If you’re flying a drone and want professional photos and video you need a set of polarizing and neutral density filters.
I have been using a set of Polar Pro filters on my Mavic for some time now, so I thought I would spotlight why I use polarizing and neutral density filters on my drone and some thoughts on the Polar Pro filters that I use.
Why Use Filters On Your Drone
There are two key reasons to use polarizing and/or neutral density filters on your drone.
First, if you are capturing video, your shutter speed should be double your frame rate. So if you’re capturing video at the industry standard of 24 frames per second, your shutter speed should be locked in at 1/50th of a second. Since there is no aperture control on a drone’s camera, in most cases the only way you can get to a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second is to use a neutral density filter in order to reduce the amount of light entering the lens.
Second, a polarizing filter is essential for capturing high quality photography and video. Besides removing glare from water and other reflective surfaces, a polarizing filter also adds quite a bit of color depth and vibrancy, and the effects of a polarizing filter are impossible to replicate in post.
Options for Drone Polarizing and Neutral Density Filters
There are many options for drone filters available online. However, for my money I’m really only interested in the best quality and performance.
The Cinema Series by Polar Pro were the highest rated drone filters I could find, so that is what I chose to use for my drone photography and video.
According to Polar Pro:
The Cinema Series glass features multi-coated true-glass optics for a high light transmission and a low refractive index. The filters are designed specifically for aerial filming, featuring lightweight construction that utilizes a precision-threaded aircraft aluminum frame to help ensure smooth gimbal operation.
I’ve never had a problem with the gimbal while using a Polar Pro filter – they just push onto the front of the camera – no calibration or other setup required. They are a little delicate to get on and off – you have to make sure that the gimbal clamp is in place, but it’s really not to difficult.
If you do choose to use a Polar Pro polarizing filter, one particular thing to note is that for full polarization, the text on the filter should be roughly lined up with the top or bottom of the lens.
I ended up purchasing the DJI Mavic Pro Cinema Series 6-Filter Pack ($150 – B&H).
The following filters are included:
- ND4/PL Filter
- This filter reduces the camera’s shutter speed by 2 f-stops and polarizes light. It is recommended when filming at dusk or dawn, or on cloudy days.
- ND8/PL Filter
- Reducing the camera’s shutter speed by 3 f-stops, the ND8/PL is recommended for partly cloudy days. The polarizing aspect of this filter helps reduce glare and may increase color saturation.
- ND16/PL Filter
- Recommended when it is sunny out, the ND16/PL reduces light by 4-stops and polarizes the scene to help you capture vivid colors on bright sunny days.
- 3-Stop Neutral Density Filter (ND8)
- The ND8 filter is recommended for partly cloudy to mildly sunny days where a 3-stop reduction in light level will enable you to achieve a 1/60 second shutter speed.
- 4-Stop Neutral Density Filter (ND16)
- The ND16 filter is recommended for very bright days and will reduce light levels by 4 f-stops. The ND16 filter is often used while filming in the desert or over snow.
- 5-Stop Neutral Density Filter (ND32)
- Recommended for extremely bright days, the ND32 reduces the light levels by 5-stops. This helps you achieve shutter speeds near 1/60 to 1/50 second even on the brightest of days for natural motion blur and cinematic effect.
By far the most useful filter in the group is the ND4/PL filter. This is basically a straight polarizing filter that reduces the light level by 2 stops.
As the description notes – this filter is perfect for dusk and dawn which is when I do the vast majority of filming with the drone. At dusk or dawn you’ll be around 1/50th of a second at ISO 100 or 200. I leave this filter on my drone and only take it off if it gets too dark for 1/50th at ISO 200 (ISO 200 is the maximum ISO that I am comfortable using with the Mavic) or in the random situation where I am not filming at sunrise or sunset.
I have used up to the ND16/PL filter for flying over a lake in bright mid-morning sunshine.
Given the choice between the combination polarizing and neutral density filter (ND/PL) versus just a straight neutral density filter (ND) I almost always choose the combination filter for the added befits of polarization.
I have never used the ND32 filter – really the only time I think it would ever be useful might be bright alpine sun with snow or some other extremely bright scene.
If you would prefer to always use a polarizing filter and don’t think you will need the range to go up to ND32 (5-stops), the three filter DJI Mavic Pro Cinema Series 3-Filter Pack ($80 – B&H) is a much better deal and includes the three most useful filters (ND4/PL, ND8/PL and ND16/PL).
If you happen to fly a DJI Phantom 4 (or Phantom 3), one other filter set you might want to consider is this set of graduated filters. With video it is critical not to overexpose the highlights, which is nearly impossible with the camera pointed towards the horizon at sunrise and sunset. A ND8 graduated neutral density filter would definitely help in those situations.
Do You Use Filters on Your Drone?
When do you use filters on your drone?
What filter type and brand do your prefer?
Have you used Polar Pro filters – how did they work for you?
Leave a comment below and let us know!