The Beat: NAB 2019: PolarPro’s New Peter McKinnon Variable ND Filter

NAB 2019: Polar Pro’s New Peter McKinnon Variable ND Filter

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PolarPro Variable Neutral Density Filter, Peter McKinnon Edition.

“Polar Pro is slowly becoming one of my favorite companies. As with Aputure and Blackmagic Design, it seems they’re doing this crazy thing where they listen to their customers and make products that actually help people. So, that being said, the new “Peter McKinnon” branded filters are, quite frankly, super dope….

The filter is a fused, quartz glass, variable ND filter with apparently the lowest refractive index currently available….

The stop indicators are pretty rad, and they can really help you get the shot you want — perfectly exposed and consistent (as all things should be)….”

Specifications

  • Available in 2-5 and 6-9 stop variations.
  • Preset stop range eliminates any chance of cross polarization.
  • Zero vignetting down to 16mm focal length lenses.
  • Pure Fused Quartz ensures superior optical clarity over any glass on the market.
  • Includes a DefenderSlim cover for fingerprint-free installation.

PolarPro Variable ND Filter, Peter McKinnon Edition

Commentary

Variable neutral density filters aka VNDs are a mainstay of independent documentary movie production and the best are anything but cheap.

Given that one or two VNDs can replace five or more fixed density value neutral density filters, prices of the best VNDs compare well with those of sets of fixed NDs, so sticker price shock should not be a consideration if one is going for the best and most versatile production kit, one that will last for years through thick and thin.

PolarPro’s QuartzLine range of UV filters, fixed density ND filters and Circular Polarizers has been quietly satisfying the needs of drone operators, photographers and videographers with its brass traction-framed filters, and the company recently came to my attention with advance mention of a new concept in VND filters.

That new type of VND was shown off at NAB 2019, was covered by The Beat, and has been selling like crazy direct from the PolarPro online store.

I have never had the pleasure of using or seeing any PolarPro products in real life, but from what I have read they are outstanding.

I have been researching possible replacements for my ageing VND, a Genustech 77mm Eclipse ND Fader that was the most-recommended when I got back into moviemaking, and have decided to standardize on 82mm filters with step-up rings to help minimize vignetting when using them on wide lenses.

I began replacing my aluminium step-up rings with the excellent knurled brass traction frame step-up rings made by Breakthrough Photography a while ago, and have some Breakthrough Photography fixed ND, UV and CPL filters with which I am well pleased.

I discovered that brass filter frames are far less prone to binding than aluminium ones, and that knurled frames are better than non-knurled, the more knurling the better.

It was a little disappointing to learn that PolarPro’s Peter McKinnon Variable ND Filter comes with aluminium frames rather than brass ones but I am hoping for the best with their performance in the field and am waiting for reviews by well-qualified professional users to appear.

I am impressed that PolarPro has chosen to issue its VND in two densities, 2-5 and 6-9 stops, a wise move given the high base ISOs of many contemporary hybrid cameras.

Aurora-Aperture followed a similar path with its 1-7 and 4-11 VND pair while SLR Magic took another path again with its SLR Magic 82mm Self-Locking VND 0.4-1.8 plus 86mm Solid Neutral Density 1.2 Image Enhance Filter Kit providing a range of 1.3 to 10 stops with both filters combined.

The question now is going to be which pro-quality VND brand to opt for – PolarPro, Aurora-Aperture or SLR Magic?

Links

Help support ‘Untitled’

Clicking on the links below and purchasing through them or our affiliate accounts at B&H Photo Video, SmallRig or Think Tank Photo helps us continue our work for ‘Untitled’.

  • Aurora-Aperture FiltersB&H
  • Breakthrough Photography Filters and accessories – B&H
  • PolarPro QuartzLine Filters B&H
  • SLR Magic Neutral Density FiltersB&H

Indy Mogul: ULTIMATE BUYER’S GUIDE to ND Filters

“… Neutral Density Filters are a necessary tool for exposure control, but does their price tag really affect their quality? Today Griffin sits down with 23 ND filters that range in different price tiers from $5 all the way to $580 to see! Today we hard tested 23 ND filters for their color and image quality, flare resistance, and their usefulness in timelapse situations. We test a range of ND’s [sic] from a set of general purpose ND3 filters, to Variable Density Filters, to heavily graded ND10 filters for their use in time-lapse photography. While every type of ND filter has it’s own use, we mainly set out to see if the price tag really affected image quality, and whether variable ND’s were much worse than single glass ND’s. …”

Breakthrough Photography’s brass traction-framed ND and other filters are a boon for those of us with damaged hands and fingers and are safer to handle in the field than smooth or slightly knurled aluminium frames.

Commentary

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Paul Leeming’s stripped-down Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K aka BMPCC 4K rig with 8Sinn cage, Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 zoom lens, Metabones Speed Booster, Kenko aluminium step-up ring, Xume magnetic filter attachment system and Formatt Hitech Firecrest Ultra fixed neutral density filter.

Independent moviemaker and Panasonic Lumix brand ambassador Griffin Hammond’s documentary production insights and training have proven invaluable over the years since I invested in Lumix Micro Four Thirds cameras primarily for video.

The previous incarnation of the recently rejuvenated Indy Mogul YouTube channel not so much but that looks set to change now that it has been taken over by Ted Sim of the Aputure moviemaking equipment company and Griffin Hammond himself.

I don’t know anything about Mr Sim, Aputure and its products at the moment but Mr Hammond is a different story, having finally met him at the last SMPTE Sydney trade show after following his video work online for some time.

Clearly it is past time to look into Aputure’s products if I can find a local stockist for them.

Meanwhile, back to neutral density filters, both fixed and variable.

Variations in sharpness, colour casts and the dreaded X were considerations when I was searching for the best and most economical neutral density filters to buy when I got back into digital video and photography a few years ago.

I had used sets of square and rectangular high-end cinema filters for attachment to movie cameras via matte boxes years before, but no longer have the sorts of budget to afford such things nor the desire to cart them all about any more.

When I started looking into screw-on fixed and variable neutral density filters the most recommended brand at the time was Singh-Ray but the company’s VND cost a fortune and was out of reach.

Instead I settled on Genustech’s Eclipse Fader VND after reading a number of recommendations by independent documentary and music video cinematographers and opted for the 77mm version along with a set of aluminium step-up rings to common sizes.

The Genustech Fader acquitted itself well through a number of small projects but recently I began looking for replacements, whether fixed or variable NDs or both, that had the least possible colour cast and the maximum sharpness.

I am also considering making 82mm filters my standard for maximum versatility given some current and future lenses I may add to my kit have wider front elements than did my limited selection of starter lenses some years ago.

Australian cinematographer/director Paul Leeming recently showed me the stripped-down travel version of his Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K kit and how he attaches his 82mm Formatt Hitech Firecrest Ultra fixed ND filters via the Manfrotto Xume magnetic filter adapter system for fast easy and secure filter swapping.

Vignetting at the widest focal length is a consideration with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art zoom lens with Metabones Speed Booster attached though Mr Leeming assured me that, for the feature film he recently shot on the larger version of his BMPCC 4K rig, the vignetting was acceptable.

I continue to research the options but have now settled on the 82mm filter diameter and step-up rings made of brass rather than aluminium, which has a tendency to bind when screwing them on and off in the field.

I may well choose another brand of variable neutral density filter, bearing in mind factors like colour cast, sharpness, the x-effect at maximum density, the absence or presence of a self-locking device, and, now that cameras are appearing with higher base ISOs when shooting HLG footage in particular, a maximum density in the 10 or 11 stop range.

I may also add a set of 82mm fixed value neutral density filters for the other cameras I use and will most likely stick with Breakthrough Photography brand fixed NDs for that as I am rather fond of the company’s beautifully designed and made knurled brass-framed UV, CPL and ND filters.

Other screw-on circular fixed and variable neutral density filters and step-up rings

Links

Help support ‘Untitled’

Clicking on the links below and purchasing through them or our affiliate accounts at B&H Photo Video, SmallRig or Think Tank Photo helps us continue our work for ‘Untitled’.

  • Aurora-Aperture filtersB&H
  • Breakthrough Photography filtersB&H
  • Formatt Hitech Firecrest Ultra filtersB&H
  • Genustech filtersB&H
  • Heliopan step-up ringsB&H
  • Sensei Pro step-up ringsB&H
  • Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens for Canon EFB&H

Aurora Aperture Inc.: PowerXND Mark II – The Best Variable ND Filters 1 – 11 Stops – Kickstarter Campaign

“… Schott B270® glass and high quality polarization film from Nitto Denko are used to build the PowerXND-II. Combined with a proprietary post-bonding polishing process the filters are able to meet high resolution demands of 4k/8k video and the high pixel density of modern day camera sensors. Multilayer nano coatings are utilized for light reduction, thus minimizing color shift. The PowerXND-II features high color accuracy on par with the benchmark of fixed ND filters….

Aurora Aperture PowerXND Mark II Variable Neutral Density Filters

Commentary

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The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K by Blackmagic Design has dual native ISO like other contemporary cinema cameras and video cameras such as Panasonic’s Lumix DC-GH5S, with both base ISOs being rather high, demanding a wider range of densities in fixed or variable neutral density filters. The BMPCC 4K also requires IR-cut filtration whether built into NDs used with it or as a separate filter stacked on top.

Several days after its Kickstarter campaign launch on June 14, I accidentally come across this one for what looks to be a very promising new development in high-quality variable neutral density (VND) filters by California-Based Aurora Aperture Inc., makers of the PowerXND 2000 VND filters series.

The PowerXND 2000 VND filter with its 6mm thin frame is available in filter diameters of 37mm, 39mm, 40.5mm, 46mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, 82mm, 86mm, 95mm, and 105mm.

That 105mm diameter and 6mm thickness sounds like a possible solution for STC Optical & Chemical’s Screw-in Lens Adapter for Olympus 7-14mm F2.8. for the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro wide-angle zoom lens with manual clutch focus.

My chance discovery of Aurora Aperture’s current campaign happened too late to take advantage of the Large Early Bird (67-82mm) $US 150.00 pledge for one PowerXND-II 128 and one PowerXND-II 2000 in any size including  67mm, 72mm, 77mm or 82mm.

I would have chosen one PowerXND-II 128 and one PowerXND-II 2000 in 82mm diameter to account for the native and adapted lenses with wider filter diameters that are appearing nowadays for mirrorless hybrid APS-C and Micro Four Thirds cameras including the amazing Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K by Blackmagic Design.

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Fujifilm X-H1 with Fujinon MKX 18-55mm T2.9 cinema zoom lens, with 82mm filter diameter.

Formerly I standardized on 77mm filter diameters in conjunction with Breakthrough Photography’s excellent knurled brass step-up rings but now I am upgrading to 82mm with step-up rings also made by Breakthrough Photography for use with lenses like Fujifilm’s MKX 18-55mm T2.9 and MKX 50-135mm T2.9 parfocal zooms.

Major time zone differences between where I am now – Sydney, Australia – and where many of the most interesting Kickstarter campaigns originate – the United States and less so the United Kingdom – also mean that one often misses out on early bird specials for popular products such as those by Aurora Aperture Inc.

The moral of the story? Hope that you are going to hear about exciting new products like this one early enough despite the reality of time zone differences then leap in fast to catch the earlybird offer because it will be gone within hours if not minutes.

One thing that Aurora Aperture Inc. does not cover in its press release and other information about the two PowerXND Mark II Variable Neutral Density Filters is their infrared cutting capabilities, especially important in the light of the coming Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K which does not have built-in IR-cut filtration and thus requires the use of neutral density filters with IR-cut capability, or special extra IR-cut filters to add to the filter stack on your lenses.

I enquired about this and Jeff Chen of Aurora Aperture Inc. replied thus:

Regarding the IR cut capability, we don’t have specific IR cut functionality in our filters. It’s something in our development plan and we have done some prototyping so far. We may release a line of products later this year with IR cut capability and certainly the BMPCC and BMPCC 4k are the target cameras for the products.

Good and bad news then for users of Blackmagic Design’s amazing Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K aka BMPCC 4K and its BMPCC predecessor – good in that a solution may be coming but bad in that we shall have to forgo Aurora Aperture’s current Kickstarter campaign and hope that another campaign for IR-cut capable versions of these two otherwise very attractive VND filters may eventually turn up.

Or, pledge to both versions of the PowerXND Mark II filters, IR-cut-less and IR-cut-equipped.

Given that many independent moviemakers relying on cameras by Blackmagic Design, Fujifilm and Panasonic are not exactly flush with cash, better perhaps to wait it for now if you use cameras that do and do not require an IR-cut solution.

Alternatively RAWLITE’s IR-cut OPLF may offer the optimal solution thus freeing users of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K up to use non-IR-cut VNDs like these from Aurora Aperture.

Links

Help support ‘Untitled’

Clicking on these affiliate links and purchasing through them helps us continue our work for ‘Untitled: Stories of Creativity, Innovation, Success’.

  • Aurora Aperture filtersB&H
  • Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4KB&H
  • Fujifilm MKX18-55mm T2.9 Lens (Fuji X-Mount)B&H
  • Fujifilm MKX50-135mm T2.9 Lens (Fuji X-Mount)B&H
  • Fujifilm X-H1 Mirrorless Digital Camera Body with Battery Grip KitB&H
  • Fujifilm X-T2 Mirrorless Digital Camera Body with Battery Grip KitB&H
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO LensB&H
  • Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital CameraB&H
  • Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital CameraB&H

A Quick Look at Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro Prime and 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro Zoom: They’re out of this World!

A mini photo expo at a local shopping centre provided an opportunity to briefly try out two Olympus M.Zuiko Pro lenses, the just-arrived Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro prime lens and the older Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro zoom. 

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro at about 10.5mm, my favourite scene-setting aka establishing shot focal length equivalent to 21mm in the 35mm format.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro

With the ending of the major photography trade show in Australia, chances to see and try before you buy have become even more rare than they have ever been, so I was grateful for the small display of mirrorless cameras and lenses at one side of the expo opposite the two DSLR makers.

It was good to see Fujifilm’s X-E3 again and I caught up with the new Sony Alpha a9 camera so many colleagues have been raving about, but the star of the show for me was the Olympus table.

Panasonic was mysteriously absent and all the poorer for it given how beautifully its Lumix cameras go together with Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro lenses for cinematography and photography, especially given their unique manual clutch focus option.

I also managed to pick up and sight through the amazing Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4.0 Pro telephoto lens. Photograph via cellphone.

Super wide-angle lenses present something of a quandary when it comes to filters, given they often have wide convex front lens elements that prevent easily attaching screw-on filters.

Using such lenses for video presents even more of a quandary, especially for solo operators working in documentary moviemaking who must travel light, are self-funded and must watch their budgets.

Travelling light, working handheld and keeping your camera rigs small, neat and discrete rules out traditional moviemaking standbys like matte boxes holding large, costly square or rectangular filters which are fine for feature filmmaking and slower, more deliberate approaches.

The Olympus M.Zuiko Pro lens line-up as of late 2017, early 2018. More fast primes please, Olympus!

Luckily several optical filter makers have turned their efforts to the problem of attaching filters to convex-fronted lenses like the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro, though until recently all such filter adapter solutions have only worked with big slide-in glass or plastic filters 100mm, 150mm or 165mm square or wide.

And then, I came across a hitherto unknown camera filter and accessories maker by the name of STC Optical & Chemical in Taiwan, and discovered they are offering a screw-in lens adapter for the M.Zuiko Pro 7-14mm f/2.8 and an adapter for Panasonic’s own 7-14mm lens, the slower Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4 Aspheric zoom, also with a convex front element.

I have yet to come across any hands-on reviews by cinematographers of the STC Olympus 7-14mm filter adapter but have been researching the availability of high quality 105mm UV, circular polarizing and ND filters in density values suitable for moviemaking.

STC Optical & Chemical’s Screw-In Lens Adapter for Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro Lens

It appears that options are rather limited insofar as 105mm diameter filters go, especially in regard to ND filters which are dominated by the Formatt Hitech brand in different product ranges and very different price points.

Options are further limited regarding 105mm diameter versions of the fallback filter for run-and-gun documentary moviemakers, the variable ND, with just two turning up in my search at B&H today, the Aurora-Aperture 105mm PowerXND 2000 Variable Neutral Density 1.2 to 3.3 Filter (4 to 11 Stops) and the Formatt Hitech 105mm Multistop Neutral Density Filter rated at 1 to 6 stops.

Given the brightness of sunny days like today, a 6-stop maximum density is not dense enough and will need to be supplemented with fixed, single value ND filters, abnegating the utility value of variable NDs in the first place.

I have no firsthand experience with Aurora-Aperture products but 4 to 11 stops ND seems more useful.

Another possibility, or more appropriately hope, is that STC Optical & Chemical may choose to supplement its current 105mm 6-stop ND filter with more.

One typical fixed neutral density filter set contains 2, 4, 6, 8 and sometimes 10 stops, while another comprises 3, 5, 7, and 9 stops.

STC might choose to produce a 105mm version of its STC Ultra Layer Variable ND16-ND4096 filter, possessing an eye-popping range of 3.5 to 12 stops, or the STC Ultra Layer Variable ND2-ND1024 filter’s slightly shorter 1 to 10-stop range, with this filter also currently only available in diameters up to 82mm.

What is the answer?

If I can find the answer to the variable or fixed circular ND filter set question for the Olympus M.Zuiko Pro 7-14mm f/2.8 filter, then the lens and its filter solution will go straight to the top of my documentary video hardware wish list followed by the M.Zuiko Pro 17mm f/1.2, 25mm f/1.2 and 45mm f/1.2 professional-quality prime lenses.

I have made enquiries about their relevant products to STC Optical & Chemical and will report back here soon.

Of STC’s current Olympus Screw-In Lens Adapter packages, I am tempted by the adapter plus UV filter for stills photography, the circular polarizer for architectural photography and city scenes in video, and the 6-stop ND with the hopes that 2, 4, 8 and 10 stops ND filters will be appearing soon.

Or I may opt for either of STC’s Ultra Layer Variable NDs if they become available in a diameter of 105mm.

Links

Tech Notes

Location photographs very quickly made with Panasonic DMC-GX8 using Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro lenses with raw files processed in DxO PhotoLab with DxO FilmPack as a plug-in, applying colour negative film simulation presets along with minimal other processing.

Image Credits

Header image concept and hack by Carmel D. Morris.

Help support ‘Untitled’

Clicking on these affiliate links and purchasing through them helps us continue our work for ‘Untitled: Stories of Creativity, Innovation, Success’.

  • Aurora-Aperture 105mm PowerXND 2000 Variable Neutral Density 1.2 to 3.3 Filter (4 to 11 Stops)B&H – a versatile range of 4 to 11 stops.
  • Breakthrough Photography 105mm X4 UV Filter (Brass)B&H
  • Breakthrough Photography 105mm X4 UV Filter (Titanium)B&H
  • Formatt Hitech 105mm Multistop Neutral Density FilterB&H – ranges from 1 to 6 stops, falling short of the ideal daylight upper end of 8 to 10 stops.
  • Fujifilm X-E3 Mirrorless Digital Camera – B&H
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro – B&H
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro – B&H
  • Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4 Aspheric LensB&H
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital CameraB&H
  • Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4 Aspheric LensB&H
  • Sony Alpha a9 Mirrorless Digital CameraB&H