Saturday, November 26, 2011

Getting just the right amount of a good thing

The Tiffen Variable ND filter handles a full range of photo opportunities

If you’ve ever admired those beautiful fluffy white waterfall photos, or creamy streams flowing past those polished boulders, you’ve probably been looking at a photo where a neutral density (ND) filter has been used.

To achieve that soft texture in water, you need to leave your shutter open for a longer period of time, allowing the sensor to capture what then becomes a soft flow of water, versus a sharp rendition of the water at a given moment in time.  A photo taken at 1/250 of a second in bright light will never get that creamy look.  However, if you could reduce the amount of light hitting your camera’s sensor, and take the same shot at 1/15 or 1/10 of a second, then a much smoother version of the water is quite apparent.  A neutral density filter is what makes the magic happen.

Without changing the color of your photo, a neutral density filter blocks much of the light coming through it, creating the need for extra exposure and hence, a slower shutter speed. Depending on the brightness of the daylight, you may need a slight exposure increase and would therefore use  a 2 stop filter, or you might need an extra, extra deep dose of filtration, in which case you would use an 8 stop filter. There are also various other steps available as well.

If that sounds like a lot of filters to carry…you are right. Tiffen heard the photographer’s plea and created an answer to prevent needing a boat-load of filters in your bag…the Tiffen Variable ND filter.
The Tiffen Variable ND filter operates on the same principle as a Circular Polarizer – rotate until you reach your desired effect and shoot. It allows you to have continuous control over the amount of light coming through your lens in an approximate range of 2 (ND 0.6) to 8 (ND 2.4) stops – while maintaining the integrity of your image. Note: The evenly spaced indexing marks between MIN and MAX do not represent calibrated stops. They are for reference only, to be used as a density bench-mark to return to a previous setting.

Having tested the filter in a range of situations, I was always able to find a setting that worked. Having that complete range of adjustability is quite liberating. If you want to only pack one filter, this is the one to consider. 

Presently, the filter is available in one size only – 77mm.  If your lens is smaller, you’ll want to also purchase a step-up ring to handle the transition. Various rings are available for most of the popular lens diameters.  According to their website, additional size filters are coming soon.

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