Here are 12 ND filters compared for color and sharpness

Nov 29, 2020

Paul Monaghan

Paul Monaghan is a creative photographer based in Scotland. Paul is on of the leading landscape photographers in the UK and is an authority on ND filters in the industry. Among others, Paul is a Sigma UK Ambassador.

Here are 12 ND filters compared for color and sharpness

Nov 29, 2020

Paul Monaghan

Paul Monaghan is a creative photographer based in Scotland. Paul is on of the leading landscape photographers in the UK and is an authority on ND filters in the industry. Among others, Paul is a Sigma UK Ambassador.

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Filters, such a useful tool for allowing more control over your exposure. Some things are simply can’t be done with a camera alone. But with so many manufactures, types, and price differences buying a filter might get a little confusing.

While it would be nearly impossible to test every filter around. I did manage to assemble a decent collection in the hope to see the differences between cheap, expensive, square, screw-in and variable NV filters.

As you can see I have a mixture of square and circle ND filters that are 10stop in strength. I also added two 6stop filters and variable ND into the mix.

Filter list

Here is the list of Square Filters, and their price today (Nov, 29th, 2020):

And the list of Screw-in filters

and finally, Variable ND filters

What type of filter you want will vary on your needs.  Square filters require a filter holder to work but offer more control with stacking as well as the ability to slide graduated filters into the right position. Circular filters don’t need a filter holder but offer less control. Variable ND filters offer many stops of light control in one filter but can alter the image as you can see below.

Notice the difference in reflections here simply by rotating the whole VND filter, this isn’t something a normal ND filter will do.

The type of filter you need really depends on your preference and what you need them for. I personally like using filter holders because I hate screwing filters on and off my lens. Especially because I change a lot of filters. Some companies, like Kase, do offer a magnetic series. So as you can see, it’s a jungle.

OK, let’s dive in

The Setup

To test the filters I set up a small scene at home,. I used my Spekular LED as the main light due to its daylight balance and high CRI. This way I could keep the lighting and exposure consistent.  Now any exposure or color shifts are from the filters and not the ever-changing light outside.

I also used the Sigma sdQ-H and 70-200mm f2.8 Sport at 100mm f5.6 to test the sharpness of each filter. The longer focal length along with the Foveon chip helps to stress the sharpness of the filters, particularly as the 25.6mp Foveon chip scan renders similar detail to a 50mp Bayer Chip. All images shot in JPG in-camera.

The Test

First up we have the image taken without any filter at 1/30s.

The next step was to adjust the camera exposure for each frame, for the 10stop filters I increased the exposure 10-stops to 30s and adjusted the camera for the other filters accordingly.

Before I get onto how each filter performed, I wanted to take a little time going over two that were very similar.  The Kenko and Hoya filters. Both of these filters not only shared the same retail packaging but with a different insert. They are also physically identical too, with the coating on the glass being the only difference.

In testing, sharpness was the same, colorcast and brightness were different though, with the Hoya being around 1/4 of a stop darker than the Kenko. I decided to leave the Kenko filter out of the comparison image.

Color

After testing the rest of the filters I created this collage to show the full scene taken with each filter. (Click here for higher res)

Looking at the results here they are all very close. The Marumi filter seems to have the coldest color cast while the K&F NVND 8-128 has the warmest.

They all landed pretty close to their rated stops of light reduction. The B+W filter being the darkest by around a 1/4 of a stop and the Lee Pro filter is just about spot on. I made a mistake shooting the K&F VND 8-128 at 8-stops instead of 7-stops which is why that particular one is brighter

The Marumi filter here as the strongest cool color-shift while the K&F ND 8-128 variable had the strongest warm color-shift. Haida seems to be the most neutral of them all. Interstingly, the B+W seems to be actually being darker than its 10stop rating.

Using the 100% values in Lightroom I gathered the RGB data from the same location on the color checker to see the brightness/color difference in numeric value.

RGBΔRΔGΔBComment
No filter48.349.951.3000Benchmark
Square Filters
Benro Maste10-stop ND 52.655.455.74.35.54.4
K&F Concept 10-stop ND52.653.453.94.33.52.6
Lee FilteProGlass  10-stop ND4950.555.70.70.64.4
Haida Red Dimond 6stop ND47.747.949.4-0.6-2-1.9
Formatt Hitech Firecrest 6-stop ND49.851.555.71.51.64.4
Screw-in Filters
B+W XS-Pro 10-stop42.243.446.9-6.1-6.5-4.4
Hoya PROND 10-stop45.947.551.5-2.4-2.4-0.2
K&F Concept 10-stop ND 53.753.254.65.43.33.3
Kenko PRO ND 10-stop e52.753.755.14.43.83.8
Marumi Exus 10-stop5253.761.33.75.210
Variable ND filters
K&F Concept ND8-128  VND6261.258.613.7+16.3 7.3shot 1 stop brighter.
Haida Variable ND insert57.859.458.69.58.77.3requires m10 holder

Sharpness

Now that we have seen how the filters perform with light transmission and color reproduction what about sharpness?  For that, I created a selection of crops (click here for higher res).

 

As you can see most filters had zero perceivable effect on the image Sharpness. Even using such a high resolving sensor and longer focal length. Although the Formatt Hitech Firecrest and Marumi filter did soften the image a bit.

Results

I don’t feel there’s any major advantage with color, light reduction or sharpness with most of these filters. We are getting to the point when most filters offer great quality. The deciding factors will probably shift to price and other features. That said, I do feel the Marumi 10-stop and Formatt Hitech Firecrest 6-stop where the weakest of  the crop in terms of optical quality. But looking at other features, may make you shoose them nontheless.

For example, The Formatt Hitech Firecrest filter is made of two layers of 1mm glass with the ND layer in the middle.  This makes it a very durable filter that would be better suited for harsh conditions where you could possibly scratch the coating on a normal glass ND filter.

Some filters have Infrared light reduction or IRND to help stop light pollution that could contaminate the image during long exposures.  This also depends on how strong your IR-cut filter is on your camera but didn’t seem to be an issue on my sdQH during this test.

Lastly, some filters like the Haida Red Dimond series also use phisically stronger glass that should offer more protection if you drop the filter. Which you don’t. But if you did. Which you won’t. Anyways, filters are made of glass so its best to avoid that anyway.

Conclusion

One take away from all of this is that you can’t use price alone to gauge the image quality of a filter. The K&F 10stop ND filter being the cheapest here at $57.  Offers performance that is up there with the Lee ProGlass at a whopping $237. It even comes with a nice little case with a pull cord for easy access.

Honestly, with the incredible value that K&F offers on their filters, it’s easy to recommend them, particularly to people just starting to explore the need for such things. There are other factors to consider though. Haida for example offers a wider range of filter strengths, sizes, and graduated filter types than K&F concept. do.  This can be a deciding factor if you want to build a system of the same stuff.

I personally use a mixture of K&F Concept, Haida and Benro at times for my 100mm kit while using Haida rear and 150mm filters for my ultra wide.

Whatever filter system you go for these days, sharpness and color cast seems to be the last thing you need to worry about. This lets us as creators focus on ease of use, features, and such to pick what suits us best. Although it’s always best to do some extra research on a particular filter before buying.

Here are some shots showing what you get inside each filter box.

If you got a favorite, let us know in the comments!

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Paul Monaghan

Paul Monaghan

Paul Monaghan is a creative photographer based in Scotland. Paul is on of the leading landscape photographers in the UK and is an authority on ND filters in the industry. Among others, Paul is a Sigma UK Ambassador.

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10 responses to “Here are 12 ND filters compared for color and sharpness”

  1. Mark Phillips Avatar
    Mark Phillips

    What about Breakthrough Photography filters??

    1. Paul Monaghan Avatar
      Paul Monaghan

      I’ve sadly not had the pleasure of trying any of them. I have heard great things though and I do use one of their Universal Arca Plates
      .

  2. madeinlisboa Avatar
    madeinlisboa

    I had a bad experience with the K&F VND 2-32. One of the sides was always much darker on a Nikon 14-30

    1. Paul Monaghan Avatar
      Paul Monaghan

      Thats the nature of CPL filters on ultra wide lens. The sky in particular can affected more in some areas than others.

      If its something else I’d love to see a sample.

      Thanks for checking out my review.

  3. Mathieu Carbou Avatar
    Mathieu Carbou

    I did some testing too of some filters (including in the IR range) and plan to extend these testing in December or January with the brand new Breakthrough Photography X4 15 stop filter and the new Kolari Vision IRND filters, as soon as I receive the replacements fixing the problems I’ve discovered in my previous testing (especially in the IR range).
    => https://www.mathieu.photography/Articles/IR-Neutral-Density-Filters

    1. Paul Monaghan Avatar
      Paul Monaghan

      Lovely and indepth review you shared thank you.

      I didn’t go into the IR range as I felt that for most people it wouldn’t be an issue.

      Having a full spectrum or IR nodded camera is more of a specialized thing.

      Most Sigma users don’t even pop out the user removable filter to try it.

  4. SteveSag Avatar
    SteveSag

    You failed to include two of the better if not the two best ND filters out there Kase and Breakthrough. I’ve used the Breakthrough screw ons and have just recently migrated to Kase square and magnetic CPL. Not looking back at the also-rans.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      If you want to send him some Kase and Breakthrough ones to include in a future comparison, I’m sure he has an email address you can reach him on. :)

    2. Paul Monaghan Avatar
      Paul Monaghan

      Sadly I’ve only been used kase rear filters not the normal ones. Also haven’t tried Breakthrough.

      I’ve also been told H&Y are the best too.

      Honestly I would have no problem to see if they are a good as people say.

  5. Martin Avatar
    Martin

    I’ve just started looking at ND filters so enjoyed your review. Variable ND filters seem very useful but I’m nervous about their quality, especially the dreaded cross. It looks like you didn’t experience this – is that right?