16 10-stop neutral density filters go head to head for sharpness, colour and accuracy

Nov 1, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

16 10-stop neutral density filters go head to head for sharpness, colour and accuracy

Nov 1, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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There are so many neutral density filter brands out there that it can be difficult to know which one to choose. The choice becomes even more difficult when you start to look at super strong ones claiming 10 stops of light stopping power. You hear all the time about softness issues, vignetting and colour casts. But which one is the best?

That’s what photographer Christopher Frost wanted to find out. So, he contacted a bunch of 10 stop filter manufacturers to do a straight up side-by-side comparison between them all to see how they stand up.

The list of 16 filters is fairly extensive, covering many of the common brands we often see recommended and all budgets from the super cheap to the very expensive. The one I use is in this comparison, too, the B+W 110 F-Pro. But here’s the full list, and at what point in the video he talks about each…

Christopher uses 67mm filters for his comparison on the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 FE on the Sony A7RII which has a 67mm filter thread. My B+W 110 F-Pro is a 77mm diameter and I use step-up rings on smaller diameter lenses. Using larger filters with step-up rings helps with potential vignetting issues on smaller diameter lenses.

Vignetting is just one of the qualities Christopher compares in these tests. He also looks at the potential colour cast, contrast, flaring and sharpness issues. One thing he also checks, which few similar comparisons seem to do, is to see exactly how close they are to that 10 stop goal. I’ve tried a few supposedly 10 stop ND filters over the years, and I’ve regularly seen them be anywhere up to two stops over or under that claim.

Christopher concludes with what most of us would expect. That you typically get what you pay for. Of course, this will depend on your priorities and needs, and you will hit the point of diminishing returns at some point. But he says that if you had to twist his arm and pick an absolute favourite, it would be the Breakthrough X4.

Are your ND filters on this list? What do you use?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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10 responses to “16 10-stop neutral density filters go head to head for sharpness, colour and accuracy”

  1. Jacquie Gaudet Avatar
    Jacquie Gaudet

    I am in the market for filters and, not having time to watch the video, thought I’d take a look at the Breakthrough X4. The link takes me to Amazon.ca (I’m in Canada) where the listed price is $472.36!!! Canadian dollars, but still! On the Breakthrough Photography website, the same item is $169 US.
    Yes, you get what you pay for, but not on Amazon.ca.

  2. Bill Pearce Avatar
    Bill Pearce

    As a footnote, the video is , as I’m unaware of any molecular changes in metals, that the comment on aluminium being more likely of be hard to remove is both right and wrong. Back when I was in the Nikon F system, the late sixties and seventies, a big selling point was that the focusing helix was made with one ring brass and the mating ring aluminum. It was said that using these dissimilar metals made toe movement more smooth and less likely to bind. Unless that was just marketing hype, It might be best to pick a filter with a brass or aluminium ring to mate with a lens made of brass or aluminium. Of course for those of you with lenses make of plastic, you’re on your own.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Most lenses these days do have aluminium filter threads, not brass, hence why brass filters are often recommended. :)

  3. Wally Kilburg Avatar
    Wally Kilburg

    Just bought into the Wine Country system. Im using 100mm squares but the company is making screw in filters now of the same high quality.

  4. willdmo Avatar
    willdmo

    I use Haida as filter. sadly not in the comparison.

    1. Tim Parkin Avatar
      Tim Parkin

      And missed out Lee ProGlass and Kase which both did exceptionally well in our tests. https://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2017/07/nd-filters/

  5. Aankhen Avatar
    Aankhen

    Honestly, my takeaway from this is that there is no such thing as a good ND filter, but if you pay more they’re less terrible.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Yup, none of them are perfect. That’s true of most filters, which is why so many people recommend against using UV filters.

      1. Aankhen Avatar
        Aankhen

        Yeah, I’m reconsidering the (just barely midrange, I think) UV filter permanently stuck in front of my lens now that I’ve seen this. I’m not sure whether the added protection is worth perennially degraded image quality.

  6. Mathieu Carbou Avatar
    Mathieu Carbou

    If some people come across this article, I am reviewing ND filters from several brands: Breakthrough, NiSi, Haida, B+W, Kolari Vision, STC Optical, Formatt-Hitech and I also check how they behave with IR light.
    I have found similar results as in this article, even more than 2 years after.
    Here is my ND filter comparison article: https://www.mathieu.photography/Articles/IR-Neutral-Density-Filters