“… 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. …”
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
Genustech Eclipse Fader Variable Neutral Density (ND) Filter, once the most recommended variable ND and still one I keep in my documentary moviemaking kit. This VND gives you 2 to 8 stops of neutral density.
Aurora Aperture PowerXND II VND: “The PowerXND-II 128 is a 1-7 stop variable ND filter while the PowerXND-II 2000 is a 5-11 stop variable ND filter. With both filters users can control light reduction from 1 to 11 stops, making them highly versatile tools for general photography and videography applications.”
SLR Magic self-locking 82mm Variable Neutral Density VND Filter.
SLR Magic 86mm Solid Neutral Density 1.2 Enhancer Filter, 4-stop, to go with SLR Magic 82mm Variable Neutral Density Filter. The VND gives you 1.3 to 6 stops of density and adding the Enhancer to the front of it adds an extra 4 stops of density, totalling 10 stops. The Enhancer also adds extra ultraviolet and infra-red filtration.
SLR Magic 82mm Fixed Neutral Density Filter, 3.0, 10-stop. SLR Magic recently released fixed ND filters to complement the company’s highly-regarded VNDs.
Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Fixed Neutral Density (ND) Filter, available in a range of filter diameters from 39mm to 127mm and a range of densities from 1 stop to 16 stops.
Breakthrough Photography Magnetic Wheel and Magnetic Filter. The company had a Kickstarter campaign for this new filter attachment system but it does appear to have reached the Breakthrough Photography online store yet.
Sensei Pro brass knurled step-up ring. I prefer these to the company’s aluminium knurled and unsnarled step-up rings but knurled aluminium is better than unknurled in my experience.
The XUME magnetic filter attachment system was invented by an independent moviemaker then sold to Manfrotto. It appears that XUME products are not available in every territory where Manfrotto is distributed, including Australia. I would love to see and try them out myself before investing in equipping every lens with XUME adapters.
Xume filter adapter attached to step-up ring attached to lens.
ND filter attached to filter adapter via filter holder.
Lens cap attached to adapter, step-up ring and lens.
Paul Leeming’s Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 in 8Sinn cage with Scorpio handle and XUME magnetic filter holder system.
SIMMOD Variable Neutral Density 0.4-1.8 Filter. I recently came across this brand while researching the utility value of locking rings on VND filters.
SIMMOD Variable Neutral Density 0.4-1.8 Filter with a range of 1.3 to 6 stops.
SIMMOD Variable Neutral Density 0.4-1.8 Filter with a range of 1.3 to 6 stops. Note the locking ring.
Although the buzz across the Internet about the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 still seems to be focussed on its remarkable video capabilities, the fact remains that the GH5 is also an excellent camera for stills photography.
I proved that to my own satisfaction during the loan of a GH5, producing stills as effective and as high quality as the video I made with the same camera and lenses.
The buzz on the many photography and movie industry fora that I visit continues to centre on the GH5’s video capabilities, ignoring or denying that it can be used to make great stills as well, so showing how professional photographers rely on the GH5 makes good sense.
About the Lumix Stories project
Photographers are dropping the DSLR in favor of lighter and more media diverse mirrorless cameras. Panasonic lead the development of the first mirrorless digital camera to replace the aging DSLR platform in 2008 with the LUMIX G series.
Today photographers are experiencing the benefits and flexibility of a lighter more compact interchangeable lens system camera that adds modern features like 4K video, in camera video to still conversion, combined body and lens image stabilization, and touch screen controls.
Follow the stories of several Lumix Ambassador professional photographers as they explore why the LUMIX G Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds system camera works for them.
“It will be a sausage fest,” my best friend warned me when I told her I was planning on rising from my sickbed to visit SMPTE17 earlier this week.
She is an industry trade show veteran, having long worked as one of the most in-demand research and development engineers for famous brand name global corporations before quitting due to overt male bias and male versus female pay differences.
SMPTE17 is the first movie and television industry trade show to be staged at Sydney’s revamped conventions and exhibitions complex, ICC Sydney, in Darling Harbour.
In the long years between the previous conference and exhibitions centre being torn down and ICC Sydney kicking into operation late last year, this city has been without the trade shows upon which photographers in particular depend for their all-too-rare hands-ons with new and essential equipment.
Since moviemaking, photography and television went digital, there has been steadily growing overlap between the hardware and software needs in these related industries.
Visual storytelling is their other common component and practiced storytellers have been crossing the borders between since I began learning cinematography and photography the hard way as a kid in the middle of the west of nowhere.
The idea of separating one set of visual storytelling applications from the other two that are increasingly closely related is becoming more absurd as the years go by.
ICC Sydney in Darling Harbour is a more suitable venue than SMPTE15’s windy, soggy, distant Hordern Pavilion in Moore Park and the day I attended this year’s iteration benefited from excellent weather and cold-hued laser-beam sunlight.
With this winter being one of the most challenging for vicious influenza infections and bacterial secondary infections untouched by the annual quadrivalent injection, the usual injunction to keep one’s distance from in-your-face sneezers and coughers carried extra weight, so I was on my feet dodging disease vectors on the trade show floor.
The Streetomatic+ more than proved itself and I hope that an Australian importer/distributor will step up to the plate to make Cosyspeed’s camera bags available here.
Being a moviemaker and photographer, my attention was largely focussed on those vendors at SMPTE17 whose products served both fields well.
SMPTE is traditionally aimed at the heavy guns in the movies and TV, as proven by previous iterations of the trade show.
For example, I had attended SMPTE15 hoping to see all relevant products from vendors but the artificial divide between so-called professional and enthusiast product ranges held sway then and only those products deemed “professional” were available.
At SMPTE17, that silliness was not so much in evidence.
This year, brands like Panasonic and Sony acknowledged reality by showing their mirrorless stills/video hybrid cameras alongside their camcorders and cinema cameras.
Panasonic smartly invited Lumix indie mirrorless documentary moviemaking pioneer Griffin Hammond to man the GH5 stand and present workshops and floor talks.
I would have loved to have attended them but remain ill from severe influenza and the last thing I want to do is risk spreading it about.
The overt male bias at SMPTE15 and its predecessors was slightly less in evidence this year thanks to foreign staff manning foreign vendors’ stands or Australian staffers who work the world trade show and special event circuits for their Australian headquartered globally-focussed employers.
The aforementioned sausage fest remained in evidence throughout, though, with blokes dominating hands-on opportunities such as those on the Sony stand stand’s APS-C/Super 35 and 35mm mirrorless cameras and lenses.
I had hoped to try out the Sony α9 camera to see what all the fuss is about but had to go away disappointed after several attempts.
We have a looong way to go before moviemaking and photography approach anything like equal opportunity.
There were other disappointments.
The glass display cabinet containing Movcam’s popular camera cages and other accessories remained locked and unmanned with none of the C. R. Kennedy staffers having possession of the keys.
The Manfrotto display focussed only on a new tripod range and some accessories and bags.
I have long been wanting to see, try and potentially heavily invest in in Manfrotto’s Xume fast-on, fast-off filter system that foreign colleagues insist are absolutely essential.
The staffer there barely knew what I was talking about and it was the same or worse with other brilliant Manfrotto products like the Fig Rig and the Lino Manfrotto professional clothing range. Ah well.
Vitec Group plc’s apparent reluctance to practise the fundamentals of vendor education and good marketing and public relations seems to filter down throughout their distribution chain.
Product distribution and retail has been average to mediocre in this country for some time, leading directly to reliance on online sales going to US-based retail giants like B&H Photo Video.
Things might be different if we had something here approaching the B&H store and I can understand why so many of my photography and video colleagues shop overseas, online or, increasingly in person.
I would love to support local retailers and importers/distributors by buying locally but experiences like the one later the same day when trying to procure some essential hardware items from local retailers mitigate against that.
Listening to every camera and pro store assistant tell me to go online to order from B&H has its effect and it is cumulative and, often, permanent.
I strongly suspect the store assistant chant of “get it from B&H” will turn Amazon’s way when the global supply giant establishes its national warehouse and delivery network throughout Australia.
The phrase “they will eat your lunch” kept coming to mind in every store I visited in a quest that ended in the inevitable online order to B&H as soon as I returned home.
There were some highlights at SMPTE17 such as Rotolight UK’s Barry Grubb attending the C. R. Kennedy stand to show off the brilliant Rotolight Aeos hand-and-stand photography and video LED-plus-flash light system alongside the equally brilliant Rotolight Neo and Rotolight Anova LED lighting systems.
I rely on my Rotolight Neo 3 Light Kit with barndoors and Chimera soft box for stills and video, and have been long hoping for a more powerful, wider-beamed, portable LED light to use in one-light or two-light portrait and interview set-ups on location.
The Aeos appears to be it, and is about to become available as a two-light kit in a backpack with barndoors and soft box to follow. Yay!
The trade show floor was brightly and unevenly lit so it was a stretch to see the full effect of the Aeos’ output – if we ever have a B&H-style superstore here a studio to judge the quality of lights surely would be an essential.
But, even with the room’s ambient light the Aeos showed enough brightness and colour control to add it up high on my movie and photography lighting wishlist.
Other highlights included the SMPTE-first presence of a G-Technology stand showing off the company’s excellent location and editing suite media storage products, some intriguing moviemaking microphones from also SMPTE-first Azden and some great products from established Australian brands Atomos and Blackmagic Design.
SMPTE17 was the best iteration of the trade show I have attended so far despite non-attendances by brands and distributors that I had so hoped would be there.
We are at a critical stage in Australia with the ending of the photography trade shows, a dearth of the travelling hardware show-and-tell events and workshops that go on overseas, the lack of Australian-based brand ambassadors and product demonstrators, and the ever-looming shadow of Amazon.com.
Like winter, Amazon is coming and one has to hope that its imminent presence will radically improve the importing and retailing situation for moviemaking and photography hardware for practitioners at all levels.
That situation will improve radically yet again if Amazon sets up some rumored bricks-and-mortar show, tell, try, buy and educational workshop experiences throughout the country and especially here in Sydney.
To My Readers:
In order to get this article online in a timely manner I have had to skip some content and put off processing some photographs, adding captions and other data and so on.
I will be adding those currently missing bits as soon as I can but I am still seriously ill with this wretched dual virus-plus-bacteria infection that I contracted while in the city to shoot some product review footage weeks ago.
Griffin Hammond – How to set up your new Panasonic GH5 for Filmmaking
Panasonic’s Lumix cameras, whether the GH4, the GX8, the GH5 and no doubt the company’s many other cameras that I have not experienced, offer a myriad of menu item options the value of which are not immediately obvious.
Although Panasonic’s menu system adds short explanations of each item’s functionality, they can be cryptic so menu run-throughs like this one by Mr Hammond can be invaluable, and even more so his settings file that can be altered to suit your own preferences.