Neutral Density Filter Buying Guide

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Neutral Density Filter Buying Guide

Within photography, a Neutral Density Filter is used to even out the level of light exposure that enters the camera. This enables all colours to be received in equal levels, providing a higher level of contrast within the image.

In the same way that a pair of sunglasses work on a human eye, a high quality Neutral Density Filter should have no impact on the colours absorbed within the image, it simply balances out overbearing streams of light to create a much more defined and desirable image.

Also known as an ND filter, this small piece of equipment covers the front of the lens to enables the photographer to have far more control over photographic elements such as the exposure time and aperture to create outstanding images.

The Advantages of Using a Neutral Density Filter

Using a Neutral Density Filter can enable a photographer to increase exposure times significantly and capture very intricate images. When the level of light entering the camera at any one time is reduced to this level, it can enable the image to be taken over a much longer period without risking over exposure.
Furthermore, by using graduated neutral density filters or special effect type filters, it is possible to accentuate or deemphasise an area of an image creating a much more dramatic final effect.

Types of Neutral Density Filter

The type of neutral density filter used will depend on the overall light conditions surrounding the photographer and the effect that is required. As ND filters are so simple to mount, it is possible to experiment with several different types of filter to achieve differing end results.

Standard Neutral Density Filter

A standard neutral density filter can be either round or square depending on the type of fitting used. Such a filter will have one consistent density throughout the instrument to enable a uniform filtering of light across the entire image.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter

A graduated neutral density filter has a varying level of density across the lens. Ranging from zero density, where the lens is clear, through to a full dense grey area, this type of filter is ideal for when one proportion of the framed image is much lighter than the other. Graduated filters come in hard and soft varieties and are also available in horizontal or vertical formats. Though most graduated ND filters are square, there are now screw in and round options in many brands.

Soft Grad ND

A soft graduated neutral density filter has a smooth transition from clear to full density across the filter. This is particularly useful for natural photography where there is a smooth transition from light to dark across an image.

Hard Grad ND

A hard graduated neutral density filter is primarily used where there is a distinct contrast between light and dark within an image or a stark contrast is required. Such an instrument can be placed exactly where the contrast occurs to filter the image entering the camera to its best effect.

Fitting a Neutral Density Filter

The way a Neutral Density can be attached to a lens depends on the type of fitting used.

Screw In Neutral Density Filter

A screw in Neutral Density Filter is a round shape which will physically attach into the front of the lens itself. This ensures that no light can leak into the image between the lens and the filter and requires no separate attachment.
As this type of filter is securely fitted, it is essential to know the exact size of the lens that the filter will be attached when ordering as a precise fit is required.

Using a filter holder

A great many filters are square in shape and therefore cannot screw into the lens. These filters require the use of a filter holder, which sits in front of the lens and is fixed to the camera using an adapter ring.
When selecting the appropriate filter holder, ensure that the diameter of the filter holder is at least the size of the lens being used. Otherwise there is a likelihood that the adapter could appear in the picture. For the same reason, always choose a wide angle filter holder when taking shots with a wide angle lens to avoid obstruction.
Though filter holders do not have the stability of a screw in filter, they are highly effective with graduated Neutral Density Filters as they allow the photographer to adjust the filter to achieve the desired variation in light. Simply by moving the filter itself, different elements of the instrument will be used, creating varying degrees of filter.

Choosing the Density of a Neutral Density Filter

The density of the filter required depends primarily on the environment surrounding the photographer and the level of light to be transmitted. The density of a filter is described by the amount of light or stops that it can remove from an image. Filters can range from 0.1, which transmits 80 per cent of all light through the filter, up to a 1.5 which has a 4.25 stop rating and only lets in 3.2 per cent of all light. The most popular neutral density filters are:

0.3 Density ND Filter

Has a 1 stop rating and transmits 50 per cent of light.

0.6 Density ND Filter

0.6 is the most popular of all neutral density filters. It has a stop rating of 2 and blocks out 75 per cent of all light.

0.9 Density ND Filter

Using a 0.9 density ND filter will transmit just 13 per cent of the original light, which is the equivalent of 3 stops.

Special Effect Neutral Density Filters

There are times when even a graduated neutral density filter does not have the precision that is required for a certain image. This could be when on beam of light needs to be reduced or when an image needs to be diffused at the same time. By using a special effect filter, it is possible to achieve the desired effect in almost any situation.

Close Up Neutral Density Filter

This type of filter is specially designed to capture the true essence of macro photography and ensure high quality results.

Diffusion Neutral Density Filter

A diffusion neutral density filter will create a further effect to the final image which will provide a smoother end result.

Intensifier Neutral Density Filter

Such a filter will emphasise the contrast of the colours in the image and create sharp and intense results.

Centre Spot Neutral Density Filter

Use the right filter holder with a centre spot to adjust the filtered point to any position within the image that is required. This can work well for bright sun or intense bulbs and is usually used in conjunction with other ND filters.

Stacking Neutral Density Filters

It is possible to use more than one neutral density filter at a time to create a stacking effect.

Such a process enables the photographer to build further permutations of filter without purchasing more equipment simply by adding up the amount of stops the filters are producing. For example 2 x 3-stop filters will produce the same result as a 6 stop filter. Three of the same filters will produce 9 stop, which is the equivalent of some black glass.

Furthermore, combining a graduated filter with a standard neutral density filter will enable further adjustments to the image, while building up a special effect filter with a graduated and then a standard filter can create any type of emphasis the photographer requires.

To stack Neutral Density Filters, it is possible to either use a screw in filter in conjunction with a filter holder that can contain the other unit, or alternatively, it is possible to put several filters into one filter holder, depending on how many it has been designed to hold.

Using the Big Stopper Neutral Density Filter

The Big Stopper is actually the brand name of one of the most popular of all Neutral Density Filters and is made by Lee. As one of a range of black glass filters, the Big Stopper can block 9 stops of light, which means it actually allows just 1/500th of the original light source into the camera. This type of filter is designed for photographing hazardous images such as solar eclipses and very bright light sources such as bulbs or furnaces, but it is also ideal for extending exposure time of standard images to incredible lengths. Using a big stopper or other Black Glass filter makes it possible to capture movements in clouds or soft focussed slow moving rivers with incredible clarity and even makes it possible to slow shutter speeds down to such an extent that moving parts can be rendered invisible.

Find Neutral Density Filters on eBay

Neutral Density Filters of all varieties are available on eBay. While some are generic, others are branded for use with particular makes and models of camera. To find Neutral Density Filters on eBay, select the Cameras & Photography category from the home page. From there select Lenses & Filters. Within this section, select the Filters option, and choose Neutral Density to discover the full range of equipment available.


Great photography is all about light and controlling the light that the camera sees. Neutral Density Lenses are a key piece of equipment providing the photographer with the power to control his own environment and can make every-day simple objects into visual works of art.

A flashgun is a necessary piece of camera equipment for most photographers using a DSLR. Lighting is one of the most important factors when taking a photograph, and therefore, the use of a flash is vital in some situations. Direct flash and inbuilt flash are not often recommended for photographers wanting to get a soft, natural light effect in their photographs. A flashgun, which can be mounted onto the DSLR and, additionally, can be swivelled to provide light bounce off the ceiling or other surfaces, provides a good option for adding light into a photograph. While many people would consider using a flash when it was dark or there was a low level of light, flashes can also be used to good effect as a fill flash when it is sunny outdoors. By using a flash outdoors, especially when sunny, it can compensate for the harsh shadows created by the sun and help to correctly expose the photograph. There are many different manufacturers of flashguns, and it is important to ensure that the flash being purchased will work with the particular DSLR it is being purchased for. 

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