Circular or Square?
This is the first question to ask yourself when deciding which filter system to invest in. Each one has its pros and cons and while most prefer a square system, a surprisingly large percentage of people prefer circular systems for their economy and portability.
1. Economy - Circular filters win hands down when it comes to economy. An 82mm 10-Stop IRND costs R1 999.00 compared to R3 299.00 for its 100mm square counterpart. Circular filters don't require a filter holder, which can cost anything from R1200 - R5000.
2. Portability - Circular filters also win hands down when it comes to size and portability. They are smaller, lighter and take up very little space compared to the equivalent square system.
3. Versatility - This is where square systems take the lead as you can combine an independently rotating CPL with up to 2/3 filters (150mm/100mm). You can also stack circular filters, but you will quickly lose a lot of your wide focal length as you will see the filters in the frame.
4. Graduated Filters - While circular grads do exist, they are flawed from the drawing board as the graduation can only be in the middle of the frame, which forces you to compose the horizon in the middle. A square system allows the graduation to be positioned at any height in the frame.
If your priority is versatility and you want to use grads, go for a square system. If your priority is economy and portability and you're not bothered about using grads, go for a circular system. *Circular filters can be used on multiple lenses by purchasing 82mm filters and using the V5 step rings.
I choose square, but which system size?
This is determined by the thread size of the primary lens you want to use the filters on. For landscape photography this is usually your wide angle lens.
1. For thread sizes of 67mm and smaller, the 75mm system is ideal.
2. For thread sizes of 62mm - 82mm, the 100mm system is ideal.
3. If you have an ultra-wide lens with a bulbous front element and no thread, the 150mm system is your only choice.
4. If you have the Canon 11-24mm, the 180mm system is your only choice.
Choosing a polarizer
You will see that any NiSi product which includes a polarizer is available the Standard or Landscape Enhanced version. NiSi also added a Natural CPL to the circular range in 2020.
Top image from left to right: No filter, Natural CPL, Standard CPL, Landscape Enhanced CPL
So what's the difference?
Standard CPL - This filter has a subtle warm tone, which can be great for anything from landscapes to architecture.
Natural CPL - This filter has no colour tone and renders colours true to the original scene. It’s important to keep in mind that polarization changes certain colours slightly, so if you pixel peep you will come across some difference and that is all natural and nothing to worry about.
Landscape Enhanced CPL - This filter has a subtle cool tone and it is slightly stronger than most CPL’s on the market. It is designed with landscape photographers in mind and helps to cut through more glare, while adding extra contrast to skies and giving water bodies that fresh, cool feeling.
The landscape polarizer was first introduced to the V5 system, but due to its popularity it has spread to almost every product range offered by NiSi.
Solid Neutral Density Filters
Solid neutral density filters lengthen exposure by cutting out a specific amount of light. This is very useful for creative purposes, whether you want to blur a wave, waterfall, leopard or a street scene.
They are available in many different densities, ranging from 2 to 20 stops, but the most popular are 3-, 6- and 10-stops.
3-Stop | 0.9 - This filter is used to add a slight blur to water before the sun has set or after it has risen. At f/16 and ISO100, it is impossible to achieve a slow enough shutterspeed to get the ideal amount of blur in the waves while the sun is up. Three stops of darkening will normally allow a shutterspeed of 1/10s to 1/2s during this golden sunlight phase, producing soft lines in the waves.
6-Stop | 1.8 - This filter serves the same purpose as the 10-stop, but it is better suited for sunset and sunrise. When the sun is close to setting or rising, a 10-stop ND will require a very long shutterspeed at f/11-16 and ISO100 to produce the correct exposure - often as much as 5-10 minutes. A 6-stop ND is thus much more suited for capturing long exposures of 30-60s around sunset and sunrise.
10-Stop | 3.0 - This filter is used primarily for blurring the sea to a flat mist and for blurring clouds into abstract lines. It can also be used to remove traffic and people from urban scenes by blurring the moving elements. At f/11-16 and ISO100, it usually produces a shutterspeed of 20-30s in early morning or late afternoon with strong sunlight.
15-Stop | 4.5 - This filter is serious long exposure territory and will produce exposures times of 1-4 minutes in peak daylight and 5-30 minutes during golden hour.
Graduated Neutral Density Filters
Landscape photographers use graduated neutral density filters because the sky is usually brighter than the land – especially in dramatic sunset light. Graduated ND filters are dark on the top half and transparent on the bottom half.
When the dark part is positioned over the sky of an image, it ‘reduces’ the amount of light allowed through that part of the frame and this results in a darkened exposure of the sky. On the left side of the image it shows the result without any filter and on the right it shows the result with the filter.
Graduated Filters have two variables - the graduation type and the density. Read below to find out more.
This determines how the filter changes from transparent to dark. No two landscapes are the same and thus there are different grads for different situations.
Soft Grad –These filters are typically for scenes with a very dynamic horizon, like landscapes with trees or high mountains. Soft grads are the most forgiving and easiest for beginners to use.
Hard Grad - These filters are typically for scenes with a straight and uniform horizon, like the sea. If a hard grad is not positioned perfectly, it will be clearly noticeable in the image as a dark line below the horizon or a bright line above it. We advise that beginners stick to soft and medium grads.
Medium Grad – Medium grads are a newer product that most manufacturers only released in 2016/2017. Many photographers often found hard grads too hard and soft grads too soft and thus it was obvious that something in between was necessary. It is also the perfect solution for photographers that don’t want to commit to a hard or soft grad. Not everyone can afford to buy the full range of these filters and the medium grads are an excellent new compromise.
Reverse Grad – These filters serve a very niche, but useful purpose. When shooting into a bright sunset/sunrise, the brightest area is right on the horizon and then the sky darkens towards the top. When using a normal graduated ND, it will result in a correctly exposed horizon, but the top part of the sky will be far too dark. A Reverse Grad also has a clear lower half, but it is darkest in the middle and then gets lighter towards the top. This allows one to more accurately balance those exposures that are brightest on the horizon.
Focal Length Factor - A longer focal length softens the graduation as the image is captured through a smaller portion of the filter. If you shoot a lot of landscapes with your 24-70 or 70-200, then you'll need hard grads.
All the different types of grads are available in different densities, because light is dynamic and different scenes require a different amount of ‘darkening’ of the sky. We stock a variety of 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 and 1.2 (0.3 = 1 stop) in NiSi's various size ranges.
The most popular densities are 0.6 and 0.9, but a 1.2 is becoming increasingly popular.
1. 0.3 (1-stop) is for experienced shooters, usually to be combined with a 0.6 or 0.9.
2. 0.6 (2-stop) is the most popular filter as a 2-stop difference between land and sky is most common. If you shoot a sunset/sunrise the 0.6 will be the all-rounder that best balances exposure between land and sky in most directions.
3. 0.9 (3-stop) is the ideal if you like shooting into the sunset as the 0.6 isn’t always dark enough for into-the-sun shots. The issue with the 0.9 is that it will be too dark if shooting 90-degrees from the sun or with the sun at your back.
4. 1.2 (4-stop) is for shooting directly into a very bright sunset/sunrise.