Looking for advice on graduated neutral density (GND) filters

Discussion in 'Scenic, Architecture, and Travel' started by ijm5012, Apr 19, 2016.

  1. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Ian
    Hey there fellow m43 shooters. I really enjoy landscape photography, as it allows me to document vistas and views of places I've traveled, as well as capture some great sunrise/sunset images.

    Up to this point, I've amassed a good bit of quality gear that enables me to shoot these images (sturdy yet light CF tripod, good size ballhead for stability, 7-14/12-35/35-100 lenses, remote shutter release, etc.). The next step in terms of gear I'm looking to obtain are some square filters that will enable me to use them with my 7-14mm lens, as well as my 12-35mm lens (my two most used lenses just due to their versatility).

    I've found an acceptable filter system for the 7-14 that I can also use on the 12-35 via what is essentially a very large step-up ring, and plant to get a 3, 6, and 10-stop ND filter. However in addition to the standard ND filters, I am also looking to get a soft GND, hard GND, and reverse GND for shooting sunrise or sunset images near the horizon. The question I have is, am I better off going with the 2-stop or 3-stop versions of the GND filters? I can get either at the same price, but I'm not certain which would be better.

    At nearly $200 for the set of 3 GND filters, it's not an option to purchase both, so I'm looking for some insight from fellow shooters who have experience with these type of shots and have used GND filters in the past. I've posted a couple sample images below that showcase the images I'm talking about. Thank you for your thoughts and comments.


    26388988562_dfacdc96b4_b. Point State Park Sunrise Reflections - GH4 by Ian Menego, on Flickr

    25851133913_5fd2cba800_b. PNC Park Long Exposure - GH4 by Ian Menego, on Flickr

    25975418342_01437d415c_b. West End Bridge Sunrise - Easter Morning by Ian Menego, on Flickr

    24041913902_b27ac70c38_b. Observation Deck Sunrise by Ian Menego, on Flickr
     
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  2. Hypilein

    Hypilein Mu-43 Veteran

    296
    Mar 18, 2015
    I have read that with the smaller image circle soft grads are too soft for mu43. Not sure if you can use different hard stops instead for the same price. Maybe someone else can confirm this as I have no source and cannot speak from experience. My personal experience is that grad NDs are useless in digital because it is much easier to just take a bracketed exposure and do HDR or (closer to the actual ND) blend manually in Photoshop. There are very few times when you will actually get a completely even horizon line to work with a completely even filter. Some people may say that it is better to get it right in camera, but I think that is only true in a "personal achievement" sense. You will likely get better results by manually painting in a darker exposure in photoshop.

    Btw: the pictures you posted with this are lovely. Did you have any problems with clipped highlights in the sky that sparked your interest in grad NDs?
     
  3. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Ian
    Thanks for the kind words Hypilein.

    For a lot of these shots, I'm taking bracketed exposures, typically 3 shots covering a 5EV range, and then manipulating them in post (pulling back highlights, pushing shadows, playing with contrast/clarity/saturation, etc.). But the problem is that while this is fine for shorter exposures like the last two, this makes it difficult when dealing with longer exposures like the one of PNC Park, which was a 5-minute exposure by itself. Even the first image is a bracketed set, yet you can see how the faint purple in the sky between the orange and blue has mostly been lost and turned while.

    My thought was that by using a GND (and I too have heard that m43 sensors benefit from a harder GND compared to larger format sensors), that I would be able to preserve more detail in the sky while still being able to properly expose for the foreground. Maybe you're right that I could drop the soft GND and just go with a hard GND and reverse GND (if it's even necessary after having the hard GND, idk).

    I still don't know whether to get the 2 or 3 stop variant though.
     
  4. Repp

    Repp Mu-43 Top Veteran

    506
    Jan 27, 2011
    Oak Harbor, WA
    Though I only have a bit of experience with them, I'd say I get more use of my 3 stop soft/hard grads than my 2 stop versions. Like most of my purchases I overbought not knowing exactly what I needed and now leave a good chunk of it at home (not sure why I thought 1 stop filters would be worth it...? I like sets I guess).

    Not sure for other companies, but for Lee's Seven5 set the gradation is suppose to be narrower than on their other filters to compensate for smaller m43/apsc sensors. But the seven5 system is too narrow for the 7-14. =[

    In hind sight, I'd probably be best served by a 3/6/10 (maybe just 6/10?) stop set of NDs, and a set of 3 stop hard/soft grads. Though there is that new 15 stop...
     
  5. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    Based on my personal experience with post-processing images (not GNDs), I would personally go with 3 stops. I find there is often a huge difference between the exposure in the sky and the ground, and being able to equalize that lets you retain more detail everything. If you're already bracketing 5EV with your images, 3EV doesn't sound like overkill for nerfing the highlights, to me. Modern M4/3 sensors are really good at retaining shadow detail, but really struggle with highlights. Much better now than they were even with the GX1 16MP sensor generation, though.
     
  6. Repp

    Repp Mu-43 Top Veteran

    506
    Jan 27, 2011
    Oak Harbor, WA
    Here is what Lee has on their sight about it, but it doesn't say which crop format they set as standard.
    The LEE Seven5 Camera Filter System for Compact System Cameras. Scroll down 2/3 of the way to the blue box w/ the title "Professional hints".
     
  7. AG_Alex2097

    AG_Alex2097 Mu-43 Regular

    157
    Dec 18, 2015
    Alex S.
    Doesn't the soft or hard grad depend on the lens's front element size rather than the sensor size? (Although an average front element size could be used and represented as m43 grads i suppose (which means a smaller grad because of the tiny lenses for m43))

    If so and you're shooting adapted glass (or perhaps even native glass with an exceptional front element size (although i'm not sure if there are (m)any)) with larger than average front elements, your "m43 grads" will be really harsh on larger lenses
     
  8. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Ian
    My "large" lenses are the 7-14, 12-35, and 35-100, so hardly "large" in the grand scheme of things.
     
  9. AG_Alex2097

    AG_Alex2097 Mu-43 Regular

    157
    Dec 18, 2015
    Alex S.
    Okies, then you shouldn't have anything to worry about when buying format specific grads, i'll leave suggestions to others with hands on experience though :)
     
  10. Hypilein

    Hypilein Mu-43 Veteran

    296
    Mar 18, 2015
    Considering, that on my custom made filter for the P7-14 I barely don't get vignetting on 105mm filter size I think the 7-14 is quite big, even though the actual lens isn't. That is the beauty of bulbous front elements. Maybe it is actually related to FoV?

    Didn't think about longer exposures where bracketing is difficult. Good point.
     
  11. bahamot

    bahamot Mu-43 Regular

    171
    Dec 4, 2015
    I often find 0.6HE GND isn't enough even on sunset application, the 0.9 is better.

    Yesterday I experiment 0.6 HE GND and 0.9 HE GND combined to make reversed GND. Quite satisfy with the result.
    26535153515_a74e33c30c_b_d.
    The 0.9GND inserted normally (light to dense) while the 0.6GND inserted in reverse (dense to light).
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2016
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