In this review, I’d like to show you the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter and give you my thoughts on it.
What is an ND or neutral density filter?
A neutral density filter is a piece of glass that goes in front of your lens in order to reduce the amount of light that enters the camera. One of its biggest purposes is to allow you to shoot at your desired aperture and shutter speed combination without worrying about it being too bright outside and your photos being overexposed.
This also grants you the capability to create beautiful motion blurs (using a long exposure) without worrying too heavily about lighting conditions. All of this being said, the main drawback of neutral density filters is needing to carry so many different ones of varying shades and densities.
The Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter
The Tiffen Variable ND Filter aims to change that fact. By simply rotating the outer part of the filter, you can adjust it from an approximate range of two (ND 0.6) to eight (ND 2.4) stops. The profile of the ring is 9mm, so it’s rather thin and easy to maneuver.
The Tiffen Variable ND filter operates on the same principle as a circular polarizer, granting full manual capabilities to adjust your frame however you see fit. As such, the stops marked on the filter itself are intended to be used as reference points and do not actually signify official stops.
Like other Tiffen filters, the variable ND filter is made in the USA and sports high-quality optical glass using Tiffen’s ColorCore® technology. The kit includes a padded case and built-in lens-cloth to aid in the portability of this filter.
How I use this filter with my photography
I will preface to say that although I should be using ND filters more in my work, I seldom do. I acquired this filter blind, having not used NDs often in my work. As someone who is consistently at the mercy of my client’s schedules, the Tiffen variable ND filter provided an apt solution to sessions booked around the infamous noon hour.
Motion blurs are not a common part of my photography – but I have now begun using the variable ND filter every single day to preserve my love of shallow-depths-of-field and wide apertures in unfavorable lighting conditions.
In real-life use of this filter, it was great to be able to visually see how the adjustments affected the image and maintain the integrity of the shot I wanted to take. Many of my clients enjoy my stylistic aesthetic of consistently using very low aperture numbers and a shallow depth of field in my work. This filter allows me to maintain this effect even on the brightest of days.
Using the filter
The test images here all featured my lively white dog, who previously was nearly impossible to properly expose with a wide aperture in the clear, bright noon sun. Each photograph features the same settings, with the ND ring being rotated to showcase how dark it can truly get.
These images were shot at high noon, in bright sun, with a 50mm f/1.2 lens wide open at 1.2. The ISO was set to 100, and the shutter speed to 1/1600th. The variable ND filter allowed me to darken the frame enough to ensure that the depth of field was kept intact.
It was very easy for me to figure out precisely what ND stop I needed due to being able to see the changes in real-time by rotating the cuff. The filter does have a slight blue cast and a severe blue tint when turned beyond the “maximum” markers on the filter.
Right off the bat, what I was really fond of about this filter is the ease at which I could adjust the stops; the rotation is very smooth and fluid. The filter itself is lightweight and features pristine Tiffen glass. The actual filter rim is intended to expand past the parameter of the lens glass to avoid an unintentional vignette, a welcome addition.
My only complaint would be there is a bit of a learning curve on actually attaching the filter to my lens, it took longer time than I would have initially liked due to the chunky rotating mount being in the way. It initially felt a bit loose on the lens, only to find that it was strictly my misuse/improper attachment causing the minor mishap.
Once this was remedied with a bit of practice, all was well. Unfortunately, the filter scale is hidden under the lens, so it also took some finagling to realign the filter stops. These are all minor inconveniences in the grand scheme of things, however.
Bonus tip: I went and purchased a step-down and step-up ring to be able to attach the filter to several of my other lenses, and I found that the addition of the ring actually helped screw the variable ND filter to my lenses because there was an additional amount of space to grip while I spun.
Purchasing a filter: Buy the filter to fit your largest lens and add some step-down rings to attach it to smaller ones. Then you only need one filter, not one for each lens you own.
Notes on negative reviews
Many of the negative commentaries I have heard from this filter are due largely to misuse. Though it is possible to twist beyond the scopes or the maximum and minimum stop markers on the rotator mount, it isn’t useful nor practical from a photographic standpoint due to the distortion you can experience.
You should only range within the marked stops in order to use this filter effectively. I did experience chromatic aberration while using this filter but much of that is affected by the lens itself. This can easily be remedied in post-processing.
Tiffen Variable ND Filter and moving water
As I mentioned before, I don’t shoot a lot of moving things or added motion in my images. So our dPS editor, Darlene, has kindly provided some of her images of a waterfall shot with a variable ND filter to demonstrate its effects on that type of subject.
Notice how as the filter strength was increased, she was able to slow the shutter speed to change the effect of the flowing water. Attempting this in bright sun without a variable ND filter would result in extremely overexposed images.
For reference, her exposure without the filter was ISO 100, f/22, 1/20th, so the last shot above would have been 9 stops too bright. So having such a filter in your toolkit gives you a lot more options than shooting without it.
Retailing between $78.00 to $113.00 depending on the filter size, the price is very reasonable for the amount of use you can get out of this nifty piece of glass. The Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter is available in 52mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, 82mm – plenty of diameters for all of your lenses. This filter is well-worth adding to any photographic collection.