The $4.5K Fuji XT-1 Forensics Package Doesn’t Really Create UV Photos

UV photography has many obstacles. Ultraviolet light, or light from 200nm – 400nm in wavelength, is notoriously difficult to image with normal camera equipment. A normal digital camera will record images in the visible light spectrum, or 400nm – 700nm in wavelength. To unlock sensitivity to those shorter wavelengths, a camera has to be physically modified to allow passage of light below 400nm.

We over at Kolari Vision achieve this by performing a full-spectrum conversion service to your camera’s sensor. This modification gives most cameras the needed sensitivity to see UV light, but this is only half the battle. We then have to filter out visible and infrared light or else any UV light coming through the lens will be drowned out by the much more plentiful visible and IR light, and the ultraviolet signal we are looking for will be lost.

This is where a UV bandpass filter comes in. A proper UV pass filter will allow ultraviolet light to pass through to the sensor while blocking all visible and infrared light that may contaminate an otherwise purely UV image. The trouble is, UV light is so easily blocked by most camera optics that even small visible or IR light leaks will overpower the UV light and create a mostly visible or IR image instead.

This is also why it’s important to make sure that you are using a lens with high UV transmission, as most lenses block too much UV and end up allowing IR and Visible light to trickle in and take over the exposure.

The Fuji X-T1 Forensics Bundle

We noticed that the Fuji X-T1 forensics bundle included an old B+W 403 UV bandpass filter in their kit built for UV and IR forensic photography. Knowing the limitations of these style UV filters, we set out to test it and see if it actually works for UV photography.

How can you tell if your UV filter is working properly?

A spectrometer will tell you the exact transmission profile of your filter by plotting a graph visualizing just how much light is managing to pass through and at which wavelengths. Another much easier way to verify if your UV filter is doing the job or not is to know what you’re looking for and check the images. We’re going to demonstrate the latter DIY method here with a set of filters to compare.

For this test, we’ll be comparing our Kolari Vision UV Bandpass Filter to another popular UV passing filter, the B+W 403 Ultraviolet. Alongside these two, we’ll also be testing our 720nm Infrared filter as a control to demonstrate what an intentionally infrared image is supposed to look like.

Test number one will be shot with a Canon 50mm f/1.8 II lens on a Full-Spectrum Sony a6400. Test number two was shot with the Fujifilm 60mm f/2.4 Macro lens (also part of the Fuji Forensics bundle) on a Full-Spectrum Fuji X-T2.

Test #1: Snapshots of our parking lot in strong sunlight

Kolari IR 720nm
B+W 403 Ultraviolet
Kolari UV Bandpass

We can immediately see a clear difference between all 3 filters, and that the B+W 403 is performing much more like a near-infrared filter than a UV Pass filter. Leaves and foliage are usually highly IR reflective leading to bright if not completely white vegetation in infrared images. While producing some different coloration, the 720nm and B+W 403 both prominently display this property.

Our UV pass filter, on the other hand, creates very dark if not black foliage. We can also see that the most UV reflective object in the frame is the siding of our building. This is likely due to a UV reflective treatment to the siding to protect from long term sun damage. To Fuji’s credit, the 60mm F/2.4 Macro is actually a good lens for UV photography.

Test #2: Sunscreen Lotion

Kolari IR 720nm
B+W 403 Ultraviolet
Kolari UV Bandpass

As of late, filming in UV has been a favorite method for companies to advertise the effectiveness of their sunscreen lotion, so we’re using that method in reverse here. If the sunscreen is absorbing UV light, it should appear very dark or black. Though the lotion does glisten brightly from certain angles, our filter is the only one showing UV absorption while the B+W 403 is once again performing more like an infrared filter.

Interestingly, the lotion seems almost transparent when viewed through the B+W 403 Ultraviolet. On another side note, the healing wound on my thumb contrasts much more strongly with the surrounding skin with the Kolari UV Bandpass than it does with the B+W UV or the 720nm IR filters. These characteristics are all very strong indicators of whether or not an image is composed of purely UV light or if it is contaminated with other, undesired wavelengths.

Filter Transmission

A look at each filter’s spectral response curve as measured by our spectrometer shows the underlying reasons why both of the UV pass filters are producing such different results. Our UV Bandpass filter on the left is blocking enough infrared light to prevent contamination of the image. Due to the much higher sensitivity most sensors have to visible and IR light compared to UV, the out of band signal needs to be blocked VERY strongly. We found during development that even 0.1% transmission peaks could wash out the UV signal.

As you can see from the graph, the B+W 403 Ultraviolet is letting in so much infrared light alongside the UV that it is almost completely overpowering the exposure, leading to what is essentially a near-infrared image. The only way the B+W 403 could be used on its own to create a purely ultraviolet image is in a controlled environment with no infrared light present, or to use it with UV film with no IR sensitivity, AKA how it was initially designed to be used.

Combining this filter with another hot mirror style filter to block the IR signal and allow UV can also work, and we hope this is the recommendation Fuji provided their clients, however nothing provided in the Forensics bundle can be used in combination to make this UV filter work properly. Both the B+W UV/IR Cut MRC 486M filter, and the new Tiffen T1 filter provided in some bundles, block UV light.

See below for some comments on the B+W UV/IR Cut MRC 486M filter provided with the Fuji Forensics kit. Using this type of dual-pass UV filter on a digital full spectrum camera will simply not work for UV photography alone. We shutter to think about how much evidence may have been shot with the B+W 403 and interpreted as a UV signal, when really what was being captured was infrared.

Our 39mm UV Bandpass filter will however work with this forensics kit perfectly and can rescue the Fuji kit. Alternatively, you can order our forensics package designed from the ground up by experts in multi spectral imaging.

B+W UV/IR Cut MRC 486M

One minor point on the B+W UV/IR cut filter included with the Fuji Forensics kit. While some hot mirrors can be used in combination with an old-style UV filter to isolate the UV signal, this one cannot. It is an aggressive UV cut filter that blocks the UV signal, while at the same time not blocking enough IR. We’ve tested this filter against our own hot mirror filter, and show that it lets in much more IR light, and produces worse color accuracy when used on a full spectrum camera. Fuji provides two of these filters for their Forensics kit to use with the included lenses to restore normal color for regular photography, where it simply isn’t the best filter for this application. It is also an interference-based filter, which can change transmission at different light angles, causing a color shift towards the edge of the frame with wide-angle lenses.

Normal camera
Full spectrum camera with Kolari Hot Mirror
Full spectrum camera with B+W 486 UVIR Cut filter

If you look at the transmission curve, the B+W 486 filter lets in much more IR light than any normal camera sensor filter. Fuji has started offering the Tiffen T1 IR filter in some bundles which cuts out more IR light, this combined with the B+W 486 should improve color accuracy but we have not tested it ourselves.


About the author: Pat Nadolski is a photographer and technician at Kolari Vision, an infrared camera conversion business based in New Jersey. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Kolari Vision recently announced the Kolari IR ND filter, which it believes to be the best on the market. You can learn more about the company’s service’s on its website. This article was also published here.

Canon EOS R5 Underwater Photo and Video Review

The summer 2020 release of the Canon EOS R5 made one thing clear – Canon has decided to set the photographic standard for this decade. Without a doubt, the EOS R5 is the top image maker of 2020 and could potentially go unmatched in the camera world for another few years.

It is the first full frame mirrorless camera to offer 8K video capability and features a specs sheet that puts it at the top of its class. The EOS R5 directly answers many of the concerns that photographers had with the original EOS R camera and promises significant updates to important functions including autofocus, stabilization, continuous burst shooting, and video.

Despite the Sony A7R IV‘s dominance in the underwater camera market over the last year, it is likely that the Canon EOS R5 will be even more popular as the camera of choice for both underwater photographers and videographers.

Some lucky individuals on our staff at Bluewater Photo were given the opportunity to capture some of the first underwater photos and video with the Canon EOS R5. After braving long drives, difficult shore entries, long swims, windstorms, and post-apocalyptic levels of wildfire smoke, we feel quite confident that we put this camera to the test in the harshest conditions the Pacific Northwest has to offer. We also feel confident in saying that the Canon EOS R5 might just be our favorite camera we’ve ever shot underwater.

Yes, that’s right. Say goodbye to your Canon DSLRs, Nikons, and Sonys.

With the R5, Canon has reached the ultimate balance of great glass, great resolution, great autofocus, great dynamic range, and pretty much great everything.

Although Canon got everything right with the R5 from the ergonomics to the performance, they also got one important thing wrong: their marketing. After the original flop of the Canon EOS R, Canon’s marketing department got the memo that specs matter and took the mantra to the extreme. By January of 2020, the R5 had garnered a cult-like following drooling for 8K video, internal RAW recording, and 4K @120p. Yes, the R5 does all these things, but with limited availability.

Before you read this review, please unread anything you may have read about this camera. While the R5 is a great video camera, it is, in fact, the very best stills camera on the market for underwater photography. So think of it as a stills camera first, with amazing hybrid video capability. It is not a dedicated video camera. For that, we have the Sony A7S III. Alright, let us begin…

Spectacular resolution with the Canon EOS R5. Photo of a mosshead warbonnet captured with the Canon EOS R5 in an Ikelite housing, Canon 100 mm macro lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, Kraken +13 diopter, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter. f/16, 1/160, ISO 100

Canon EOS R5 Compared with Canon EOS R

The Canon EOS R was Canon’s first attempt at a full-frame mirrorless camera. With many good options form Sony and Nikon, it fell short. Fortunately, the Canon EOS R5 addresses many of the concerns that Canon EOS R users brought up. Though I would like to interject and say that the Canon EOS R was one of our favorite cameras that we tested underwater.

For underwater photography, Canon was lagging behind Sony and Nikon because of a lack of in-body image-stabilization. The Canon EOS R5 is Canon’s first camera with IBIS, capable of 7-8 stops of correction when combined with a stabilized lens. The EOS R5 also features a new 45 MP CMOS sensor – addressing concerns that the EOS R was not a high enough resolution for professionals. Furthermore, the EOS R5 has the capability of shooting 12 frames per second with the mechanical shutter (20 fps electronic), vs the 8fps on the EOS R! Did we mention dual card slots?

For underwater videography, Canon fell short of its competitors with its original EOS R by offering cropped 4K video. The EOS R5 not only goes above-and-beyond addressing these concerns – it is industry changing. The EOS R5 is capable of capturing 8K 10 bit 4:2:2 @ 30p RAW video recorded internally – and the option of recording in 4K ProRes RAW externally simultaneously! The camera is also capable of 4K video using the full width of the sensor at an amazing 120p! The R5 will be able to capture video with dual pixel autofocus, full AF in all modes. The EOS R5 will be one of the first consumer level cameras to offer 8K video, so it’s already a very popular camera for underwater video.

Canon EOS R5 Key Specs

  • New 45 Megapixel Full-Frame CMOS Sensor and Digic X processor
  • Canon’s first 5 axis In-Body Image-Stabilization (IBIS) which works in conjunction with optical IS RF and EF lenses. Up to 8 stops of correction
  • Improved Dual Pixel II Autofocus
  • 5,940 AF points
  • 100% of the sensor has AF coverage!
  • ISO 100 – 51,200
  • Animal eye AF detection (for birds, cats, and dogs) – it works on macro fish 20-40% of the time!
  • 12fps burst shooting with mechanical shutter
  • 20 fps burst shooting with silent (electronic shutter)
  • 180 shot RAW image buffer
  • Dual card slots – 1x CFexpress and 1x SD UHS-II
  • 8K video @ 30p, 10- bit 4:2:2 – using the full width of the sensor!
  • Internal RAW and C-Log recording
  • 4K oversampled video up to 120p, 10-bit 4:2:2
  • 5.69 million dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder
  • Dimensions: 135.8 X 97.5 X 88mm
  • Weight: 738 grams (with card and battery)
  • Canon EOS R5 Key Features

    Body, Build, Ergonomics, and Battery Life

    We find the build of the Canon EOS R5 to be a little more plastic-y than we would like. But when we first got the R5 in our hands, we were amazed at how small the body was considering it’s video processing capabilities. No wonder there are recording limits! If you want 8K video from a body this small, there are going to be some compromises. The weather sealing on the camera is great. At one point during our tests, we needed to open the housing on the beach and we felt confident that the camera would be ok – even after a little sand and water dropped onto the body. We don’t recommend it, of course, but the camera is pretty solid for most conditions you might find on a dive trip.

    The Canon EOS R5 is built similarly to the EOS R and EOS R6. As a mirrorless camera, it’s a tad bit smaller than its DSLR counterparts. But it’s still a substantial camera with a nice grip.

    In most cases, due to the size of RF and EF glass, underwater housing manufacturers will need to use their DSLR port systems. Full EOS R5 underwater systems are about the same size as a DSLR system, despite the added size benefits of mirrorless cameras. For most manufacturers, we expect the EOS R5 to need a separate housing from the R6 and EOS R.

    The button placement on the camera is well thought-out and the ergonomics of the EOS R5 are excellent. In fact, the ergonomics just might be the best in its class of mirrorless camera across all brands. Canon discontinued the use of the touch bar that many found annoying on the original EOS R. They replaced it with a classic joystick control and added a wheel to the back of the camera, instead of a D-pad.

    We think these button improvements make it an even more compelling camera from the standpoint of usability – clearly surpassing the Sony A7R IV. This is especially the case if you do a lot of topside shooting as the joystick is a breeze to use above water. However, many underwater housings will not support the joystick which will leave underwater shooters with the dials to control their settings underwater instead of the D-pad. This can take some getting used to, but we found that it actually made switching settings a bit quicker once the muscle memory was built into our fingers.

    The battery life of the EOS R5 is acceptable. It could be better, but it will be enough for almost a whole day of diving if you are just taking photos. We found that we could get about 3 dives out of one battery taking both photos and videos (about 200-300 photos and 6-8 minutes of video). If you are just taking video, the battery life is about one hour (i.e., one to two dives).

    Canon EOS R5 in an Ikleite EOS R5 Housing during our field tests

    Video Overheating Concerns

    Although the EOS R5 has a lot to brag about when it comes to video specs, there is a major caveat. Because of the camera’s smaller size and extreme processing power, we actually think the EOS R5 was built a little too small for its spec sheet. Canon ultimately decided not to include a dedicated cooling system in the body in favor of portability – leading to some issues with overheating while shooting 8K video or high frame rates. Canon has been forthcoming about the exact runtime limitations of the body due to heat with a recent statement.

    At 8K, the EOS R5 will be able to record for about 20 minutes at room temperature until it needs to shut down for 10 minutes before it can shoot one minute of video again. After that, it can record for a maximum of 3 minutes unless there is a longer wait period. The camera won’t fully reset unless it turns off for about half an hour. At 4K and 120 fps, the max run time at room temperature drops to 15 minutes.

    This will be a concern for warm water divers, and we do recommend adding silica desiccant packets to and underwater system to prevent fogging. Cold water underwater photographers and videographers may fare better with this camera.

    To obtain a more accurate assessment on how bad the overheating issue may be for underwater videographers, we decided to put the Canon EOS R5 through an underwater overheating test. The overall assessment was that an underwater videographer should have approximately 20-25 minutes of consecutive or nonconsecutive video during a dive at 8K @ 30p with internal RAW recording and slightly less time with 4K @ 120fps. Due to the recovery times that are necessary before you can shoot video again, once the camera reaches its overheating limit, it is essentially done for the dive.

    For most photographers and hybrid shooters this won’t be an issue. However, serious video shooters may want to consider the A7S III if they need those high frame rates. Fortunately, 4K @ 60p shouldn’t cause issues with overheating during a dive and we recommend shooting at that resolution and frame rate anyway.

    You can see the full results of our overheating test here.

    Please Note: Photographers should not be concerned about the overheating issue. The Canon EOS R5 does not overheat when taking photos!

    Improved Image Quality and Processing

    The Canon EOS R5 is Canon’s first high resolution, full-frame mirrorless camera. They designed a 45 megapixel, full-frame CMOS sensor specifically for the R5. The original 30 megapixels in the Canon EOS R didn’t quite cut it for us when we compared it to other cameras like the Nikon Z7 and Sony A7R IV. An extra 15 megapixels puts the R5 firmly in the “high resolution class” – ideal for large prints, macro crops, and all-around mouth watering photography.

    For underwater photographers who are considering the EOS R5 for the high resolution sensor, we should mention that more megapixels can add noise in some situations – especially low light photography. However, we really didn’t find this to be an issue when we took photos with the R5 like it was with the A7R IV. The images were all very clean, even at slightly higher ISOs. Any noise that we got in our images was fine grained and easy to remove in post. If you are looking for amazing, sharp images in a high performing stills camera, we think the Canon EOS R5 is second to none – especially when paired with Canon’s amazing lineup of RF and EF lenses.

    The Canon EOS R5 is equipped with the same DIGIC X processor used in the 1DX Mark III. Certainly, the processing power is the key to the 8K video and amazing 12 fps/20 fps electronic frame rates boasted by Canon. Due to this processing power, the R5 is also capable of a 180 shot RAW image buffer. At 20fps, that’s 9 seconds of continuous shooting! It’s a truly impressive feat that is going to tantalize any underwater photographer looking to shoot quick subjects or owns a quick pair of strobes like the Sea & Sea YS-D3 or Ikelite DS 161.

    Photo of a yawning sculpin with the Canon EOS R5 in an Ikelite housing, Canon 100 mm macro lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter. f/8, 1/160, ISO 160

    In-Body Image-Stabilization

    In-body image-stabilization, or IBIS, is a mechanical system built into a camera that moves the sensor to compensate for camera shake. This can allow photographers to take sharp, hand-held photos at slow shutter speeds that previously weren’t possible. IBIS has been common in full-frame mirrorless camera competitors like the Nikon Z series and Sony A7 series, but the EOS R5 and R6 are Canon’s first IBIS capable camera. When combined with an optically stabilized RF and EF lenses, the EOS R5 is allegedly capable of recovering up to 8 stops of exposure!

    This is very beneficial to underwater photographers and underwater videographers alike. Underwater photographers will be able to shoot at slower shutter speeds in low light and limited visibility conditions while suffering less motion blur. Underwater videographers will be able to capture stable, handheld video in underwater environments that are notorious for their instability. Combined, with 4K @ 120fps, videographers will have the ultimate hand held underwater video system.

    At the end of our dives with the R5, we realized that the IBIS offered in the Canon EOS R5 ended up being our favorite feature on the camera. When we tested the IBIS for still, we found that we were able to get amazingly crisp photos at 1/13th of a second exposures (@15mm)!! When we tested the IBIS with a 100mm macro lens in video modes, we found that the video was about as still as we had ever captured handheld. There have been some complaints about warpiness in the IBIS in video mode, but Canon seems to have fixed the issue – at least, it’s not noticeable in our underwater video.

    A perfect example of the amazing 5 axis IBIS in the Canon EOS R5. 1/13s, f/22, ISO 200. Ikelite EOS R5 housing, Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter.

    Top-of-the-line Autofocus

    Although it isn’t discussed as much as the EOS R5’s video specs, there have been some truly astounding improvements to the R5’s autofocus capability. Foremost, the R5 is the first full-frame mirrorless camera with 100% autofocus point coverage! This means you can place an AF point anywhere on the sensor. As underwater photographers, we are often put in positions requiring awkward composition and uncentered focal points. The R5 is the ultimate compositional tool.

    Underwater videographers are going to be able to pair Canon’s amazing dual pixel autofocus with 100% AF coverage to capture any subject in motion.

    Canon is also boasting animal eye autofocus that is better developed than its competitors – capable of photographing cats, birds, and dogs. We’ve tried animal eye AF with Sony and Nikon and have had mixed luck with capturing fish eyes. Overall, we’ve found Canon’s autofocus tracking system to be slightly less accurate than Sony’s but much better than Nikon’s.

    When it came to animal eye autofocus tracking, we’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that when we shot macro photos, the camera was able to detect fish eyes and faces about 20-40% of the time depending on the species. When it couldn’t detect the face, the AF tracking worked anyway as long as we selected the correct AF point. In non-tracking modes, Canon’s AF is just a tad slower than Sony’s but certainly useable at a professional level in almost every photographic situation.

    A moon jelly under the sun captured with the Canon EOS R5 in an Ikelite EOS R5 housing, Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter. f/22, 1/160, ISO 100

    Canon EOS R5 for Underwater Photography

    The Canon EOS R 5 is clearly one of the best tools on the market for underwater photography. A higher resolution, 45MP sensor places the camera in the same niche as the Nikon Z7 and Sony A7R III/A7R IV. Macro photographers will appreciate the ability to shoot at a higher resolution to crop on minute details. Other working professionals will appreciate the ability to produce large prints. And with amazing burst speeds of up to 12 fps mechanical and 20 fps electronic, the EOS R5 will be an excellent camera for wide angle shooters who need to photograph quick, moving subjects.

    Canon’s first rendition of IBIS in a camera promises 7-8 stops recovered with an image stabilized lens. That’s massively exciting for cold water underwater photographers that shoot in low-light situations. To top it all off, 100% autofocus coverage and improved dual pixel autofocus tracking will give creators the capability to produce artistic works of art with unorthodox composition.

    Overall, we think this camera is the best camera on the market for underwater photography. The resolution is just the right level to capture amazing, detailed images with very little noise. The dynamic range is beautiful. IBIS is our favorite feature of the camera, allowing us to take crisp underwater photos even at 1/13th of a second! The autofocus speed and autofocus tracking rarely failed us in our underwater test.

    Any photographer looking to by the top of the line mirrorless camera on the market for stills photos should be looking at the Canon EOS R5. If you want the highest resolution possible, then the Sony A7R IV might be a better option. But if you want an all around great camera, with a high quality selection of lenses, we like the Canon EOS R5.

    Canon EOS R5 for Underwater Video

    What might be even more exciting than 8K video is the R5’s ability to capture 4K @ 120p and 60p using the full width of the sensor. Finally: no crop factor in a Canon mirrorless camera! It’s what underwater videographers have waiting years for. Higher frame rates allow underwater videographers to slow down their footage and stabilize the inherent motion that comes from filming underwater. The 4K video will be oversampled which means it will have more detail than normal 4K video and the lack of a crop factor will allow videographers to take full advantage of their lenses.

    We think that Canon nailed the R5 as a video camera, but they failed at the marketing. They should have presented it for what it is: an amazing stills camera that can capture some spectacular video. If you want to capture spectacular video for most use cases, then shooting 4K @ 60p will allow you to avoid overheating as well as capture some beautiful video.

    We think that this is still one of the best cameras on the market for underwater video, but videographers will need to be willing to only use special features like 8K or 4K @120p during special, short situations.

    Who Should Consider Purchasing the Canon EOS R5?

    The Canon EOS R5 is one of those rare cameras that would work perfectly for any professional underwater photographer or videographer. It features in-body image-stabilization and resolutions high enough for avid macro photographers. It has burst shooting abilities good enough for wide angle shooters. The video is excellent and has the potential to revolutionize underwater video.

    We think any underwater creative in 2020 should consider purchasing the EOS R5 unless they are a serious video shooter that needs long run times over 20 minutes before overheating.

    An urchin under the sun captured with the Canon EOS R5 in an Ikelite EOS R5 housing, Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter. f/22, 1/160, ISO 100

    Underwater Housings for the EOS R5

    Due to the anticipated popularity of the Canon EOS R5, we anticipate housing from all leading underwater housing manufactures, Therefor, there will be great aluminum housing options from Isotta, Sea & Sea, Aquatica, and Nauticam. An excellent polycarbonate option can be expected from Ikelite.

    If you are upgrading to the Canon EOS R5 from the EOS R, you will need a new housing. The EOS R6 will likely require a separate housing as well, but this has not yet been determined for most brands.

    Conclusion

    After months of drooling over the thought of shooting the Canon EOS R5, the last few dives that we had with the camera feel like an extension of our dream. The R5 rocks. It’s great. We love it. It is definitely the camera of 2020. If you are looking for an amazing high resolution stills camera with quick burst shooting, accurate AF tracking with high AF speeds, some of the best IBIS on the market, dual card slots, great dynamic range, minimal noise, and all-around spectacular video then you’ve found your camera.

    After multiple dives with the R5, the content we captured given the conditions we had was nothing short of a miracle. This camera allows you to perceive the world and interact with your environment in ways that weren’t capable with other cameras. The IBIS lets you conquer darker depths and turbulent waters. The autofocus tracking puts you on friendly terms with the most anxious of fish. The burst rates allow you to capture the split seconds between life and death or everything in between.

    Yes, Canon did a poor job in marketing the R5’s video capability. But that shouldn’t hinder anyone from reading between the lines and seeing the R5 for what it truly is – the best all around content creation tool you could take underwater.

    Kelp Forest captured with the Canon EOS R5 in an Ikelite EOS R5 housing, Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter. f/25, 1/6.3, ISO 250

    About the author: Nirupam Nigam is head of marketing at Bluewater Photo and the Editor-in-chief of the Underwater Photography Guide. He is an avid underwater photographer with degrees in fisheries science and biology.

    You can read more of his camera reviews here or here. The review was originally published here.

CFexpress: A Real-World Performance Comparison

The newest, best cameras coming on the market use a new kind of memory card called CFexpress Type B. They’re fast, but they’re new, so users don’t really have an impression of which ones might be better to buy. This review shows tests from the better of the ones available and presents the results so that readers can use the factors most important to them to choose the best card for themselves.

Performance can’t be summarized through tests into a single number. There are a bunch of different factors, and no card excels at all of them. The choice of the card that is best for you depends on what and how you shoot. This is more true with CFexpress cards than with any of the other formats because the newness of CFexpress leads to some, well, foibles. Well get into those, but the headline is this: generally, there are five “best” cards.

The Upshot

  • If you want the best price per GB, you’ll have the Delkin Power 512GB, which is also one of the top 5 in performance. The larger versions of these cards are even cheaper per GB; less than half the average price per GB of the other cards.
  • If you want the most number of shots in 30 seconds, you’ll have the Angelbird 660GB XT. But it’s best by only 1 picture out of 337, and it has an odd behavior of causing camera startup to take 4 more seconds than any other card. This will be a deal-breaker for some.
  • The card that clears the buffer the fastest is the SanDisk Extreme Pro 512GB, clearing it more than half a second faster than the other cards of its capacity. [Note the late entry of the Lexar Professional 512 GB card after this article was written upset this record, but both are fantastic at clearing cache.]
  • The best all-around card is arguably the ProGrade Cobalt, which doesn’t win outright in any category, but ties for first in several of them.
  • The card that takes the most shots before the buffer kicks in while shooting in mechanical shutter is the Delkin – but by just a smidge.
  • The cards that perform best as hard drives hooked up to the computer are the Sony cards. They’ll offload images and video faster than the others.
Biologists call a flock of CFexpress cards a “kidney” of cards

So let’s get to the measurements…

Yeah, they’re all over the map, so to make a good buying decision, you need to look at the sorts of shooting you do, and which factor is most limiting. As an example, I shoot wildlife. It’s a long, arduous, quiet day until all of a sudden I need to lay down as many frames as possible without the camera stuttering. If I’m lucky, I’m going to need the buffer to clear and do it again, but mostly I’m worried about that first, long drag of shots.

A sports photographer might be doing short, regular bursts, with the buffer inflating and deflating rhythmically. A birder might prioritize the speed to the first shot, with the camera and card needing to wake up for an instant stab at a passing bird.

Note: The comparisons below were shot on a Canon EOS R5 camera.

Raw Speed

It has to be said that the CFexpress format is a leap forward. The cards are all so fast that the difference between the top performer in clearing a full buffer and the card that came in second from last is just 1.5 seconds. The buffer is that on-board, super-fast memory that fills up, and then you’re just left with the raw speed of your memory card, chewing through what the buffer can upload to it.

That the memory cards can eat up the full buffer so quickly now has implications for people thinking about which factors are most important. If clearing the buffer is the difference between 4.5 and 6 seconds, it might not be as big a priority as it used to be. In the old days (2019), the difference between cache clearing in one card to another could easily have been more than 15 seconds. When shooting SD cards on the Sony a9, it seemed you could do your laundry and have a little time left for a snack while the buffer unloaded to the memory card.

With CFexpress, buffer clearing times are just less important. All that said, the SanDisk 512GB card [and now the Lexar 512 GB card] are tops at clearing the cache, as the chart above shows. This is the time it takes to completely move the contents of the cache to the card. In the Canon EOS R5, this appears to be about 2 GB of data, or about 40 shots. (The cache will appear to be about 60 shots deep because fast cards will allow you to fill up about half again as much data during the time it is uploading to the memory card. This number – reported in the viewfinder for those who have it set so – will vary mostly based on the ISO setting, as that will affect the size of the files.)

This is Walt the blue-winged teal, our test subject. We have 378,000 of these.

Buffer +

A critical factor – perhaps the most important for sports and wildlife shooters – is the number of shots you can rip before you get the unpredictable stutter of a full cache. In mechanical shutter at 12 FPS, the R5 will give you between 10 and 15 seconds of glorious, uninterrupted shooting. This is the sum of the buffer and the number of shots a card can manage to ingest while the buffer is filling. The Delkin consistently took the lead here.

Of interest here is the fact that Sandisk’s smaller card sizes – which sport very similar performance metrics on the label – perform terribly relative to the 512 GB card. Unfortunately, this seems to be the norm. Sony’s smaller sizes also perform poorly in the other tests relative to the 512 GB, although they are keeping up with their bigger sibling in this test of initial speed capacity.

Heat

An early version of our cache depth test showed much more variation among the cards, but we discovered that running tests very quickly, one after the other, would increase a card’s temperature, and this write performance would be throttled. It appears from talking to reps at multiple manufacturers that this is something that will be true for all CFexpress cards. It also appears to be the reason you don’t see people brandishing minimum write speeds — because it is very temperature-dependent. It also may be because an “effective minimum write capacity” number that indicated a speed below 40 degrees celsius would be embarrassingly low – likely around 550 MB/sec. for the best cards, which wouldn’t look cool emblazoned on a card label.

The good news is that there are very few people who will use their cards more intensively than we did for these tests, and the cards very rarely got hot enough to affect performance. After shooting about 3,500 stills in a row, formatting the card after about every 300, we saw some performance degradation that may have been heat-related. This is likely an area that video shooters will be more concerned about.

We did keep track of temperatures after this, monitoring how much the temperatures rose between each run of 30 seconds of shooting. It was so consistent among the cards, it’s not worth reporting other than to say that we’d see a roughly 2 degree Celsius increase per run, and simply plugging 5 numbers into a computer between runs and formatting the card would provide enough time for the camera’s card slot to lose 1 degree. We never saw odd performance changes below 50 degrees C, and stills shooters are unlikely to see those temps.

Even after several thousand shots in a few minutes, the cards were typically measured to be only in the mid-40s. Stills photographers won’t need to worry, but video people may find some cards lower writing capacity below the bitrate required for 8k shooting once a certain heat level is reached. More likely, the R5 will stop recording due to its own heat detection firmware routines. Video users of the R5 should be using an external recorder for high bitrate clips longer than a few minutes. That also has the benefit of removing recording time limits. The Ninja V external recorder today costs roughly the same as one of the 512 GB cards in this review.

Another alternative to using CFexpress cards and putting that heat internally in the camera can be found with the just-released ZITAY XFexpress to SSD Converter, reviewed by Matthew Allard over at Newsshooter.

Shots Per Half-Minute

Here is what happens when you set a camera on electronic shutter (20 frames per second) and mash that trigger for half a minute. The scale of this chart starts at 250 images, which exaggerates the differences between the cards. All the cards perform decently, even the pokey SanDisk ones of 256GB and below.

Here is where you see the smaller cards in the Sony system also start to falter, even though their labels claim equivalent performance with the 512 GB version.

It should be said that each of these cards has a different shooting rhythm style. The Sony 512 has a pleasing, consistent rhythm to the shots, shooting roughly equal amounts on and off after filling the buffer. The Lexar is a big more syncopated, perhaps less predictable. The Angelbird and ProGrade cards create more tension, with a spattery non-pattern. You never really know in which tenth of a second the shutter will start up again, or for how long.

The affordable Delkin surprises here by coming in 8th after winning the buffer test that showed how many uninterrupted frames it could take before the buffer caused skipping. It appears to be a sprinter of a card, perhaps with firmware that is more cautious on heat throttling, but that is just speculation.

The chart above shows the performance of the cards in mechanical (first curtain) shutter mode. This is favored by many with the R5 because its maximum of 12 frames per second is a reasonable rate when you’re not trying to capture the fastest movements. It’s also not very loud for a mechanical shutter. The R5 forces electronic shutter users into the 20 fps rate, which often is a drain of time later when culling pictures. By and large, the cards keep their relative rankings. The scale of this chart changes to a minimum of 200 frames, so the two charts of how-many-frames-in-30-seconds aren’t as different from one another as might initially seem.

Speed Claims

Below, is a table of the claimed maximum write and read speeds of the cards. As discussed earlier, dynamic heat reactions prevent there being a real minimum write speed figure, but even so, these maximum speeds show the manufacturers being pretty generous with themselves. These numbers are an industry convention that doesn’t have a great deal to do with actual card performance. To round out the table, we added a couple of additional rows with information just slightly more useful than the marketing claims.

The “Spooling Up” Gotcha

When looking at online forum discussions for Canon EOS R5 performance, we noticed that several people seemed to think that the R5 had a terribly long initial startup time, making it inconvenient for action and wildlife photographers. Many of us other R5 owners were puzzled by this, as the spooling-up time seemed to be impressively short.

Over the course of jockeying CFexpress cards through the camera for a few days, we may have discovered why some are affected by this and not others. The camera “polls” the cards upon startup, and some can cause the camera to spend an extra 4 seconds during that time. In our tests, one in particular showed this: the Angelbird 660 XT GB. This isn’t as crippling as it may sound, as this polling happens only in two cases; during the turning on phase, and right after a card formatting. So if a user leaves the camera on, merely waking up a viewfinder won’t trigger the extra delay. But turning your camera off after each shot will.

What About Video?

Meh. Video people really need a binary answer of yes or no… Does this card write the desired video format and not skip frames? With all of the cards in the first tier of performance, they can write 8k or 4k HQ video until they are full; or more likely, until the R5 gives them an overheating timeout. So, there. We did video.

Of course, if you’re using the R5, and you’re at all serious about video, you’re recording to an external recorder, and the memory card is precisely the thing you’ve removed and put aside. There is some thought that some CFexpress cards may generate more heat than others. At the request of a forum dweller over on FredMiranda.com, we measured before and after temperatures during a test run of all of the cards, making sure the camera’s slot had cooled to at least a common maximum temperature (45 C). Keeping the temperature to that or lower, we saw no degradation in the data with higher temps.

Price

Price mattered to start, of course, but when you figure out that the performance on these cards is pretty consistently good, price takes on even greater importance as a differentiator. Here’s the breakdown of prices as of mid-September 2020 at B&H…

CFexpress Card Reading/Writing

CFexpress cards, like their predecessors the XQD cards, act essentially as SSD drives when put into a card reader. When mounted as a drive tools such as Black Magic Design’s Speed Test application can be used to compare their performance for reading and writing without the camera hardware and firmware interfering. When we do this with the 10 tested cards, we find a few interesting things:

1. There is some correlation between drive performance and actual performance in terms of throughput when used in a camera. The chart here shows a comparison of the drive performance (orange) versus the number of frames that can be blasted through the card in 30 seconds on an R5. These numbers are presented as indices, not actual performance metrics.

2. Potential performance as a drive is much higher than actual delivered performance in a camera – by roughly a factor of 2. Even more interesting, that drive performance is only about half as fast as the claimed maximum performance. This means that the R5 is currently getting about a quarter of the performance promised by the maximum write figures.

3. The correlation between drive performance and camera performance is inconsistent for some cards. This may have to do with firmware differences. Some smaller-than-512 GB cards seem to have similar performance between functioning as a drive on a computer and functioning as a memory card in the camera, where the others show much better performance when used as a drive.

In conducting the tests for the cards hooked up to a computer, we saw some very strange results, eventually figuring out that major differences would be introduced not only by using different card readers, but also even which port we chose to hook it up to on the computer, and also what sort of cord was used. These results retested, standardized on a Sonnet dual CFexpress card reader using a Thunderbolt 3 port and cord.

[We will soon have a review available comparing this reader to the Delkin Devices card reader and the Angelbird card reader, both of which use USB 3.2 ports.]

Our experience was that on a USB port, the Sonnet was slower than the other two, but on the Thunderbolt port, the Sonnet was fastest yet. Combine that with different cords providing different bandwidth, and some computers having different levels of USB support on different ports, this is rife for confusion and points out that people can compare their own bandwidth results to ours to see if perhaps they could get significantly better download rates by tinkering with those factors.

Service

In the course of comparing cards, we discovered two genuine bugs. In talking these over with the manufacturers, we were surprised to see them being very open about this, with them asking specific questions to help narrow down the problem. The two manufacturers, Delkin and Angelbird, were not apprised of the fact we were reviewing the cards and were treating us as just another customer.

When Delkin received word we had a problem with the card being read through a third party card reader, we got a call from the person who ran service at their California headquarters. When Angelbird was told of a very similar problem, they immediately sent one of their own card readers 1-day mail from Austria for free. In both cases, we had working cards in cameras within 36 hours. There are three important takeaways from this:

1. The CFexpress standard, as interpreted by camera manufacturers, is still being established in implementation, so we can expect issues to crop up as new cameras are introduced and firmware needs to be adapted. There is no amount of testing that would solve the issue of a third party camera maker launching a camera with a slightly different protocol interpretation a year later, so all manufacturers are likely as vulnerable to this problem as all the others.

2. The good news is that the card producers appear to be standing behind their cards both with a surprising service level, and also an attitude of collegial cooperation, using the customer community to help track down issues. In both cases, we had great follow-up communication to make sure we were shooting without issue. The best sales asset Delkin has is a guy named Mark, and for Angelbird it’s a fellow named Fabian. After all of this testing is over, I will personally be buying one more large card, and it’s likely going to be a Delkin or an Angelbird, partly due to performance/price, but also because they have given me the greatest confidence about their commitment to standing behind the cards.

3. The problems noted above can be solved with the use of either the Delkin or the Angelbird card readers, which each work fine with all 10 cards tested.

Methodology

All shots were taken as RAW files at 1000/th of a second. Two Canon R5 cameras were used to check the consistency of results. Both mechanical and electronic shutters were used in a significant number of tests, just to ensure that there wasn’t a relative difference in performance among the cards (there wasn’t), with one shooting 12 frames per second (FPS) and the other 20 FPS.

Two sets of data were taken at 250 ISO and at 3200 ISO to see if there were relative performance differences with the different sized files (there weren’t any observable). Some of the data averages are rounded to the nearest ten so we don’t mistakenly imply that our precision is better than it actually is.

Limitations:

  • Only RAW was used.
  • Temperature did not appear to affect performance – and this was tested – but the tests did not wait for the camera to cool down between each trial which would have been optimal. Instead, we just made sure the temps didn’t exceed 45C.
  • Tests were limited to two R5 bodies and one sample each of all of the cards, except the Delkin, where we were able to get an early copy of the 512 GB version with the new firmware. Both Delkin cards performed similarly. Regarding the low sample sizes, the consistency between bodies makes me confident they aren’t introducing bias, but an anomalous performer among the cards would definitely goof up the results.
  • Tests were locked down on a tripod with the same view (a carved duck decoy) with reproducible artificial LED light. The subject and environment provided very consistent, reproducible files, but it didn’t strain the camera in terms of tracking, battery use, etc. This was deliberate, as those factors would be difficult to reproduce perfectly for each testing series.

CFexpress Card Readers

Over the two weeks taken to construct this review, we found ourselves realizing we needed a broader view of the CFexpress card readers, to make sure that the single reader we originally had was not introducing any bias in the data rates between the cards and the computer. Firmware introduced by Canon’s slightly different implementation of the CFexpress standard also caused some issues with the original card reader.

Angelbird sent us a card reader for free to address a firmware incompatibility that appears to be primarily due to the Sonnet card reader’s firmware. They did this not knowing we were reviewing their card; a testament to their well-earned reputation for being very service minded. We purchased a Delkin reader to compare as well. There are a couple of additional popular readers available.

Angelbird (featuring grip tape swatch to cover crazy-bright light)
Sonnet
Delkin ((sadly, no Tic-Tacs inside)

Conclusions

Relative to one another, the cards in the same class as one another showed only about 10 percent variance in performance. There certainly is shown a different set of classes, though, when looking at the 128 GB and 256 GB cards versus the higher capacity models. Those smaller cards get a roughly 20 percent performance hit on average. So, with everything performing at a very, very high level, and little variation among them, factors like price and service weigh heavily.

My own assessment is that Delkin wins here because the 512 GB card reviewed is less than $1 per GB, and they even sell one with four times the capacity for $0.50 per GB, which is less than half the cost per GB for most of the other brands’ largest cards. Their firmware issue was solved just this week with a new version. The card’s biggest downside is a longer full cache clearing (by 1.5 seconds) and a lower number of frames on very, very long shutter presses (>15 seconds). But it won the category for the number of shots taken in mechanical shutter before it stutters. That’s pretty representative. You can get the best card for the first 15 seconds of shooting, but that same card will perform in the lower half of the cards for the second 15 seconds of shooting. This sort of tradeoff is apparent with all the cards and across the different specs measured.

But, really, you can’t go wrong with that one, or the Angelbird XT 660GB, or the Prograde Cobalt 325GB, or the Sony Tough 512 GB, or the SanDisk Pro Extreme 512 GB, or – now – the Lexar Professional 512 GB. I’d just stay away from the sizes below those. Some of those larger cards will be a bit better in one area or another. If money isn’t an object, pick your most limiting factor and look at the relevant chart above to pick the winner. But for everyone else, just go get a big Delkin. And, while you’re at it, get one of those little Angelbird CFexpress readers, so you’ll never worry about which reader can read what card.

Even the people coming from the Sony A9 bodies or the Canon 1DX Mark III will find the throughput of the Canon R5 a bit mind-bending when using CFexpress cards. The SanDisk 512 card is pushing 560 GB per second to clear the cache. That’s 10 shots per second of 45 megapixel RAW files. That said, even the fastest performing card isn’t close to the claims on the labels. It is about 1/4 the capacity of the CFexpress standard (~2TB) and about 1/3 the claimed maximum write capability (~1.5TB). The implication is that better is still to come. A card functioning at the bandwidth claimed on these cards’ labels wouldn’t even need a cache. The card would suck in the data as quickly as the camera can produce it. I expect that will happen in a camera generation or two. We’ll be watching and reviewing.

Addendum: Late-Arriving Entrant: Lexar 512 GB

A couple of hours before this review was to be published, the FedEx man knocked on the door with a Lexar 512 GB card. The quick tests rushed to compare results showed that the SSD tests proved about 40 percent slower than the other 512 GB options. Despite this, the actual camera performance was pretty great. It beat even the SanDisk 512 for the fastest cache clearing and managed to average 305 shots in 30 seconds when mashing the trigger in both mechanical and electronic shutter. So we’ll add it to the list of cards that win in one category and that are roughly as good as all the other top-class cards. Interestingly, this one is also pretty inexpensive at $0.94 per GB.

TL;DR

Finally, we include a “too long; didn’t read” section below to show all of the tests across all of the original 10 cards. This may save you some reading, but it’ll certainly cause some squinting. We’ve titled this cityscape of a chart “Downtown CFexpressville.”


Special thanks to a few people who helped push this review along. Two Canon R5 shooters who wish to remain anonymous lent multiple CFexpress cards. LensRentals.com was able to provide a couple of the brands on short notice. Jeff, over at cameramemoryspeed.com gave great advice on figuring out methodology. Forum dwellers over at FredMiranda.com also helped figure out what tests would be most useful and helped inspire the effort in the first place.


About the author: Tig Tillinghast is a photographer based in Vermont. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. This article was also published at Camnostic.

A Comparison of Variable ND Filters

Is there a good variable ND filter out there? Today, we’re going to take a look at variable ND filters. We compare Peter McKinnon’s Polar Pro, B&W, Syrp, and Tiffen variable ND Filters. Let’s see if those pricey Peter McKinnon filters are worth it compared to some of the less expensive options.

So I just dropped $450 on Peter McKinnon’s variable ND Filters from Polar Pro. I needed some quick for a job. They were trusted. I love a couple of features. They have stop markings and hard stops and they seem pretty robust. So I dropped all that money on them because I needed a good set. And I want to see if it was worth it compared to some of the cheaper options.

I was on a shoot one day and I needed a variable ND Filters for three cameras. So I bought the Tiffin $175 inexpensive variable ND filters. Let’s compare these. We’re also going to look at the Syrp ND filters and the B&W ND Filters. What do we need to look for? What’s the concern?

Let me just say this, I don’t love variable ND Filters. One of the biggest reasons for that is color shift. Most of them have some sort of shift that’s not good at all. And then you’re also dealing with stuff like vignetting and cross-hatching because the variable ND is just two polarizers that are stuck back to back. So it can do some weird stuff to the light that’s entering the lens. And sometimes it’ll kill the contrast. It’s really interesting how it will affect the contrast. So it’s really important to look at those three things and to see what’s a good variable ND that is going to work for you. I think you’re going to be very shocked at just how little you have to pay. Let’s check it out.

We want you to see the different filters and exactly how they respond to color contrast and cross-hatching and things like that. We’re going to go quickly through these. Most of the filters were within 400 degrees Kelvin off. I think our B&W filters are like 150 degrees off. We white-balanced all these using an eyedropper in Photoshop back to a clean color and then we saw how much they had changed from the original. How much the color setting had changed.

Here we have the no filter image first. There is a tiny bit of vignetting in the corners. We eye dropped close here to the corner of the building. It’s like 5100 degrees Kelvin plus 11 on the camera.

Now we’re going to pull up our first filter here. It is the B&W 1-5 stop variable ND. The image on the left is uncorrected with the filter and then the image on the right we’ve eye dropped that same spot again to adjust it. This is 1.3 stops, which is the minimum on the B&W filter. So it’s pretty accurate. It corrected back really nicely. It’s a beautiful clean image. The blue is wonderful. It didn’t lose the contrast too much. So it actually looks great. But how does it look now if we go to three stops?

At three stops in the uncorrected image, you see the color start to wash out a little and there’s some weird shading going on. You’re starting to see that cross-hatching develop. But once you correct it, it actually doesn’t look bad. It’s a little shadowy and a little bit desaturated. It’s not amazing. It’s okay.

Then at five stops it actually looks better in my opinion at five stops then at three stops. Even though we did have to correct it a bit more. We see a little darkness in the lower right corner and lightness light in the sky. It shifted 450 degrees K and plus 10 magenta. It really looks better at 1.3 stops or up to five stops.

So let’s go to the Polar Pro. This is the one I’m already really invested in. So I was hoping that it would do great. We will let you be the judge. The minimum is 1.3 stops. It looks great corrected. It actually looks almost identical to the original. It shifted 300 degrees Kelvin and plus 10 magenta. But it easily corrected and looks good.

But then after that it turns kind of ugly. It gets muddy looking in the middle, and this is at three stops here.

At five stops it seems like the colors just got desaturated. So even though we correct it with the white balance, but the color is gone. It was that really. So the Polar Pro at 5 stops shifted minus 300 K plus 9 magenta. But that’s not the issue. The issue is that it just became very desaturated and muddy looking.

The 6 stop mark on this filter is actually delivering 5.6 stops of filtration and then the nine stop mark is delivering 7.3 stops with filtration. So it doesn’t actually filter out as much light as it advertises, which is kind of a disappointment. The color shifting at the minimum setting is still kind of bad. The 6 stop mark is not as bad as the last one was. It’s minus 400 degrees K, 6 magenta. It’s a little desaturated. It’s not quite as bad but feels kind of muddy again to me.

But then at the 9-stop mark or 7.3 stops it clears up. And actually, it looks pretty good. So if you’re using this combo of lenses, it works really well at the minimum, like the one-stop and the seven-stop end.

But in between really messes around with the color. The disappointment here for me is it’s not filtering nine stops of light.

Okay, so the Syrp 1-9 filter. This is the original image. This has way more vignetting. It kind of collapses on the side and gets dark on the sides. The color is actually pretty consistent. We lose about 450 K plus 2 magenta. Not much magenta shift but about 450 K. On its max it is 150 K.

It doesn’t desaturate. It just gets these dark areas on the right and left. You can see where the cross-hatching is starting. Maybe with some subject matters this wouldn’t show but if you have any kind of a high key area in your image like the blue sky like we have here, it is super noticeable, especially for video. If you are moving around, it’s going to be really noticeable. So that Syrp 1-9 is really more like a 1-6. With vignetting all the way through.

Let’s look at the newer Syrp 5-10. They call this the super dark filter. The range is about 5.3 to 9.6. Again, the color looks pretty good, but the vignetting is super heavy. It’s okay at the 5 stop end but it gets really bad at the 9. It looks almost as if you’ve isolated or masked out the building and you made the entire sky black. It is shifting from 300 K to 250 K plus 10 magenta. But the cross-hatching is a problem. I will say the color is pretty good all the way through. It doesn’t give you that muddy look like we got with the Polar Pro.

All right, here’s the Tiffin 1-9. It actually is not bad for being the cheapest option. I think at the 1 stop it’s really about 1.6 stops. At that end, it looks super clean with hardly any effect to the image.

Then we go to 3 stops and it is pretty good, still really clean.

We shot this to 7.3. I think this is probably as far as I felt comfortable pushing it. I felt like this is the max. It doesn’t go to nine because nine doesn’t work.

I would back off of this. I would probably just keep it at 6 stops.

It has the cleanest color this shift. It shifted minus 350 or 250 K. So it didn’t shift that much. But you just start getting that vignetting so early.

Let’s look at all these filters at their minimum setting at 1-2 stops. At this end, they all do pretty well, except the Syrp is already vignetting. But it’s hard to say a clear winner here. And now we have them all at three stops. The Syrp has the vignetting and the Polar Pro and the B&W are both a little desaturated. I’d pick the Tiffin at this point.

This is at 3 stops.

So here’s 6 or 7 stops on all the filters that can go that far. Polar Pro looks pretty good at the dark end. This is 7.3 stops Polar Pro’s colors cleaned up and doesn’t have that muddy look. I’d actually say it’s the best of the bunch at 7 stop end. The Syrp is still vignetting. The Syrp 5-10 vignetting is even worse, which is surprising because you think the super dark filter would be the one that was better at being super dark. The Tiffin does again have vignetting. It’s really more of a 1-5 filter but I thought I’d pull it up again just to see how it compares.

We tested a B&W straight filter and not a variable ND. This is a 3 stop and a 6 stop. So you can stack these to give yourself a 9 stop ND filter. It is startling how much cleaner these are color-wise and you don’t get any of the vignetting. The difference between the corrected and uncorrected images is almost negligible. It’s clean all the way across.

Those B&W filters are super high quality.

We threw in these Amazon filters. I had some filters that my son-in-law wanted. I told my wife they were terrible filters. I think they were around $50 for the set of 3. I’d be shocked if they were any good at all. They are not as good as the B&W. You get a little more of this shading going on and the color was a little less accurate, but it still beats out the variable ND filters.

So here’s my takeaway on this, if you’re a still photographer, and you need ND filters to be able to give yourself blurring water in the daytime or doing time-lapse where you want to have the people moving using a long shutter, buy a straight-up 3 stop and 6 stop set like the B&W. I think that B&W 3 and 6 will give you up to nine stops of ND. It’s going to give you really clean color all the way through but allow you to get that blurry water.

Now if you’re a video shooter and screwing and unscrewing filters isn’t practical in the run and gun situation, you want the variable ND because it’s fast. You have a range from 1-5 stops with just a twist of a thing, it doesn’t have to come off the camera. I think if I had to make a choice, it’d be really tough.

I’m leaning towards the Tiffin just because it was so consistent, but it only gives you up to 5, maybe 6 stops of filtration and often that’s not enough. If I want to shoot at a 2.8 outside in the daylight you really need 8 stops or 10 stops of ND.

I think if I had to choose a runner up, I might go with a B&W quality glass. It was 1-5 stops. There was a little bit of washed-out color. I think the worst offenders were the Polar Pro because the color just went crazy in the middle. It was good on the ends, but in the middle range it is terrible.

But there was no vignetting so it has that going for it. And the Syrp just had crazy vignetting yet the color was okay. This whole thing was a huge surprise. The cheapest option was maybe the best one which never happens in photography.

So kudos to Tiffen, who has been making filters for a long time and they have an excellent product.

So there you have it, a look at variable ND filters and a look at some standard ND filters. Hope this helps you make a decision as a photographer or as a videographer on what’s the best one for you to buy and to use on your camera.


About the author: Jay P. Morgan is a commercial photographer with over two decades of experience in the industry. He teaches photography through his company, The Slanted Lens, which runs a popular YouTube channel. This article was also published here.