Friday, 5 January 2018

Landscapes with the Hoya ND400

At the end of 2017 I began to play around with filters for my landscape photography. I've always been a Cokin square filter user (both the A and P styles), and so I picked up some super cheap (i.e plastic) neutral density (ND) filters to see if this was something I could/should use on a regular basis (see this post).

An ND filter is basically a 'darkening' filter. It places a dark - hopefully 'neutral' - colour over the lens which shuts out a lot of the light reaching the sensor, giving a longer shutter speed. The amount of light blocked depends on the strength of filter used, anywhere from 2 shutter stops up to 10 stops of light! Lee Filters have what they call their 'Little and Big Stopper' - cutting out 6 or 10 stops of light respectively. Many other filter companies have followed suit, offering a variety of square ND filters, made from high quality resin up to photo grade high quality glass. These are a great choice if you have already bought into the whole square filter eco-system, but can be very expensive (over $200NZ each for the Little or Big Stopper).

With Christmas coming, I was starting to get asked by my family what I would like from Santa? 😉 I decided that I would like to get a 'serious' ND filter to replace the plastic filters I had previously been using that were degrading my image and leaving a strong colour cast (see previous post). Asking for a $200NZ+ filter was probably a bit too much for our Christmas budget, so I decided to ask instead for a screw-in ND filter that would fit both my zoom lens (that share a 52mm filter thread). I was thrilled on Christmas morning when I opened a present to find a brand new Hoya ND400 52mm filter. Yay!

I've been a huge Hoya filter fan since I started in photography. Most of my protective UV filters are Hoya's, and I have always found their quality vs price point to be excellent. The ND400 is an 8 stop light-loss filter (actually 8 & 2/3rds to be exact) - so sits between the 6 and 10 stop Lee Filters. And while many photographers prefer the square filters for their versatility, I figured that if I was choosing to use an 8-stop ND filter in conjunction with a Cokin polariser, then having the ND screwed on to the front of the lens would free the filter holder up for other filters? Yesterday (Jan 4th), I got to put this to the test.

10 Mile Creek. Straight shot with no ND filter or Polariser. f5.6 @ 1/50th sec, ISO 200
We've been blessed with an amazing summer here on the West Coast this year. Sunny, hot, bright and clear days - beautiful for sunrise and sunset, not so great in the middle of the day. Fortunately this day was bright and warm - but overcast. There was still a lot of light, but it was soft. Ideal for forest and water photography - with an ND filter. I headed out to a walk I had been wanting to get back to for a while (it's an easy walk with a few places I knew I could get use to get down to the river). This first shot is straight out of camera, using the 12-50mm EZ lens. At 1/50th the movement in the water is quite distinctive, and there is quite a lot of light reflection in the water, even on an overcast day.

10 Mile Creek. With Hoya ND400 Filter. f8, @ 5 seconds. ISO 200
 With the addition of the Hoya ND400 filter, the 1/50th shutter speed has become 5 seconds (with a decrease in the aperture to f8). Now we get that classic 'smokey water' look that happens when you slow the shutter speed down with a neutral density filter. Although the first image might be more 'true' that what our eyes see when we are at the river, the second, slower shot actually seems to capture the sense of flowing water better. The image with the ND filter portrays movement of water over time and makes it seem more 'real', even though it never actually looks like this in reality.

10 Mile Creek. With Hoya ND400 and Cokin 'A' Polariser. f8 @ 15 seconds. ISO 200
With the addition of a polariser, we now not only see more of the riverbed itself (because the polariser cuts out the reflections on the water), but the green colours 'pop' - and the shutter speed has decreased 3 more stops to 15 seconds.

10 Mile Creek 2. OM-D E-M1 with Zuiko 12-50mm EZ lens. F5.6 @ 1/125th. ISO 200
10 Mile Creek 2. OM-D E-M1 with Zuiko 12-50mm lens + Cokin 'A' Polariser. f5.6 @ 1/30th. ISO 200 
10 Mile Creek 2. OM-D E-M1 with Zuiko 12-50mm lens + Cokin Polariser & Hoya ND400. f8 @ 10 seconds. ISO 200
The three images above tell the same story. The first is straight out of camera and again is a fairly direct representation of the scene in front of the camera. The second adds a polariser, cutting out the reflections in the water and some of the glare on the rocks - making the colours more intense. While the third and final image adds the ND400, dropping the shutter speed to 10 seconds, blurring the water, and intensifying the colours even more. This 'may' have introduced a slight green cast to the image from the ND filter - or it could just be a result of the green light building up more over the long exposure? I'll have to do some more shooting with the ND in different lighting conditions to make any further conclusions on the introduction of colour casts.

10 Mile Creek 3. Cokin 'A' Polariser & Hoya ND400. f8 @ 5 seconds. ISO 200
Using the Hoya ND400 was a lot of fun, and I loved the final images it produced. The verdict is still out on whether it produces a colour cast to the images - but even if it does, I'm sure it's pretty easy to fix in Lightroom if you shoot RAW (and you should).

When used in conjunction with a polarizer on streams, riverbeds and waterfalls, the final results with the ND400 straight out of camera is like night and day! I had to do minimal work in Lightroom (some shadow and highlight recovery) because everything is pretty much achieved in-camera with the filters. It's taken me a very long time to get a decent ND filter for my landscape photography (over 30 years!) and I honestly don't know why it's taken so long? But now that I have the Hoya ND400 in my bag, beautiful long-exposure images are finally in my repertoire.   

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