Neutral density filters (also called ND filters or greyfilters) are an indispensable tool for achieving special visual effects in landscape photography. Exposure times can be significantly extended and moving image content becomes washed out. With ND filters you can blur moving water, passing clouds can be turned fuzzy and long exposure times may even eliminate moving people from the scene.
Ideally an ND filter is dyed neutral gray so the color reproduction is not changed. In practice however particularly strong ND filters tend to change the light spectrum and lead to color shifts. This can usually be corrected by manually adjusting the white balance. Depending on the filters used the impact on the spectrum is so strong that extensive adjustments of the color balance become necessary. And even then not 100% neutral color reproduction can be achieved.
The most often used 100x100mm (4″x4″) ND filter in landscape photography is the Lee Big Stopper which achieves a light reduction of 10 stops (ND 3.0 / 1000x). The company Formatt Hitech offers various ND filters with their lately released Prostop IRND Series in the strength of ND 0.3 to ND 3.0. Since a few months the company Haida is offering ND filters in ND 1.8 and ND 3.0.
The filter strength of ND 1.8 and ND 3.0 (6 and 10 stops) is in my opinion the most interesting for landscape photography and I have taken the opportunity to review the newly available Haida filters against established filters from Lee and Formatt Hitech.
In this test I have compared the following filters:
For comparison of the two filters I first took a shot without any filter at a fixed white balance (direct sunlight, 5050K / +8). Second I took images with both filters at the same white balance. A greycard was placed in the frame that should serve as a reference point for manual white balance in post processing.
The white balance was adjusted in Adobe Camera Raw by using the pipette tool and the greycard in the lower part of the image. The corrected white balance values are listed in each shot.
The Lee Big Stopper leads to a very strong blue cast in the images. The Haida does just the opposite. Here you will find a slight shift to a warmer color. After correcting the white balance with the gray card the color temperature of the image taken with the Big stopper is greatly increased, whereas only a slight decrease in the color temperature is necessary for the image taken with the Haida. Both filters allow very neutral looking images after correcting the white balance. From my personal point of view i prefer the overall look of the image taken with the Haida filter.
In real world shots one would possible choose a slightly warmer white balance of all images and if you want to compare the images in your RAW converter you can download them here. (140 MB)
In this test I have compared the following filters:
I have used the same set up to compare the filters.
The white balance was adjusted in Adobe Camera Raw by using the pipette tool and the greycard in the lower part of the image. The corrected white balance values are stated in each shot.
The Formatt Hitech Prostop IRND Resin leads to a very strong blue / green color cast. The Haida shifts the colors in the same direction but the color shift of the Haida is significantly lower. After correcting the white balance the image captured with the Haida filter is very neutral. Looking at the greens the colors seem to be a bit warmer than in the photo with no filter. However the overall impression fits very well.
The Formatt Hitech Prostop IRND Resin leaves a very distinct color cast in the photo even after correcting the white balance. In particular, the green channel shows a significant shift to the red / brown. This false color can hardly be corrected. Significant and time consuming adjustments in the individual color channels are necessary and even then a neutral look might be not achievable.
If you want to play with the RAW files you can download them here (140 MB)
From my personal experience I can answer this question with a very clear YES! First i was very surprised about the optical quality of the Haida glass filters. Meanwhile I am absolutely convinced of their quality. With the ND 3.0 filter Haida offers a real alternative to the permanently sold-out and overpriced Lee Big Stopper. The color impression of the images with the Haida I do like even better and the Haida leaves no blue tint in the pictures. Here the Lee Big Stopper is known to cause problems when shooting in twilight. Shooting in “Auto WB” mode the Haida delivers images with almost accurate colors already on the camera display. The subsequent but necessary correction of the white balance in RAW post processing is on a very low level.
ND 1.8 filters with 6 stops of light reduction have been only available from Formatt Hitech. Their ProStop IRND filter is available in resin and glass. The tested version of mine was the plastic filter. According to the information directly from Formatt Hitech there should be no visual difference between the almost twice as expensive glass version and the resin filter. I can only advise you not to buy the Formatt Hitech filter because of the extreme color cast. Again the Haida ND 1.8 scores and after minor white balance correction you are rewarded with a perfectly color neutral images.
In the meantime Lee Filters have announced the long awaited ND 1.8 Filter that is being sold as the “Lee Little Stopper”. I am very curious when this filter will be available for purchase… and considering the low price and high quality Haida filter I doubt that I am anymore interested in the Lee Little Stopper.
Last but not least some information on the Haida filters:
The Haida ND 1.8 is made from glass and ships in a plastic box that can take 6″ x 4″ filters. You’ll find a big cleaning cloth in the box. The ND 1.8 does not ship with a foam gasket. The Haida ND 3.0 is also made from glas and ships in the same plastic box with a cleaning cloth. The ND 3.0 also has no foam gasket attached onto the filter but you will find 2 self adhesive gaskets in the box. It is very simple to attach them to the filter. As you need only one gasket per filter you can use one of the ND 3.0 for the ND 1.8 if you buy both of them.
Both filters fit perfectly in the Lee Foundation Kit filterholder.
Haida Filters are also available in 150 x 150mm (6×6″) fitting the Lee SW 150 filter holder.