What is a variable ND filter and what’s so special about this Formatt Hitech one?
What is a Variable ND filter?
A variable ND filter is a single filter that can vary the light attenuation from 1 stop to 6 stops in this case simply by turning the ND filter ring. So it acts as both a six stop and a one stop ND filter whilst also covering everything else in between.
Variable ND filters are actually not really ND filters, they are made from two specially designed polarising filters which when turned will create an ND effect. This filter is also designed with hard stops so as not to give you the dreaded x-pattern effect some VND filters give you.
When would you use a variable ND filter?
Variable ND filters are designed for shooters that want a great range of ND filters for their Photography or Cinematography all in one unit, in fact this variable ND filter is ideal for hybrid shooters that want the best of both worlds. The one stop to six stop range is ideal for cinematographers wanting to run and gun and gives them the ability to smoothly adjust their light levels with the large handle mounted on the super smooth ND ring giving you a precise control of the filter. You can quickly and easily adjust the light level by a quick turn of the beautifully smooth rotating ND ring making shooting in rapidly changing light levels a lot easier, more on that later on in the Cinematography section below.
For photography the one to six stop range is also great for shooting waterfalls and seascapes in fact the six stop ND filter is my default seascape filter and has been for years now. I regularly vary between the six stop and four stop filter when shooting seascapes at sunset or sunrise. The fact that you have the full range in a single filter that’s easy to carry around makes it ideal for when you are packing light or travelling. I will go into that a bit further down again in the photography section.
So what makes this variable ND filter different?
There are a few nice little touches to this filter, the first being the beautifully smooth control of the adjusting ring in fact it feels like a fluid head on one of my tripods, now that might not seem like much at first but it just means it’s not going to spin around wildly on you ruining your shot.
The large handle for adjusting the ND effect is a really nice feature as when you are concentrating on shooting the last thing you want to be doing is fumbling around looking for a small little handle to turn or worse still some VND’s have no handle at all!!! You then run the risk of a finger tip, whole hand or sleeve popping into shot while you try and turn the VND for the right effect. So while that might seem simple it also highlights this variable ND filter was designed by a cinematographer used to working in real world conditions. Now if you are thinking that large handle wouldn’t be for me then you can simply unscrew it and it’s gone, so the choice is yours…
The locking ring on the filter is a simple thing to miss and while some of you might say it’s a bit pointless it actually has two incredibly useful functions in that you can lock the polarising filter closest to the lens so you can decide if you want to eliminate reflections in a scene or just limit them slightly. This is so incredibly handy again in real world conditions and I have a blog post here on why you should be using a Polarising filter and what it will do for you with some great real world examples. The second effect of the locking ring is yes you guessed it, it locks the filter in place so when you are turning the rotating ring you won’t accidentally start to loosen the filter from the lens and have to stop shooting and tighten it again.
The VND is made from Aerospace grade aluminium making it very light and the filter itself is also corrosion resistant.
How much is the Fromatt Hitech Variable ND filter?
Price is the next thing we need to look at and for such a valuable bit of kit it is priced incredibly well. At the time of writing this the Formatt Hitech Variable ND filter wasNow that’s half the price of other VND filters on the market and for such a quality product it really is a steal.
Now speaking of pricing I am very happy to say I can offer you asimply enter the code at checkout to get the 10% off, offer valid all year round.
I should add I am a Photography Educator, Brand Ambassador and Featured Artist for Formatt Hitech and I get a slight commission for any sale made with my link or discount code, this commission helps me to write reviews like this and keep my website up and running. I am a professional photographer and I work with a few more companies also so I have a full discount code page here if you’re interested in saving a bit of money.
Cinematography with the Formatt Hitech 77mm ND filter.
So if you are a cinematographer and you are not using a variable ND filter then I personally feel you are missing out on one of the best additions to your kit. A variable ND filter is an incredibly important bit of kit to have in your bag as it gives you the ability to shoot at the correct Aperture to achieve the specific look and depth of field you are going for whilst also letting you shoot at the correct shutter speed (obeying the 180 degree shutter rule).
So what’s all that about and what’s a 180 degree shutter rule? Well it’s simply shooting at twice your frame rate for example you are shooting at 24fps then your shutter should be at 1/50th or for 30fps at 1/60th. This give the footage a far smoother and more realistic look to the human eye.
A variable ND filter will darken down the light levels so you can correctly expose your scene by simply turning the handle to increase or decrease the ND effect. You might be shooting a scene in a house and then need to go out into the bright sun light, suddenly you have a serious increase in light levels so you now need to quicky adjust the light level for your footage and using a VND filter is the best and fastest way to do this as it gives you a smooth transition unlike varying your aperture or ISO and remember this is either varying your scenes look, DOF or adding noise to the darker part of the scene shooting at higher ISO’S.
So again the larger handle and the smooth rotation of the adjusting ring really helps you and your footage here. There is a very slight colour shift but it is consistent across all lighting conditions this is due to the double cpl style filter effect, it’s only slight though and easy to fix in post or simply set your white balance with the filter in place and away you go.
Photography with a variable ND filter.
So anyone that know me knows I love my Firecrest 100mm MKII filter holder and filters so why would I say a variable ND filter is good for photography?
That’s kind of an easy one to answer but it could also be a bit long winded so I will stick to the below points and not ramble on…
Variable ND filters are far more compact than a 100mm system, it’s also a lot lighter than a 100mm system. These two points make it ideal for anyone travelling and going in and out of airports or simply hiking for a weekend and wants to cut down on the weight and bulk of their gear.
Variable ND filters are a lot cheaper than a 100mm system and incorporates everything from a one stop to a six stop in one reasonably priced package.
Variable ND filters are also really fast and easy to use, it takes only a second to adjust the ND effect.
The reason why I love my 100mmm filters over a variable ND filter is simply down to the fact that I can use a graduated filter and filters up to 16 stops of light reduction in the holder.
Personally I love the six to four stop ND range for seascapes and for shooting waterfalls. The ability this filter gives you to react to fast changing lighting conditions is fantastic and being so light and compact make it the travelling photographers dream.
For anyone starting out in photography or especially hybrid shooter a Variable ND filter is a fantastic bit of kit to have in your bag.
Using the Variable ND filter.
That really is a simple as screwing it onto your lens, adjust the filter for the desired effect and away you go. The ND effect goes from one stop to six stops in about 70 degrees of rotation of the ring so it gives you precise control while still not making you awkwardly rotate the ring 180 degrees for the desired effect. Sharpness levels are great and apart from the very slight temperature shift and ND effect you wouldn’t notice the filter is in place. I have tried a number of VND filters over the years and so far this is my favourite of the lot.
As my journey in Cinematography has only really started properly over the last year I can say it’s a great investment.
I have already spent a small fortune on gear and this filter I would say is one of the best investments I have made so far.
Or my review of the SmallRig Lightweight Matte box versus the Tilta Mini Matte box here.
The Formatt Hitech Black Supermist Diffusion filters are also a must buy for any budding cinematographers out there. The DJI RS2 is my next favourite purchase after that you can read my DJI RS2 review here btw… next addition is a new camera and that should be here shortly now
Don’t forget the discount code HAYES10 if you are thinking of buying any of the Formatt Hitech products.
See you out there,
Kieran Hayes Kieran Hayes Photography Formatt Hitech Variable ND filter review My review of the Formatt Hitech 77mm Variable ND filter. 16th of January 2021 https://www.landscapephotographyireland.com/formatt-hitech-variable-nd-filter 5.0 43 10% off promo code