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

Kim Cruz: Panasonic 25mm 1.7 vs 42.5mm 1.7 for B ROLL- watch before buying!

“Which lens is better for b roll? Which is better for the buck? Today we’ll look at 2 highly acclaimed lenses from the M43 system in this Panasonic shootout for B ROLL!…”

Commentary

One of the many joys of Micro Four Thirds hybrid mirrorless cameras is their range of price points from affordable through to high-end and the same is true of lenses, making the M43 sensor format attractive to those of us just breaking into stills and video as well as more experienced practitioners.

While I often write about flagship M43 cameras and lenses here, I also use and value lower priced M43 gear for its affordability, smaller size and weight and its usefulness for discrete photography and b-roll video especially in multi-camera set-ups.

New vlogger Kim Cruz has recently produced some short, sharp videos about some of these affordable choices.

Lest one succumb to the commonly held belief that M43 sensor photographs cannot look as good as those from larger sensor cameras, I recommend trying out DxO PhotoLab and its companion applications for processing your M43 raw files.

I received a Panasonic Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 Aspheric prime lens with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 camera as part of a promotion at the time and often use it for available darkness stills and video as well as in conjunction with the GX8’s wonderful tilting electronic viewfinder aka EVF when emulating the look of my former Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex cameras.

Other small Micro Four Thirds prime lenses for stills and video

Links

Help support ‘Untitled’

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Aurora-Aperture 46mm PowerXND 2000 Variable Neutral Density 1.2 to 3.3 Filter (4 to 11 Stops)

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

  • Aurora-Aperture 37mm PowerXND 2000 Variable Neutral Density 1.2 to 3.3 Filter (4 to 11 Stops)B&H – Top quality variable neutral density aka VND filters are a great choice for fast-moving documentary cinematography as opposed to a set of fixed density neutral density filters. Small, narrow filter diameter lenses like the ones discussed by Kim Cruz in these videos can benefit from having their own native-sized VND filters attached when shooting video due to the size and weight of stacking up step-up rings to attach 77mm or 82mm ND or VND filters.
  • Aurora-Aperture 46mm PowerXND 2000 Variable Neutral Density 1.2 to 3.3 Filter (4 to 11 Stops)B&H
  • Chiaro brass UV protection filtersB&H – I recommend brass filters for lens protection as they are not susceptible to binding like many aluminium-framed filters. Chiaro makes an excellent collection of brass-framed UV filters in filter diameter sizes from 37mm through to 122mm.
  • Heliopan 37-46mm Step-Up Ring (#745)B&H – I use a variety of brass step-up rings made by Breakthrough Photography, Heliopan and Sensei Pro. Brass step-up rings are best to avoid binding but they cost and weigh a little more than aluminium step-up rings. I like Breakthrough Photography’s step-rings the best due to their unique heavily-knurled traction frame but the company does not make all the sizes you may need such as 37mm, 40.5mm and 43mm.
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 LensB&H – Filter diameter = 46mm.
  • Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH. LensB&H– Filter diameter = 46mm.
  • Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH. POWER O.I.S. LensB&H – Filter diameter = 67mm.
  • Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 II ASPH. Lens (Black)B&H – Equivalent in 35mm sensor terms to the 40mm “perfect normal” focal length, this pancake lens is better suited to stills photography than video but is a much-loved focal length for many movie directors and stills photographers. Filter diameter = 46mm.
  • Panasonic Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 ASPH. LensB&H – Filter diameter = 46mm.
  • Panasonic Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7 ASPH. POWER O.I.S. LensB&H – Filter diameter = 37mm.

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