A Neutral Density (ND) filter is a special lens filter made of glass or resin which reduces the amount of light hitting your camera’s sensor. It is basically designed to have some impact on the quantity of light that passes through it. Some other factors such as color or polarization of the light remain unaffected.
Neutral density filters allow you to use a wider aperture for depth of field manipulation or motion blurs using longer shutter speed. It wasn’t possible to have these creative effects before these filters. Especially, in daylight conditions where a lot of light is available, they can be more useful.
ND filters are categorized into various types depending on their strengths or how much light you want them to block for your creative shots. Usually, a term used to measure their effectiveness is called “stops” such as 3-stop, 6-stop, and 10-stop filters.
Generally, a stop is used to measure the amount of light. For instance, if you increase the reading by one stop, the amount of light will be doubled or halved. Using a 3-stop filter would allow you to change the shutter speed from 1/250th of a second to 1/30th of a second. Similarly, a powerful 10-stop neutral density filter would allow you to change the shutter speed from 1/250th of a second to four seconds.
So, you would probably want to choose from many of the available neutral density filters by looking at your various photography needs. We think some of the ND filters discussed below can take your photography experience to the next level.
1. B+W 77mm ND Neutral Density 3.0
A legendary German photography tools maker, Shneider Kreuznach, is behind the B+W line of filters. The ‘MRC’ filters, that were the first to be introduced with multi-layer coating, were also designed by the same company.
This coating has dirt and moisture resistance capabilities and also offers anti-reflective and scratch-resistant properties. These capabilities prove to be very useful in neutral density filters.
B+W filters are available in different types such as 1-stop, 2-stop, 3-stop, 6-stop, and 10-stop, and their attachment threads range from 25.5mm to 122mm. Build quality is impressive based on a slim-profile brass mount with a black anti-reflective coating.
The price is higher for larger sized filters, but you won’t be able to get all the densities in all sizes due to availability issues. There seems to be no issue with the performance of these high-quality filters but sometimes you may notice a red color shift in your results.
2. Cokin ND Nuances
Cokin is known for its square filter system design and it has been able to bring some very creative filters to photography enthusiasts. Cokin’s ND Nuances filters come in 1-stop, 2-stop, 3-stop, 5-stop, 8-stop and 10-stop options.
They are available in large sizes and can be fit on 100 x 100mm holders including Cokin’s own Z-Pro holder. For the P-series 84mm holder, you can also get 5-stop, 8-stop and 10-stop filters in medium sizes while the 5 and 10-stop filters are available in an XL option that’s compatible with X-Pro 130mm holders.
Many of Cokin’s filters are made with plastic or resin. The company uses Schott mineral glass which is coated with a nano-structure metallic alloy to minimize reflections of the light. This coating proves to be very effective with minimal color shift.
3. Formatt-Hitech Firecrest ND
The Formatt-Hitech company has introduced a wide range of great quality neutral density filters. Its Firecrest ND filters are available in wider ranges than most of the other manufacturers.
You have the choice to choose from square and circular options. Square options are available from one to 10-stop densities and can be fit on almost any holder type. You can also choose from Firecrest 13 and 16 options, with 13-stop and 16-stop ultra-high-density ratings respectively.
Circular filters from the company are super-slim and available in a huge range of 29-127mm thread sizes. Again, you can choose from one to 10-stop densities. These filters also come in 13-stop and 16-stop options with 72mm, 77mm, and 82mm sizes.
Firecrest neutral density filters are very well built with rare earth metals applied to the glass through an electrolytic process. Their performance is outstanding and results are delivered with great color accuracy.
4. H&Y K-Series HD MRC Neutral Density
H&Y may be a new name for you but the company has been designing filters for other brands for quite some time now. They recently introduced some innovative magnetic filter frames that people liked a lot and now the company has started putting its own name on the filters.
They launched the K-series (100x100mm) square neutral density filters with 6-stop and 10-stop density options. The glass in both filters is coated with multiple layers that avoid color casts and have moisture resisting capabilities. It is also fingerprint and scratch-resistant.
The 6-stop ND filter provides great color accuracy while the 10-stop may slightly go off the mark because of being fractionally less dense. There is nothing wrong with the results and both the filters produce flawless image sharpness.
The filters look more attractive as they come with the company’s magnetic filter frame which will cost you some extra money; however, it allows you to fit the filters easily without touching the glass.
5. Hoya ProND
Hoya’s Pro ND filters are available in ND4 to ND1000 variants with two to 10-stop densities. Filter thread diameters range from 49mm to 82mm, but the frame is a little deeper than the B+W circular filters which may lead to some vignetting effects when capturing images with a very wide lens.
Hoya has coated its glass on both sides with Metallic ACCU-ND coating which indicates that they have focused more on color neutrality and exposure accuracy. Good thing is, it truly works well. ND64 (6-stop) and ND1000 (10-stop) were tested for this purpose and it was observed that they turned out to be the only round filters with no negative effects on image sharpness.
Color accuracy was not as good as the standard set by some great square filters but it can be really hard to notice in real-world shooting. A 77mm ProND 1000 can stand against similar rival filters and provides a reasonable value for the money with its decent image quality.
Picking the Best Neutral Density Filters
ND filters are amazing photography tools that have the potential to add some great effects to your photos. Their simple and innovative design has made an incredible contribution to the photography market.
ND filters come in different shape and sizes, and their range of options make it difficult for the photographers to choose the right products according to their needs. Therefore, by making a list of some of the best neutral density filters we have made your task easier, and choosing any of these is an excellent first step.
Read more about the different types and uses in our Guide to Lens Filters.