The quality of ND filtration is often overlooked but incredibly important when using modern digital cameras outside. As the sensitivities of sensors increase they become harder to filter when used in bright light – especially if you want that ultra-thin depth of field look.
Without ND, you can’t shoot outside in the bright sun without compromising your shutter speed/angle. You really need to understand how your ND works and what it could be doing to your image.
I recently discovered the True ND filter range while visiting Japan. I had never heard of them before and you probably haven’t either. They make the bold claim that unlike other NDs their filters produce no colour shift and have no IR pollution. They are marketed as having true neutrality – I figured I had to check it out.
I conducted a variety of tests and put the True ND filters up against the Tiffen and Redrock Micro ND Filters. The comparison was technical as I could make it given the equipment I had to work with. My base was always the Sony F55 with clear ND, which was balanced with a 18% grey card. By adding ND after balancing the camera I could see if there was any colour shift between the different filters.
Like most people I have never really taken the time to look into how ND filters shift colour, so the results were quite surprising. While a lot of modern day video cameras have built-in ND and IR protection even these can produce a certain amount of colour shift.
There is of course an argument that you could just adjust the white balance every time you add ND. Well yes, you could…but you would be changing the colour temperature of your entire scene. I would prefer neutrality because I want to have a consistent colour temperature and look whether or not I’m running ND.
This wasn’t a blanket ND filter test as I compared only three different filter manufacturers’ offerings. I will leave you to judge the results of the tests yourselves, but for me the True ND was by far the most neutral of the three. It wasn’t even really close. They do retail for $600 each so they are not cheap.
So did they live up to their claims of true neutrality? They are certainly super-close. I was very impressed by the results and I don’t say that lightly. One of the other things that surprised me was just how consistent the True ND filters were at high levels of ND (0.9, 1.2, 1.5). The Tiffens started to suffer from bad colour shift once you got over 0.6. To my eye, the True ND 0.9 actually out-performed the built-in 0.9 ND on the Sony F55.
If you have ever tried to use a cine lens for run-and-gun shooting on a DSLR, or other camera without built-in ND, then you will know the problem. Because of their large diameters and lack of filter threads regular screw-on filters are just too small. The traditional solution is a mattebox, but it can be bulky, cumbersome and not too robust.
The solution to this problem may be a very interesting new product distributed by Alphatron and shown at Broadcast Asia this week. Made by a Japanese company Triad it is a combination lens shade and filter holder designed for cine lenses. Similar to the hard rubber lens shades commonly found on broadcast lenses this has the advantage of also being a 4×4 filter holder – perfect for adding ND filters in run-and-gun situations. Currently it comes in diameters up to 104mm but we were told a larger version for 114mm diameter lenses like the popular Zeiss CP2 line was a possibility.
Arri shows off their new accessories for the Sony F5 and F55 cameras, which include a quick-release plate with rosettes for handles, along with a top rig with a microphone mount. Also new is a 6in matte box and a cage system with built-in rod mount for cameras like Red and Canon 1D C. Jonah Kessel talks to Arri at NAB 2013.
Using Neutral Density (ND) faders when shooting DSLR video can be tricky. What if there was a mattebox that offered the same functionality as ND faders with greater control and the advantages of being able to use multiple filters? Well the Letus LTMB1 in combination with the company’s circular polarizer does just that. It is part of the Shane HurlbutMaster Cinema Series and can be a purchased with the MCS ManCam, MCS ShoulderCam and MCS StudioCam bundles. It can also be purchased separately.
The MCS line of products were developed jointly by Letus and Shane. The rigs were used extensively on the Hollywood action movie “Act Of Valor” – which was shot mainly on DSLRs.
The Letus LTMB1 on my Sony F3 setup
Features (from the Letus website):
- All aluminum parts are CNC machined out of high grade aluminum sourced from Switzerland
- Resin parts are extreme durability polymers to withstand the rigors of production
- 3-4 stage matte box including the 138mm circular polarizer holder
- Innovative ARF (Anti-reflection Tray) prevents light reflection into actors face when backlit
- Matte box holds two (2) 4×5.65 filters at an angle or three (3) 4×5.65 filters straight
- Includes a 138mm round filter tray for circular polarizer
- Circular polarizer can be rotated via a small wheel at the top
- Marking window on matte box to mark polarizer positions for easy repeatability
- Pop-up filter spring to easily remove circular polarizer
- Matte box is a light-weight clamp on design with easily interchangeable lens clamps (80mm, 114mm)
- Rail mount is included for mounting matte box to 15mm support rods
- Optional top and side flags and eybrows available for fully kitting out the matte box
- Optional lens clamps available for simple clamp-on functionanlity (highly recommended)
More information about the matte box can be found here.
The Letus LTMB1 on a Canon DSLR
About Matthew Allard, Aljazeera Senior Field Cameraman, Kuala Lumpur: Matt has been a Camera/Editor in TV news for more 20 years, previously working for both Channel 9 and Channel 10 in Australia. Twice Network Ten Australia’s cameraman of the year as well as being a Walkley Finalist for outstanding camerawork in 2006 (for coverage of the Cronulla Race Riots) and a Logie Finalist for outstanding news coverage 2006 (Bali 9). He is a multiple ACS (Australian Cinematographers Society) award winner. His Sword Maker story that was shot on a 7D won the prestigious Neil Davis International News Golden Tripod at the 2011 ACS Awards. He has covered news events in more than 35 countries, from major sporting events to terrorist bombings. Based out of the Kuala Lumpur broadcast centre in Malaysia he is an avid user and follower of new technology, shooting stories on HD broadcast cameras, the Sony F3 as well as new Canon DSLRs.
So NAB is all over for another year and even with a team of three covering the event it’s impossible to check out everything that you would like to. Here’s a quick rundown of a few lenses and filters we thought were interesting but either had no time to video or felt was sexy but not appropriate to the news shooter:
Redrock Micro's V.3 follow focus
First up is the new Redrock Micro follow focus v.3 which was shown last year in prototype but is now working and due to ship soon. It’s a big improvement over the popular v.2r and we’ll wait and see how much that has added to the cost.
The LCW 4x4 fader filter kit
Birns and Sawyer were showing the new 4×4 ND fader from Lightcraft Workshop. This matched pair of filters is similar in concept to the Schneider vari-ND we filmed earlier int he week – but comprises two 4×4 filters instead of just one and a screw-in. Designed to be used exclusively in a Mattebox I’d be interested to see how it compares to the Schneider.
The D-Focus lightweight mattebox
Budget follow focus makers D-Focus were showing a nice prototype budget mattebox. It is pretty lightweight and has a swing away option. Price is not set yet but I’m told it will be very competitive.
Century PL converted Canon 17mm TS-E lens
Next up is this lovely looking PL conversion by Century of Canon’s 17mm tilt shift lens. Quite how you attach a follow focus to a tilted lens I don’t know, but it looks sexy none the less.
If you have to ask the price you can forget it
Fujinon showed a cine lens that simply rocks, sadly it weighs more than my kit bag and costs more than some luxury cars. Again not one for the news shooter but oh so nice.
Tokina 11-16mm NEX mount conversion
A Japanese manufacturer was showing the popular Tokina 11-16mm lens professionally converted to NEX mount. This is easily done with an inexpensive convertor but this is a proper conversion with proper aperture markings. It would be ideal on the upcoming Sony Nex FS-100. Sadly it’s not going to be cheap.
Lastly if you can’t afford any of the other new gear at NAB then maybe you can simply dress up your old lens with a tiger striped skin from lensskins.com.
Somehow I missed this until right near the end of the NAB show. Schneider have decided to bring out their own vari-ND filter solution using their high quality glass. I find vari-ND filters essential for my daily work and am really glad to see a high end solution – albeit at a higher price than existing filters.
Essentially a high quality matched pair of polarisering filters, one circular and one linear, you can vary the amount of neutral density across a claimed ten stop range. Unlike some other variable ND filters Schneider claim theirs will remain sharp on a 200mm lens (on a 5DmkII).
The Schneider Vari-ND solution
The set comprises a 77mm screw in circular polariser and a 4×4 linear polariser which is held in a custom Lee filter holder which allows the filter to rotate.
The filter holder is made by Lee filters
I have bought this kit for my personal use and hope to be doing a test soon.
Since getting my shiny new 1DmkIV I’ve been rebuilding my standard go everywhere kit to accomodate the new camera. The 1.3x crop factor has been seen as limiting by many who have got used to a ‘full frame’ body like the 5DmkII. Some users have sited the lack of good, fast aperture wide angle lenses and it is true there are few options. I’m specifically going to focus on video here but much of this applies to stills too.
The widest Canon f2.8 zoom is the 16-35 f2.8L II, a fine lens but when put on the 1DmkIV it becomes the 35mm equivalent of approximately a 21-45mm, certainly not too shabby and probably as wide as you need to go in many circumstances. It also takes 82mm screw in filters and also takes a Mattebox easily. However if you do want to stray wider the options are more limited. I have a Canon 17-40 f4L which is also nice but not quite as wide or as fast aperture as I’d like.
Canon make the 10-22 f3.5-4.5 EF-S lens which sadly does not fit the 1DmkIV as its only designed to fit the 7D and other EF-S mount bodies. It can be modified through surgery to fit a 1D body but it hardly seems worth it as it is still slow aperture and it will of course vignette.
Canon do offer the very nice 14mm f2.8L II lens I recently used for my horses shoot in Singapore, its very sharp and quite compact, however it is also has a very bulbous protruding front element that you can’t easilty get a filter onto. For video this is problematic as Neutral density filters are pretty much essential for daylight shooting at wide aperture whilst maintaining a shutter speed between 1/50th and 1/125th for natural looking motion. Front filters simply can’t be fitted to the Canon 14mm and the only option is to put filter gels behind the lens where there is a slot – not convenient.
Sigma and Tamron both make cheaper fixed 14mm lenses but neither is as sharp as the Canon and they have the same issues with filters. There is apparantly a remarkably inexpensive Korean manual focus 14mm f2.8 from Samyang coming out as well but I’ve never tried it.
Then there is the Sigma 12-24 f4.5-f5.6, lovely and wide but very slow aperture. I also have this lens and for a corrected (non-fisheye) lens it is about as wide as you can go and is very sharp. On a bright day its fine but no good for low light.
There are also a multitude of non-corrected fisheye lenses like the Canon 15mm f2.8 or Sigma 8mm f3.5 which some people ‘de-fish’ in software when shooting stills, however I’m really not sure how well that would work in video.
Which leads me to my current best solution, the Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 which I originally purchased for my Eos7D. Now this is a very sharp EF-S crop factor lens designed for the smaller 1.5 crop so it doesn’t cover the whole 35mm frame. It is f2.8 all the way through and has a nice wide manual focus ring.
Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 mounted on the 1DmkIV
When fitted to a 1DmkIV it vignettes heavily at the 11mm end but when you start zooming in the vignette goes. By about 13mm its virtually gone and you can use the lens normally even when stopped down to f16. It really is quite sharp even in the corners and shows only minimal Chromatic abberation. The AF in stills mode is pretty average but in video I’d manual focus anyway so this is not a problem. Essentially what you have is a usable range of 13mm to 16mm which in 35mm terms would be approximately a 17-21mm f2.8.
Why would I choose this lens over say the Canon 14mm for video? simple – the Tokina has a 77mm front thread which can be used with screw in filters or in my case a Genus Wide Angle Mattebox (from about 13.5mm with no problems using an adapter ring, you can probably get 13mm with flexible cloth nun’s knickers instead of a fixed ring). You can also fit the popular Genus 77mm Fader ND filter to this lens but it will vignette from about 14mm, still pretty good.
Genus 77mm Fader ND filter fitted to the Tokina 11-16mm
Until Canon bring out something better this is currently the most practical fast aperture ultra-wide angle for video use on the 1DmkIV. I hope this New Year will see other innovative lens options and a Canon 14-24 f2.8 has been long rumoured, I just hope whatever comes out can take filters.