Neutral density filters aren’t so neutral after all: Fstoppers reviews five popular ND filters


posted Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 7:54 AM EDT

Neutral density filters are critical for landscape and portrait photographers. Unsurprisingly, considering their necessity for these types of images, there are a massive number of neutral density filters available. How on earth are you supposed to figure out which one is best?

Fstoppers' Patrick Hall tested neutral density filters from five of the biggest manufacturers, objectively testing for sharpness and color neutrality. He tested 82mm six-stop neutral density filters from Hoya, Tiffen, Formatt Hitech, B+W, and Breakthrough using a Nikon D750 with a Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. Patrick notes that square filters and a filter holder might produce results with less vignetting, so keep that in mind when considering his review.

To see GIF files of the color cast and vignette results, see Patrick's review here. The gist of the results is that all neutral density filters tested produced some level of color casting, with the Tiffen and Formatt Hitech filters producing the most dramatic color casting. He found that the Breakthrough and Hoya filters performed best in the color cast test, even though none of them were very close to the control image. Vignette results are a bit trickier to see in a GIF, but the B+W and Formatt Hitech filters produced the most shading around the edges.

When considering sharpness, it was difficult for Patrick to determine a clear winner. All of the neutral density filters were similar enough that he doesn't consider sharpness to be the determining factor when choosing a neutral density filter. Exposure results were similar, there was not a large variation, although the Breakthrough and Formatt Hitech filters were both nearly exactly six stops of neutral density. The Tiffen Filter was the further from six stops, as it provided an extra 3/4 of a stop of density, which as Patrick points out might actually be perceived as a positive rather than a negative aspect of the filter.

Color cast test results (screen capture from the above video) show that there is a lot of variation in color cast between the different ND filters.

The overall winner? The Breakthrough Nanotech Filter! This filter was the second-most expensive that Patrick tested, so it might not be the best choice for every photographer. Whether or not it's worth spending more money on a higher-quality neutral density filter is not obvious and will depend on each photographer. Be sure to watch the video above and read Patrick's full review for more information on the neutral density filter shootout, including seeing which filter was the unfortunate loser in his review.

(Seen via Fstoppers