Photo editing software keeps improving and I gladly use it to my advantage in post processing my images. One thing remains unchanged though: you cannot have a great image if you don’t get it right in camera. In order to achieve the best results in camera I - of course - use filters when appropriate. In fact filters are essential equipment for any landscape photographer.
When I started out with landscape photography I got myself a ND (neutral density) filter to be able to have slower shutter speeds. I wanted to be creative and widen the experience of using my camera for more than its usual modes it had to offer. Little did I know about how to work filters. But I knew how to google and I knew my budget. So I ended up getting a circular ND 3.0 called Pro MC II from Haida. It was well within my budget and it never failed on me. On many occasions I used that filter, especially when being at the sea shooting seascapes. I got myself a couple of other filters to screw on various lenses to react to the different amounts of light outside (bright day light, overcast skies, fading daylight in blue hour etc.). And I stuck with Haida. They were in my budget and the results always looked fine to me.
Never would I have thought I would eventually become an official Haida brand ambassador years later and get a chance to test different filters from them. But now that I have I would like to tell you my experiences and why I recommend Haida filters for any photographer, no matter if being a creative hobby photographer or demanding professional.
I would like to give a little instruction on how to read my review though: because I won’t get into physical details or specifications on filters here. You can find plenty of this with ease when throwing on google. I am not a technical oriented photographer. I want my gear to function and work and most of all enable me to be creative without having to care about my gear. It is from that standpoint that I write this article.
So to start things out I would like to make something clear, especially for people who are not familiar with the use of filters: sometimes I receive questions of people asking if I had used a filter in an image, actually wanting to know if the overall look of a fully processed image could be achieved by just using a filter. So I guess, it is worth stating: filters I refer to in this article are physical devices you use to reduce the amount of light that hits the sensor of your camera. There are software filters of course, which are actually presets (like on Instagram) that you can use for editing your images. When people refer to #nofilter they actually mean they have not altered the image file with post processing. It might be a bit confusing at first. So no: filters (the physical ones on your lens) are not the push on a button that turn your images into greatness and fame. But they are helpers in being creative and just necessary for certain effects.
Circular filters or square filters?
Let us get this straight: there is no wrong or right. When I used to place my small tripod with my small Sony a6000 next to other photographers with their huge DSLRs I sometimes felt intimated especially when I screwed on my little circular filters and stood next to their impressive gear and huge square filter systems. Imagine sitting in a small car on a parking lot where Hummers, Porsches and SUVs turn in and park right next to you. You get the impression. Well anyways, this did not stop me from taking images like the sunrise at Praia da Adraga which you can see above (and which will be displayed as a large print at Photokina 2018 at the Haida stand, for example).
I always wanted to test those square filter systems and see if this is ‘real photography’. And when Haida provided me with a filter system, I could finally see what was on the ‘other side’ of using filters. In fact, Haida was so kind to provide me with a 100 Pro Insert Filter Holder, adapter rings, the NanoPro MC CPL (Circular Polariser) and various filters such as NanoPro Soft ND 0.9 100x150mm Graduated Filter, NanoPro ND 3.0 100x100mm Filter and NanoPro ND 0.9 100x100mm Filter.
So to get this out of the way: yes, there are advantages of using a filter system with square filters over using the circular screw on filters. But there a cons also. Those circular filters really shine when you want to have less gear to carry with you and yes it is mostly cheaper. Especially when you settle for just a polarizer and let’s say 2 ND filters and a couple of step-up rings (to be able to use the filters on different lenses with different diameters). In short:
The advantages of square filters over circular filters
- easy to recompose and focus (you just flip the filters off and set the camera up without filter; reason: a ND 3.0 will darken the image that much, that you will not see anything in your live view. And nobody wants 5 minutes or so test shots)
- only way to use graduated neutral density filters
- easier to stack several filters
- once the filter holder is placed it is fast to switch filters
- it seems like filter manufacturers prefer producing high class filters for square filters first before doing so for the circular ones
The advantages of circular filters over square filters
- cheaper (remember to use step up rings)
- less gear to carry around; this also means you can have those small filter cases in your jacket and change at the sight. The square system rather requires some sort of extra small bag.
So what system is my preferred one? Well, I have settled for the square filter system. The main reason being that I have a collection of various filters now and they enable me to use filters in all sorts of conditions to support my photography. I am a rather ‘take-more-with-me than-I-might-need’ person. I hate the thought of not being able to take an image the way I want it to, because I left the lens or filter at home. This means a heavier backpack for me more often than not. …something I don’t always cherish on hikes. But oh well, everything comes with a price.
Haida ND filters (vignetting and color cast)
I will keep the fundamentals on what a natural density (ND) filter does short: it reduces the amount of light that hits the sensor of the camera and therefore makes you have to increase the shutter speed. For example If you want to photograph silk waterfalls, smooth lakes and oceans or have those ‘flying’ clouds you need to have longer shutter speeds. The ND filter makes sure you will not overexpose your image by reducing the amount of light that comes through to your lens. If you are new to the subject I recommend reading through some of the countless articles in the web or watch some of the beginner tutorials on YouTube. And then try, try, try. You will see it is great fun and in the end not difficult to do.
On this image you can see the effect a ND filter has on all moving elements: here being the water of the lake in the foreground, the clouds on the mountain peaks and even the light hitting the landscape. It all gets smoothed out by an almost 9 minute long exposure. For this very long exposure I stacked 2 ND filters into my filter holder: the NanoPro ND 3.0 100x100mm and the new Red Diamond ND 1.8 100x100mm both from Haida (this image is a pre-edited raw-file inside Lightroom).
Stacking filters to reduce the light by a combined 16 stops is a drastic move I rarely ever do. In this case I noticed the moving clouds in the peaks and I tried to achieve this ‘milky’ effect. It gives the image an artistic look that I really like in this case.
As you can see the used filters don’t steal away any details of the image. There is no visible vignetting (the image is cropped a tiny bit to strengthen the composition and not as wide as I could go with my lens; which would be 16mm in this case). But there could be some resulting vignetting when shooting wide open with 16mm or wider (at least on my 100x100mm filter system) that is why I usually zoom into 18mm to start with when using my filters.
One thing everybody always asks about is color casts with filters. I heard that some filters from other brands have very strong color casts which are rather annoying to correct in post production. I find that the Haida filters I tested have very little to no color cast at all. Look at the before and after comparison. Yes, the filtered image has a slightly warmer tone. This is from the filter but even more so from the light of the sun that sneaked through the clouds from time to time within those 8 minutes and that provided a more even light on the landscape (an effect that is a bit underrated when using ND filters, but is actually very helpful in smoothly lighting up scenes).
A polarizing filter is a basic filter you should include in your arsenal. What it does is reducing glare, for example on the water surface (which is very good at revealing the bottom of clear lakes, like shown in the example), on glass or even on leaves in the forest. It also provides contrast and boosts color saturation, for example in the sky. The polarizer is a circular filter. And it needs some care: because like all regular pol-filters just half of the filter is coated so that it provides the desired effect. That is why you have to make sure in which direction you have the circular filter turned. When shooting a lake and you would like to reduce the reflection on the water surface turn the polarizer into the desired direction. Sometimes the effect can be a bit difficult to see on your camera screen. That´s why you should either mark the outside ring of your filter or simply remember in which position the manufacturer print is placed on the outside. I know that “Haida” is printed right where the polarizer works at its strongest. This means when photographing the aforementioned lake I made sure that the ‘Haida’ print pointed straight down (6 o.clock). …just don’t forget to turn the filter when you flip from horizontal images into vertical. I could slap me in the head every time I forget to turn the filter and have the polarizing effect on the wrong part of the image.
flares (the workaround)
What I don´t like is flares. Depending on the angle of incoming direct sunlight you have a chance of getting flares or reflections on your images. From what I heard this is a general problem with filters. A physician will be able to properly describe reasons for those reflections. I understand it as light that bounces of the different layers of glass (lens and filters) and might result into a reflection if the light falls in in certain angles. I read about matteboxes being available to shield your camera and filters from those incoming sunbeams. But I haven´t tried those, nor do I know anybody using them. After I had discovered a couple of images with those reflections on them, it raised an awareness how to work in the field. Whenever there is direct sunlight on the front of the camera or on the sides I try to take extra care while using a filter. I won´t sacrifice a composition but I double check test shots and then shield the camera with a cap or anything I have with me. Might look funny to some when I stand behind the camera with arm outstretched holding a hat in a way that its shadow lies on the camera (shielding it like you may do with your hand above your eyes on a bright summer day). It´s a workaround yes. But it comes without any cost and is easy to do. …something you start noticing and doing when you get more experienced photographing in different conditions. And it is something that makes an image be an image and not just a snapshot.
the Haida clear night filter
I asked a couple of photographers: “do you think those clear night filters are of any use for photographers who edit their images and photograph in raw format?”. The answer was “not really” most of the time. But I wanted to find out myself. So I tested the Haida NanoPro MC Clear-Night Filter 100x100mm. When it arrived I was surprised about its appearance. The pinkish look of the glass lookes rather odd and a bit funny to me. So I was curious what color cast it may produce.
I tried the clear night filter for a couple of night images in difficult conditions: inside the town of Amsterdam, where artificial light lit up the place and made the faint clouds in the sky look rather murky and ugly. Well just the way clouds look at nights in the city. Look at this comparison of 2 images I photographed with my Sony a7riii and identical settings of 18 mm, f6.3, 30 sec., ISO 100 (a pre-edited raw-file inside Lightroom):
To my surprise the difference of the results is way stronger than I had imagined. Both images have gotten the same minor raw-file edit with the white balance left untouched. As you can see the colors with the use of the clear night filter look more vivid and pleasing. Most obvious in the night sky where the light pollution does not make the image look dirty anymore. I also think that the image looks more brilliant and - as the name says - clear. Yes, the filter does take out some light (I would say about half a stop). And this is a concern for me. Especially when thinking of photographing stars or the milky way. In those situations I fight for every visible star and I don’t really see me using the filter there (need to point out though: I haven’t tested it in those natural conditions, yet). But when shooting cityscapes during nighttime this filter truly shines. Yes, you can achieve those results inside your post processing. But it takes time. And I often find myself struggling to find the perfect temperature and color balance inside those kind of images. The Haida clear night filter truly helps there and is indeed a useful addition. And I can imagine it is even more so for people who don’t like to edit their images much.
red-diamond series (Haida´s newest filters)
So now to the newest gear from Haida: They just released their brand new high quality filter series called red-diamond. The glass of the filter is even more durable (shockproof as stated) and is more likely to survive those scary moments when you accidentally drop your precious filter in the midst of the action (and I have seen this happen multiple times to other photographers and even managed to break one of my previous filters myself). And this to me is a game changer. Because…well, things happen when you have freezing hands and want to change filters fast while the last light of day vanishes. I have seen several videos of people doing a drop test with the new red diamond filters (with the filter not breaking. But in all honesty I just could not convince myself trying to this, too, risking valuable gear. Call me chicken here….The filter is scratch resistant, too, which is also good news for the pro´s who don´t like to worry about gear in the field and just use it without being overly protective. And trust me, there is plenty of stuff that can ding against your filter glass: little hooks on gloves, straps on the camera, some gear you still hold in your hand while fiddling with the filter system. If you have ever worked in the field hastily you know what I mean. I have used my Haida red diamond ND 1.8 filter during my recent Dolomite tour: not a single scratch on the filter. Simply flawless.
Further improved is anti-color cast. In all honesty I hardly noticed any in the NanoPro MC Series. But oh well, to have 0 % color cast instead of maybe 3% is an improvement. But this one I leave up to the guys testing in labs. I haven’t noticed any color cast issues. So overall congratulations on having produced this great high quality filter.
What I really, really like about the red diamond and the Nano Pro MC filters and do not want to miss anymore is how durable and easy to clean the multi coated filters are.
On the cheaper Pro MC II circular ND filters I made sure to use only microfiber to dry and clean when getting spray of the sea on it. It took a couple of swipes with that micro fiber or even the Zeiss swipes (which are an excellent choice for gear cleaning). By time I noticed small scratches on those circular filters. Although not visible on my images I surely felt that the filters were vulnerable there. When trying the NanoPro multi coated filters I was very curious if the good things I heard about them were true. Very much so: in fact I just wiped with my t-shirt to get rid of some spray while shooting seascapes (watch the short video I recorded at the beach of Scheveningen, Netherlands, for my Instagram story). I love photographing moving water. And in 95% of the times when I do shoot moving water such as waves or waterfalls I do use filters to get my shutter speed at around 1/5th to 0,5 seconds – my sweetspot for nice looking streaks (depending on the speed of water, of course). This being said; it is a given there will be splashes when I get close to the water. Those little drops ruin your images when sitting on your lens or filter. That is why I love the water proof coating. The drops peel of. In this video I show you how easy it is to just wipe away those little drops with just your shirt (no fancy fabrics needed). It is done fast and you are good to go with the next exposure until the next splash let´s you repeat the procedure.
This feature has even been improved on the red diamond series and cannot be praised enough. Because in the heat of the action when the sun rises or sets and I photograph incoming waves the last I want to have to care about is fiddling with my gear or be very protective of it. The NanoPro multi coated filters and the red diamond filters enable me to just focus on shooting. And this is how it should be.
So to sum things up: I am relying on my filters to work in the field. And those Haida filters deliver. Every time. Using filters to photograph creatively is a lot of fun and to me a fundamental basic in landscape photography. I have used different kinds of Haida filters and they have never failed on me. In fact they are what I need: gear that does its job and does not distract me from my creative work.
I would not have opted to work as a Haida brand ambassador if I had felt the gear was just mediocre. In many circumstances I only get this one golden moment and this one image. I need everything to fall in its place. And those filters are gear I can always rely on. So I can happily recommend those filters.
If you like to start out with filters I do suggest you go with:
- a polarizer
- a 10-stop (3.0) ND-Filter
- a 3-stop (0.9) ND-Filter
This trio does give you a good starting point for photography with filters. As always I suggest to not go with the most expensive gear right from the beginning. So you could start with circular filters. Get yourself the right size of filters for your lens with the widest diameter and then add step up (or in this case actually step down) rings that enable you to use the filter on your smaller lenses, too. And then just have fun using the filters and shoot long exposures. It opens up an entire new world of photography for you and you will be able to achieve beautiful results fast as long as you learn and understand when or when not to use filters.
If you are an experienced photographer and want the best quality for your images I highly recommend going with the red diamond filters. Especially for the ambitious photographer who is in the field often and does use its gear in sometimes challenging conditions I do recommend going with them. It is high quality gear that is amazingly durable and lets you capture your images without color cast. What else would you want from your filters?
Note: as stated I am an official Haida brand ambassador. Haida has provided me with the filters as named to test and review. The review expresses my personal opinions and experiences. The links are placed for your convenience to find the products. When linked to Amazon an affiliate link is used. This does not come with any cost or disadvantage for you. But if you order something from there I will I get a small percentage from Amazon which helps support my work.