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Gear Reviews

FOTGA Slim Fader 82mm Variable ND Filter Review

By Anthony Thurston on April 28th 2014

If you have read my reviews or my posts for any length of time, it should be easy to pick up on the fact that I am a budget first photographer. In other words, I am not running out to stores to purchase the latest and greatest or most expensive gear. For me, with a limited budget, I need bang for buck.

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One item that I have been meaning to get for a while now is a variable ND filter. I really love long exposure photography, especially black and white high contrast stuff with silky smooth water. ND filters are virtually required for that sort of photography, so if I wanted to try it out I needed to get myself an ND filter.

[rewind: Sigma 24-105mm Initial Thoughts]

 

The reason I was looking into a variable ND filter is that I also shoot a lot of video interviews while at my hobby “job” covering my local professional soccer teams. In the bright sun of midday, when I am usually outside doing these interviews, it can be hard to get the settings on the camera where they need to be for the look I am going for, so a variable ND filter would be ideal to help me bring down the exposure to a level I need.

FOTGA Slim Fader 82mm Variable ND Filter Review

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Being as I am always on the lookout for a good deal, I did a quick search on amazon for variable ND filters and came across this FOTGA Slim Fader Variable ND Filter. I had originally been eyeing a Tiffen model that runs for around $150, but that was a bit more than I was wanting to spend. This FOTGA was only $18.99 on Amazon, so I figured I would give it a try.

The filter had a good range, from ND2 to ND400, so I figured it would be a good option. When it arrived in the mail, I was really excited to give it a try. The filter felt solid, and seemed to be built well. The ring moved smoothly and it attached to my Sigma 24-105mm F/4 lens easily (and came off easy enough too, which I have heard can be a problem with cheap filters).

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Sadly though, that is where my excitement for this new filter ended. Excited to try it out, I ran out to the local river and set up to give it a try, and when I came home to examine the images, well let’s just say that I was not impressed at all.

Probably the first third of the ring from the minimum mark worked well enough, but then things started getting hairy. Towards the end of the ring, where it should have been approaching ND400, the filter made any images unusable thanks to what can only be described as an X across the image (see below).

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Honestly, for $20, I am not too surprised that this item turned out to be a bust. Cheap photo accessories like this are almost always hit or miss, and it is entirely possible that I just got a bum copy, but still I wanted to share my thoughts on the filter.

For my needs, I decided to send the filter back. It was actually more than enough for what I needed with the video, but for wanting to fiddle with the long exposure photography, I needed the far range of the fader to work and it simply didn’t produce what I needed.

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Final Thoughts and Product Rating

Had I just needed it for the video, I would have kept it and just stayed within the first 1/3rd of the fader range. But as is, I decided it would just be better to get my money back from Amazon and invest in the more expensive filter which was my plan in the first place.

Given the results that I received with this filter, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, with one exception. If you need a cheap variable ND filter, something easily replaceable, and you don’t need more than 1 or 2 stops of exposure difference, then this could work in a pinch. Still, for most people, I would say stay away and just go with a higher end filter, and I am confident in giving this filter a disappointing 2 out of 5 stars.

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If you are still interested in this filter, you can find them on Amazon here.

 

 

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Aqeel

    I have purchased a fotga fader nd
    77mm filter thread

    and i get a big X on all my pictures :(
    why does that happen

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  2. Paul Monaghan

    I had bought an ebay nd fader and it was pretty hopeless.. it was like sticking a blur filter infront of my lens, I tried different focal lengths too but just got the same loss of sharpness.

    I wanted it to over come the 1/180 sync speed to shoot strobes at shallower dof.

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  3. chilehead craig

    What focal length did you test at? This article shows that the “x” is more prominent wide angles and diminishes with longer focal lengths: http://photography.tutsplus.com/articles/an-in-depth-comparison-of-two-variable-neutral-density-filters–photo-8983

    If you were shooting at 24mm, you probably saw it sooner. Maybe try again at 105mm.

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  4. William Emmett

    I was just looking for a VND filter for my Tamron 24-70mm Lens. I went to youtube, entered the filter into the search, and found a review for the Fotga in 82mm. Actually it was for shoot out between the Fotga, and other brand (generic) brand. The video explained how, and why the “x” appears. It seems care must be used while shooting with the ND filter. It is much like a polarizer, and the angle of the light is the culprit.

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  5. shamb

    Biggest issue with Variable ND filters is not the X shape (that always occurs even on expensive filters), but the loss in sharpness.
    The Fotgas are less sharp than (say) Tiffen at stills resolutions (for me that is 24MP), but I use NDs exclusively for video, so I use a much lower resolution (2MP or 1080p), and in that application you can’t tell the difference between a Fotga and a Tiffen. So, for video, I can get 6 fotgas (one for each of my video lenses) vs one Tiffen with step down rings. The fotgas are much more usable – just put them on the lenses before I go out shooting video, and forget about replacing them in the field.

    To test for sharpness in video, shoot some footage of moire without the filter. Add the filter and re-shoot and if the moire frequency changes (check this on a full size display, not the camera back), then the filter is affecting sharpness.

    This works because moire is an effect caused by undersampling a pattern (the moire is actually an aliasing error). If the moire frequency changes with the filter attached, then your max sampling resolution has changed (i.e the picture is now less sharp).

    This is a good way to test for filter sharpness loss generally, because the test is not subjective: the moire either changes or it doesn’t. This is something that Dave Dugdale doesn’t check for in his ND tests btw (he checks at stills resolution only, which is strange because his shows are aimed at DSLR video shooters), so there are probably lots of video DSLR shooters out there who have bought a far too expensive variable ND when a cheap one is fine for 1080p!

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    • shamb

      Ah. One thing I forgot to mention is that *all* NDs introduce a color cast, so in the ‘moire test’, the moire may be a different color (and perhaps also a different thickness), but that doesn’t matter: you just need to look at the moire frequency (number of bands in a given distance).

      That does bring up a new issue to do with NDs in general: if color accuracy is important for you and you need to use ND filters, a grey card is probably your friend :)

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Yeah, for me the color cast is not something I am worried about. For video Ill just bring a gray card and stills I shoot in RAW so I can change it as needed in post.

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  6. Rick

    From what I read, the ‘x’ issue can be dependent on certain situations and usually shows up near darker range. I believe these filters are constructed with two polarizers. So you’d probably get the same issues if stacking two polarizers.

    Personally I use two separate ND filters. A 3-stop for shooting in bright conditions with f/1.2. And then a 10-stop for long exposure.

    Stuck with B+W. Total cost around $300 so definitely pricey. However, higher end variable ND can be way up there too.

    Finally, not always the case, but markings on cheaper ones may not always correspond to exact stops. Perhaps minor, but worth mentioning.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      You bring up a good point Rick. The “X” was definitely more pronounced in certain situations, but it presented itself in stills much earlier than I thought it would. I have been thinking about it, and I may end up just holding onto the Fotga for my video stuff, and just buying a 10 stop ND for the long exposure stuff. Like I said, for the video stuff I was plenty happy with the Fotga.

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  7. Elmer Escobar

    That’s really weird. I bought a cheap-o variable ND filter from Ebay a while back because I wanted it for video (I think it was like $12). However I did use it for a few shallow DOF photos with strobes last week and I didn’t get that X effect. I guess it would have to be at a higher f/stop?

    http://www.elmerescobar.com/file/2014/04/Two-Rivers-Park-Little-Rock-Engagement-Photos-Amanda-and-Nick-57.jpg

    I think depending on what you’re using it for, it may not be such a bad alternative

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  8. Carl

    That X issue is apparently an issue with all variable ND filters if you push them far enough. Dave Dugdale did a nice overview of this category of items here: http://www.learningdslrvideo.com/variable-nd-filter-shootout/

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Yeah, I guess I should have mentioned that. On this one the issue presented itself way earlier than I would say is acceptable. On the higher end variable ND filters this issue usually only crops up when you push it past the min or max markings. This one it was mid-range, totally unacceptable.

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