The Best Variable ND Filter - The Ultimate Guide (And Money-Saving Tips)

A variable ND filter is a must-have for any photographer and videographer. These filters help you shoot in both bright and low light conditions, are easy to carry around, and can be adjusted on the fly! In this article we will cover what they are, what they do, and ultimately which is the best for your needs.

Stick around to common mistakes made by those purchasing a variable ND filter, entry, intermediate, and pro level recommendations (broken down by price/quality), and ways to save money!

This article will be everything you need to know in 2021 about purchasing the best variable nd filter!

Let's get to it!

Best Variable ND Filter

What is an ND filter?

I thought I would start by explaining (in a nutshell), what an ND filter actually is, and then go from there.

ND stands for Neutral Density. This reduces the intensity of a light-wave across the entire surface, while not altering the color values within the image.

An ND filter blocks light from entering through the lens to affect exposure time - this could be shots taken outside on a sunny day or inside with studio lights.

Think of ND filters as Sunglasses. It's literally a sunglass for your lens.

Best Variable ND Filter

You might have seen these filters before as they are usually circular screw-in type attachments that attach right onto your camera's lens. They commonly come in various densities like 0.03 (~ND0), 0.06~ND64+, etc., depending how dark you want them to get based off what environment you're shooting in.

What do the numbers on ND filters mean?

Best Variable ND Filter

These are the numbers we were referring to in the last section.

The number before 'mm'  is the size (or diameter) of the filter/lens you're putting it on.

An ND filters number (ND2, ND4, ND64, etc.) - actually referred to the denominator (bottom) of a fraction. It's super easy to understand and grasp, so bear with me here.

The fraction represents how much light passes through the lens.

Example: if you have an ND2 - in fraction form that would be 1/2 (because 2 is on the bottom, on is always on top) - this would mean that an ND2 filter would only allow in 1/2 (half) the amount of light than without it.

Another example: ND64 - 1/64 or 1/64ths of the normal amount of light. ND1000 - 1/1000ths of the light (or 10 stops).

I'll leave a chart below so you can save it. It shows the numbers that their corresponding light stop reduction.

What is a variable ND filter and what does it do?

Now that we know what an ND filter is, lets discuss a variable version of one.

Variable ND filters are a step up from normal ND filters as they allow you to change the level of darkness, depending on what environment you're shooting in.

A typical variable ND filter is a circular filter attachment that screws onto your lens and has an outer ring with marks at different intervals (such as 0-ND 64+) where each one corresponds with a given setting.  Each marking usually represents a stop of light.

Best Variable ND Filter

We will discuss the pros and cons of a variable ND filter, Pros and cons of a standard ND and how they compare to each other. This will either solidify the fact that you need a variable nd filter, or you may find you can use a standard nd and be just fine.

Stick around for more juicy bits.

Why should you use a variable neutral density filter?

Best Variable ND Filter

There's a need for a variable neutral density filter (VND) in both photography and videography.

That's right. Photographers and videographers can benefit from using one (we will go into the pros and cons for each here in a bit).

Videographers use them to create a smooth video when filming with shutter speeds that are too fast for the camera to compensate.

Photographers use them to get evenly exposed shots in bright and low light conditions -- or any situation where you need it darker than what you can achieve in the camera.

Let's talk about photographers and videographers for a little bit.

Best Variable ND Filter

Why would a photographer need variable nd filters

Best Variable ND Filter

Photographers would need a variable nd filter for two reasons:

  • to get evenly exposed shots in bright and low light conditions.
  • to create the effect of motion blur
  • to balance ambient light with flash (mostly outdoors)

Motion blur is the most common use of nd filters for photographers. To achieve this you need slow shutter speeds. The slower the shutter speed, the more blur you'll have in your image. But we know that the slower your shutter speed, the brighter your image will become (your sensor is exposed to light longer, making your image brighter).

To negate all of that extra light, that's where neutral density filters come into play.

Take landscapes for example - anytime you see a waterfall, or the ocean, and the water is super milky and smooth, low shutter speeds and/or a neutral density filter was used.

Same goes for a city-scape where the people and cars are just a blur, but the buildings are crystal clear.

Now - a variable ND filter makes this even easier by having the power to adjust exposure by spinning the outer ring instead of having to switch out filters.

Best Variable ND Filter

Why would a videographer need variable nd filters?

You can checkout my article on the best shutter speeds for video - it goes way more in-depth behind the 'science' of shutter speed for video...

But, 'cinematic' video depends heavily on shutter speed. Your shutter speed settings should be double that of your frame rate.

The 'cinematic' frame rate is 24. You would want 24 fps all the time (or edited down to it if you're going for slow motion).

Your shutter speed then would have to be 48 (or more commonly, 50).

In most cases a shutter speed of 1/50 would cause most scenes and environments to be blown out. This is when you would need a variable ND filter.

The fact that it's variable, allows you to adjust your exposure without having to switch filters (like you normally would if you were using standard, single stop nd filters).

Shutter Speed For Video

Pros and cons for using a VND as a photographer

Pros for using a VND as a photographer include:

  • The ability to adjust exposure without having to switch filters
  • Saves money by not having to purchase the same filter in different strengths

Cons for using a VND as a photographer include:

  • They can be large and cumbersome; depending on size they may take up significant space in your camera bag
  • They are usually expensive at around $150-$250 per filter

Pros and cons for using a VND as a videographer

There are many pros to using a variable neutral density filter as a videographer. Those include:

    • Being able to adjust exposure 'on-the-fly' and when you need it.
    • Saves money by not having to purchase the same filter in different strengths

Cons for using a VND as a videographer include:

    • Can be challenging or require an assistant to help remove/attach the filters often during shoots
    • When shooting outdoors with strong sunlight it can block too much light from entering causing reduced image quality
    • Also fairly expensive at around $150-$250 per filter

Something to think about (cons) when purchasing a VND (for both photo and video)

Best Variable ND Filter

In recent years, companies such as Polarpro and Hoya have created hard stopping VND's. This is essential to avoid the dreaded black X. This happens when the filter goes past the maximum or minimum points of effectiveness. Hard stopping filters eliminate that.

They've also created 'click' positions based on f stops. This means that the filter will click into place for every stop in the filters range. This eliminates questioning if you're on a certain stop, makes for being very consistent across multiple lenses/scenes, and most importantly - it stops the filter from turning by accident.

This was the main reason why I stopped using VNDs for photography. I would constantly bump the filter when putting my lens down at my waist - I have since gone back to using them now that there's a reliable 'click' system (Polarpro).

What makes an ND filter high quality (or very expensive)

Best Variable ND Filter

It's simple really. Craftsmanship.

With a $200+ filter you'll get glass optics (versus resin/plastic on cheap models), thicker/more effective coatings, and a better image overall.

Chromatic Aberration is a major concern with cheaper lenses. You'll notice it from time to time i really bright environments... it'll paint the edges of your subject - and before long you'll be looking for a better filter.

Generally speaking, we don't recommend anything below $70 - for this very reason. You'll notice (just like we have over the years) - sometimes it past to pay a little more.

Best Variable ND Filter

How to choose which one is right for you

Choosing and nd filter that works for what you need, isn't very difficult. You only need to make a 'decision' on one thing - what do I shoot the most?

Here are a few tips we'll give you when choosing the right ND filter for yourself.

If you're a photographer, and shoot a lot of long exposure pictures... Get an ND filter that hits 10 stops (ND1000). You may never need it (typically under 10) - but you never know, it'll always be there if you need it.

Best Variable ND Filter

**Image above taken with an off camera flash and a 3-stop variable ND filter**

If you're a photographer shooting with off camera flash - you'll most likely never have to go above 5 stops (ND 32), your camera can stop down the rest if need be (with shutter speed/below 100 on ISO/shoot in HSS if you need to).

If you're a videographer shooting at 24 fps, you'll, again, probably never got above ND32 or ND64 - or 5 and 6 stops, respectively.

Now that you know a few things - Let's move onto how we're going to determine the best variable ND filter

While we will give our 'best' recommendation, I thought it would help you more by including different price tiers. Price, generally, related to quality and reliability (and also warranty), so this is how it's going to go.

We will structure it in three different tiers. These will be:

  • Affordable/entry level ND filters (>$100)
  • Mid/intermediate ND filters($100-$200)
  • High end/pro level ND filters($200+)

Each will have 3-5 filters that we recommend for each - along with their pros and cons. Most of the links below will be for 67mm filters. Check your lens to see what filter size it takes.

Let's start diving in!

Entry Level ND filters (>$100)

K&F Concepts Variable ND: ND2-ND400

If you've been on the fence thus far about an affordable monopod, with a great fluid head, you shouldn't look much further than the Benro with the S6 head.

Not only that - but if taken care of, there is no reason this combo shouldn't last you for years.  A length of time that will far exceed your investment.

Features: K&F Concepts Variable ND: ND2-ND400
  • 【Includes】 K&F CONCEPT 67MM Adjustable Neutral Density Professional Photography Filter ND2~400 + Professional Microfiber Lens Cleaning Cloth.
  • 【Material】 67MM Variable ND Filter: Made by Completed Professional Optical Glasses instead of Optical Resin. Microfiber: This Professional Microfiber made by Japanese Raw Material, very soft and easy to cleaning lens, filters,glasses and mobile etc.
  • 【Professional Design】 Using Super Slim Original Design to Avoid Vignetting When You Taking Photo.
  • 【NOTE】 This Filter kit is compatible with all 67mm lenses. Please verify your camera's lens thread size before ordering. Your camera's lens thread size will be marked somewhere on the lens barrel or printed underneath your lens cap. This number is always preceded by a "ø" (diameter) symbol.
  • 【Popular Compatible Lens】 CANON Rebel (T5i T4i T3i T3 T2i T1i XT XTi XSi SL1), CANON EOS (700D 650D 600D 550D 500D 450D 400D 300D 1100D 1000D 100D) with 67MM Lens wich include: EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6, EF-S 17-85mm f/4L USM,EF 70-300MM F/4-5.6L IS USM, EF 35mm f/2 IS USM.

Pros:

Nearly 9 stops of light reduction - with 9 'points' of adjustment marks on the outer ring.

  • Very inexpensive
  • Made out of glass and not plastic
  • Great starter filter

Cons:

  • Lacks a bit in quality compared to higher end filters.
  • Uneven edges on wide angle lenses (below 24mm) - seems to be a common issue.
  • No hard stops or 'click-into-position' points

This is a great lens for someone just getting started and wants to try one out without breaking the bank. Be aware of the cons/issues that come with buying one.

GOBE NDX Variable ND filter (ND2-ND400)

Gobe has recently changed their name the Urth. Supposedly it better represents what they're trying to protect and want to support.

Now, the reason I am not recommending Urth, is because the same exact same ND filter under their new name is $15 more.

If you're on the fence about an ND, and are in the entry level phase of your journey - you need to pick one up while supplies last.

Don't wait too long and end up spending $60 on the same exactly lens (instead of $45).

If you find the link has expired and I haven't fixed it yet, here is the link to the Urth version.

As far as the filter goes, here are the specs:

Features: GOBE NDX Variable ND Filter (ND2-ND400)
  • GOBE IS NOW URTH | We changed our name to better reflect what we’re working to protect. To find the equivalent Urth product, search code B088C3QBLV
  • VERSATILE | Rotating ring between ND2 and ND400 giving great versatility in changing light. Reduces light intake from 1 to 8.66 f-stops without affecting colour balance. Great for landscape photography and videography.
  • GOBE 1PEAK | Premium Japanese optical glass with 8-layer nano-coating provides neutral colour balance, reduces lens flare, and removes ghosting. Backed by our lifetime warranty.
  • CONTROL UNPREDICTABLE LIGHT | Variable light reduction eliminates washed-out images and allows long exposure and motion blur techniques in variable light – use slow shutter speeds and wide-open apertures without overexposing your images.
  • CONSIDERATIONS | This Variable ND filter is not recommended for use with wide-angle and telephoto lenses. Please note: Do not rotate past the MAX marking on the rim to avoid unwanted effects. You need to use a larger lens cap or hood with this filter.

As you can tell, there are a few things that are very similar to this compared to the K&F version.

Pros:

  • You'll get glass instead of plastic.
  • 9 stops of adjustability
  • lifetime warranty
  • High quality for the price

Cons:

  • No hard-stops (they warn about it)
  • Do not use on a wide angle lens (at least they say it)

Again, pick this up if you're on the fence. I'm sure it won't be long before this thing is completely sold out and you'll have to purchase it at a much higher price (only because of a name change)

Tide Optics Variable ND Filter (ND2-ND400)

Don't let the name fool you, this isn't Tide detergent - and won't make your camera smell as such... lol.

Seriously though, Tide optics hit the market in August of last year. They've received relatively great reviews in the last year.

Their name is the companies passion with the Ocean, and making it a clear more inhabitable place for all ocean-life.

Let's take a look at some specs:

Features: Tide Optics Variable ND Filter (ND2-ND400)
  • TAKE BETTER PHOTOS & VIDEO ➊ Maintain slow shutter speed in harsh sunlight with this variable ND. Control light entering the lens and achieve neutral colour balance whilst reducing unwanted lens flare. Perfect for shooting long exposure, clouds, oceans & rivers, waterfalls, landscapes, light trails, creative portraits & so much more. A must have creative tool for both photography & videography.
  • DURABLE & PROFESSIONAL VARIABLE ND FILTER ➋ 18-layer nano-coated Japanese glass encased in a robust Aluminium Alloy Frame. Anti-reflection technology & easy to clean NDX. Easily switch from ND2 to ND400 to reduce light intake (1 to 8.66 f-stops) and maintain even colour balance. Designed with a wide outer ring to eliminate vignetting and maintain integrity of the camera image.
  • TRAVEL FRIENDLY CASE INCLUDED ➌ Sleek & minimal design to make for an easy travel companion. Laser-etched markings on the neutral density filter eliminate guessing light intake during run-and-gun shoots. Using this variable ND eliminates buying & carrying around multiple fixed ND filters, giving you more time & freedom to fully focus on creating & shooting beautiful images & video.
  • BUY WITH CONFIDENCE ➍ This ND filter comes with a 2 year warranty so you can purchase with full peace of mind. All Tide Optics products are inspired by our worlds oceans. Every purchase helps us protect & save the worlds oceans, Tide Optics is a 1% for the planet company & every product purchased means a donation to an ocean charity.
  • KNOW YOUR LENS SIZE ‘ø’ ➎ Prevent buying the wrong size filter and verify your lens thread size before purchase. Your lens thread size is marked with the symbol “ø” e.g ø77mm. Compatible with lenses from Sony, Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Leica, Fuji, Tamron, Samyang & many more! This filter is fast to attach, small & lightweight. All it requires for use is your camera & lens.

Pros:

  • The big difference between this filter and the ones we've talked about previously - is 18 layers of coating (versus 9 in the others). This will yield better images overall (at least on paper and in theory).
  • Something else that may tip the scales in Tides favor - is that 1% of all sales go to an Ocean charity - to help make the Ocean a better place for all life that live within it.

Cons:

  • No hard-stops
  • 'Travel-case' they advertise as a selling point is nothing else more than a small, thick, plastic sleeve. Not a hard-case.

The 67mm is priced right under $40 - with more or less depending on the size.

Tiffen 67VND 67mm Variable ND Filter (ND4 to ND256)

A Tiffen variable ND filter is regarded as one of the best entry-to-intermediate type nd filter on the market. I'm sure at some point you have heard about them or researched them on your own.

This was the exact ND filter I had prior to taking a break from them and coming back with a pro version. I'll say, while I was using it, I had zero issues with it.

The 67mm version comes close to our entry level price limit of $100 (Priced currently around $85).

Let's take a look at the specs.

Features: Tiffen 67VND 67mm Variable ND Filter (ND4 To ND256)
  • Provides 2 to 8 stops of light control
  • Thin profile ring: 9 millimeter
  • Wider outer optic to help reduce vignetting at wide angles
  • Made with high quality optical glass using Tiffen's color core technology
  • Made in the USA

Pros:

  • 2-8 stops of control is very respectable
  • Tiffens coatings are top notch for this price point
  • Wider viewing angles (for wide angle lenses)
  • Made completely in the United States (good for those who live in the USA)

Cons:

  • No hard-stop. At all. You will 100% run into the black X issue until you get the feel for the filter and know its limits.
  • Filter is smooth - meaning there isn't much resistance when turning it. Want to lay your camera on its side? I wouldn't. When you go to pick it up, the teeth on the filter will grab the surface, moving ever so slightly - and ever so slightly altering your exposure.

All-in-all, this filter is fantastic, regardless of it's issues. This is the filter you'd get if you weren't too comfortable stepping into the mid-tier, but wanted the most out of the entry level.

Mid-Tier ($100-$200)

Freewell 67mm Variable ND 2-5 stop (ND4-ND32)

Freewell has a damn good reputation.They hit in market in late 2019 - and have accumulated raving reviews on both Amazon and B&H. It says a lot about their product.

Let's take a look at the specs and then review them:

Pros:

Where do we start... well,

  • For the price (just above $100) - you're basically stealing this thing...
  • Hard stops to eliminate overturning
  • 18 layers of AR coatings on premium Japanese optical glass
  • Hard travel case
  • Hard lens cover (if you want to leave the filter on your lens)
  • Anti dust, scratch and weather sealed.

Cons:

There's only one:

  • No 'click' positions within various fstops.

This is a fantastic company/brand and product overall. You get all of this for slightly more than a Tiffen standard - so is it a better buy than a Tiffen variable nd filter? Honestly, it probably is.

You can't go wrong - and there's even a 2 filter bundle. It's the 2-5 stop and 6-9 stop filter combo. You won't save any money by purchasing it, but at least the option is there as a convenience.

Moment Variable ND Filter (2-5 Stops)

Moment has been around for a little while. You may have heard about them in the past when they partnered up with any and every camera related youtube channel to showcase their smart phone lenses.

Well, they have branched out and have started to sell variable ND filters (and other filters) - to those who're in need!

Let's take a look at the specs.

Features:Moment Variable ND Filter (2-5 Stops)
  • Moment Variable ND filters are the secret sauce to controlling your exposure. Made with premium Schott B270 Pro Cinema Glass, these filters are crisp edge to edge without color fringing or cross polarization.
  • Our Variable ND Filters also feature a unique flared geometry unlike anything else on the market, allowing you to see your ND number from behind the viewfinder. This provides fast, precise control over your shots in tricky lighting, without moving from behind the camera.
  • Made to shoot on the go, our filters also feature hard stops at both ends of the range to prevent unwanted cross polarization for the cleanest image possible.
  • Covered by a 2 year warranty.

Pros:

  • Reputable brand that values their customer (and their products)
  • The photo below show how you can dial in the ND you want to be on, without having to look at the front of the filter. Not only that, the notch indicates which level of ND you're using.
  • Hard stops both forward and backwards to prevent the unwanted side-effects
  • Schott pro premium glass

Cons:

  • Just one - no hard stops for each f-stop. You'll have to dial that in yourself, manually.

Regardless of the one single con... this is a great addition (or first time) variable nd filter that'll last you many many years. Moment variable nd filters are here to stay!

Hoya SOLAS 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter

**This is the 77mm version -the 67mm version is backordered at this time. Should be back up soon!**

I have used Hoya many times in the years I have been a photographer. They're an excellent company with top-notch products.

No- you won't get all the little bells and whistles you would get out of other lens companies... But what you will get is piece of mind in knowing that what you're purchasing and bringing with you to sessions, is going to work correctly.

Here are some of the specs:

Features: Hoya SOLAS 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter
  • Rotating the outer ring allows you to control density from ND2.5 to ND450 - 1.3 stops to 8.7 stops
  • Excellent for photographers and filmmakers needing to precisely control exposure in bright and challenging conditions.
  • Eliminates color shift throughout the density range by taking advantage of an exclusive Depolarization layer in the optical design to produce the most color consistent variable neutral density filter.
  • Produces Sharp and Glare-free images by using only the highest quality Japanese optical glass, ultra-thin polarization films, and proprietary Hoya mulit-coatings.
  • Front filter threads accept additional filters, original lens caps, and also works with most manufacturers lens hoods

Pros:

  • Top notch quality (glass, coatings, filter threads, filter ring grip, etc.)
  • Equally as good of results because of coatings and quality.
  • Made exclusively in Japan. This is where some of the best glass for optics is made, in the world. A plus for Hoya (and you, if you decide to pull the trigger).

Cons:

  • Nothing fancy
  • No hard stops or 'click stops'

Many photographers, from beginner to pro speak of and rep Hoya filters on a daily basis. They have had a following for years - and it's clear why. They care deeply about quality and attention to detail. We as consumers benefit greatly from that.

NiSi NIR-VND-67 Variable ND 1.5-5 Stop

Nisi has a good reputation in the filter department. Their filters are as advertised and fall pretty much dead center in the price-range of mid-tier (about $140 each).

As you'll see from the specs (and much like Hoya) - you get what you see. There aren't any extra bells and whistles (like a travel bag, etc.). But what you do get, works.

Here are the specs:

Features: NiSi NIR-VND-67 Variable ND 1.5-5 Stop
  • Compatibility: Fits lenses with 67mm outer diameter
  • Density: Reduces exposure by 1.5-5 stops
  • Effects: Enhanced color and no X effect
  • Construction: High definition filter with ultra-slim frame
  • NiSi Authorized Dealer: Includes USA Manufacturer Warranty

Pros:

  • Nano coatings and premium glass
  • 'Push bar' screwed into the side of the filter to make turning easier (not seen in the other filters).

Cons:

  • Stop range is lower than others seen on this list.
  • While the filter is high quality glass, the housing is plastic. This isn't a big deal, until you cross thread and re-work new threads into the plastic, eventually making the filter unusable (over a long period of time). This isn't guaranteed to happen, but it's possible.

If you can look past a couple negatives, this is a very solid, reliable option.

Motion Blur Is Directly Related To Shutter Speed​

PolarPro Peter Mckinnon 2/5 VND Filter 77mm - Edition 2

PolarPro is one of the most trusted brands in the world of camera filters. They make not only circular nd filters, they also make filters for drones, GoPros... basically anything with a lens.

As you can imagine, with a reputation as such - quality would match. Well, that's correct too. As would the price you can imagine for that.

Yes, PolarPro is expensive, but trust me, they're more than worth the money if you take care of them.

Here are the specs:

Features: PolarPro Peter Mckinnon 2/5 VND Filter 77mm - Edition 2
  • Edition 2 with Haptic Feedback and Defender 360 Case (Launched Sept 2020)
  • 77mm 2/5 (2 to 5 stops of light reduction)
  • Preset stop range eliminates any chance of cross-polarization
  • Zero vignetting down to 16mm focal length lenses
  • The most trusted filter among content creators worldwide

Pros:

  • High quality materials and glass. Metal frame along with the highest of coatings and glass. Let's be honest, filters affect image quality. Don't worry, this filter will not affect it negatively.
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Thin metal travel case
  • Hard stops both ways

Cons:

  • Price

When narrowing down the best variable nd filters, a polarpro variable nd filter doesn't . We have another version that might be better for your needs - so stick around for that here shortly.

PolarPro Vario VND 77mm 6/9 Stops Mist Edition II

This VND is nearly identical to the one above - only one difference - it's the mist version.

This filter will give your images a 'mist' effect - almost a glow. Think ethereal.

Here are the specs:

Features: PolarPro Vario VND 77mm 6/9 Stops Mist Edition II
  • The predefined stop range eliminates the risk of cross-polarization.
  • Zero vignetting up to 16 mm focal length objectives.
  • Haptic feedback mechanism
  • Including the new Defender360TM.
  • For filming in light conditions with wide openings.Softens digital sharpness for a smooth, ethereal look.Increase the light halo with a 1/8th diffusion force

As you can see, you're getting all of the perks of the regular version - plus mist. Once thing that's not really mentioned - 'click' locking stops.

That's right, this is the only filter on this list that has everything that would make a filter great. Hard stopping ring, forward and backward. 'Click' activated stops so you know when you're perfectly dialed in - and premium materials and glass.

The con(s) are pretty much the same...

  • Cost
  • This wouldn't work for someone who doesn't want the mist effect.

This is one of the best variable nd filter with mist, on the market. Don't hesitate if this is something you're on the fence about, but can afford.

More-so, get them while you can. They're constantly sold out. At the time of writing this article, they're currently out of stock. Bookmark this page to check to see if it's in stock (the links here are active, and pull data in real-time, everyone you look at the page).

Common mistakes people make when choosing a variable ND filter and how to avoid them

There are a few mistakes that people make when choosing/purchasing a variable nd filter. Let's go over them now so you don't fall victim to these mistakes (like I did over the years).

Choosing the wrong size variable nd filter

This is quite common, believe it or not.

You'll want to check the thread size of your lens to get the correct thread size. Check this article here to learn how to check your thread size, if you don't know how to already.

Keep reading to learn how ordering the wrong size can be a good thing, and save you money in the long-run (even though I wouldn't recommend choosing the wrong size on purpose).

How To Measure Camera Lens Size

Motion Blur Is Directly Related To Shutter Speed​

Remember, the number after ND indicates the strength of the tint.

Generally speaking, a good place to start (if you aren't sure) would be 1-5 stops.

This would be ND2-32. You could go for ND2-4 to ND64 if that's the only option you have. 5-6 stops of light reduction is plenty for everyday average use (for both photography and videography).

You'll find that you will only need a 6-10 stop ND filter is for long exposure photography. You'll be hard pressed to find a situation where you'd ever need that strong of an nd filter in videography.

Stick with 1-5 stops to start if you aren't too sure.

Best Variable ND Filter

Going Cheapo

I know that everyone has a budget. Not everyone can afford top of the line equipment. Hell, some can't justify purchasing a lens for more than $300, let alone a filter.

Believe me, I get it.

Best Variable ND Filter

But, refrain from expecting the best from inexpensive equipment.

If you're just experimenting and starting out using filters, purchase an inexpensive K&F Concepts filter and experiment and learn from it. If you want better results, upgrade to something of higher quality.

Because when it comes to filters, lenses, teleconverters.. etc. (basically anything with glass) - quality of glass and parts is everything. Everything from the coatings to the quality of glass all affects the way light is manipulated when passing through.

Keep this in mind when making your purchase. Purchase the best you can afford. If you can't afford it now, but need something better... save up for it instead of settling for something that of sub-par quality.

Common mistakes people make when using a variable ND filter and how to avoid them

Now for a couple mistakes when using the nd filter. These are common for the idea that you're in the middle of a session. Your mind is running... thinking of so many things at once... these things can be overlooked - and once noticed, may be too late to fix.

Be aware of how you're holding and putting your camera down

Like mentioned earlier in the article, this is something that I would do constantly which ultimately made me move to a fixed nd filter instead of a variable. I later purchased a PolarPro variable ND filter because love variable nd filters so much.

Be aware of how you're moving your camera. If you have a filter with a smooth turning ring/adjustment (with little resistance), it will not take much for the filter to move and change, thus adjusting your exposure.

Best Variable ND Filter

In the middle of a shoot, this change could be minor and not really noticeable. You will then notice it when you offload the footage, and realize you were over or underexposed and can't save the footage. Not saying you can't save anything... but this has happened to me and I don't wish it on anyone.

The same goes for putting your camera down on its side (with the end of the lens touching a surface. The same thing can happen when you pickup the camera.

Just be aware and keep it in mind.

Over or underexposing when using an ND filter

Best Variable ND Filter

**Image above: I barely got away with the highlights in the background.  Even though I was using a VND, it helped, but almost destroyed the photo (other photos in the series were completely blown out**

This is common among beginners.

But keep your exposure meter in mind when adjusting the filter. Your exposure should touch 0 or neutral. A slight under or overexposure won't hurt much, but don't go extreme with it.

There are limits to what you're able to recover from both shadows and highlights - don't push it too much.

Step-up rings can save you money

If you find yourself with a variable nd filter that's too large for a lens you have - don't worry - step up rings can help you with this.

Step up rings are rings that thread into itself. For instance, if you have a 67mm lens, but a 77mm filter... you would thread a 67mm step up ring onto your lens, then a 72mm ring into that, then the 77mm ring into that. You'd then be able to thread the 77mm filter into the 77mm filter ring. Simple, right?

Best Variable ND Filter

This can save you heaps of money. These allow you to thread filters onto a lens that you'd normally have to purchase an entire separate filter for.

The only problem with step up rings is the inability to use traditional lens hoods while using it. Keep this in mind when using step-up rings. A small price to pay to save potentially hundreds of dollars.

That about sums it up!

Whew! That was a long article. If you made it this far and read everything, I applaud you. It's a lot of information to take in and I hope you took notes of anything that didn't make sense to you.

At this point you should know what an ND filter is, what make it a variable ND filter, pros and cons of each, and the best variable ND filter based on price/budget. Lastly, what you should keep in mind when purchasing and or using one. You're all set!

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Pinterest. We would be more than happy to help you with anything!

If you'd like to know more about us, check us out here!

Until next time, keep creating!!!

Sincerely,

Jeff & Reyna

San Diego family photographer

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Variable ND filter is best?

The best variable ND filter will depend on your needs. Generally speaking, a ND2-32 (1-5 stop) variable ND filter will work great for most. Anything more dense and you'd probably not be looking for this answer and know it already. The best brands include: Tiffen, Hoya, B+W, and PolarPro... to name a few.

Is a variable ND filter worth it?

The simple answer, yes. The more complex answer... if you're a flash photographer, take long exposure photographs, or a videographer trying to achieve cinematic scenes/frame rates... then yes, a variable ND filter would be worth it and will make your life much easier.

Which brand of ND filter is best?

It's hard to say which one is 'best'. Each popular brand has their pros and cons... but generally speaking - Tiffen, Hoya, B+W, and PolarPro are all great brands. Personally, I like Hoya the most for their reasonable cost and build quality. Others claim PolarPro is the best - it's up to you to figure out what's best, to you.

What size Variable ND filter should I buy?

The size is strictly determined by the thread size of the lens you're putting it on. You can find this by looking at your lens element (the front of your lens)... your lens thread size will be there (I.E. 49mm, 67mm, 72mm, etc.). That number is the size of variable ND filter you'll want to buy.

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