Today I’m going to be reviewing a useful product for DSLR photographers: the Hoya neutral density filter. It’s a product I personally use in my own photography, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to stand behind.
What is a filter, and what do they do?
A lens filter is a piece of glass that attaches to the outside of your DSLR camera lens, and is designed to perform a specific function. ultimately though, their purposes all pretty much comes down to helping you take better photos.
Think of each type of filter as a tool in your toolbox. With tools, you have a hammer for hammering nails, a saw for cutting things, a crowbar for prying and breaking kneecaps (kidding), and so on. You wouldn’t use a hammer to cut things, any more than you would use a saw to drive in nails (right?).
The same things goes for filters. Some filters cut through UV haze; others add a specific colour to your shots. The filters I’m speaking to today are called neutral density filters, which is just a fancy way of saying that they reduce the amount of light that gets into your lens. They don’t add colour, cut glare, or do anything else – they just reduce light.
Below are some examples of the effects lens filters can have, for your reference:
Why would you want to do that?
Well, for a bunch of reasons. Ever tried to take a long exposure during the day? How’d that work out for you? Probably not well, if you didn’t use a neutral density (“ND” from here on out) filter!
How about shooting with a wide open aperture to get a nice shallow depth of field? Doable, but challenging without a filter.
Do you travel often? Ever wonder how people manage to take photos of popular tourist attractions and get nobody at all in the shot? Here’s the secret: they shot a long exposure made possible by an ND filter. That long exposure eliminates the moving objects in the shot, including all the people.
So as you can see, an ND filter has a wide variety of uses and applications. But there are a ton of brands out there, and it can be daunting to choose the right one! It’s an important choice though, because not all brands are created equal.
What’s the difference between a cheap filter and an expensive one?
It’s a perfectly fair question. “I have two filters that both block the same amount of light. This one is $19.99, and this one is $79.99. What the hell?”
Here’s the thing with filters: you get what you pay for. It’s tough because you can’t always see the difference in quality by looking at the filter, but you can definitely see the difference in quality of your final photos.
There are a bunch of ways manufacturers can cut corners when making lens filters. They can use cheap plastic instead of a more quality build, which shortens the lifespan of your filter. More important to overall quality though, is the composition of the glass.
If you’ve ever worn glasses, you know that thinner lenses are better than heavier ones, always. Yet they can perform the same function. The thing is that the thinner lenses are made of higher-quality glass, and this makes a big difference when it comes to the quality of your final photo. Not only that, but better quality lenses actually use a more effective chemical composition of glass.
Lastly, the better lens filters often have coatings (like polarizing or UV coatings) that are bonded right to the glass, versus stuck on top. It’s like getting your car windows tinted at the dealership versus a crappy aftermarket shop. One will result in a smooth coating that looks like it’s part of the glass, while the other will leave bubbles that make it painfully obvious you tried to save a few bucks.
In lens speak, this effect can actually result in distortion, both in terms of colour and also shape.
Why do I like the Hoya lens filters so much?
Ok. In case you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a fan of buying quality whenever you can afford to. It’s for that reason that I’m recommending you take a look at Hoya lens filters. I’ve done my research on lens filters, and the folks at Hoya make some of the highest-quality filters that are still accessible to the layman like me.
Remember what I was saying about quality of glass? Yeah, Japan-based Hoya, which also makes glass for eyeglasses and LCD screens, delivers on that in a big way. So let’s look at their neutral density filters.
Straight-up glass (without any coatings or anything like that) reflects in and around 10% of the light that hits it. This reflection of light is the main cause of lens flares and ghosting in photography. Not only that, but less light entering the lens means you need to use either larger apertures or slower shutter speeds, both of which may not be something you want to do for your shooting.
Some manufacturers add an anti-reflective coating to their filters. This coating goes on the outside of the filter, and reduces the amount of light bouncing off the lens (to about 5%). This in turn reduces the risk of lens flare.
Hoya takes things further though. They coat both sides of the glass, because light reflects off both the front side and the back side of the filter. This gives you a higher-quality lens with even less risk of flaring and ghosting.
If you really want to step things up, they also offer multi-coated lenses which reduce the amount of light reflection to around 1-2%. These give you the greatest protection against lens flare, which is especially important when shooting long exposures, since that’s when the risk of lens flare is greatest.
What does this all mean to you? It means you’re getting a filter that will reliably do what it says it will do, without causing any unwanted effects in your photos. There’s nothing worse than spending a full day shooting, only to get home and realize you’ve got lens flare on every. damn. photo.
Wrapping it Up
As someone who’s used Hoya ND filters for a while now, I can tell you that none of my shots have any noticeable colour or shape distortion, compared with shooting without a filter. I get all of the shots I want, with none of the side effects I don’t want.
Are they the cheapest lens filters on the market? Hell no. But are they worth it? Definitely. If you’re looking to take your photography to the next level with an ND filter, do yourself a favour and check out Hoya’s lineup. And if you do, and you found this overview helpful, then do me a favour and use this link to do it. I make a few bucks if you make a purchase, and it costs you nothing extra!