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

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  • 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

RAWLITE: OLPF + IR-cut for BMPCC, BMMCC and BMCC 2.5K

http://rawlite.com/

“The ultimate upgrade for your Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera and Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K (MFT)….

… Due to their size and image quality the BMPCC and BMMCC are widely recognized as great digital cinema camera’s [sic]. It’s now possible to get the most out of them by taking away their main weaknesses: moiré and IR contamination.

The RAWLITE IR-cut OLPF incorporates low pass layers that control the prevention of moiré. The original glass of the BMPCC and BMMCC does not have such layers….”

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Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K by Blackmagic Design, which apparently will need third party infrared-cut aka IR-cut filtration or the IR-cut OPLF solution provided by RAWLITE.

Commentary

When cinematographer John Brawley mentioned that he was investigating an IR-cut solution made by RAWLITE on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K forum at EOSHD, I made a mental note to research the problem of infrared pollution in Blackmagic Design’s cameras and possible solutions.

I talked to a rep about the olpf at NAB and they said that they tend to not put filters on their cameras and if they do its always minor because they are obsessed with image quality. Kind of a shame in terms of IR pollution. I remember having to put my Hoya IR cut filter on every freaking lens I owned because the original pocket had such bad IR pollution. I think this cam will have the same issue. … David Altizer

Given that users of the coming Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K will need to use fixed or variable neutral density filters on lenses attached to the camera, as it does not have built-in NDs like its URSA stablemates, it would be great if all NDs came with IR-cut capability, but they do not.

As a self-funded documentary moviemaker working fast and alone on location, variable neutral density filters are a more viable option than fixed value NDs and the last thing I want to do is add yet another layer of glass and filtration on top of my VNDs as Mr Altizer describes above.

Accordingly RAWLITE’s solution may be the bee’s knees provided it produces a version for the  Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K in time for the camera’s projected release in September 2018.

Time will tell.

Links

Image Credits

Header image concept and hack by Carmel D. Morris.

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  • Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema CameraB&H
  • Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4KB&H
  • IR-Cut filtersB&H
  • Tiffen Hot Mirror filtersB&H
  • Tiffen Water White IRND filtersB&H