Neutral Density, or ND filters are by far, one of the most widely used filters on the market. When looking to purchase an ND filter, it can be overwhelming try to decide which brand, density, and filter kit is best for you. In this article, I break down everything you need to know before buying a neutral density filter.

If you look on amazon for ND filters, you will quickly noticed how much the prices may vary. Some filters will sit around $15 while others are sitting about $350. What is the difference to warrant such a price gap? It all comes down to the quality of the filter, and the materials they are made of.

Filter Quality

Filters will be made of either resin or glass, and are often coated with different materials to help block infrared light, or water. These materials alone will dictate the cost of a filter. Cheaper filters often come with the down sides of horrible colour casts that can really degrade the colours in your images. Likewise, cheaper filters are often made with materials that make for a less sharp image. It is very important to purchase filters of a quality that match the sharpness your lens offers. If you don’t, you may begin to notice a loss in image quality.

The other aspect of ND filters that will dictate cost is the density of the filter. Density represents the darkness of the filter. The more dense the filter, the less light will be allowed into your cameras sensor, allowing for slower shutter speeds, and more long exposure goodness! Below is a chart breaking down filter densities and how much light they block.

What Filter Density Is Best For You?

ND Rating
Optical Density
F-Stop Reduction
% of Light Transmission
No Filter 0.0 0 100%
ND2 0.3 1 50%
ND4 0.6 2 25%
ND8 0.9 3 12.5%
ND16 1.2 4 6.25%
ND32 1.5 5 3.13%
ND64 1.8 6 1.56%
ND128 2.1 7 0.78%
ND256 2.4 8 0.39%
ND400 2.6 8.64 0.25%
ND512 2.7 9 0.20%
ND1024(known as ND1000) 3.0 10 0.10%
ND2048 3.3 11 0.05%
ND4096 3.6 12 0.02%
ND8192 3.9 13 0.01%
ND100000 5.0 16.6 0.001%

Now which density is best for you? The most typical neutral density filters used by photographers are 3 Stops(ND.9), 6 Stops(ND.64), or 10 Stops(ND.1000). Each filter has their varying purposes and will be more useful to some photographers more than others. 6 and 10 stop ND filters are best suited for landscape photographers. These filters allow you to take long exposures in nearly any lighting conditions. With that being said, long exposures require a tripod to ensure your camera stays perfect still for the entire exposure. If you are going to be carrying around a tripod with you, 6 stop and 10 stop density filters are a great addition to your kit.

Lighter density filters such as ND.3, ND.6, and ND.9 are best suited for those who are still shooting handheld, but want the flexibility to open up their aperture for a shallower depth of field. These lighter filters are perfect for shooting portraits or action sports in bright conditions. These lighter densities also are great for use in video.

Ultimately, the best density of filter for you is going to depend on what you are shooting. If you anticipate setting up a tripod and waiting for that perfect light, a heavier ND will be perfect. If you like to just shoot handheld, a lighter ND filter will be more ideal, allowing you to have your aperture nearly wide open even in the middle of the day. Just think how much that could up your portrait game!

Infrared ND versus ND

While you are browsing for ND filters, you will notice some are IR ND while others are just ND filters. IR stands for Infrared. Infrared Neutral Density filters have a special coating on them that blocks out infrared light. Although our eyes cannot see this light spectrum, our camera sensors can pick it up. If you are not using an IR ND your images may get a red or purple tint since the infrared light can seep in and overwhelm your sensor during long exposures.

This infrared tint will not always be an issue, it really depends where you are shooting and if there are any nearby sources emitting infrared light. IR ND filters can be slightly more expensive but if you are shooting in urban areas, they may be worth the few extra dollars. It it less likely to get these infrared tints if you are shooting in a more remote locations. Either way, it’s something thats good to keep in mind before purchasing a filter!

If you are still a bit confused about what IR ND actually does, click here, to see a really great video I found explaining the differences.

Circular ND Versus 4X4 Filters

There are two options for ND filters, circular or 4×4. Each have their pros and cons, so let’s break down each.

Ciruclar ND:

Pros                                                                                                                 Cons

Easier to take on and off                                                                     Fixed size, will only fit one lens size

Less required gear                                                                               Less versatile when stacking filters

Cheaper

4×4 ND:

Pros                                                                                                         Cons

Great for stacking filters, especially grad filters                         Requires more set up

Can fit any lens size                                                                       MUST have adapter ring and filter holder to use

 

The right choice for you comes down to your shooting style and personal preference. Circular ND filters are small and easy, but it becomes harder to stack filters, especially grads. Circular graduated ND filters cannot be adjusted up and down like 4×4 filters can. This can become a bit of an annoyance when trying to build your composition.

With that being said, 4×4 filters have a little more versatility with how you can adjust them in relation to your lens. The main downside to them is how expensive they can become, after buying not only the filter, but the filter holder and the correct adapter ring for your lens. Although they do requite a little more setup and cost, I personally prefer 4×4 filters because I can use the same filter across all my lenses. I just need to buy a separate adapter ring for each lens.

If you are looking to save some money or don’t intend to have several different types of filters, then circular filters will do just the trick. If you are wanting to use your filters for videos, circular ND filters are going to be the way to go once again.

Filters I Recommend:

Circular ND Filters(ensure you get the proper size for your lens):

Nisi Circular IR ND.8

NiSi Circular IR ND.64 + CIRCULAR POLARIZER 

NiSi Circular IR ND1000

ND8, ND64+CPL, ND1000 Filter Set

4×4 Equivalents

Nisi IR ND8

NiSi IR ND64

NiSi IR ND1000

The Nisi Circular ND filters listed above, I recently did a review on on my youtube channel. I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY by the quality of these filters. Check out the review for yourself here.

I hope this helped you to get a better understanding of ND filters and some of their differences. As always, leave a comment down below if you have any questions about anything in this article!

Happy shooting,

Brendan

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