Friday, January 23, 2015

COMPARISON: Variable Neutral Density Filters (Singh-Ray, B+W, Hoya, Tiffen & Bower)


B+W, Bower, Hoya, Singh-Ray & Tiffen VariND  Filters

After a lot of work behind the scenes, I’m happy to bring to you the first big comparison article of the year. This is a great line up of variable neutral density filters ranging in price from $55 to $340 at the time this article was written. Read on to find out which is the best and if the bargain filters are just as good as the pricey competition.

What is a Variable Neutral Density Filter?

Mountain stream photo that hangs in my home was taken with a Neutral Density Filter
printed on Satin Cloth Gallery Wrap Elite by

Have you ever tried to take a photo of moving water outside by slowing your shutter speed for water that looks smooth as silk?

Have you ended up with shots that were pure white when you tried to do that?

If so, you need a neutral density filter to darken your exposure by 1 or more stops to get the correct exposure for your long exposure shot. While it is true you can use your max f-stop number and minimum ISO to get a long exposure, sometimes the day is just too bright for your desired exposure for that silky smooth water effect. Long exposures are fun with moving lights (think cars) and many other uses too.

While you could buy a bunch of ND filters around like that found in the Cokin Z-Pro kit, it’s a hassle to haul and use and not the best optic material. Lee Filters offers the great optics, but in big fragile rectangles that are just as bulky to use carry and use too.

Wouldn’t it be great if you just needed a single screw on filter to get your desired number of stops with just a twist of a ring? That’s exactly what the Variable Neutral Density Filter does and its compact size make it worth its weight in gold! What’s more, if you are a landscape shooter you can leave it on all of the time as the minimum stop is usually bright enough that it will have little effect on your photo, but you can crank up to the maximum stop when your longest exposures. It’s really the best of both worlds and hassle free.

In this review I conduct a variety of tests to see which one I like best – the Singh-Ray I’ve owned for a few years, or one of the newer products on the market. The Singh-Ray is the defacto standard and most expensive, but is it the best? Read on to find out!

Products Tested

B+W, Bower, Hoya, Singh-Ray & Tiffen VariND Filters

The following products were all chosen by me based on reader feedback about available products on the market. I personally already owned the Singh-Ray and had previously tested the Hoya.

Please note that I used 77mm filters because that was the size for the lenses I intended to test with. Your lens may require a different size filter, so DO NOT ASSUME you need a 77mm. If you can’t find this info on your lens or online, please contact your retailer before ordering your variable neutral density filter.

It should also be noted that wider lenses should opt for the thinnest no filter ring model. I strongly recommend this option of you are only going to buy one or if you are using this with a lens that goes wider than 24mm.

B+W 77mm XS-Pro Digital ND Vario MRC nano Filter

B+W 77mm XS-Pro Digital ND Vario MRC nano Filter
B+W 77mm XS-Pro Digital ND Vario MRC nano Filter

$269.95 on Jan 23, 2015


  • 0.3-1.5 Variable Neutral Density Filter
  • Provides 1-5 Stop Exposure Reduction
  • MRC Multi-Resistant Coating
  • nano Coating Simplifies Cleaning Process
  • Rugged Matte Black Brass Filter Ring
  • Oversize Filter Ring for Wide-Angle Lens
  • High Quality Schott Glass
  • Locks at the MIN and MAX stops (no overturning issues)

More details on B+W’s website

Bower 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter

Bower 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter
Bower 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter

$54.99 on Jan 23, 2015


  • 2 to 8 Stops of Light Control
  • Smooth Adjustable Dial
  • Multi-Coated Optics
  • Locks at the MIN and MAX stops (no overturning issues)
Hoya 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter

Hoya 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter
Hoya 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter

$126.55 on Jan 23, 2015


  • Variable 0.45-2.7 Neutral Density Filter
  • Reduce Exposure by 1.5-9 Stops
  • Optical Glass Construction
  • Threadless Front Filter Ring

More details on Hoya’s website

Singh-Ray Vari-ND Variable Neutral Density Filter

Singh-Ray Vari-ND Variable Neutral Density Filter
Singh-Ray Vari-ND Variable Neutral Density Filter (Standard Tested)
$340.00 on Jan 23, 2015


  • Reduce Exposure by 2-8 Stops
  • Singh-Ray uses the highest quality optical glass, comparable to that used by NASA,combined with our proprietary design and finishing.
  • Each filter is handcrafted and inspected here in the U.S.
  • Threaded Front Filter Ring (Standard – Tested), but threadless available as shown above

Why Singh-Ray? - Click here to learn more

Tiffen 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter

Tiffen 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter
Tiffen 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter

$146.47 on Jan 23, 2015


  • Provides 2 to 8 Stops of Light Control
  • Rotating Ring to Choose Degree of ND
  • Eliminates Buying Many ND Filters
  • Wide Outer Ring Reduces Vignetting
  • Black Aluminum Filter Ring
  • ColorCore Glass
  • Made in the USA
  • 10-Year Warranty

More details on Tiffen’s website

Round 1 Test – Waterfall Outdoors

Canon EOS-1D X, f/5.6 @ 100 mm, 0.4s, ISO 800, No Flash

For this test I went out to a nearby waterfall that I had intended to use for my last comparison between the Singh-Ray and Hoya. Sadly during that outing I was surprised to discover that the access to the falls had been closed for what ended up being over 2 years. Now I’m able to get to the falls, so I thought it would be a good time to do some retesting – this time with a brand new Singh-Ray as my previous one had minor damage which could not be repaired.

Testing Methodology

This is what I call a cold test where I literally took all of the filters out of the package and tested them for the first time. No tribal knowledge existed for any product (even the Singh-Ray since I haven’t used it in over a year). What follows are the results from the cold test taken during a 13 minute test window (from start to finish) starting at 4:14 PM (sunset was 4:55 PM) …

Camera Canon 1D X
Lens Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
Aperture f/5.6
ISO 800
White Balance Daylight
Picture Style Standard
Mirror Lockup Yes
Manual Focus Yes
IS Disabled
Timer 2 second
Metering Mode Evaluate (linked to AF Point)

These were taken on a Gitzo tripod with an Arca Swiss head mounted to the lens tripod foot. To expedite swapping filters, no hood was used. The surface where I took the shots was a deck and there were people occasionally moving, so despite my best efforts some motion could have crept into the shots. Do not judge the photos based on sharpness, but rather their exposure and color.

I shot in Manual mode and manually dialed in the shutter speed to the indicated 0 EV exposure.

For the B+W & Bower, I rotated until they locked on the MIN and MAX points. For the others, I aligned them manually to the MIN and MAX points. Mid was done as indicated or using the middle hash mark from all the hash marks available.


My takeaway here (and from my previous article testing) is that variability due to the metering mode outdoors makes it tough to test this type of filter in the real world to get an apples to apples comparison. If I had another chance to go outdoors I would have used center-weighted average metering to limit the impact on the variability that I’ve seen for indoor vs outdoor.

Here were the shutter speeds required to get a perfect 0 EV exposure when turning each filter to its MIN and MAX values. MID is the place in the middle of those two indicated settings. Honestly I don’t trust these results due to all of the variables involved with being outdoors with such a big waterfall.

Shutter Speeds at the Min, Mid and Max settings of each filter
using the aforementioned camera settings

Your takeaway here should simply be that the Singh-Ray and Tiffen both advertise a two stop starting point for their filter, and they accurately deliver on that promise. The B+W & Hoya indicate that they allow more light in for their MIN point, and they and they accurately deliver on that promise. The Bower indicates 2 stops, but it delivers identical results to the B+W & Bower when set to the MIN point. Your take away from the MIN column is that ALL but the Bower performed as designed, Singh-Ray and Tiffen had the darkest minimum exposure (which I think is a good thing).

For the MID column you can say they all performed the same. The Hoya had a slight difference but that could have been a testing error.

For the MAX column things are harder to understand and this is where the variables of mother nature really wreak havoc on outdoor testing. In theory if the products perform as advertised the values would be closer together as you see for MIN and MID but this column doesn’t align up with reality. This is why Round 2 indoors under controlled light became necessary to get more accurate results. As a result you should ignore the results for the MAX column.

CLICK HERE to see the waterfall MIN, MID and MAX shots, and be sure to READ THE CAPTIONS to see which one is which. To learn more about any photo, hover over the photo and click on the information icon on the top right of the photo.

Round 2 Test – Controlled Light (Bookshelf Test)

Canon EOS-1D X, f/4.5 @ 100 mm, 0.6s, ISO 1600, No Flash - NO FILTER Baseline Image

To be clear, you will NEVER use a neutral density (including variable ones) for a test like this. This a test done in controlled light with no variables to avoid all of the thing that can and did go wrong in my previous outdoor testing. While the outdoor shots are valid, they aren’t valid to compare the performance of one product over another which is why this type of test is necessary. Simply put, there are just way too many variables that impact the accuracy of testing results outdoors, so this time I wanted to make sure I was comparing apples with apples by the only variable changing was the filter itself.

It should be noted that the stated MIN and MAX stops of the filters in this comparison are clearly not the same across the board. For example, the B+W has the smallest range is optically very bright (by design) on the MIN setting. This is not a flaw, but I do consider it a limitation when considering these products as a collective as to which one makes the best product to buy.

While I do get a little more scientific here than I normally get, I’m not trying to do a purely scientific test where I measure how one unit performs at 4 stops vs another at the same setting. Instead, I did a simple layman test of how do they perform when set at the MIN and MAX settings against each other.

The photos taken here are available for your deeper analysis for things not covered here (like vignetting and chromatic aberrations). I leave any testing not covered in this article as an exercise for those more anal retentive than myself.

Testing Methodology
Camera Canon 1D X
Lens Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
Aperture f/4.5
ISO 1600
White Balance Daylight
Picture Style Standard
Mirror Lockup Yes
Manual Focus Yes
IS Disabled
Timer 2 second
Metering Mode Evaluate (linked to AF Point)

These were taken on a Gitzo tripod with an Arca Swiss head mounted to the lens tripod foot. To expedite swapping filters, no hood was used. Mirror lockup and a timer were used along with no possible movement in the area to ensure the sharpest shot possible. Focus was set once for the baseline shot and never adjusted for the remainder of the testing. In theory the depth of the various filters could have some impact on sharpness, but I avoided refocusing per filter to keep things as consistent as possible.

I shot in Manual mode and manually dialed in the shutter speed to the indicated 0 EV exposure for the MIN shot and 25 seconds for the MAX shot.

For the B+W & Bower, I rotated until they locked on the MIN and MAX points. For the others, I aligned them manually to the MIN and MAX points.

The testing was done at night to avoid any outside light influence, and the lighting was consistent the entire time of the shooting. If you’ve read my blog reviews before you know my bookshelf well, so I’ve done the same basic testing but significantly more carefully to insure the best results possible.


What follows are the results from the controlled test taken during a 22 minute test window in identical conditions.

With no filter, 0.6 sec was required to get a 0 EV exposure so that was the pre-filter baseline. All of the filters at MIN were able to do 2 seconds at 0 EV, so review them in the gallery to see how they compare. I then chose 25 seconds for the MAX setting (except on the Bower where I tried 30 sec to avoid a black exposure – unsuccessfully – even at ISO 25,600 @ 30 sec it was still pretty dark).

For the 25 second MAX setting test, the filters ranked as follows from Darkest to Lightest:

  1. Bower
  2. Singh-Ray (5+ Stops Brighter than #1)
  3. Hoya (~ 1 stop brighter than #2)
  4. Tiffen (~ 1 stop brighter than #3)
  5. B+W (~ 3 stops brighter than #4)

Please note that due to lack of light, some of the MAX shots are black.

For the impact on sharpness analysis (done on a NEC PA 322UHD 4k Display at 300% in LR 5.7 compare mode), my findings are as follows (from least impact, to worst impact):

  1. Singh-Ray - none – same result as no lens filter at all
  2. B+W - minimal
  3. Hoya - some
  4. Tiffen - very bad
  5. Bower - horrifically bad

CLICK HERE to see the bookcase MIN and MAX shots, and be sure to READ THE CAPTIONS to see which one is which. To learn more about any photo, hover over the photo and click on the information icon on the top right of the photo.

These were the photos that were use for the sharpness evaluation. In the case of Tiffen and Bower I was so concerned by the results that I repeated them – twice – including doing a manual re-focus with them. The results remained the same – they were significantly optically softer to the others in the test. I see no obvious malfunction of either product, so I can only conclude that these soften the image more than the others.


Round 3 Test – Studio Light White Balance

Canon EOS-1D X, f/5.6 @ 95 mm, 1/60, ISO 100, No Flash - NO FILTER Baseline Image

For this test I wanted to get an idea of the impact on exposure and color when set to the MIN setting as compared to an image (shown above) with NO FILTER attached. It is natural and desirable to have minimal impact at the MIN setting, but the purpose of an ND filter is to limit light so ideally MIN should be at least 1 stop (B+W) but ideally it should start around 2. See the Products Tested section to get details on the advertised MIN and MAX stops claimed by each product.

Testing Methodology
Camera Canon 1D X
Lens Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM
Aperture f/5.6
ISO 100
White Balance Custom - Foam Core Background
Picture Style Faithful
Mirror Lockup No
Manual Focus Yes
IS Disabled
Timer 2 second
Metering Mode Center Weighted

These were taken on a Leica Tabletop Tripod with Folding Legs (1/4" Screw) with a Leica Large Ball Head mounted to the camera body. To expedite swapping filters, no hood was used.

Studio and Light Setup

I shot in Manual mode with the exact settings listed above using my Ranger Quadra Head S Pro Set at 3.0 power with the Elinchrom 39" Rotalux Deep OctaBox taking 67% power and the overhead 14x35” Softbox taking 33%. The Elinchrom Midi Octa Light Bank was just used for soft reflection and was not powered.

For the B+W & Bower, I rotated until they locked on the MIN points. For the others, I aligned them manually to the MIN point.


Warning, this gets even nasty for me to describe. If you aren’t a geek you can skip this section and just jump to the findings.

To avoid any in-camera processing issues, I took the RAW image file and set the white point (not the 18% gray white balance point) in Lightroom 5.7 using the point indicated below of X-Rite ColorChecker Passport:

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport White Point Test Spot

This gave me a starting white point across that I could apply to all test images to compare against the default image results. With no filter on the lens, I took a baseline default shot and clicked the point shown above to set the white point then I clicked Lightroom’s Auto Tone button to get an exposure offset baseline. By doing this I could assert that Lightroom felt that the image was properly toned and the white point was set consistently. With that info, here’s the adjustments that Lightroom made to the RAW image of my no filter image:

Default Values with No Filter
Default Values with No Filter

If you assume that the default values above are the baseline, then the table below shows how much color shift was introduced (the temp and tint columns) and how much the exposure shifted (light was lost) for each of the filters when set to their MIN setting.

Color and Exposure Shifts
Color and Exposure Shifts (Actual Values)
It should be noted that all had –25 for contrast in Lightroom – including the no-filter

Color and Exposure Shifts (Offsets from Default)
Color and Exposure Shifts (Offsets from Default)

PLEASE NOTE, red does not mean bad and green does not mean good. Red indicates the biggest shift and green indicates the least shift, but these values in and of themselves mean very little. What they do help me to do is understand which neutral density filter is the most neutral and which one loses the most amount of light when set at their MIN settings.


Simply put, my tastes favored the Hoya the most but only when you push it one stop back from its MAX setting. It offered the least amount of color shift for photographing moving water (my reason for using a VariND) and it does its job as a ND filter at MIN. The runner up would have to go to Singh-Ray because of its brightness performance, but I’d certainly advise shooting RAW to remove the color cast if that bothers you.

If you want more geek details about my findings, here ya go…


Color shifting is a tough one to rank because some people like me consider warmth to be a good thing, but these products all describe themselves as NEUTRAL density which means there should be no color shift at all. If you are a purist, then they have to be ranked as follows:

  1. Tiffen – The most neutral of the bunch
  2. Hoya – At MAX this isn’t true as it gets crazy blue, so remember this is just for MIN
  3. Bower – Surprisingly neutral at both MIN and MAX means this is really more neutral than the Hoya
  4. B+W – Photographers like warm landscapes, so B+W follows Singh-Ray’s approach
  5. Singh-Ray – The warmest of the bunch, which some landscape photographers will consider to be a good thing. Astrophotographers might hate the warm color cast, so 5 might be the best for some and worst for others.

In the real world I really liked the results I got from the Hoya the best at MIN but hated it at MAX (yet 1 stop from MAX was not blue).  The Singh-Ray and B+W were warmer than I liked – especially since I prefer my water color to be more white or blue than yellow. As a result, I have to call the Tiffen & Bower the winners for having the least amount of color cast introduced at MIN.

It should be noted that there is no MAX testing as that’s harder to do apples to apples comparisons. I can say that my subjective opinion is that all but the Hoya exhibited roughly the same results in terms of color shift at the dark end as they did the light end of the spectrum. The blue cast on the Hoya could be avoided by simply pulling back one stop from the MAX in which case it was very neutral.


The B+W was definitely the brightest of the bunch which was confirmed in previous testing, but since the objective of a ND filter is to reduce the amount of light to create a longer exposure then I consider this a BAD thing. As a result I’d have to classify it as the worst performer for doing its job as a ND filter at the MIN setting. Others may disagree and consider this a good thing since some may appreciate the MIN setting introducing the least amount of change from no filter state, but I’m not one of those people. With this in mind, I’d rank the filters as follows for brightness:

  1. Singh-Ray – It starts dark and only gets better after you move to MAX, and that’s exactly what I want from my VariND.
  2. Hoya
  3. Tiffen
  4. Bower
  5. B+W

I couldn’t get valid data in this test for MAX, but my subjective findings for my MAX testing under these conditions (with my lights cranked up to 6.0) were as follows:

  1. Bower – This was the darkest with no color cast
  2. Hoya – This got the darkest, but only if you like the blue cast. Back off from that and Bower wins the darkest title.
  3. Singh-Ray – At only 1 stop brighter than the Bower, this should be considered a top performer, not a mid-pack
  4. Tiffen – My test indicated 2 stops brighter than the Singh-Ray which I felt was disappointing.
  5. B+W – Sadly this mirrors my first and second rounds of testing where this filter just doesn’t get dark enough to play with strong performers at the top of the pack.


Storage Case Opinion

B+W, Bower, Hoya, Singh-Ray & Tiffen VariND Cases

This is very subjective, but if you care about such a thing here are my thoughts ranked from best to worst:

  1. Singh-Ray – While it looks like it was designed by my grandpa, the fake leather design does make it feel special. It’s also very protective and has no danger of breaking. The tuck in design means that you know its closed and I never once had it open accidentally in the years that I’ve owned mine. While it could use a refresh in the style department, this is much like German engineering where it is functionally perfect.
  2. B+W – Harder to open than I like and it doesn’t always click shut, so it would sometimes pop open in my bag. Not as much as the Bower, but more than I’d like.The good thing is that when it stays shut it protects well and I’ve never had a B+W case break.
  3. Hoya – I love the screw on/off design as it stays put and you are certain if it is opened or closed. Unfortunately it is made of the same material that other Hoya cases (and the Bower) case use which means under weight it will crush and break. The purpose of the case is to protect, so while this is the most user friendly it has to take a hit for being crushable. The lack of any labeling was troublesome as well if you have multiple cases like this.
  4. Bower – Uses the design found on most Hoya filters which I love when new, but hate when they start to get old. It’s also susceptible to crushing and breaking, so I’d rather a more durable case.
  5. Tiffen – This is cost cutting at its finest. It’s basically a one-size fits all pouch for any size filter, so it’s obnoxiously big for the 77mm I tested. It is also rather cheesy that it comes with just some lens cleaning paper wrapped around it when you open it up. They were nice enough to be the only one to include instructions, so that’s a plus – but not enough to make up for the lame bag. The good news though is that it should be more protective and durable than the Bower, but it’s so beastly larger that it still comes in last for my stack rank.

On a separate note, if you want to keep all of your filters together in one handy case check out this cool product from MindshiftGear (from the makers of ThinkTankPhoto bags):

Mindshift Filter Nest Mini (from the makers of ThinkTankPhoto Bags)
Mindshift Filter Nest Mini (from the makers of ThinkTankPhoto Bags)

Cleaning your Variable Neutral Density Filter

RayVu™ Optical Cleaner
RayVu™ Optical Cleaner

For a long time I’ve been using Purosol to clean my filters, lenses and gear, and I love it and still recommend it. For this review, Singh-Ray hooked me up with their new product called RayVu2 ™ Optical Cleaner and their Optical-grade Microfiber Cleaning Cloth (see discount below). I loved both products, so if you are going to buy a Singh-Ray filter it’s worth picking some up. The microfiber, while on the big side, is the best I’ve ever used and the cleaner was great about getting rid of oils instantly. I still like the Purosol sprayer a little better for its finer mist, but this is definitely pro grade cleaner.

Purosol Optical Lens Cleaning Small Kit
Purosol Optical Lens Cleaning Small Kit

Yes, the thrifty types will steer you towards vinegar and water or Windex, but I’ll take either of these products for their excellent sprayers over other products any day of the week. I also find that I typically go through one ounce about every 2 years, so it goes a long way with a fine mist sprayer.


Singh-Ray invented the Variable Neutral Density filter and for a long time was the only company that you could purchase one from. Now that others are free to make them, it seems that only Hoya has offered what I’d consider to be a real competitive threat to the Singh-Ray.

If you are going the bargain route, then definitely go with the Hoya as that is probably what I would do if I were buying one new today. However, I’ve owned the Singh-Ray for several years and have been happy with it. It is the the one that feels best in your hands of all of the models I’ve tested and it is the most optically superior filter tested.

While the Singh-Ray does lack some nice features like locking points for MIN and MAX and it has a slight color cast, it’s a great product that has stood the test of time for over 50 years for a good reason – it’s a great product!

As a result, my advice is get the Hoya or Singh-Ray. If they were cars, I’d call the Singh-Ray the Ferrari of the group and the Hoya the Corvette of the group.

Already bought a Hoya and having buyers remorse? Don’t, it’s a great product too. The B+W is also optically excellent, but if you find it doesn’t get you the shutter speeds you want then that’s one I’d consider upgrading. If you own the Bower or Tiffen, I’d recommend that you do your own testing as I think you’ll find the tax you are paying for loss of sharpness isn’t worth it.

Singh-Ray 10% Off Discount Offer

To get your 10% off your entire order discount, you must CLICK HERE and YOU MUST USE MY DISCOUNT COUPON CODE. The code is:


Here’s how you enter the code from the cart.

STEP 1: At Checkout you’ll see this option (it’s the 2nd step in the checkout process). Click to enter your code.


STEP 2: After you see the textbox, type the code mentioned above. Contact me if the code doesn’t work, but keep in mind the photo below may not reflect the real code. Please check above to see the latest code.


STEP 3: CLICK the APPLY COUPON button as shown above


STEP 4: If you did everything right, you should see the message that it was applied successfully.

STEP 5: Verify your discount at the bottom of the page as shown in yellow below:


Contact me if you have any trouble.

Where to order

Click the following links to learn more or order each of the following products:

For Singh-Ray, please see the above special offer deal to get yours at a discount!

Other articles you may enjoy

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:


If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

Singh-Ray replaced my damaged filter at no charge so that my new review could feature a brand new unit – just the same as all of the other units tested (courtesy of B&H).

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by making a donation or saving money by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

This blog is intended for freelance writing and sharing of opinions and is not a representative of any of the companies whose links are provided on this site.

The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity


Thom Randolph said...

Hey, Ron! Thanks for the thorough, balanced and informative survey of the field.

I didn't see it mentioned in your review, so maybe you didn't see one thing that made me go back to a stack of fixed ND filters. The VND filters use a pair of polarizing glasses; vary the angle to let less light through....but only when the light is reliably dispersed in polarization angle. I am suspecting these filters would significantly change the reflective characteristics of the scene. For example, I notice zero reflective hightlights in the smooth-water shot. Did you see/notice this? Trying to take a photo of a reflected subject might prove interesting.

Nicolas said...

Sorry if this showed up twice. I tried to post once already and it failed.

I had tried several Varialbe ND filters a few years back, specifically with wide angle lenses. I noticed a nasty X pattern with all my results, regardless of the ND filter I tried and gave up on them.

Did you see any X patterns in your tests?

Ron Martinsen said...


This is NOT a bug in the product - it is a problem in how you are using the product. VND's are ONLY designed to go from the indicated MIN and MAX points. Beyond that range is unsupported.

Newer designs like those featured here from B+W & Bower address this issue by having hard lock points to keep you from going beyond this range. Other featured makers are considering this feature for future upgrades as well.

Your X problem occurs because you've gone past the MAX range, so the solution is not to do that. No VND can support that range outside MIN / MAX based on how VND's are built (they are basically sandwiched circular polarizers)

Stephen Ellis said...


Ron is correct. VNDs are not designed to be used beyond the min and max points. Singh-Ray will shortly be incorporating stop points into our Vari-NDs. Also, very long exposures, approximately 30 seconds or more, can introduce image aberrations not because of the filter, but because of light leaks through parts of the camera and even the lens. This can occur with both VNDs within the max range and solid NDs. We recommend that you cover the camera body and lens with a hat or towel during those long exposures to mitigate that issue.

Nicolas said...

Hmm. I just dug up my 82 mm Singh Ray tests. With the filter I was getting darkness in the corners, and then eventually the X pattern and I didn't even need to hit the max. I am aware that going to far on the filters will result in the patterns.

My results were all done in the 24 to 35mm range at the time I performed them. Unfortunately I never took notes on what settings were done with each photo, which was silly in hindsight. More specifically near the darkest setting I would see what appears to be vignetting and for me that was unacceptable.

Perhaps some day I will be able to experiment again.

Firewater Interactive said...

Thanks Ron!

Would you suggest getting an 82mm VariND and a set of step-up adapters so you have a one time investment and the flexibility to utilise the filter on almost all your lenses?

George said...

Ron, Have you ever tested the Big Stopper?
Thanks, George

Paul Smith said...

Great article Ron.
I see you used the 100-400mm II in the tests. Can you tell me whether you tried to fit the lens hood along with any of these filters as I am looking for a variable ND filter that will work alonarg with the hood. I bought a Tiffen and it doesn't appear to work with the hood of the 100-400mm II. The thread does not appear to be deep enough. Would love to know which one of these filters would do the job for me.

Thanks in advance.


Ron Martinsen said...

Hi Paul,

Yes, I used the hood with all of them. You have to put the hood on first THEN screw the filter on.

The 100-400 II is unique (for Canon) with a sliding door that allows you to rotate the filter with the hood attached which is why I used it for this review.