How To Get Started With Neutral Density Filters

This article talks about how to get started with neutral density filters, or more specifically what filters to pick up first for the best price.

One of my students prior to the long exposure workshop asked me a question. He said, “I currently do not have a neutral density filter – If I were to purchase – can I just purchase one or do I need several – appreciate your recommendation.”

My response was as follows.

Neutral Density Filter Starting Point

One of more popular methods of getting started is the Tiffen 77mm ND Kit. The reason is because it comes with 3 filters at different densities. Going for this kit has advantages:

  • You can layer them on top of each other to get a thicker density, but not recommend on wide-angle lenses beyond 24mm
  • It’s the most affordable way to get 3 filters
  • At 77mm, you can use it on almost every lens you might own. Smaller filter lenses can still use 77mm filters by picking up necessary step up rings, which are very inexpensive.

Of course, going this route also has disadvantages

  • You are limited to 24mm or longer otherwise vignetting will occur to get a deeper density you have to stack filters
  • Lower quality glass and ND toning can mean more color shifting
  • For smaller filter lenses, you have to make sure the step-up ring is right, but not too tight.
    • Tight so there is no light leaking
    • Not too tight because it can get stuck on the ND filter

But for getting started this is what I would recommend for getting started. Just keep in mind everything that I mentioned.

Variable Neutral Density Filters

In some ways it’s more flexible and some ways it’s not. The upside to a VND is that you have 1 filter that goes from 1-8 stops or for some brands 1-9 stops. (think polarizer, but you turn to make it a dense ND) The downside is that you are relying on 1 filter (for some people they prefer more) and more important possible distortion.

With VND filters, depending on light conditions, focal lengths and sensor sizes, at the most dense side of the filter they begin to distort. Enough that you wouldn’t want to use the photos.

Check out this video:

Manufacturers might say that it was a faulty filter, but it’s actually just the nature of VND filters. Yes every filter is different because of the manufacturing process, but it’s very hard to get a VND filter that is perfect from 1-8 or whatever the range is.

Better Neutral Density Filter

Now, if you are able to step it up a notch, and want to stick with the regular screw on filter style, then I recommend going with B+W filters. Not only does B+W offer high quality ND filters are varying densities, but they also offer one of the best screw on 10-stop filters. You can find a wide range of B+W 77mm ND filters on Amazon.

I use a very different system. I’m using a slot-in or slide-in style filter system from Lee Filters. I’m not going to go too much into that here, but it’s a more expensive system and the best quality materials of all neutral density filters.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Thank you for this post, I’m a beginner photographer and it helped me a lot!

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