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Lens FAQ #5: What are the Pros and Cons of an ND Filter?

Using a slow shutter to shoot during the day or at maximum aperture may result in white blowout, in which case, a Neutral Density (ND) filter might come in handy. Here, I will share the pros and cons of using an ND filter. (Reported by: Kazuo Nakahara)

An ND filter expands the range of possibilities in expression

An ND filter is a filter mounted in front (or at the back) of the lens to reduce the intensity of the light entering the camera. It is often used when you want to slow down the shutter speed even more during day photography. With this, you can express yourself by making use of blur at a slow shutter speed while preventing white blowout from occurring, e.g. the flow of water, movements of people, and so on. Although you can increase the f-number to slow down the shutter speed, the sense of sharpness of the photo may be lost due to blurring caused by diffraction at a small aperture (i.e. when shooting with a large f-number). By using an ND filter, there is no need to narrow the aperture, and the image quality remains unaffected when shooting with a slow shutter during the day.

In addition, if you try taking photos with a bright prime lens at maximum aperture on a clear day, an ND filter will allow you to take pictures with a bokeh effect even if the scene is over-exposed. However, as the amount of light entering the camera is reduced, cameras with an optical viewfinder will suffer from the drawback of having a darker image seen through the viewfinder.

Pros & cons of using an ND filter
Pros Cons
Slows down the shutter speed Causes the optical viewfinder to become darker
Maximum aperture can be used even on a clear day Possibility of camera shake increases (can be prevented by using a tripod).



ND Filter ND4X-L

Reduces the incoming light from the lens to 1/4 (2 stops). Available in 3 types — 52 mm, 58 mm and 72 mm — for use with the corresponding EF lenses.


ND Filter ND8X-L

Reduces the incoming light to 1/8 (3 stops). Available in 3 types — 52 mm, 58 mm and 72 mm — for use with the corresponding EF lenses.


Shooting at f/18, 0.6 sec. with the Canon ND Filter ND8X-L 

As it was an extremely bright scene, I fitted the ND Flter ND8X-L, which is capable of 3 stops of light reduction. The shutter was set to a slow speed of 0.6 sec to capture the movements of the people as a blur.


Shooting at f/1.8, 1/8,000 sec. with the Canon ND Filter ND8X-L

It was a very bright day in which white blowout would appear in the leaves even if I raised the shutter speed to the upper limit of 1/8,000 sec at maximum aperture. I therefore used the ND Filter ND8X-L to reduce the light and draw out the details of the leaves.



Kazuo Nakahara

Born in Hokkaido in 1982, Nakahara turned to photography after working at a chemical manufacturing company. He majored in photography at the Vantan Design Institute and is a lecturer for photography workshops and seminars, in addition to working in commercial photography. He is also a representative of the photography information website studio9.


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