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Sunday, May 1, 2005

Gadget-Bag: Graduated NDs In A Digital World

These essential filters bring exposure for sky and ground inside a manageable range

Grad NDs are commonly available in densities from one to three stops, and some manufacturers offer as much as a five-stop filter. (Some companies label the filters by density, with 0.3 equaling a stop, 0.6 equal to two stops, 0.9 equal to three stops and so forth.) The common wisdom is that if you have to pick just one filter, then a two-stop grad ND is a good all-around choice for slides. For print film or digital, a three-stop filter probably is better.

Sometimes, the one-stop filter works for subtle changes, but other times, you'll need three or more stops. (Imagine equalizing a row of trees in the shadow of a mountain with the blue sky above them.) Pros often carry several grad NDs to make sure they have just what they need for a range of circumstances and to stack them together for more strength.

Many filter manufacturers offer a choice between hard-edged and soft-edged filters. Use the hard-edged filters when you have a straight, clearly delineated horizon. Since the world isn't always that neat and tidy, soft-edged NDs offer a more gradual change between light and dark. The subtle transition avoids a telltale edge where the boundary area crosses your image.

You also can choose between convenient screw-in grad NDs and square or rectangular ones. The square and rectangular filters take a little longer to set up, but they let you position the light-dark boundary precisely where you need it. These filters fit into special holders by Lee, Cokin and other manufacturers that keep the filters properly placed.

B+W offers one- and two-stop screw-in graduated NDs in filter threads from 49mm to 82mm, as well as graduated color filters in a wide variety of hues. List Price: From $88.

B+W (Schneider Optics)
(631) 761-5000

Cokin Filters (OmegaSatter)
(410) 374-3250

Heliopan (HP Marketing Corp.)
(800) 735-4373

Hoya (THK Photo Products)
(800) 421-1141

LEE Filters USA(Panavision)
(800) 576-5055

(800) 486-5501

Sunpak (ToCAD America)
(973) 428-9800

(800) 645-2522
Cokin's well-known system of square filters includes graduated neutral-density and colored filters in sizes from 36mm up to 112mm. Special filter holders let you stack the filters in place over your lenses. List Price: From $21.

Heliopan's screw-in grad ND filters are available in strengths from one to three stops, and filter sizes from 49mm to 77mm. List Price: $102 to $187.

Hoya makes a two-stop ND with a sharp edge between light and dark in screw-in sizes from 49 to 58mm. Graduated color filters of the same size also are available. List Price: From $60.

Lee Filters offers rectangular grads with a broad range of colors and in NDs, with densities from one to three stops in half-stop increments. The 100x150mm filters are available in both hard and soft versions, and work with Lee's filter holder system. "P" size filters fit Cokin filter holders. List Price: From $79.

Schneider Optics' graduated filters come with either a hard or soft edge in a wide variety of colors, as well as neutral densities from one to four stops. The company offers both 4x4-inch and 4x5.650-inch sizes that fit a Lee holder with the available 4mm spacers. List Price: From $228.

Singh-Ray's grad NDs are available in densities from one to five stops, with either a hard or soft edge. The rectangular filters can be ordered in either a 120mm length for Cokin "P" filter holders or a 150mm length for Lee holders, and the company will custom-make a filter if you can't find what you need. List Price: From $99.

Sunpak makes screw-in graduated filters in sizes from 49mm to 77mm, and they include gray, sepia and wine colors. List Price: From $39.

Tiffen Color Grad filters come in one-, two- and three-stop strengths of neutral gray, as well as shades of blue and orange. The filters are available in both screw-in (ND is two stops) and square versions, and with soft- or hard-edged transitions. List Price: From $53.


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