Pretty early in my photographic venture I felt the need to explore the prosthetic possibilities, augmenting what we see as humans with a wider array of visual impressions, expanding our usual sensory abilities. I quickly fell in love with the aesthetic of long exposures. Back in the day there were only so few companies that offered these filters and I decided to get a B+W ND 3.0 to expand exposure times. After two and a half years and a tragic accident with my camera falling onto a bunch of rocks, breaking my 77mm screw in filter, I was in for a new one and by this time the Chinese company Haida had appeared on the scene and in the shops in Germany. Low on cash I decided to give it a try and since then I haven’t looked back.
My initial filter the screw in 77mm N.D. 3.0. was not only on par with previous B+W filter it displayed less color cast and less diffraction when shooting into direct sunlight. Also it was a slim filter which meant less vignetting – actually absolutely none even when shooting at 10mm on APSC – even with two ND filters stacked. I was very intrigued to say the least, after I had also tested the Hoya ND1000 which had a very strong blue color cast, even stronger than the B+Ws orange one and thinking that there was nothing better out there.
Below you can see a direct comparison of a shot with and without the Haida Slim PROII Multi-coating ND3.0 . Keep in mind that all these comparison shots are undeveloped RAWs and thus do not feature the same color intensity and contrast that a developed RAW file would display.
As you can see there is literally no difference in color whatsoever. Also there is no alteration to the image quality in any way. I have never experienced flares or other visual artifacts either. I expanded my filter library with other Haida Filters such as the Haida PROII Multi-coating ND1.8 and Haida PROII Multi-coating ND0.9 which I used for seascapes a myriad of times and never had any issues.
150mm Nano Pro Filters
At some point I felt like upgrading my gear to a more professional level. During this process of switching lenses it became apparent that I would have to get a FF lens with a bulgy font lens that does not allow a filter thread such as the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8. So I was looking at another update in filter terms as well, having to swallow the bitter pill and search for a 150mm square filter system. I had used such as system briefly before back when I started out, it was a Cokin P system and it was absolutely unusable practically and quality wise. So I was rather skeptical before switching to a square system.
After only having made positive experiences with my Haida gear in the past I contacted Haida and asked if they would supply me with an array of filters and the holder and they accepted, asking me to give them feedback on a new filter series called Nano Pro which wasn’t yet on the market. What followed was a short and lively conversation about my needs and what they could do for me as a photographer. I was surprised how engaging, interested and friendly their staff was.
After two weeks I had four brand new filters, the regular Haida 150 Series C-POL, a Haida NanoPro MC ND1.8, a Haida NanoPro MC ND3.0 and a Haida NanoPro MC GND 0.9 Soft Grad. All complete with the filter holder for the Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 which I used at the time. You can see that the holder is made of metal and I must say that it feels very good in your hand as well. It does feel like quality above anything else. For those of you who have already had square filter systems I must say that compared to other companies it might feel a little heavier, but it is easy to assemble and easy attach to the lens. Another bonus is that with the Tamron 15-30 f2.8 you can easily keep the base mount on your lens without it obstructing the lens cap. Sadly the same can not be said about the Nikon 14-12 f/2.8, but that has more to do with the ergonomics of the lens than with the filter holder itself.
My first field test sadly wasn’t of much success. I drove down to the Eltz castle with my friend Jonas Piontek from Gewitterjagd, but the sky was almost overcast and there was little light or structure.
I put on the filters and shot away. Beolow is the result with the ND 3.0 and the GND 0.9 stacked on top of one another on the Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 with the appropriate filter holder. Again, keep in mind all the images in this blog unless stated otherwise are unprocessed RAW files to give the best impression of what you will see as a result when using these filters as compared to without them.
While it is hard to see the difference in exposure time due to the lack of structure, the actual exposure time in the original capture was 1/5sec and the filtered 13secs as would be expected of a ND1.8 filter. The GND did a great job at evening out the exposure for the sky without having an apparent gradient across the mid-ground. This would be a classic case were a soft grad ND filter is the right choice. I feel that the width of the gradient is exactly the amount one would need to conceal it in situations such as this one. It may not work too good for a more even horizon, but that is what the hard grad filters are for.
Another exemplary feature that can be seen is that, with this light situation the filter did not produce any visible color cast. What little color there is in the sky was also visible to the naked eye and is part of the natural lighting seen as we originally planned to shoot colorful sunset clouds when we set out. The orange in the clouds is what little we got of what we wanted.
One thing that I do have to note before continuing is that after contacting Haida I was told that the NanoPro series Filters were still in active development and that I only received a prototype so to say and not the final product that will be shipped to regular customers.
After this initial test, suddenly the GND fell to the ground and broke without any outside influence. As we later found out the friction of the holder didn’t seem to be enough to hold the Nano Pro filters in place when using the 2nd slot or the 3rd – which has to be added separately to the front of the holder before using. Only the first slot right next to the front element of the lens was actually capable of holding the filters without them slowly sliding through the holder. Back at home Jonas and I compared the new Nano Pro filters to the older regular filters and it became apparent that the new series is a little bit thinner which results in less friction in the holder.
When contacting Haida about this issue I was told that this was a non-recurring issue and that the filters would not have this problem once released onto the market. I was sent another GND filter without any complications and alongside I also received special, very narrow 3M stickers to attach to the filters backside to increase the friction for further usage. I prepared the filters for my next trip and also switched from the Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 to the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 and the compatible holder before venturing out again, this time to Iceland.
Here you can see the Nano Pro GND 0.9 in action on location at Vestrahorn. As previously mentioned with shot exposures there is no noticeable color cast whatsoever and the gradient is great for difficult horizon lines. I decided to push it down a little further in order to also let the gradient affect the waves here for a more even exposure. The camera automatically evened out the exposure in this case, leading to a slightly lighter foreground as well. In the image below you can see the stickers I attached to the filters in order to keep them in the holder, even though in this case I only used the first slot which didn’t have any trouble either way.
Another example with a longer exposure with the GND 0.9 to illustrate the visual quality can be seen below. Here I used only the upper edge of the filter to darken the sky and the snowy parts in the near the top of the frame. Again it can be seen that the image quality is not affected in any way, shape or form.
The lowered dynamic range of the image brings out more detail in the sky and evens out the exposure so no additional blending in post production is needed. Even for a relatively level and slim horizon line the gradient line can effortlessly be hidden by simply pushing down it down slightly into the mid-ground details. I apologize for rearranging the frame by the way, I reckon the image can still be used to exemplify this however.
So the GND faired very well for its common field of usage. Combined with the ND 1.8 it also does not lead to any alteration of the image. The question remaining is how the new series’ ND 3.0 fairs. Let us take a look.
The original exposure was 1/20sec and the filtered added up to 72secs. I have to note though that I also used the GND 0.9 to even out the sky which leads to a slight visible gradient because I didn’t want it to darken the rocks of the cliffs. This is clearly a question of compromise, but artistically this is nothing I would do different in retrospective.
In direct comparison it becomes evident that the new ND 3.0 seems a cold color cast which is of considerable strength as it would seem, but the camera simply failed to measure the correct white balance. This simply means a correction of the RAW file is in order. I would assume that anyone who shots with ND filters for long exposures shoots RAW anyway. When looking at the RAW files in Lightroom the original unfiltered shot had a white balance of 6900k | +3 and the filtered was displayed at 5350k | +11. When correcting the white balance manually the result become as impressive as I had expected from Haida: almost no color cast whatsoever. The neutrality of the glass lives up to its name. Considering an exposure time of 72secs with two filters this is very satisfactory.
The image on the left may seem a little bit softer, but that is simply due to the winds howling up there on the premonitory and the 150mm filters are a huge wind trap when the wind is coming in from the front, which is one of the downsides of using such a huge filter system. There is also the weight you have to carry and the fact that they take up a huge chuck of the available space in your backpack as well. This can be tricky while on a multi-day hike. But these are issues of the system in general and it is up to you whether you want to carry more stuff around. If however you want the best quality image it is a given that a good filter system like Haida’s is the way to go on lenses with large blugy front elements.
For transportation Haida’s filter pouch luckily has a strap so you can attach it on the outside of your trekking backpack or wear it around the shoulder. An option to wear it on a belt and an alternative hard shell option to carry it inside the regular photography backpack without taking up too much space however would be something most welcome for additionally versatility.
All in all I can say that I was very content with the quality of the filters. They are as good as 150mm filters can get at this point. If you are looking for an affordable 150mm system I would recommend purchasing Haida 150mm Nano Pro series filters and holder, just as much as I recommend the participant of my workshops investing in Haidas screw in portfolio.
I feel like I need to give some closing remarks though. This test is not entirely complete since I was not able to test the filters in direct sunlight or back light for that matter, since we only very rarely saw the sun during our two weeks in Iceland. I will be sure to add another section onto my blog concerning the glass’ behavior in direct sunlight when it comes to diffraction, ghosting and flares. I hope to be able to test these issues during my journey across Great Britain up to Scotland in April at the latest. Hopefully I will also get to test the Haida NanoPro MC ND4.5 and the Hard Grad GND 0.9.