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What are grey filters and what are they used for?

One of the primary goals for most photographers is to avoid camera shake in any situation. To achieve this, most people probably try to set the exposure time to the lowest possible value. It is not without reason that many photographers spend a lot of money on high-quality lenses that allow an even greater amount of light to enter through an even larger open aperture. An aperture of f/2.8 is already very good. Very good lenses sometimes even have values of f/1.4 or even f/1.2. Through the wide open aperture, in addition to a fast shutter speed, a buttery smooth background can be created and thus cleanly exposes the subject.

Where is the reference to grey filters?

Because not every photographer can take his photos in the studio and adjust the light specifically. As soon as you want to take pictures in bright sunshine, but you need a wide open aperture for reasons of the desired design, most cameras quickly reach their limits despite a set ISO of 100 with an exposure time of 1/4000 second. In order not to overexpose the image, the aperture would have to be closed even further, which would destroy the planned image look.

And this is exactly where the grey or ND filter comes into play in photography. Another application can be found in long exposures. Here, too, the effects and properties of the grey filter can be used excellently to significantly increase the exposure time.

How does an ND filter work?

In principle, a grey filter is comparable to a pair of sunglasses only for cameras that reduces the light entering the lens and hitting the sensor. This reduces the amount of incident light and thus increases the resulting exposure time by a fixed factor. Grey filters are available in different strengths and shapes, which can be used to achieve a wide range of exposure times. The reduction of light incidence ranges from 3 f-stops for bright ND8 filters to 10 f-stops for the darkest ND1000 filters. We offer round filters that can be screwed on or magnetically attached, as well as plug-in filter systems including filter holders.

Even though the grey filters usually appear grey or almost black depending on their strength, colours and the sharpness of the image are not affected by the filters we offer. That is why they are also called neutral density filters. The effect of an ND filter, just like that of a polarising filter, cannot be reproduced digitally!

Why do you need a grey filter at all?

A grey filter reduces, as already mentioned, the amount of light coming through the lens without influencing the colours and contrast and thus enables you to achieve a longer exposure time or to use a larger aperture.

Possible uses of a grey filter include the following:

  1. Motion blur - With a grey filter, clouds in the sky can be blurred or flowing water can be made velvety soft.
  2. Blur moving people/vehicles - This can be especially useful on holiday when a popular sight is once again completely overrun with tourists.
  3. Avoid overexposure - In some situations, such as on the beach, it can happen that the light is simply too bright and you would overexpose the photo despite using the smallest aperture and the fastest shutter speed. To avoid this, ND filters with a small filter factor are well suited.

What is the procedure for exposure with a grey filter?

  1. First you should mount your camera on a tripod.
  2. The image stabiliser should definitely be switched off (otherwise it could lead to blurring).
  3. Set the lowest possible ISO value (often ISO 50 or ISO 100).
  4. Select the desired image detail
  5. Focus on the subject and switch off autofocus
  6. Set the programme dial on the camera to manual
  7. Then choose a small aperture, e.g. f/22
  8. Shoot in RAW format. In spite of corrections, very strong grey filters have a very slight red cast, which can easily be corrected on the computer thanks to the RAW format. If this is not possible, you should check the white balance by taking a test picture and then adjusting it manually.
  9. Then determine the shutter speed and the value with grey filter from the table below and set it on the camera.
  10. Screw the grey filter onto the lens
  11. Expose with a remote shutter release or the camera's self-timer.

You should then get a correctly exposed image and an image that is focused on the subject.

Do I need a tripod when using a grey filter?

The general answer to this question is yes. Unless, as mentioned above, you want to use the filter to take a portrait at an aperture setting of 1.4 and in the blazing midday sun. In most cases ND filters are used to realise longer exposure times. The rule of thumb is that a maximum of 1/focal length can still be photographed by hand. When using ND filters for long exposures, we are usually talking about times between one and thirty seconds. You definitely need a tripod for this, otherwise the picture will be blurred.

Which filter size do I need?

You need to know which lens the filters will be used on. To do this, look at the lens, because it is noted there which filter diameter fits on the lens. If you often shoot with a wide-angle lens, which has a filter diameter of 77 mm, for example, you should use filters with a diameter of 77 mm. However, if you are planning to deal more intensively with long exposures, we would recommend buying 77 mm or, depending on the lens, 82 mm filters and attaching them to the respective lens using the step-up ring we offer.

Why do we recommend buying the larger filters right away? Because otherwise you would first buy a grey filter with a diameter of 67 mm for the smaller lenses, only to find out later, when you buy a wide-angle lens or a faster standard zoom, that you have to spend more money because you need a larger filter diameter for the lenses. If you buy 77 mm or 82 mm right from the start, you avoid this problem.

Do you need specific grey filters for Canon, Nikon or Sony cameras?

No, because it does not matter which camera manufacturer is used. All ND filters available from us can be used on all cameras, as long as the filter diameter matches the lens diameter used.

Does it matter whether the ND filter is used on an SLR or a system camera?
ND filters can be used regardless of the camera used. The only thing that matters here is the filter diameter of the lens on which the filter is to be used. Thus, the filters work on SLR cameras, system cameras and bridge cameras.

Should I buy plastic or glass filters?

Plastic filters are usually a little cheaper but have some disadvantages. Glass has the advantage that it does not scratch as easily. However, it is more likely to break if dropped. However, the filters we offer are made of very impact-resistant glass, so they should survive the odd fall. ND filters made of plastic need to be replaced every few years, as they will easily scratch the surface over time, no matter how careful you are when taking pictures.

Can several filters be combined with each other?

Yes, of course it is possible. In some cases it is even common practice to screw together the appropriate filter yourself, depending on the given lighting conditions. Apart from a slight vignetting, you do not have to fear any other negative effects by combining several grey filters. The only thing to bear in mind is that with combined filters the neutral densities must be added or the filter factors multiplied.

Overview of the grey filters we offer

Below is a table that should be used when applying our grey filters. It shows which neutral density filter causes which extension factor of the exposure time. Furthermore, the reduction of light incidence in f-stops as well as the value of the neutral density is shown.

 Neutral density

F-stops    

Extension factor Shutter speed    

Filter designation   

0,6  

2  

4x  

ND4  

0,9  

3  

8x  

ND8  

1,2  

4  

16x  

ND16  

1,5  

5  

32x  

ND32  

1,8  

6  

64x  

ND64  

3,0  

10  

1000x  

ND1000  

Correction table for grey filters

For example, an ND1000 filter is used and the camera has determined an exposure time of 1/30 seconds in aperture priority mode.