Best Neutral Density Filters | ND Filters for Every Price Range
ND filters, or neutral density filters, are a crucial tool in a photographer’s kit, especially for those who specialize in landscape, outdoor, or long-exposure photography. ND filters work by reducing the amount of light that gets to the camera sensor, using a neutral, even, glass filter over (or inside) the lens. This allows photographers to use slower shutter speeds, wider apertures, and/or higher ISO settings to create various creative effects.
With so many options on the market, it can be difficult to know which ND filter is best for your specific photography needs. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best ND filters currently available, so you can make an informed decision when choosing the right one for your photography.
Picking Neutral Density Filters
There are many good reasons why you would want to invest in neutral density (ND) filters for both stills and video. These days, ND filters are like M Night Shyamalan movies – there’s an abundance of them and most are terrible, but there are a couple good ones in there. Check out the video and article below to see what our favorite ND Filters are!
Our Favorite Neutral Density Filters | Gear Talk Episode 5
Neutral Density Filter Tests
I went out to the beach with the Syrp Variable ND Filter, Light Craft Workshop Fader Filter, and 3 Singh Ray Filters. I took one shot without the filters and then 3 shots with each filter at 3 stops, 5 stops, and Max Stops. Here is the original image with no filter applied.
Light Craft Workshop Fader Filter Test
This Light Craft Filter is the first variable ND filter Pye ever bought, and it was the last, as you can see from the results below.
As you can see, the difference in color is noticeable even at the “lightest” setting. That’s a pretty severe Temp/Tint shift in the yellow-green direction, right off the bat!
At the Max stop, we’re seeing a severe cross-hatch pattern in the overall luminosity of the filter, which means it’s simply not darkening your image evenly. Also, unfortunately, there is a loss in image quality in general. Therefore, simply put, we would not recommend using this filter, especially past the 6 EV mark.
Syrp Variable ND Filter Test
I’m not a huge fan of variable ND filters because they usually cause more harm than they do good. This is why I was looking forward to testing the Syrp Variable ND Filter, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
SYRP ND Filter 3 Stops
At three stops, things are looking good. There is, as little as makes no difference, a bit of warm/green shift, but it’s much better than I’ve seen with other filters variable or not.
SYRP ND Filter 5 Stops
At 5 stops, the SYRP is holding up like a champ. Usually, the flaws you see in a variable ND filter will become more exaggerated when you increase the stops. Surprisingly, at 5 stops, there is no more green than at 3 stops.
SYRP ND Filter MAX Stops
At the MAX stops (8.5), this image is not only usable, but the best one in terms of color in this entire test. There is definitely some vignetting on the top right of the frame, which is an easy fix in Lightroom. There is also a faint amount of warm-to-cool color shading from left to right across the frame, but this can also be fixed with some effort.
For a filter that costs less than $140, it has performed remarkably well across the board. For this reason, we recommend it as one of the best values for most photographers who are shopping for ND filters.
3 Singh Ray Filters Test
Now on to the crème de la crème of filters. Singh-Ray filters are the closest thing to a luxury product in the realm of filters, and their price tags reflect that. However, do the results speak for themselves as much as the Syrp?
Singh Ray 3 Stops
At three stops, the Singh Ray 3 Stop goes a bit bluer than our original image. Overall it looks great with no visible loss in quality or sharpness and minimal color shift.
Singh Ray 5 Stops
Now this is interesting – the Singh Ray 5 Stop becomes warmer than our original image, the exact opposite of the Singh Ray 3 Stop. At 5 stops, we see a minimal loss in sharpness and quality but a noticeable warm color shift.
Singh Ray Mor-Slo 10 Stop ND Filter
With the Singh Ray 10 Stops we’re seeing a significant shift into the greens. Other than the color shift, we have a usable image with minimal loss in quality and sharpness and only slight vignetting.
The question is: is this performance worth a ~$400 price tag? For most photographers, the answer is, of course, no. The right photographer for this lens is likely not just a full-time professional landscape photographer, but also one who specifically specializes in ultra-long exposure photography, too. In other words, unless the images you create with this filter are paying your bills, then other options are a better value for you.
Final Verdict | Syrp ND Filter, Singh-Ray ND Filter, Or…?
We can’t really recommend Light Craft Workshops Variable ND, period. There was simply too much color shift and loss in image quality.
If you want the very best in Neutral Density Filters, then Singh Ray is hands down the best we’ve used, but they come at a cost of money as well as convenience.
If you want a great, affordable, and convenient ND filter, then I definitely recommend the SYRP Variable ND filter. The SYRP performs incredibly well, delivers quality images (over the entire range!), and at less than $140 it’s a killer value. If you’re looking to purchase your first ND filter, or you’re looking for a great variable ND filter, then the SYRP Variable ND Filter is for you.
Here are some of the other ND filters which various photographers have used here in our studio. We haven’t done extensive testing with them as we did above, but we can at least confirm that their results are “acceptable”:
- Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter ($100-175, 2-8 EVs)
- Tiffen XLE aXent ND 3.0 Filter ($45-71, 10-stop solid)
- Tiffen XLE advantiX IRND 3.0 Filter ($100-200, 10-stop solid)
Also, for those who are interested in ND filters with built-in polarization effect, we highly recommend checking out the PolarPro ND Polarizer series. These specialized filters allow landscape photographers to achieve both darkening and polarizing effects without having the potential nasty optical effects of stacking filters!
In conclusion, ND filters are an essential tool for photographers who want to take their craft to the next level. With the right filter, you can create stunning long-exposure images, control depth of field, and capture beautiful landscape shots. When selecting an ND filter, it’s important to consider factors such as density, size, and quality to ensure that you get the best results possible. The filters we’ve highlighted in this article represent some of the top options on the market, each with their own unique benefits and features. By investing in a high-quality ND filter that suits your needs, you’ll be well on your way to capturing stunning, professional-grade photographs.