Variable ND Filters – Fader Filters

genus-fader-filters
Genus Variable ND Filter

I've collected quite a few lenses (and cameras) in the last year, and it's about time to grab more Variable ND filters instead of swapping them and sharing them during the workflow. Variable ND filters or 'Fader Filters' are Neutral Density filters used to block out light for better exposure. You will find ND filters built in to professional video cameras, but DSLR's lack this and it's an important filter to use when shooting video. Especially if you're trying to achieve a more film like look with your camera, this will help control your shutter speed on bright days. Variable ND filters are great because they are adjustable to perform like several different ND filters wrapped up in one, but if you've got time to add and swap you can use standard ND filters too. There's three big names that come to mind when shopping for these filters which are Singh-Ray most expensive, Genus, and LightCraft Workshop. Here's what you should think about when shopping for your Variable ND Fader Filter.

lightcraft-nd-filter
77mm Fader ND Mark II

Depending on where you shop, the Genus and LightCraft might be very close in price, but the Singh-Ray is the most expensive by an additional $200+ dollars. Some things to keep in mind when choosing a Variable ND are the quality of the glass used, color temperature change, and vignetting when mounted. These three brands have really good reviews, but I haven't tested them side by side to do a full pixel by pixel comparison.

singh-ray-variable-nd
Singh-Ray Variable ND Filter

Quality of Glass: For video use on wide lenses, you may not immediately notice a difference, but when using some type of magnified lens (macro and some zooms) you could find loss of sharpness. Especially if used in high megapixel photography, there will definitely be a difference. This is because you are adding an additional 2 pieces of polarized glass over your lens, and the quality of those 2 pieces will affect final image.

Color Temperature Change: Without getting too technical, as you turn the filter it changes the amount of light that is allowed through. Some of these filters could have slight color changes which means you will have to correct your color balance each time. It could be very marginal and even done in post without most people noticing.

Vignetting: The newer versions of these Variable ND filters are built over sized to prevent vignetting. LightCraft calls this their 'Mark II' and Singh-Ray calls this their 'Thin Mount'. So a 77mm lens will end up having something like an 82mm Filter at the tip. This means you will lose the ability to place your stock lens cap and also use of any stock lens hoods. These filters are great for controlling exposure, but shading the front of the lens with a hood or matte box is just as important to maintain contrast and color. Keep in mind about those extra items you'll still need to shop for. If you use the older versions, you should be fine with the lens cap, but most likely not the hood unless you're using an aftermarket mount like the ones in this article: http://cheesycam.com/hoods-covers-caps-and-pouches/. I would definitely think about going with the newer filters with the larger glass, but just beware if you think you've found a cheaper deal, it might be the older version.

fader-filter-variable-kit

List of Variable ND's at eBay:Variable Neutral Density Filters
List of Variable ND's at BHPhotoVideo: Variable Neutral Density Filters
List of Variable ND's at Amazon: Variable Neutral Density Filters

If you're just experimenting with ND variable filters, there's also a DIY article I posted here where you can make your own. Of course you'll probably suffer some softness, color changes, and vignetting, but for less than $10 dollars it's a great project to jump into. Here's the DIY Link: http://cheesycam.com/diy-fader-nd-variable-nd-filter/

If you're not ready for Variable ND filters, at least grab a set of basic ND filters. Having more than one will allow you to stack them to block more light, or unstack them to allow more light. Just be careful of that vignetting. Click here for a list of Standard Neutral Density Filters.

#####New Product Alert####
Quick Note: There is a new brand of these Variable ND filters showing up online for 'HALF' the price. This is the first time i'm seeing them online, but it looks exactly like one of the brands above. If anyone has tried these, send in some demo videos. I'm going to give a try on one of these to see how it works out. Here's the link: New 'Cheaper' Variable ND Filters
variable-fader-filter
click image for pricing







30 thoughts on “Variable ND Filters – Fader Filters

  1. HD-tography

    So I’m purchasing a Light Craft Workshop Fader ND Mark II, for use with my APS-C DSLR camera (T3i), however most of the lenses I own and use regularly for that camera are 58mm thread, but I have access to/use many 77mm threaded lenses as well, such as the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM (though I don’t own my own, yet)

    Should I just buy the 77mm version and step up rings for my other lenses (eg: 58mm-77mm step up, etc) or should I do it proper and buy both a 58mm and 77mm version?

    Obviously price comes into play here, as the 77mm version can be had for just $125 (and a step up ring for $8-$10) but if I’m buying an additional 58mm version that’s an extra $80 I could put back into something else, like my ever depleting lighting budget.

    My concern is possible vignetting from using a step up ring and also IME often the problem with step up rings is they come loose from the lens when you’re trying to either adjust the ring on the filter (like a circular polarizer for example) or make it difficult to unscrew the filter from the lens without the step-up ring coming loose, or in other words just being finicky.

    What do you think Emm?

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  5. garysshots

    i purchased the fader filters HD version off of Amazon i use it on my 7d to use for the video but started using it for stills i dont lose any sharpness or get any vignetting i had purchased the Chinese version as well for a different lens first and wasn't so happy with it and there is a difference in quality these are made in japan

  6. Alex Grohl

    I've got the actual Fader Filter that I bought from http://www.faderfilters.com and I don't loose sharpness at all! They have several versions of filters and are coming out with a new one, the Mark II, which I plan on buying - does anyone else have any experience with it?

  7. AlexPN

    My lenses are 49mm, what should I do in order to use one of this Faders? A52mm adapter and a new cover lens?

  8. Simon

    Do these Fader ND's also work as a polarizing filter, since they are built out of two polarizers?
    btw, love your site, glad that I found it!

    Cheers,
    Simon

  9. Michel

    I have the Lightworks Fader ND Mark II from an authorized seller. I haven't experienced any loss of sharpness with longer focal lenght at all, it seems they really fixed that issue.

  10. Emm

    Post author

    @Kelly - Depending on the camera, I guess you could figure it out and set a Custom style for it.

  11. Martin

    Emm,

    You are so right buddy. I'm with you 100% I really liked your story. :) And it was interesting to read the comments in that thread. I like the fact that I was able to see samples with and without the Fader ND mark II as I was curious about the loss in sharpness. I also heard that it creates harsh ugly noise patterns in the bokeh but I wasn't really able to find examples of that. One guy (on vimeo) said he was really disappointed at his Fader ND for that reason and that he was looking at getting a regular better quality ND8. I was originally sold on the Fader ND mark II after watching Phillip Bloom's 5d cinematography DVD but once I read about the Bokeh issue I was a little concerned and started my whole research on it. Today I'm convinced that it would be a great purchase and that it'll work best with lenses under th 70mm focal length but in general good for all video purposes as it'll allow you to shoot with the right settings and having a nice depth of field. Like you said, we our worst critics and our clients will probably never notice the difference.

    I applaud you for everything you do for the community, I am a big fan of your blog and I thank you for the time you dedicate to it. I've been into Photography for many years and I'm just starting my journey on video. I've been doing a lot of research and your website has helped me greatly. Don't stop doing what you do kind sir. :)

    Cheers my friend,

    -Martin

  12. Ian

    I bought one of the cheap versions about a month ago. Not having a more expensive ND Fader I can't compare, but I definitely lost warmth, vibrancy, and clarity. By setting my camera to "Vivid" (I shoot Nikon), I can get most of the color and warmth back, but the softness still bothers me a bit. To be fair, I've yet to use it for a true shot-- just tests-- so I don't know how much it will matter. If I had to do again, I'd have sprung for the $100 model just for the peace of mind.

  13. Im using the Fader mark ii on a canon 50mm 1.4 and have noticed it gives everything a slight greenish hue. I wonder if custom white balancing with the fader on would help this problem.

  14. i just ordered the 52mm from ebay for my 35 1.8, the cheaper one, so i'll send you a review in about 12 to 21 days :-)...i should have my d7000 by then too

  15. Emm

    Post author

    @ Martin - LOL, that thread is funny. They all sound surprised. Lenses are carefully designed to have optimal sharpness within themselves. By adding anything to a lens, you're going to change that someway, especially some type of polarizer that messes with light. Photography is more crucial since it's a very static image and more resolution than video. Video is moving pictures and would pretty much be undetectable from a 'client'. Obviously we are always our worst critics, but I find being able to shoot at the right exposure is worth the loss in a bit of sharpness for video. pros and Cons with everything and my experience with these faders is that they do bring in a bit more contrast, color from the skies, and allow for nice depth of field on bright days.

    Sure, there are more expensive ones that might do a better job maintaining sharpness, but I really encourage people to start within their means if they are just learning how to use the tool. Reminds me about a funny story. I had a co-worker who drove a really really old car that broke down at least once a week. Her daughter said "Mommy, if we won the lottery, we could get our car fixed..". (Get it? Fix it, rather than buy a new one? ) - Once we're all shooting for major motion pictures, I have a feeling we won't be shooting on the Canon T2i. Haha. We'll be upgrading a lot more than just our filters..

  16. Martin

    Hey Guys,

    Good post Emm,I've been researching this Fader ND filter for a while, I've seen a lot of sample photos of the softness they create (it's pretty noticeable). I would say that they are not really used for Photography but for video they seems fine in harsh light conditions until you get to 70mm+. Here is a really good article about the Fader ND mar II. Worth checking out for those just starting their research.

    http://www.cinema5d.com/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=10733&st=0&sk=t&sd=a

    I hope this help.

    Cheers,

    -Martin

  17. I don't know if they are exactly the same. But telling from the pictures on ebay I would say Yes they are.

    By the way, I got my 72mm fader for $80.99.

  18. elbee

    Having used one of these variable NDs, I have gone back to using standard high-quality ND filters, mostly the 0.9 and 1.5 NDs. They are just less hassle to work with (strangely, I know) and they don't soften the image or introduce weird bokeh and strong colour casts.

  19. Emm

    Post author

    Are these the same? Looks like prices really dropped for a 77mm. I remember them being over $110 easy.

  20. Emm

    Post author

    It's mainly the lens, not the camera. As you start to add glass in front of the lens, you can start to see the 'inside' ring from the filter.

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