Fader Filters vs Traditional ND Filters

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I recently had a chance to get my hands on two demo Fader Filters vs traditional ND filters and performed some comparison tests (results below)– but if you are unfamiliar with these new products, here’s a brief rundown of what they are and how they can come in handy for the HDDSLR filmmaker.

A Neutral Density Filter cuts down on the amount of light that reaches sensor (of film.)   NDs come in different standard strengths as well– 1 stop, 2 stop, all the way up to 10 stops (and beyond.)

For the filmmaker, Neutral Density Filters are an essential tool.   Still photographers have a bit more latitude to maneuver  their exposure by changing the shutter speed.  But filmmakers/videoagraphers generally leave their shutter speed fixed at 1/50th of a second.   Therefore the HDDSLR shooter needs an ND filter for pretty much any exterior scene (unless they’re shooting at night of course,) otherwise they will find themselves shooting between f/11 through f/22 in bright sunlight at ISO 100 for example.  Therefore, it is not uncommon for me to carry around 10 or more ND filters at a time for any production – big or small.  As I said:  ND filters are essential, and should probably be one of your very first purchases as you move from stills into HDDSLR video.

This is where the Fader Filters can come in handy – and really shine.  Fader filters basically allow you to have all of the filters in one.   Instead of having to purchasee separate ND filters  (for example a ND 0.3 = -1 Stop of light, and ND 0.6  = -2 stops, an ND 0.9 = -3 stops,  and ND 1.2 = -4 stops of light etc) you have the option of purchasing ONE filter that covers all of those ranges, and in fact in between.   The Fader filers work much like traditional circular polarizers: in the flick of a wrist, you can cut out as much as 8 stops of light. This will come in really handy in documentary or on-location situations when you might not have the opportunity, or the time to unscrew the filter you already have on your lens, go searching through your camera bag for the right ND filter, and screw that into place. By then, the moment may be lost.

Now for the test results:  below are some results between the Fader filters and TIFFEN ND filters. (click on th image to see the full resolution images.)

I tested the Fader HD Variable Neutral Density Filter line, specifically a 77mm Fader on an EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM on a Canon 5D MK II at Full Raw + Large JPEG, set to an f/5.6 and remotely triggered with a set of pocket wizards to minimize any camera shake.   (You can use the 77mm Fader on most of the Canon Zooms,  you will end up using the 82mm Fader on the Canon 16~35mm Version II, and the 72mm Fader for many of the Canon prime lenses.)

All in all, the Faders performed quite well. The ND range is extremely versatile and useful for the HDDSLR filmmaker. The main advantage of using the Fader is its ease of use, and critical time-saving benefits. I don’t see hardcore photographers and photojournalists reaching for the Fader any time soon as you can see when compared with a Tiffen ND 0.6, the sharpness quality is not as good:

That being said,  don’t let the loss in sharpness scare you off.   While some photographers might not find the sharpness up to snuff – HDDSLR shooters might find these filters do the job just fine.  When you take into account the downsampling that takes places with HDDSLRs and the H.264 compression the loss in sharpness is hardly noticeable– and in some situations (mainly when encountering our favorite Canon moiré issues) the slight loss in sharpness comes in handy.

The only other downside that  I noticed with this set of filters, is that I found it difficult (if not impossible on some lenses) to get the traditional Canon EF lens hood to attach as the Faders have a bit of a lip to them (to allow for the rotation of the optical elements within.)

Any documentary filmmaker, wedding shooter, or independent filmmaker looking for a big time saver with a big boost in efficiency and a shallower depth of field in their video, you may want to give these Fader Filters a try.


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