Shooting Neutral…

One of the most deceiving things about photography, or cameras in general is that the camera can’t see as well as our eyes can.  You may see the most beautiful sunset in the history of sunsets; but you can’t take a  photo of it because it’s too bright.  All you’ll get is a dark red spot that is the sun, and everything else is dark.  OR, the building below the sunset is exposed correctly, but the sky is brighter than it looks in real life.  Problems like this are incredibly common in the world of photography, even with the newest caliber cameras like the Nikon D4.

Let me step back a bit for a moment.  The technology I’m going to talk about in this blog isn’t something new, but something that’s been around for a REALLY long time; that we are going to adapt to Today’s technology and look at in a slightly different way.  This technology is called a “Neutral Density Filter“.  If you don’t know what that is with  modern technology I won’t be surprised.  Honestly it’s not something I had used in years until given the opportunity to play with the new Lucroit Neutral Density filter holder for the Nikon 14-24mm Lens, along with several other similar toys made by Formatt HiTech.  Neutral Density filters were designed to slow down your cameras shutterspeed, so you could shoot shallow depth of field portraits in the daylight outside; or so you could show motion blur either with a motion or by panning a subject in bright sunlight.  These filters are Primarily used by Landscape photographers anymore, who want to capture things like the sky and the ground in their photos, while also in some cases slowing down water to give it a much more appealing “glassy” look.  Hense the problem with the Nikon 14-24, being that it had a rounded “bubble” like front element, meaning that a normal flat 77mm standard filter wouldn’t work.  That being said, let me say a few other things before we go any further.  ALWAYS handle your filters by the outside so it doesn’t affect image quality (duh).  ALWAYS use a tripod when using really slow shutterspeeds (duh).  Make sure your filters fit into your filter holder before you let go of them……Wait what? Yea, my only complaint with the LucrOit is that the 165mm filters that I was provided were hit or miss as to whether or not they fit.  In fact one didn’t fit at all, and required either being taped at the bottom OR I had to hold it in place during the exposure.  Not an ideal situation for an exposure that’s so slow that it requires a tripod or a cable release timer… With that being said; lets move on.

(Nikon D4, 50ISO, Nikon 14-24F2.8N@28mm.  25 Seconds@F22.  LucrOit filter holder with a HiTech regular 0.9 3stop ND Filter, along with a HiTech 0.3 Graduated Neutral Density Filter with the darker portion at the top. Bogen Manfrotto Tripod with Microadjustment head)

That image is almost straight out of the camera.  I slightly added a little sharpening and contrast, but otherwise that’s pretty close.  I was really excited at the opportunity to get to use the kit of Neutral Density filters that Roberts Camera here in Indy loaned me for a week(ish).  I had to do a little research, as I wasn’t exactly sure what I had; but once I got started the process was really easy and the results are incredible.  My Fiancee Shannon has been wanting to do more video with her D7000, as well as I have wanted to do more video on the blog; so here we go.  Forgive some of the rough patches, the very beginning is out of focus and I wasn’t exactly sure how to incorporate all of the different pieces I had; but it gives a better explanation of some/all of these Neutral Density/Filter related products. (As well as sheds light into some of the adventure…)


(Creek and canal scenes shot by Shannon with Lensy; her Nikon D7000.  The other shots were shot via my cell phone.  The shots showing the filters were shot using the D4.  All Footage Edited in Final Cut Pro 7).

(Nikon D4, 50ISO, Nikon 28-70F2.8D@40mm.  8 seconds at F22.  HiTech Modular 77mm Variable Multistop Neutral Density Filter Bogen Manfrotto Tripod with Microadjustment head)

So yea, pretty cool huh?  OK so here’s the rest.  I found Neutral Density filters to be Deceiving.  Originally I looked at the filters and thought; Cool, slower shutterspeeds during the day. That’s almost exactly what it did, but it wasn’t as easy to slow down my shutter as I thought it would be.  It turns out that getting to 30 seconds can be as tough as getting to 1/8000th in meaning that sometimes there are tradeoffs.  The HiTech filters and holder that I was provided came with 3 resign ND Filters, which let me tell you were Brilliant.  I love glass, but I break things as anybody who has read the blog before should know.  The Resign filters worked awesomely, and I’m happy to report that no equipment was harmed in the making of these pictures.  They weren’t heavy since they were plastic, and I stacked them together as thick as I could and didn’t even really start to get into any issue with sharpness.  (Full res version of this photo available down at the bottom of this post)

(Nikon D4, 50ISO, Nikon 28-70F2.8D@28mm.  20 Seconds @F22.  HiTech Modular Filter Holder, with HiTech Resign 0.3, 0.6, and 0.9 filters all in the modular holder.  Full Resolution version with a link at the bottom of this post. Bogen Manfrotto Tripod with Microadjustment head)

In case you were wondering, the filters use standard markings and ratings. (Standard by someone’s standard, I don’t know how they decided these were the numbers they wanted to use.)   The filters I had from HiTech and Roberts were the 0.3 (1 stop), the 0.6(2 stop), and the 0.9 (3 stop) ND Filters.  While these filters are great, and they functioned beautifully, I found that I was wanting more in a lot of cases and ended up stacking them together in more than one situation.  That being said, I never once had a sharpness issue stacking all 3 filters together.  The images were just as sharp through these filters as any other filter, and I was not disappointed with a soft image once during this process.

(Nikon D4, 50ISO, Nikon 28-70F2.8D.  4 Seconds at F22.  HiTech Modular Filter Holder, with HiTech Resign 0.3, 0.6, and 0.9 filters all in the modular holder, Bogen Manfrotto Tripod with Microadjustment head)

I shot that photo on I69 near Exit 5 here in Indianapolis; which if you’ve lived in the area you know is a madhouse around 5pm EVERY DAY.  I wanted a long enough shutter so that It did not appear that there were any cars on the highway.  The longest I was able to get by stacking ALL of the smaller HiTech filters together was 6 stops, leaving me at about 4 seconds; which was barely enough for what I wanted considering if you look closely, you can still see where traffic was getting congested in the frame.  PLUS I also shot a few with the extra 3 stop ND filter that I got with the LuCroit held over the front with a towel over the top to prevent flare.  Is this something you’ll always want?  Not a chance.  But when you want it, you have to build up to it.  That being said, my goal for this shot was to shoot it at one of the clovers/onramps of I69 with the LucrOit and the 14-24; but I only had 3 stops of ND filter and a 2 stop Graduated ND filter, which if you look at the math earlier in this paragraph; clearly wasn’t enough to give us 4 seconds, much less 10 or 15 like I wanted.

(Nikon D4, 50ISO, Nikon 14-24F2.8N@28mm.  94 Seconds@F22 while using a Nikon MC-36 remote release..  LucrOit filter holder with a HiTech regular 0.9 3stop ND Filter, along with a HiTech 0.3 Graduated Neutral Density Filter with the darker portion at the top. Bogen Manfrotto Tripod with Microadjustment head)

Maybe I was out of my mind, but I was thinking these filters were supposed to eliminate enough light to help me catch “That epic sky” that we see later in the evening.  I had no idea I would be using the 3 stop filter, plus the 1 stop Graduated ND filter almost every time I put the LucrOit on the camera.  Not to mention the fact that I would stack the HiTech filters on top of each other almost every time I used them on the 77mm thread lenses.  I am probably a special case though, as I wanted a very glassy, very frothy water as opposed to just a obviously watery surface.  With only a few seconds you have motion, but it’s messy.  With longer times you get a very glassy surface, or with fast moving water it becomes frothy.  You can’t just go and use a 10 second exposure like the ambient light had for above, because then the water wouldn’t be as smooth.  Welcome to having to make choices. In the shot above, I really wanted smooth water, and I was hoping for a little bit more motion in the clouds.

Speaking of making choices.  One of the reasons I end up doing some of these wacky adventures is because sometimes I can be a fool….

(Nikon D4, 50ISO, Nikon 18-35F3.5-4.5D.  327 Seconds (yup, 5 minutes and 27 seconds), using a Nikon MC-36 Remote Release cable @F22.  Hoya NDx400 77mm 9 Stop Neutral Density filter, with the HiTech Modular Filter holder system and 77mm Adapter screwed into the Hoya Filter, while holding the 0.3, 0.6, and 0.9 ND Filters for a total of 15 stops of Neutral Density filtration. Bogen Manfrotto Tripod with Microadjustment head)

Yup.  So that happened.  I couldn’t leave well alone and just HAD to play with the extra 9 stop filter I asked Roberts to find for me.  I had to play with the Hitech one too; at the same time.  This is really where I started to see limitations over all, as I shot this photo around 1pm in what is obviously broad daylight.  My theory was that with a long enough exposure the water would be an absolute mirror wince the water was fairly calm that day.  It was not.  I kind of dig how the photo looks a lot like it was shot with an old pinhole camera; but that’s an effect that can be achieved much more quickly with photoshop and a 60 second exposure using a 9 stop filter, a bunch of other filters, and a D4.  Instead of thinking about that, I combined the two sets for a solid 15 stop filter, and a wonderfully intense 5 and a half minute exposure during the day.  Oh well.  You live and learn right?

(Nikon D4, 50ISO, Nikon 14-24F2.8N, 13 Seconds@F22.  LucrOit Filter holder with a 0.9 ND filter, along with a 0.3 Graduated ND filter with the dark side on the top, Bogen Manfrotto Tripod with Microadjustment head). 

So what do I think?  I think these filters are kind of awesome.  I really enjoyed playing with these Neutral Density filters, and no that’s not because I’m paid to say that; because I’m not.  I did find that there was some trouble with the LucrOit holder and actually holding the filter resigns in place as I mentioned early on in this review.  In the video you can see that I dropped one, which just about gave me a heart attack.  Luckily, the filters are Resign and it didn’t have a scratch on it.  If they were glass it would mean that I’d have owed Roberts some money. Honestly this just makes them much more awesome, and much more highly recommended if you’re in the market for such a thing; because they are durable.  I’m not much of a Landscape shooter honestly.  In fact my Fiancee Shannon and I had to think up different places that we could possibly go to take some of these photos.  Special thanks to my friend Paul over at Indy Hikes for giving me the original creek bed location.  Does that mean that I have no use for a set of filters like this?  Not Necessarily.  For me though, I’m more likely to get the Modular Filter holder set, with several ND slides to put in it.  Mostly because a majority of my lenses are 77mm thread; as well as you can get smaller adapters to put them on any size lens.  (Except of course; the 14-24).  I may even get the Multistop ND filter that I mentioned in the video and the photo of the rocks above.  I had a few troubles with it not being tightened enough and giving me a light leak/reflection at the top of the frame; but that’s my own fault.  Who knows what I’ll do.  If you shoot a lot of landscapes though these Resign filters are highly recommended; at least by me.  Way better than glass, and the sharpness doesn’t really seem to be effected much. Don’t believe me?  Here’s the full resolution shot from the Monument here in Indianapolis. I had 6 stops of ND filter through 3 pieces of resign on the end of the camera for that shot.  Check it out; let me know what you think. More Soon.

As Always; if you’re looking to buy this stuff make sure you get it at Roberts Camera.  It’s where I buy almost all my stuff because they rule.

You can find the Lucroit HERE.

Variable stop 77mm ND Filter and the The Warm/Cool filter deal HERE.HERE.

and the modular filter holder HERE, along with the resign filter kit HERE.

Oh, and to make the Modular holder fit any size lens, you need one of THESE.

There are a few other adapters available for all these products too, so if you don’t see something you may just have to search more specifically for what you need (ie a 52mm adapter for the modular Filter system, ect)