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10 Stop ND Filter Test

A Showdown Fifteen Different ND Filters

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Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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Interest in very long exposure photography isn’t new. In fact, it was originally the only way to take photographs as the materials used in early photography were so insensitive to light. It is only really in the 20th Century that ‘quick’ photography was born, and yet people still have a desire to see the effect that exposure times in the minutes (or even hours) can have. Michael Kenna’s work is a great example of how these long exposures can transform the landscape. His work on power station cooling towers immediately springs to mind, as does his long exposure images from the coast of Japan. Other photographers working around this concept include Hiroshi Sugimoto and Alexy Titarenko

More recently, photographers such as Micheal Levin, Joel Tjintjelaar and David Fokos have taken this subgenre of photography and run with it, creating portfolios full of inspiring work using screw in filters such as the classic B+W 110 or Tiffen examples.

It’s no surprise that much of this work is black and white as colour film behaves very differently for very long exposures. However, with the advent of digital cameras, the ability to make long exposures using neutral density filters and to produce reasonably colour accurate work brought a renewed interest. In the UK at least, the advent of Lee Filters “Big Stopper” 10 stop filter found many photographers starting to experiment with these very long exposures during the daytime and reproducing the results in colour as well as black and white.

However, the Big Stopper (and the old B+W 110 & Tiffen) did have a colour cast and even when corrected the cast using white balance, it did affect the final colour in the image compared to an unfiltered exposure.

In the last couple of years, metal coating technology that was previously used to create custom filters for spectroscopy or astronomy, has trickled down into the photography market. Manufacturers such as Nisi and Hi-Tech have produced filters based on this technology that are supposed to reduce the amount of colour cast to virtually nothing and to limit the affects of vignetting that occur using resin based filters (even some of the glass neutral density filters are actually two thin sheets sandwiching a resin sheet of neutral density material).

Being as we now have many manufacturers producing these filters and all of them saying they have no colour cast, I thought it would be good to help enlighten a few readers into what exactly this means. In doing so I was initially only going to test four or five filters but after talking to our readers and discussing the topic on social media, the final filter list ended up at 14 (although one of these is a piece of welding glass - the poor mans ND!).

The Manufacturers

Here is a list of the manufacturers we included in our tests. If you think something is missing, please let us know and we’ll try to contact the manufacturer to see if we can borrow a filter to add to our tests. Also it’s worth noting that we paid for many of the filters either because we couldn’t get in touch with the manufacturer, we felt we should or they couldn’t send product out in time - These include Lee, Hoya, XC Source and SRB.

Formatt/Hi-Tech Firecrest
Haida Nano Pro MC
Kase KW100 Wolverine
Lee Filters Big Stopper
Lee Filters ProGlass IRND
ProGrey USA Genesis “Trucolor” IR
Hoya ProND 1000
Tiffen Neutral Density 3.0 (old filter)
B+W 110 (old filter)
XCSource ND1000
X4 Breakthrough ND
SRB ND 1000

The Test

The main test for this review will be photographic. I wanted to capture a scene that included close detail of rocky shadows (a source of infra red pollution) and far distance haze (a source of UV). I also wanted to include an X-Rite Colorchecker card in the scene so I could do some basic colour analysis.

Following this I intended to use an X-Rite I1 Pro 2 Photo spectrophotometer to analyse the spectral transmission of the filters.

Next would be a simple analysis of the anti-reflection control and finally a basic look to see if any of the filters caused a loss in sharpness.

First Test - The Scene

For this first test I went to the head of the Glencoe to a very handy layby and captured the view including some running water, rocks and the distant sky and mountains. The colour checker is large enough in the sample to be able to perform a simple colour analysis. In the samples below, I only show one reference ‘unfiltered’ photograph but in reality I retook this ‘unfiltered’ photograph between every three or four filters to ensure that the light wasn’t changing dramatically between the first and the last filter tested. The answer was that there wasn’t a significant different in the overall light quality in terms of colour temperature and distribution and so I’m happy to just reproduce one image here.

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  • Norman McCloskey

    Great to see these finally compared ! Would it be safe to deduce that grads from the same manufacturers would score similarly ?

    • I don’t think that can be assured. I plan to do some tests on grads later in the year though…

      • Norman McCloskey

        I think it would be really useful. Have been a perhaps an overly loyal LEE user for 20 years, but have a stack of scratched resins that’s getting ridiculous. Would love to get a good recommendation for a glass alternative from some of the many new brands to appear in the last few years.

        • Same here – I’m still not sure that the metal coating methods can provide an appropriate graduation – I’m looking forward to testing..

    • Kevin Fidler

      The very question I was asking myself, Norman. You would have thought that if production techniques remain consistent then the various densities of of ND filters and grads would simply give similar but less saturated effects. Tim is obviously not as convinced so further research would be very informative.

  • Simon Miles

    Thank you Tim. I’ll be looking into the Haida ND filters, as I have long been dissatisfied with the Lee Big and Little Stoppers. I too would welcome a review of the state of ND grad filters, as I have a nagging feeling Lee may be falling behind – interesting that even their new ProGlass IRND filters are not class leading.

  • John Brewton

    You might look into Heliopan. I have a Heliopan CP which is excellent and I like the numbers inscribed around the ring for re-use purposes. I do have Breakthrough and Hitech for all my ND’s. The Breakthrough is nice with the knurled edges to help on and off, but they are quite pricey and I have been buying nothing but Hitech lately. I never heard of the Haida line but will check them out.
    BTW, I actually threw out all my B+W filters after comparison with my others. And I had problems with them jamming the threads when used with other filters.

  • Neil Burton

    Excellent review and thanks for the information Tim. I also wonder about the colour casts from different polarisers.

    • I hope to review polarisers in the future. I’ve got a few that were sent with these NDs

  • dkosiur

    Thanks for the review. I’d switched to the X4 breakthrough filter some time ago and have been happy with it, even using it with an IR-converted camera.

    One question, though — why didn’t you include testing the Singh-Ray ND filter?

  • Annette Dahl

    Thank you Tim, for this very extensive and helpful test and comparison. Much appreciated! :-)

  • cheryl hamer

    Fascinating Tim – thanks for all that leg work!

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