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Cheap ND filters are they really any good?

Using ND filters is a great way to get creative with your photography, creating motion in your images with long exposures, being able to shoot wide open in full sun, producing smooth silky waters are just a few ways to have fun with them. In this blog I show you how I used a cheap ebay variable ND filter to produce these images below and then compare the images using more expensive and excellent quality B+W filters.

We set out to have a little fun in the midday sun. It was a beautiful day and the sun was high perfect for shooting wide open with one light. The image above was shot at 1/125 sec f2.8 iso 100 using the Nikon D750 and the Nikon 85mm 1.8 lens which is one of my favourite goto portrait lenses. Our light source for this session was the Lencarta Atom 360 which is a great portable 300ws light, the modifier of choice was the High intensity relector which is perfect for using in these midday sun harsh light conditions giving me that little bit extra pop from the Atom 360. To get the exposore and look i wanted using the variable ND filter I set my camera settings as above and simply turned the ND filter until Hannah was roughly 1 stop under exposed, I find the exposure preview mode on the D750 a really good tool for this scenario. Once I have the scene looking the way I want its just a case of adding the light from the Atom to taste which i can control the power output from the wave sync commander. I love this image but what about the quality? what do you think? here is a close up crop.

Not bad for a cheap variable ND filter, it has had sharpening added to it in photoshop, something I do with all my images, but you can see a loss of quality in the detail which bugs me! but this image printed or used just to promote work on sites like Facebook i dont think you would notice it.  Below is a few more from the session.

Overall I think if your happy with just posting your image on Facebook to promote your work, even printing, I think you can have great fun and produce some awesome images using these cheap variable ND filters which cost around £10 - £20 so no excuses  get out and have fun and practice.

         Now as I want quality from my images I personally feel if you are spending good money on great fast lenses then its only right you should get great quality ND filters too, so I opted to buy B+W ND filters, a 2stop and a 3stop roughly around £170 for both, this combination allows me to use them individually or stack them if the sun is really bright. Below is an image shot under the same conditions, same time of day and using both 2stop and 3stop ND filters stacked, slightly different camera settings but this just comes down to taste on the day, 1/200 sec f 1.8 iso 100.

 Pretty cool, I love this look but what about the quality? below is a close up crop.

 A little softer at 1.8 but the quality is there to see, the B+W filters don't degrade the image quality. Below are a few more images from that session using the B+W filters which i find awesome.

Using the sun in high midday postion gives a great rim light on your subject and with the combination of ND filters and strobes create some really cool looking images! 

Now this is not your typical versus blog, my intention was to show you what you can achieve with both cheap and the more expensive filters and to show you the quality they produce so you can make up your own mind whether you just want to practice and not spend loads on filters or whether you want quality in your images, either way I am really happy with all the images in this blog, I suppose it all comes down to what and how you want to use your images.

Below is a BTS video of the last session where you can see the light setup and gear used.

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