The AP team present six of the best ND grad filters to suit all budgets
Hoya Graduated ND 10 Filter
Price: Around £340 (82mm)
Available in sizes 52mm, 58mm, 77mm and 82mm (from around £210), the Graduated ND 10 from Hoya provides a 3-stop light reduction at the top before evenly fading to a 1-stop reduction at the bottom. To ensure the darkest area can be positioned as needed, the aluminium filter frame rotates. Hoya has used its super-clear optical glass in a wedge layer that is matched and then fused together to create a gradual ND effect. The transition is incredible smooth – perhaps too smooth for some landscape work where the sharp change at the horizon requires a harder edge, but for other work it will be perfect. This is a great option if you want to reduce the overall exposure of the scene, but it’s a pricey piece of glass – many photographers will be better served by a more affordable 2-stop-to-clear ND filter.
Cokin H250A Gradual ND Kit
Price: Around £44 (adapter ring not included)
Cokin’s P-series filters are 84mm wide and suitable for full-frame DSLRs with focal lengths of 28mm upwards. This is a great value kit, with three graduated filters – ND2, ND4 and ND8 – that slot into a filter holder. An adapter ring is required for use, but these are dependent on which lens you are using and are available separately. The H250A kit offers a great entry-level solution into the wonderful world of landscape photography with acceptable durability and build quality, although regular heavy use will see them consigned to the bin in a fairly short time. The optical performance is impressive for the price, although stacking more than one filter in the holder does give a significant magenta cast.
SRB Photographic 0.6 P Size ND Hard Grad Filter
SRB’s 0.6 P Size ND Hard Grad Filter is an excellent choice for the budget-conscious photographer and a nifty way to net yourself 2 extra stops of exposure in the sky for just £12.50. As it’s made from resin, the filter is light and therefore simple to pack for a shoot. An SRB-branded pouch provides some extra protection. Note that since it is a square filter, you’ll need an appropriate holder (available separately for £5). This filter is also available as part of a three-filter set, along with a P Size 0.9 ND Hard Grad and P Size 0.3 ND Hard Grad, plus a holding wallet, priced at £34.95. If you’ve been hesitant about investing in filters, SRB is definitely a good place to start. You can’t say fairer than those kinds of prices.
B+W Digital MRC F-Pro Graduated Grey 25% Filter
Price: Around £117 (77mm)
This circular, graduated, neutral density filter from the legendary German filter manufacturer B+W is a tough cookie, with its multi-resistant coating offering great protection against flare and ghosting, as well as being a protective surface. The smooth rotating mount design makes aligning the gradation line with the horizon simple, and accurate engineering means it threads onto the lens very smoothly with the brass filter ring effective at preventing it sticking in the thread. The effect of this 25% soft-edged gradation is very subtle and is in no way a true full grad, but if you shoot landscapes regularly and want to balance sky exposure with a degree of vignetting, you could almost leave it in place permanently. The high-quality optical glass has very little impact on image sharpness and is distinctly superior to resin filters.
Tiffen Digital HT ND 0.6 grad
Price: Around £170 (77mm)
Tiffen’s filters have a solid reputation, that is well deserved. The Digital HT (High Transmission) series upholds the tradition in exemplary fashion thanks to an enviable feature set. The filter is titanium-coated, which Tiffen promises will reflect less than 1% of light that hits the front surface. Sometimes toting a slender ND filter around can feel a little like walking on eggshells, and while you wouldn’t want to toss the Tiffen filter around a park, it feels sturdier than average thanks to its titanium build. Although multi-coated filters can be risky to clean, Tiffen claims that the Digital HT grad can be cleaned worry-free, providing a little more peace of mind. The Digital HT ND 0.6 is available in a variety of sizes, from 52mm (around £50) to 82mm (around £120).
Lee Filters 0.6ND Hard Grad
Price: Around £80 (100x150mm)
There’s no fewer than ten neutral density graduated filters in Lee Filter’s range from which to choose, with both hard and soft varieties available. As a general rule, a hard grad such as the 0.6ND 100x150mm filter is best for images containing a horizon or where there’s a hard transition between the sky and the foreground. Available for Lee Filters 100mm, Seven5 and SW-150 systems, the 0.6ND grad reduces exposure by 2 stops and is made from resin, not glass, so it’s less likely to get damaged and will survive an accidental drop out in the field. It is supplied in a well-protected padded pouch, but for those who haven’t already invested in the Lee Filters system, a filter holder and adapter ring (available separately) will be required.
For those starting out, the Lee Foundation Kit (£55) is highly recommended. It comprises a holder that allows up to three filters to be attached at any one time. Although this does initially increase the outlay, it should be looked at as an investment for those who’d prefer the drop-in type of filter that can be easier to attach than the screw-in kind in cold conditions or when operating the camera in cold conditions wearing gloves.