pushed it a little too far and some of the footage was ruined…ever since then, I just use fixed NDs and then change the settings in camera to dial it in….so my variable ND filter does sit in the drawer most of the time.

And that’s about it…… filters are expensive and it does take time to build up your collection but they are a worthwhile investment so be patient and build your collection up slowly. Just don’t make the mistake I made and buy a variable ND for photography!




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