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The Best ND Filters You Can Buy in 2021 (9 Picks)

the best ND filters to enhance your photos

Choosing the best ND filter isn’t just about buying whatever option is the most expensive. While some pricier filters certainly use higher-quality components than their cheaper counterparts, there are a variety of factors to consider when looking at neutral density filters.

These small pieces of dark glass can work wonders for your photography and are a great way to add a splash of creativity to your shots or see things in a way you never thought possible. But if you are overwhelmed by the options and aren’t sure where to start, this list of the nine best ND filters should help point you in the right direction.

fountain in a park with a rainbow
Shot with a 10-stop ND filter.
Nikon D750 | 50mm f/1.8G | f/16 | 15s | ISO 100

Before we get too far into the list, know that there are many ND filter varieties and options that can suit your needs. ND filters perform a specific task, but they go about it in different ways – and what works for one person might not always work for another. So this list is designed to help you determine the best ND filters for specific needs, budgets, and quality levels.

It’s also important to know that ND filters come in many sizes, designed to suit different lenses. Most lenses have a screw-on thread size (you can find this printed on the lens itself). When purchasing an ND filter, you’ll need to ensure that the filter thread size matches your lens thread size.

Generally speaking, smaller filters will be less expensive, so think of the prices of the filters featured in this article as a rough estimate. The exact price of a filter for your lens will vary. To facilitate easier comparisons in terms of price, most of the filters here are 58mm, but don’t just buy a 58mm filter (or any other size) without checking your lens first.

1. Best ND filter for new users: Tiffen ND Filter Kit

Tiffen filter kit

If you are just getting started with ND filters and aren’t sure what you want to do with them, you can’t go wrong with Tiffen’s basic set. It’s inexpensive and includes three separate filters that let you block a small – but not insignificant! – amount of light.

The 4-stop filter is great for trying longer exposures in well-lit situations, whereas the 2-stop filter is nice if you want to use a prime lens wide open in bright light but your camera can’t support ultra-fast shutter speeds like 1/8000s.

Construction quality on Tiffen filters is decent but not outstanding, and while these filters might produce an unsightly color cast, it can be corrected easily in post-processing (just make sure you’re shooting in RAW).

Pros

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Contains three separate filters
  • Includes carrying case

Cons

  • Subpar image quality
  • Average build

2. Best inexpensive ND filter: Neewer ND Filter Kit

set of Neewer ND filters

For photographers who are more concerned about price than anything else, this set of Neewer ND filters is the way to go. Neewer is well-known in the photographic community for producing decent-quality-yet-inexpensive gear, and this filter set is no exception.

The Neewer ND Filter Kit won’t win any awards for quality, but the variety of filters included in the kit leaves room for a great deal of experimentation. Also, you can stack filters to produce even longer exposures; simply put one on your lens, then screw another onto that filter. This lets you test out very long exposures in bright light, with the significant caveat that your image quality will take a big hit (expect your pictures to take a major dip in sharpness and have a deep green or red color cast when stacking).

However, for budget-conscious photographers, these tradeoffs might be well worth it considering the cheap price.

Pros

  • Very inexpensive
  • Kit includes four filters, which is great for learning and experimenting
  • Filters can be stacked to block out even more light

Cons

  • Subpar image quality
  • Average build quality
  • Stacking filters results in a severe loss of sharpness

3. Best midrange ND filter: Hoya 3-Stop ND Filter

Hoya 3-stop ND filter

Why purchase a single ND filter when you can buy multiple filters for an equivalent price? The answer really comes down to two things: image quality and construction quality.

This Hoya filter is only three stops, so it won’t let you get super long exposures in bright daylight, but image quality is superior compared to some of the less expensive options on this list. It also has a special coating to reduce glare and other image artifacts, plus it undergoes a higher level of quality control to minimize problems more common in cheaper filters.

Pros

  • Good image quality
  • Good build quality
  • Negligible color cast in final images

Cons

  • Coating does not resist dust and scratches as effectively as more expensive filters
  • Can be difficult to attach and remove if not careful

4. Best semi-professional ND filter: B+W 6-Stop ND Filter

B+W ND filter

B+W filters strike a nice balance between image quality, construction of materials, and price. So while this 6-stop filter isn’t the most expensive option out there, it’s a significant upgrade from the cheaper ND filters on this list in a few key areas.

For instance, image quality is improved; you will see almost no green or magenta color cast in your images, unlike cheaper filters that often come in kits. And six stops of light-blocking power give you the freedom to create interesting images and play around with longer exposures without stacking several filters on top of each other.

Pros

  • Reduces light transmission more than less expensive filters
  • Great image quality
  • Very good build quality
  • Easy to screw on and off a lens

Cons

  • High price may dissuade beginner and casual photographers

5. Best budget 10-stop ND filter: B+W 10-Stop ND Filter

B+W 10-stop ND filter

If you really want to go all-out with longer exposures but don’t want to go broke in the process, I highly recommend this 10-stop filter from B+W.

Image quality is excellent – you’ll notice a slight color cast that can be easily fixed if you shoot RAW – and build quality is outstanding. 10 stops of light-blocking power let you shoot in broad daylight for several seconds even at larger apertures. You can get creative with long exposures, and by closing down your aperture and leaving the shutter open for 20 or 30 seconds, you can eliminate moving objects and passersby.

I really enjoy using this filter, and it’s a great step up from other less expensive options on this list.

Pros

  • Relatively inexpensive compared to other 10-stop ND filters
  • Good build quality

Cons

  • Slight color cast to images compared to more expensive options
  • Can be difficult to remove from the lens if over-tightened

6. Best budget variable ND filter: Bower Variable ND Filter

Bower variable ND filter

Variable ND filters solve an interesting problem faced by many photographers: how to block different amounts of light without physically altering your gear. Variable ND filters let you turn a ring on the filter itself to adjust its light-blocking power, so there’s no need to buy multiple filters or attempt filter stacking.

The Bower Variable ND filter is a great entry point for people who want to use this type of filter without spending much money. Image quality on variable ND filters like this one is not as good compared to a solid ND filter, but if you value convenience over sharpness, then the tradeoff is worth it. I wouldn’t recommend doing professional work with this inexpensive filter, but for new users who want a good option without spending a lot of money, this Bower filter fits the bill.

Pros

  • A great way to explore variable ND filters without spending too much money
  • Pretty good image quality
  • Very versatile, with adjustments from 2 to 8 stops of light

Cons

  • Build quality isn’t as good as more expensive options
  • Overall image sharpness is lacking

7. Best 10-stop ND filter: PolarPro QuartzLine ND Filter

PolarPro ND filter

If money is no object and you value image quality above all else, this PolarPro filter is the perfect choice. Like its less-expensive B+W counterpart, it blocks 10 stops of light for very long exposures in bright light, but it also comes with several quality-of-life improvements that many photographers will appreciate. These include rock-solid image construction, thickly-knurled edges to help grip the filter as you screw it on and off, and special coatings to reduce problematic image artifacts as well as protect against damage from dust and water.

I don’t recommend this ND filter for beginners, but if you are looking for a significant step up from the less-expensive options on this list, the PolarPro is a stellar buy.

Pros

  • Outstanding build quality
  • Big, chunky knurled edges make it easy to attach and remove
  • Excellent image quality

Cons

  • Very high price

8. Best graduated ND filter: Hoya Graduated ND10

Graduated neutral density filter

Normal ND filters have one key limitation: they block light uniformly across the entire lens, which can be problematic in some scenarios (e.g., when a scene features a significantly brighter foreground than background or vice versa). Enter graduated neutral density filters, which block varying degrees of light across the frame.

This Hoya Graduated ND filter is a great option for landscape photographers who want a darker sky but a lighter foreground (and other such tricky scenarios). The Hoya blocks light gradually from three stops to one stop, is built from quality materials, and won’t break the bank like other, more expensive options.

Pros

  • Smooth, even gradations from dark to light
  • Very good image quality
  • Direction of gradations can be easily altered after the filter is attached to a lens

Cons

  • Price is a bit higher than what some beginners would want to spend

9. Best 15-stop ND filter: Lee ProGlass IRND 4.5

Lee filter 15-stop ND filter

The Lee ProGlass IRND is big, expensive, and won’t work without a special holder that attaches to the front of your camera lens. It’s impractical for most people, but it’s also the best option available for photographers who want to block out a lot of light.

This 15-stop filter lets you capture extraordinarily long exposures in broad daylight; shutter speeds are measured in minutes rather than seconds. Moving objects will disappear from your final shots, and the surface of any body of water will be transformed into smooth glass.

This 15-stop filter is not for the faint of heart – but for those willing to spend some money and put in the time and effort to learn how to use it, the results are phenomenal.

Pros

  • Excellent build quality
  • Outstanding image quality
  • Comes with an exposure guide for calculating very long shutter speeds

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Requires the use of a filter holder (which must be purchased separately)
  • Not as convenient or easy to use as a screw-on filter

Best ND filter: conclusion

long exposure sunset with ND filter
The setting sun combined with a 3-stop ND filter made it possible for me to shoot a long exposure and smooth out the surface of the water while capturing motion in the clouds.
Fuji X100F | 23mm | f/16 | 30s | ISO 200

Neutral density filters are a great way to experiment with fun, creative ideas and explore new photographic possibilities. If you’ve never used an ND filter, I recommend getting one of the less expensive options on this list to see what you have been missing, and if you are a seasoned professional, you might consider a graduated ND filter or even a Lee 15-stop filter to really expand your horizons.

No matter what type of photographer you are, there should be at least one option on this list of best ND filters that is right for you.

Now I’d love to see some of your long-exposure shots and hear your thoughts on your favorite ND filters. Leave photos and share your opinions in the comments section below!

Best neutral density filter FAQ

My camera has a built-in ND filter. Can I use that instead of buying a separate ND filter?

You can, of course, use the ND filter that is built into your camera, but these typically only block 2-3 stops of light. That’s enough to do some experimenting, but you won’t be able to get ultra-long exposures in broad daylight. For that, you will need a separate ND filter such as one of the options on this list.

When are the best times to use an ND filter?

This is really a matter of personal preference, but I like to use ND filters to get smooth motion with water. Some people use them to remove moving objects when shooting static subjects, like a monument or a sculpture. Another great option is to use them when shooting portraits in bright light; you can then work with wider apertures without reaching the limit of your camera’s shutter speed.

Will an ND filter protect my lens?

Yes, but that’s not their primary purpose. If you want to shield your lens from dirt and scratches, look into a UV filter or a clear filter. You can then attach an ND filter on top, though image sharpness will decrease just a bit as a result.

Do I have to shoot in RAW when using ND filters?

No, but I do recommend it. Shooting in RAW makes it easy to adjust the exposure of your image, fix green or magenta color casts, and clean up spots from dust on the lens. The latter is usually not visible with larger apertures, but when shooting long exposures it’s common to stop down your lens, which makes small imperfections on your lens easier to see in the final image.

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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