A good neutral density filter can work wonders for your photography; it’s a great way to add a splash of creativity to a bland scene or even see things in a way you never thought possible. But if you are overwhelmed by the options and aren’t sure where to start, my list of the nine best ND filters should help point you in the right direction.
Now, before we get into my recommendations, know that there are many ND filter varieties and options to 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 article is designed to help you determine the best ND filters for specific needs, budgets, and quality levels.
Note: ND filters come in many sizes, and compatibility tends to be very limited. 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. To facilitate easier pricing comparisons, many of the filters here are 77mm, but don’t just buy a 77mm filter (or any other size) without checking your lens first.
1. Best ND filter for beginners: The Tiffen ND 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. It’s reasonably priced and includes three separate filters (a 2-stop, a 3-stop, and a 4-stop unit) 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, this can be corrected easily in post-processing (just make sure you’re shooting in RAW, or you might struggle to get the best results when adjusting colors).
- Reasonable price
- Contains three separate filters
- Includes carrying case
- Subpar image quality
- Average build
2. Best budget ND filter: The Neewer ND Filter Kit
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-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 worth it – and if you’re interested in capturing more abstract, artistic images, the loss of image quality might be a help rather than a hindrance.
- Very inexpensive
- Kit includes four filters, which is great for learning and experimenting
- Filters can be stacked to block out even more light
- Subpar image quality
- Average build quality
- Stacking filters results in a severe loss of sharpness
3. Best midrange ND filter: Hoya HMC NDx8
The first options on this list are neutral density filter kits rather than single filters, so you might be wondering: Is a kit always the way to go? Why purchase a single ND filter when you can grab multiple filters for an equivalent price?
The answer really comes down to two things: image quality and construction quality. When you purchase a neutral-density filter kit, you’ll have a range of filters to use, but you’ll be compromising on image sharpness, image color casts, and filter construction. A single filter that costs just as much as a filter kit tends to offer much better performance all around, and that’s why I recommend the Hoya HMC NDx8 for intermediate photographers.
is only three stops, so it won’t let you get super long exposures in bright daylight, but you can use it to control your shutter speed when shooting golden-hour (or blue-hour) landscapes; it’s also a solid pick if you’re looking to widen your aperture when photographing brightly lit portrait subjects.
But what the Hoya HMC NDx8 lacks in versatility, it makes up for in quality. The construction is solid – you won’t have to worry about a couple of knocks damaging the filter forever – and the optics are superior to some of the less expensive options on this list. The filter 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.
- Good image quality
- Great build
- Negligible color cast in final images
- Coating does not resist dust and scratches as effectively as more expensive filters
- Can be difficult to attach and remove if not careful
- Not as versatile as a filter kit
4. Best ND filter for semi-professionals:
B+W filters strike a nice balance between image quality, construction of materials, and price. So while this isn’t the cheapest option out there, it’s a significant upgrade from the beginner 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.
B+W filters are also impressively robust, and this ND model is no exception; I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for serious landscape photographers who need to shoot for hours on end in difficult environments.
- Reduces light transmission more than less expensive filters
- Great image quality
- Very good build quality
- Easy to screw on and off a lens
- The high price may dissuade beginner and casual photographers
5. Best 10-stop ND filter:
Looking for a stronger neutral density filter so you can really go all-out with longer exposures? That’s where this B+W 10-stop filter shines, and it doesn’t cost too much, either.
Image quality is excellent – you’ll notice a slight color cast, but it can be easily fixed if you shoot RAW – and build quality is outstanding. The 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. The price is a little high for anyone looking to grab a basic ND filter for a couple of bucks, but stronger models do tend to cost more, so this model is very reasonably priced, considering.
- Relatively inexpensive compared to other 10-stop ND filters
- Good build quality
- 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:
Variable ND filters solve an interesting problem faced by many photographers: how to block different amounts of light without physically altering your gear. You see, purchasing several neutral-density filters (and then switching them in the field) can be both expensive and inconvenient, so variable ND filters let you turn a ring on the filter itself to adjust its light-blocking power. That way, there’s no need to buy multiple filters or attempt filter stacking.
Theis a great entry point for people who want to use this type of filter without spending much money. It blocks between 2 and 8 stops of light, and it’s ridiculously easy to use: simply screw it onto your lens, twist until you get the desired strength, and start shooting.
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.
- 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
- Build quality isn’t as good as more expensive options
- Overall image sharpness is lacking
7. Best 10-stop ND filter for professionals: PolarPro QuartzLine ND Filter
If money is no object and you value image quality above all else, the PolarPro QuartzLine 10-stop ND 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.
- Outstanding build quality
- Big, chunky knurled edges make it easy to attach and remove
- Excellent image quality
- Very high price
8. Best 15-stop ND filter: Lee ProGlass IRND 4.5
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.
- Excellent build quality
- Outstanding image quality
- Comes with an exposure guide for calculating very long shutter speeds
- 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
How to pick the best ND filter: a quick buying guide
Selecting an effective neutral density filter can feel overwhelming. The market is flooded with options, each promising to be the “best” choice for your camera. Fortunately, I’m here to streamline this process for you.
I’ve based my top picks on four key criteria: filter strength, construction, optics, and price. Below, I delve into each factor and why it matters.
Filter strength is measured in stops of light (which refers to the halving or doubling of the amount of light hitting your camera sensor).
If you’re into long-exposure shots that make rivers look like silk and clouds like cotton candy, you’ll need a filter that blocks out a lot of light – think 10+ stops. This allows you to use a slower shutter speed without overexposing your images.
On the flip side, maybe you’re more into shooting longer exposures during the magical blue hour, or perhaps you enjoy taking well-lit portraits and want to use a wider aperture. In such scenarios, a filter in the 2-stop to 5-stop range would be more effective.
Understanding your specific photography need is crucial here. If you’re just starting out or still exploring your style, it might be a good idea to opt for a versatile kit that offers a range of filter strengths.
Now let’s talk durability. A filter’s build can make a huge difference to your experience. Not only is a poorly constructed filter prone to breaking, but it can also cause other problems: it can get stuck on your lens, and you can damage the lens treads or even the lens glass trying to get it off.
Materials are key. Filters with glass elements and metal (especially brass) frames are your best bet. These stand up well to the elements and tend to be more reliable.
But strength isn’t just about materials. Design counts, too. Some brands have a reputation for well-designed filters, such as LEE and B+W; if you can afford products made by these companies, I highly recommend investing.
By the way: Handling your filters well is also crucial. They might be tough, but a hard knock can still damage them. So always use protective cases or pouches, especially when traveling.
Anytime you add glass over a lens, you degrade the image quality – but with the right ND filter, this degradation will be essentially imperceptible. Therefore, a good ND filter should be invisible to the naked eye; it should neither degrade your clarity nor alter the colors.
Sharpness is paramount. A poor filter can make your photo look soft or even blurry, and as I mentioned above, some filters leave a color tint on your photos. This can be corrected with standard editing software, but it can be a real annoyance, and it’s not always easy to get great results.
Also, consider each filter’s coating. Filters sometimes have multiple coating layers designed to reduce reflection and prevent scratches, which can make a big difference to the final image quality.
Quality often comes with a cost, but that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to get a good ND filter. Your budget should play a significant role in your choice.
There are budget-friendly filters that offer good quality. These are sensible picks when you’re just starting out. Just be cautious. Ultra-cheap options might disappoint you with poor optics or fragile construction.
On the other end of the scale, premium filters can set you back quite a bit. These are typically aimed at professionals or serious hobbyists. If you’re in this for the long haul, consider these as a worthwhile investment.
It’s all about balance. You want a filter that meets your quality requirements without going overboard on the price. Always check if the higher cost comes with benefits that you actually need.
What can you use a neutral density filter for?
Landscape photography is where ND filters truly shine; by allowing you to lower the shutter speed, an ND unit can transform a crashing wave or a rushing waterfall into a silky, ethereal flow of white. ND filters can also enhance skies by producing streaking clouds that add a dreamy quality to your images.
Street and cityscape photographers also find ND filters invaluable; they often use them to create compelling compositions of static buildings with blurred pedestrians and moving clouds. The contrast creates an intriguing snapshot of city life, and the result tends to be both artistic and breathtaking.
Finally, if you’re into portrait photography or videography, ND filters can be a big help. By limiting the light that hits your camera’s sensor, you can use wider apertures even in broad daylight – creating a beautiful, creamy background that makes your subject pop.
So, as you can see, ND filters are versatile tools. Mastering them opens up a world of creative possibilities – no matter your photography niche.
The best ND filter: final words
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!
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Best neutral density filter FAQ
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.
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.
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.
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.