Last updated: August 9, 2021

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Welcome to our big ND filter test 2021. Here we present all the ND filters we have tested in detail. We have compiled detailed background information and added a summary of customer reviews on the web.

With this, we would like to make your purchase decision easier and help you find the best ND filter for you.

You will also find answers to frequently asked questions in our guide. If available, we also offer interesting test videos. Furthermore, you will also find some important information on this page that you should definitely pay attention to if you want to buy an ND filter.

Contents




Summary

  • By using an ND filter, you can extend the exposure time of your camera. This makes it possible to take long exposures in daylight without overexposing the photo.
  • There are neutral density filters in different strengths. It depends on how long you want to expose.
  • Grey filters are often used in landscape photography. They can be used, for example, to give waterfalls a flowing effect.

The Best ND Filter: Our Choices

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying an ND filter

What is an ND filter and why is it also called a grey filter?

Before we get to what you can use an ND filter for and what you should consider before buying one, let's briefly explain what an ND filter actually is.

The abbreviation ND filter stands for Neutral Density Filter. The filter is placed on the lens of a camera to reduce the incident light. In principle, it is comparable to a pair of sunglasses for the camera.

The camera filter is called a neutral density filter because it has no influence on the colour. It is also called a grey filter because it is coloured in different shades of grey and intensity. The purpose of an ND filter is to prevent the camera's sensor from being blinded by too much light. This helps to prevent overly bright, overexposed images.

In addition, a grey filter allows you to take long exposures even when the sun is shining. The neutral density filter extends the exposure time with unchanged aperture and ISO value because it lets less light into the camera.

When do you use a neutral density filter?

ND filters are often used in landscape photography when longer exposure times are desired. You can simplify landscapes that are very detailed with a long exposure. So that your photos are not overexposed, you can use a grey filter.

Wasserfall

With an ND filter you can photograph waterfalls with a great flowing effect. (Photo:
www.headsmartmedia.com / unsplash.com)

By using the long exposure, you can, for example, photograph lakes with a smoothing effect or you can depict a waterfall with a wiping and flowing effect. The neutral density filter is used when, despite the desired maximum aperture, you cannot expose long enough without the image being too bright or even burnt out.

You can also use the ND filter when you want to photograph architecture without people walking by. Here, too, you can take a longer exposure and use the grey filter to prevent the photo from being overexposed. This way, the people do not appear in the picture and you only have the building as a motif.

For whom and which cameras is a Neutral Density Filter suitable?

ND filters are suitable for beginners, advanced or professional photographers. A Neutral Density filter is suitable for all those who want to create a certain effect through long exposures during the day and want to avoid overexposure. Basically, if you are out and about in good weather, it is worth having a neutral density filter with you.

You can put a grey filter on the lens of your DSLR camera. The filter is suitable for cameras that allow you to set the shutter speed and aperture manually. You can also use ND filters for drones with cameras so that you don't get photos that are too bright. Neutral density filters are also available for action cameras such as the GoPro Hero. And grey filters are also used for film cameras.

What are the different levels of ND filters?

There are different levels of intensity for grey filters. Depending on how much darkening you need, you can buy filters with different strengths. The calculation is based on aperture and on how much the exposure time is increased.

density f-stops factor extension exposure time
NDx 0.3 1 f-stop ND2
NDx 0.6 2 f-stops ND4
NDx 0.9 3 f-stops ND8
NDx 1.8 6 f-stops ND64
NDx 3.0 10 f-stops ND1000

This is only a list of examples. There are also other gradations.

With a 0.3 filter you can increase the exposure time by a factor of 2. The exposure time is doubled. With a neutral density filter ND 0.6, the photo is darkened by 2 f-stops, so you can expose four times as long. You can buy the grey filters in the different gradations or you can buy a variable filter that can be adjusted.

How do you calculate the exposure time with neutral density filters?

If the ND value is stated on the filter as ND2, for example, you can simply calculate that the exposure time doubles. So with an ND1000, the exposure time is 1000 times as long as without a grey filter.

However, if the value on the filter is given as an NDx value, such as NDx 3.0, this is a logarithmic value. Here the extension factor is calculated from 10 to the power of 3.0. The result is 10 x 10 x 10 = 1000, which means that the exposure time is increased by a factor of 1000, i.e. you can expose for 1000 times as long as without the ND filter.

Which ND filter is used for what?

For landscape photography, an ND 1.8 (= ND64) and an ND 3.0 (= ND1000) filter are suitable as all-rounders.

The ND 1.8 supports you when photographing with a relatively small aperture. So if you get an exposure time between 0.05 and 0.25 seconds at ISO 100 and aperture 8, the grey filter can extend the exposure time.

You can use the ND 3.0 especially in very bright daylight when you want to use an aperture that is not completely closed. This will result in even shorter exposure times. But if you want to depict a flowing waterfall, for example, only the ND filter will help.

As a general rule, you can always go by what exposure time you are aiming for and what the lighting conditions are. Depending on this, you can then decide which strength is best suited for your project.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a grey filter?

With a grey filter you can also take photos during the day with long exposures. This makes it possible, for example, to depict the flowing effects of rivers.

Advantages
  • Long-term exposures during the day
  • depicting flow effects
  • artistic effects in photos
Disadvantages
  • Partly complicated calculation
  • colour casts possible
  • post-processing often necessary

However, the grey filter may also cause a colour cast that has to be processed afterwards.

What is the best way to take photos with a neutral density filter?

Grey filters are best used in dim to strong or very strong daylight or artificial light. At night, the filter has almost no effect, only at twilight or the blue hour are changes still visible.

In darkness and low light, long exposures are possible anyway. For long exposures in general, you should use a tripod, this also applies to photography with ND filters.

Tips for photographing with Neutral Density Filter:

  1. Choose a subject and focus on it without a grey filter using your camera's AF.
  2. Note down the exposure time or write it down.
  3. Switch off the autofocus of your camera.
  4. Put the ND filter on your lens.
  5. Set the camera's self-timer function to prevent your picture from blurring.
  6. Calculate the extended exposure time with the neutral density filter.
  7. Press the shutter release button.
  8. Enjoy a successful long exposure.

Did you know that you should cover your viewfinder when taking very long exposures with a DSLR camera?

Normally there is no problem with long exposures. However, if you expose for 5 minutes, for example, it is possible that the light coming through the viewfinder will be visible in the picture later.

What should you look for when buying an ND filter?

When buying an ND filter, you should pay attention to the quality. Often in photography, if you buy cheap, you buy twice. Therefore, make sure that your grey filter is of good quality so that you can avoid buying twice and spending money unnecessarily.

Basically, you have to make sure that the neutral density filter fits your lens, i.e. it should have the same circumference as your lens. There is a trick so that you don't have to buy several filters.

There are so-called step-down rings, which are lens adapters. It is best to buy a filter that fits your largest lens. With a step-down ring set, you can then use the filter on your smaller lenses.

Make sure the ND filter has the same circumference as your lens.

How much do ND filters cost?

ND filters come in a wide range of prices. The cheapest ones start at around 30 euros and go up to 140 euros.

The price varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Basically, it depends on the quality of the filter and the quality of the result.

Here we would like to refer you to the product section.

Here you will find a list of different manufacturers and products at different prices.

Decision: What types of neutral density filters are there and which is right for you?

Grey filters have many advantages when it comes to taking photos with long exposures during the day. Basically, you have to decide between the following types of filters:

  • Variable filters
  • Filter with fixed extension factor
  • Screw-in filter
  • Plug-in filter

Each of the above types of neutral density filters has its advantages and disadvantages. What you ultimately choose depends on your needs and preference. This section will help you decide which type to choose. Therefore, in the following we will show you the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of filters.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of variable ND filters?

Variable ND filters are filters where you can adjust the lengthening factor. Depending on the situation and lighting conditions, you can use the grey filter that has the appropriate extension factor.

Advantages
  • One filter for several situations
  • Space-saving
  • Only one investment necessary
Disadvantages
  • Photos often blurred
  • Exposure time harder to calculate
  • Often strong colour shifts

A variable filter will definitely save you space in your camera bag, as you only need to carry the one filter that you can use for different lighting conditions. Also, you only have to spend money on it once and don't have to buy individual filters for several extension factors. However, the price of the Vario filter is also higher than the price of a neutral density filter with a fixed extension factor.

The problem with variable grey filters is that you find it much more difficult to calculate the exposure time because you never know exactly how much exposure time or f-stop you have actually gained. In addition, blurred photos can often be the result and there are often colour shifts that have to be processed afterwards.

Did you know that a variable ND filter is a great advantage, especially when filming?

When filming, it is important that you observe the 180 degree shutter rule. The exposure time should always be chosen in relation to the frame rate. So if you film at 25 FPS, the exposure time should be 1/50, at 50 FPS 1/100, at 60 FPS 1/120 and so on. Depending on the lighting conditions, however, it is often difficult to achieve the desired results when following this rule. With a variable ND filter you can react flexibly to certain situations.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of grey filters with a fixed extension factor?

ND filters with a fixed extension factor cannot be adjusted and always extend the exposure time by the same factor. So an ND4 filter extends the exposure time by a factor of 4.

Advantages
  • Better quality of photos
  • Rarer colour shifts
  • Cheaper variants
Disadvantages
  • Several filters needed in different lighting conditions
  • Difficult to decide on a filter

Neutral Density filters with fixed extension time have the advantage that your photos are usually of better quality than with vario filters. In addition, colour shifts occur less often, so only minor post-processing is necessary. Non-variable ND filters are already available at reasonable prices.

However, you have to bear in mind that you may have to buy several filters if the lighting conditions are different. And if you only want to buy one filter at first, this decision can be difficult.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of screw-on filters?

Screw-on filters screw onto the front of the lens and cover the lens completely. Screw filters are generally cheaper than plug-in filters.

Advantages
  • Inexpensive alternative
  • No light influences from the side
  • Several filters can be combined
Disadvantages
  • Difficult to change
  • Shooting conditions should be relatively constant
  • Tied to filter diameter

A screw-on filter is a good introduction to photography with ND filters, as they are the much cheaper option. In addition, no light can penetrate from the side and several filters can be combined.

However, if you want to be able to change filters as flexibly as possible, screw filters are more of a nuisance. Furthermore, the shooting conditions should be relatively constant and you are bound to the filter diameter if you don't have step-down rings.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of plug-in filters?

Clip-on filters attach to your lens with a clip-on mount. They are particularly suitable if you want to change your filter strength flexibly.

Advantages
  • More flexible sizes available
  • Usually better quality
  • Quick change possible
Disadvantages
  • Light can enter in the sides
  • Higher prices
  • More extra luggage

With a plug-in filter, you are more flexible with sizes and usually get better quality photos. For landscape photography, for example, you can change the strength of your ND filter more quickly than with a screw-in filter.

However, the price of plug-in filters is usually higher than that of screw filters, and light may enter from the sides, causing light spots or low-contrast areas to appear in the photo. You will also need to pack a little more extra equipment in your photo kit.

Buying criteria: Use these factors to compare and evaluate grey filters

In the following we would like to show you how you can best compare and evaluate ND filters. This will make it easier for you to decide which filter is best for you.

In summary, these are the following factors:

  • Filter diameter & frame material
  • Height of the filter
  • Quality of the photos
  • Colour casts
  • Optical quality and coating
  • Haptics
  • Budget & Demand
  • Place of production
  • Intended photo motif

In the following paragraphs, we will briefly explain what the different buying criteria are and how you can classify them.

Filter diameter & frame material

The filter diameter is especially important for you, because you want to be sure that your filter fits your lens.

For this reason, before you buy an ND filter, look at your lens and note what diameter it has. Grey filters are produced in different diameters, so you should now make sure that the diameter of your lens is identical to that of the ND filter.

If you want to use one filter for several lenses, you should buy step-down rings, which are a cheaper alternative to buying filters in different diameter sizes.

Neutral Density Filters are also made of different barrel materials. Classically, the filters are made of brass. These are particularly dimensionally stable and the filter glasses are inserted without tension. The advantage here is that brass mounts do not damage the filter thread of your lens if you put the filter on at an angle.

Besides brass, there are also aluminium mounts. These filters are much lighter, but the quality suffers, which is also reflected in the price. The aluminium filters are cheaper than the brass ones.

Height of the filter

Neutral density filters are produced in different heights. There are particularly low and higher ND filters. The so-called slim filters are particularly suitable for wide-angle lenses, as they prevent the corners from becoming round or even black.

Slim filters are considerably more expensive than filters with a normal height. However, if you do not know exactly which lenses you want to use an ND filter for in the long term, it is worthwhile to use a slim filter.

For normal focal lengths you can also use normal and thick mounts without any problems. These can also be produced more cheaply, so you can definitely save money.

Quality of the photos

One aspect that is certainly important for you is the quality of the photos you take with the ND filter. There are differences. Basically, if you buy a neutral density filter with high quality, your pictures should also be of high quality.

With some filters, for example, the photos may become blurred or the colours may shift. If you want to avoid extensive post-processing for the most part, opt for a more expensive, high-quality grey filter.

Colour casts

Some filters may add a colour cast to your images. Depending on the filter, your photos may have a blue or red cast. In most cases, these can be removed by post-processing.

However, there are also filters that are colour-neutral and therefore your picture will be true to colour. These ND filters usually cost a little more and are of higher quality. Again, if you have the budget and want to avoid a lot of post-processing, choose a more expensive filter that is colour neutral.

When buying an ND filter, you should always consider what colour cast it has. (Image source: 123rf.com / Luca Rossatti)

Optical quality and coating

One of the most important criteria when choosing your grey filter is the optical quality and the coating. You can compare these factors with those of a good pair of glasses. High-quality glass makes you see better and a high-quality anti-reflective coating (in the case of the camera it is the coating) makes it easier to see.

Good glass can cost a little more to manufacture. However, if cheap glass is used, it can look like you are looking through dirty glasses. So when making your choice, make sure you select an ND filter with good glass. The filter will be a little more expensive, but your photos will be of good quality.

The coating is also a very important aspect. A good coating can prevent annoying reflections and sometimes the coatings even protect against dirt and scratches. A good coating therefore ensures clear and high-contrast photos.

Haptics

Haptics could also be an aspect that is relevant for you when you have to decide on an ND filter. Slim filters are light and thin and therefore easy to store. This is especially true for screw-in filters. Plug-in filters take up more space in the camera bag.

Brass grey filters are a little heavier than aluminium ones, but the brass ones keep their shape and last better.

Budget & Demand

Besides aspects that directly relate to the ND filter, you can also base your decision on your budget. Depending on how much money you want to spend and how professional you want your photos to be, there are different filters. For example, you don't necessarily need the professional filters, which are the most expensive, if you are a hobby photographer and do photography for fun.

However, if you want to be successful with your pictures, it is worth investing a little more in an ND filter. However, this is something you should decide for yourself.

Intended photo subject

Depending on what you have chosen as your subject, you need to decide which filter is best to buy. If you like to shoot landscapes, a plug-in filter might be more worthwhile as it gives you more flexibility and allows you to change filters more quickly. Here you could also consider buying a variable ND filter to have several strengths at your disposal.

However, if you want to shoot where conditions are constant, such as in portrait photography, you can also use a screw-on filter. You can also use a filter with a fixed extension time. However, you always have to consider the lighting conditions and how much you need to extend the exposure time.

Facts worth knowing about ND filters

Can I build a grey filter myself?

You can build ND filters yourself using tinting foil and cardboard or ND foils from lighting technology. However, you must bear in mind that the quality will not be as good as with a purchased, professional neutral density filter. But if you first want to try out for yourself how such a filter works, it is an inexpensive alternative.

Is such a function also available as an app for the smartphone?

Unfortunately, there is no such function for the smartphone camera, as the exposure time and aperture cannot be set manually on the smartphone. However, there are helpful apps for smartphones to calculate the exposure time with an ND filter.

Simply enter the shutter speed without the neutral density filter and also the strength of the ND filter. The app then calculates the correct exposure time.

For Android, for example, there is the app ND-Calc and for IOS there is the app Long Exposure Calculator.

What alternatives are there for ND filters?

An ND filter is now one of the only filters whose effect cannot be artificially created by a digital programme. For this reason, there are no real alternatives for a neutral density filter. If you want to take photos in daylight with long exposures and want to avoid overexposure or create flow effects, you can't get around a grey filter.

Can ND filters be combined with other camera filters?

Since the neutral density filter, as the name suggests, behaves in a largely neutral way, it can be combined with other camera filters without any problems. The most common combination is with polarising filters or graduated filters.

However, you should try to avoid "filter stacks" and rather work with the settings of your camera. However, if these reach their limits, a combination of different filters is suitable.

Picture credits: Bru-nO / pixabay.com

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