Outdoor photography comes with lots of challenges, one of the prominent issues is the lighting and its control, hence an additional accessory comes into play which is known to us as Neutral Density or the ND filters and Ultraviolet or UV filters.
This is a complete guide about both the types of filters, their purpose, uses, and the product reviews of the popular brands in this segment.
What Are Neutral Density (ND Filters) And Why They Are Used?
A neutral density (ND) filter is a type of grey filter that is easily attachable to a camera lens, to control the amount of light entering the camera’s sensor. Since a neutral density filter is neutral, it doesn’t have any impact on image color, contrast, or sharpness.
By reducing or blocking out light to your camera lens, a neutral density filter lets you manipulate your photos to achieve really creative results. ND filters are available according to how much light they restrict from your camera. This is measured by f-stops.
The smaller the f-stop number, such as f-2, the lighter the filter lets in, and the larger the aperture. The most common f-stop densities are those with two, three, or four stops. If one wants to block out more light and slow things down, one can choose a darker f-stop with a higher number.
One can also combine ND filters to achieve a larger f-stop and boost the density strength, but be careful not to end up with an undesirable vignetting effect. If one uses a high-density filter to get long exposures, he should consider using a tripod with his camera.
Some photographers use individual ND filters with different f-stops to influence light exposure, but you can also get variable ND filters which are a single filter that can be rotated to cover a number off-stops. This offers great flexibility. It also means you don’t need to keep changing filters every time you want to alter light levels.
Why Do You Need To Control Light Exposure By Using ND filters?
By reducing the light entering the lens, a photographer can use a higher aperture for a longer period of time. This can create a number of desirable image effects, many of which wouldn’t be possible in bright conditions.
In particular, a neutral density filter can add movement or blur to objects. You can capture blurry, smooth, misty, or silky images of water, using a longer exposure time with an ND filter.
This effect is especially awesome when shooting moving water, such as waterfalls or choppy waves. It adds drama and visual appeal to an image. But, it can also let you introduce movement in one scene, whilst keeping the rest of the scene static.
Clouds and foliage also make great subjects for shooting with a neutral density filter. Moving objects, such as people or vehicles, can also be blurred or distorted to great effect with this lens filter.
When the sun is very bright, it becomes difficult to capture the perfect shot. This is where a neutral density filter comes to the rescue.
It lets you use a wide aperture to achieve a shallow depth of field, without causing any overexposure. Without a neutral density filter, a camera would struggle to achieve a small enough aperture to capture these same effects.
If you lean towards a landscape or outdoor photography, you’ll find that a neutral density filter comes in handy many times. By adding motion or blur to images, you can bring static scenes to life. This introduces a more interesting dimension to what might otherwise be a rather dull subject.
What also makes this filter so useful is that many of its effects can’t be replicated by post-production software editing. Depending on the fade effect you want to achieve, you can also find soft-edge and hard-edge graduated ND filters.
The soft-edge type produces a smooth, quick fade and is perfect for using with uneven horizons or when objects, such as mountains, cover part of the sky. On the other hand, hard-edge filters create a large fading distance without any unnatural-looking or noticeable hard lines running through a scene.
Uses of Neutral Density filters:
1. Aperture — shallow depth of field in brightly lit environments
In the world of photography, generally speaking, more light is better.
But, if you have ever been outside with an older analog or digital camera and tried to shoot your 50mm f/1.8 lens in broad daylight at wide-open apertures, you might recall seeing your exposure needle seemingly glued to the top of the light meter, or your digital light meter screaming “OVEREXPOSURE!” because the camera’s shutter could not cycle fast enough for the amount of light present.
The ND filter enables photographers to shoot their wide-aperture lenses in a bright light without overexposing. This allows a shallow depth of field and selective focus effects while under lighting conditions that exceed the shutter speed capabilities of the camera.
Even with the blazing-fast shutter speeds of today’s professional cameras and the previously unattainable shutter speeds introduced by electronic shutters, there is still a place in photography for the ND filter here.
2. Shutter Speed — slowing your shutter
Another “classic” use of the ND filter is its effect on shutter speed. With less light entering the camera, one will need to slow the shutter for a given aperture setting. The slower shutter speed will allow anything moving in your frame to become blurred.
In general, camera blur is not desired, but if you work with a tripod or alternative support with an ND filter and a slow shutter, that which is static in the frame stays static and that which moves becomes blurry.
Where can you use this? Basically in any photograph where you want to emphasize movement. Popular subjects include waterfalls, vehicular traffic, people (not usually portraits), seascapes, rivers, streams, clouds, and smoke.
3. Solar Photography
This is one more thing you can do with your ND filter(s). Many ND filter manufacturers state that filters which have a density of 16-stops or greater are suitable for solar photography and solar eclipse photography.
WARNING: When using an ND filter (or stack of ND filters) for solar photography, do not use an optical viewfinder. Specialized solar imaging and not only filter visible light, but harmful UV and IR radiation as well. ND filters do NOT provide this protection. Use them only with electronic viewfinders and/or Live View mode.
Types of ND Filters:
1.Graduated Neutral Density Filter (GND)
The GND filter is an ND filter that transitions from light to dark. The rectangular GND filters are more popular than circular because they allow the photographer to adjust the position of the transition area from light to dark.
The main function of the GND filter is to balance exposure in a picture that contains a bright sky and a relatively darker foreground. Landscape photographers are the main consumers of GND filters and they perform quite well when capturing sunset images.
2. Variable Neutral Density Filter (VND)
The VND filter allows the photographer to ‘dial in’ the needed filtration by turning the outer ring of a dual-ring filter. The maximum and minimum ND rating are different with different filters, but the 2-stop to 8-stop variety is the most popular.
The advantage of the VND filter is that one only needs to carry one ND filter with him to get a variety of darkness levels. The disadvantage of the VND filter is that, due to the design of the filters, as you approach the maximum ND setting, you can get a cross pattern across the image.
This is remedied by dialing the ND setting back a bit.
3.Center Neutral Density Filter (CND)
The smallest category of ND filter, the CND filter has a darkened center and lighter edges. It helps to balance exposure across the frame while using extreme wide-angle lenses.
4. Polarizing Filter
Yes, the polarizing filter is an ND filter that you may already own. Most polarizers give a 2-stop ND filter effect while providing the cannot-achieve-it-in-post-processing polarizing effects of cutting down glare, darkening the blue skies, and seeing farther into water.
How To Use ND Filters Based On Purpose?
Many landscape photographers recommend that you head out into the field with a 6-stop ND filter that should be perfect for slowing your shutter speeds enough to show smooth motion in mountain streams and waterfalls. Add your polarizer to make it an 8-stop ND stack.
Wedding and portrait photographers mostly prefer the 3-stop ND filter to give them a wide-open aperture option when shooting in sunlight. One can combine this with a 6-stop for a 9-stop combo when needed.
The 10-stop and darker ND filters are becoming popular as they allow extremely slow shutter speed shooting and extremely wide aperture shooting when under bright sunlight.
If you have the time to crank out night photography-like shutter speeds, you can get some pretty cool effects with these super-dark filters in urban and natural settings. At the extreme, the 24-stop ND filter is very good for images with the sun directly in the frame.
Best ND Filters For DSLR & Drones To Buy (India)
A) ND Filters for Canon, Nikon & other DSLRs:
Check the lens cap or body to find the diameter of the lens and then pick the filters that match your requirements. I have been using 52mm, 55mm, & 58mm as they are very common for most of the kit lenses.
If budget is not a constraint and you are looking for professional use I would recommend you to check Tiffen 52HFXK1 52mm Hollywood FX Filter Kit
B) Best Circular Polarizer Filters For Canon, Nikon & other DSLRs To Buy (India)
C) ND Filters for Mavic Pro & Mavic Air:
What are UV filters?
Wikipedia defines UV filters as “Ultraviolet (UV) is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength from 10 nm to 400 nm, shorter than that of visible light.” Primarily, it comes from our natural light source, the sun.
An ultraviolet filter stops such rays from hitting the film plane or digital sensor.
Even the most sophisticated camera can’t adjust to the nuances of light like the human eye and brain can.
That’s why it’s such a shock when a photo image looks completely different from the image you’ve retained in your mind. Why does that finely-shaped backdrop of mountains admired with your eyes disappear into the off-white haze of the horizon in your photo?
The culprit is UV radiation, which is not in the range of visible light but still can affect photographic images by lowering their overall contrast. Don’t despair. You can solve the problem by using a UV filter.
By deducting the amount of UV light, you can capture a photographic image that more closely resembles the image of your mind.
If one is artistically minded, he can use a filter to subtly convey emotion, evoke memories, and summon up other feelings that embellish and shape the way we see the world.
What Does a UV Filter Do?
A UV filter stops UV light from entering the lens. Think of it as sunscreen for your camera. Some old photography films were very sensitive to UV light, so if one didn’t use a UV filter, he would end up with a blue haze in his photos.
This was especially common if one was shooting somewhere there was a lot of UV light, like on a really sunny day or at high altitude.
Modern films and digital sensors just aren’t sensitive to UV light. It does not affect them the way it does older films.
This means one doesn’t need a UV filter to block UV light in order to take good photos. However, this hasn’t stopped UV filters from picking up a secondary use as a protective filter for one’s lenses.
The Optical Effects of UV Filters
There’s one final thing to consider about UV filters: putting any extra glass in front of your lenses affects the image quality.UV filters block a small percentage (between 0.1 and 5%) of the light that passes through them.
Because of how the light interacts with your filter, this reduces the sharpness and contrast of your images very slightly. It’s a barely noticeable effect and easily fixed in Photoshop, but it is there.
It’s also worse in cheap filters from no-name brands. More seriously, UV filters also make it more likely that you’ll get lens flare or ghosting in your images if you’re shooting a scene with a bright light source in it.
Uses of UV filters:
1. Cuts Out UV Light
Back in the days of film, UV light would cause unwanted effects on images, as the film is sensitive to UV. The colors would shift (usually towards a purple-bluish hue), details would be hazy and less sharp.
A UV filter was the easiest solution to prevent such issues.
2. Creative Purposes
You can use these filters for creative purposes. Vaseline and colored pens can be used on UV filters to create some interesting results, leaving your lens undamaged and clean.
3. Protects The Lens
The great thing about a filter at the front of your lens is that it acts as a barrier. Not only to dirt, dust, and smudges but also to serious bumps and damages.
Should You Use a UV Filter?
Deciding whether or not you should use a UV filter isn’t a simple question. It really depends.
1. A UV filter doesn’t protect your lens from much more than dust and scratches. If you’re shooting at the beach or in the desert, putting one on is a good idea, but otherwise, you’re probably fine without one.
2. UV filters have a small effect on the quality of your images. Most of the time, it won’t make a difference.
But if you need the highest quality image possible, or your photos are showing lens flare and other artifacts, you should remove your UV filter.
There’s definitely a place in your camera bag for a UV filter. But it’s up to you whether keeping it on your camera all the time is worth it.
It is preferable to take UV filters off if they’re affecting the images. People prefer to put them on if they’re shooting somewhere dirty.
Best UV Filters For Canon, Nikon & other DSLRs To Buy (India)