Filters are wonderful little tools that help modify the light coming through your camera lenses, and alter what is recorded onto the sensor or film, whichever the case may be. Different filter types exist for varying purposes; polarizing filters deepen sky color and remove glare and reflections from shiny surfaces, a UV filter screens out ultraviolet light and adds a protective surface over the camera lens, while a graduated neutral density (GND) filter allows you to expose a foreground properly while avoiding a bright, blown-out sky.
The Vü filter system represents the higher-tier of camera accessories in this segment of hardware, and I was fortunate enough to have a couple of weeks using them.
Image courtesy of Vü Filters
Upon opening the complete set of the company’s filters, the first thing I noticed was the quality and attractiveness of the packaging. All of the boxes were constructed of very sturdy material, clearly marked, and conveyed a great sense of style.
The set I received consisted of several filters and accessories, including a filter holder, drop-in filters, and lens adapters for the lenses I specified when ordering (in this case, a Canon EF-S 50mm f/1.8, and Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM). As my time was limited, I restricted my use to the screw-on Circular polarizing Filter ($59-126 depending on filter size)), the 10-stop Neutral Density (ND) Filter ($144) and Drop-in Filter Holder ($150).
If you’re looking for a quick, overall thought on the system, it’s generally good. The filters are high-quality and are very well constructed.
Circular Polarizing Filter
Image Courtesy of Vü Filters
The circular polarizing filter did just what I expected. It darkened the desired areas in my photo, removed any extra shininess from the image, and generally smoothed the photo over, giving it a look that is hard to discern or describe, but which definitely exists.
The circular polarizer tends to smooth out rough points, darkens skies, and removes some of the reflective properties of shiny surfaces.
Using this filter was the easiest, as it only required I that connect it to the step-down adapter for my particular lens size, and then screw that assembly onto the lens itself.
Image courtesy of Vü Filters
As with all polarizing filters, this one works best when light is coming from the right angle, in this case, about 45 degrees. Using it when light is directly in front of, or behind you, won’t yield much or any of an effect on your image.
Again, the polarizer helped darken this sky a bit more, to where I wanted it.
10-Stop Neutral Density Filter
Image courtesy of Vü Filters showing the filter holder, 10-stop ND, and Graduated drop-in filters mounted on a Canon lens.
I was most excited to try the 10-stop neutral density filter. The purpose of this filter is to reduce the amount of light coming through the lens. As you might imagine, this particular filter reduces that amount by 10 stops of light, which is quite a bit. The beauty of it, is that you can use a much slower shutter speed in daylight, and capture long exposure images when it would normally be impossible.
I tried this myself using the Vü 10-stop ND filter, and was extremely happy with the results. I was able to capture the ebb and flow of the ocean waters at our nearby beach, well after the sun had risen. With the filter, 25 and 30 second exposures were possible, which produced shots that I would never have thought possible.
The 10-stop neutral density filter allows you to take long exposure shots when there is still plenty of light available.
The Vü ND filter fortunately does not suffer from common ailments of other dark, lower quality filters, such as color shifting near the corners of the lens. Tones remain faithful and consistent across the entire image.
To me, that’s the grand measure of the usefulness of this system; shots that would have been impossible, or extremely difficult to create, can now be accomplished using these types of accessories. As a photographer, it opens up a multitude of ideas and situation I can now explore.
Drawbacks of the system
Of course, everything can’t be roses, and I did have a couple of complaints about the Vü system.
First and foremost, as wonderfully performing and artfully constructed as the system is, I’m afraid that some novices may get a bit lost figuring out how to use them, creating a barrier to entry that could easily be avoided.
The boxes of filters, and bags of adapters, come devoid of any instructions, inside or out. An advanced user that has experience with different filter systems will figure it out rather quickly, but someone who lacks this experience will likely fuddle around until they eventually understand how everything fits together.
As an example, attaching the 10-stop ND filter to my camera’s lens (a Canon 60D with the Canon EF-S 24mm 2.8 STM) was a bit of a chore. The large metal filter holder was required, since this particular filter is the drop-in type, meaning the filter is a large square piece of thick glass. The filter slides vertically into the holder attachment, which is then attached to the lens via an adapter ring, suited for your lens’s filter size.
Another example of long-exposures at daytime with the neutral density filter.
It took several tries to get this right, and in the end was no small feat. I wasn’t positive after I was done that I had attached it correctly, but it functioned without any issues, so I’m assuming I did. A simple set of instructions for each piece would negate this problem altogether in my opinion.
The Vü website gives details and information about the products themselves, but I couldn’t find a support section where a user could quickly fetch instructions.
Once you figure out how to attach the product to your camera, and put them together, the filters and holder feel very solid and well constructed. Several sizes of adapter rings are available, to ensure the filters will fit almost any lens, and additional accessories for the system are also available. The holder, as I mentioned before, is large and a bit unwieldy, and using it without a tripod would be difficult.
My contact at the company was very helpful and knowledgable, and made sure everything got to me as quickly as possible.
Editor’s note:the video below was provided by the supplier when we discussed this issue with them. This should help solve the problem.
At the end of the day, regardless of any assembly difficulties I might have experienced, I found the filters very attractive from several standpoints. The filters were obviously made with the serious photographer in mind, and didn’t skimp on materials, strength, or quality.
Pricing is, in my opinion, below what you would expect for this level of craftsmanship. Ordering their whole line would be expensive, but picking and choosing individual filters within the system, would prove affordable for most photographers.
Most importantly, the filters themselves work fabulously, and produce very good images. Some in the industry still consider filters to be a degradation to image quality, but after seeing the images these filters can produce, I slide off the fence into the more positive side of the field, and would use these accessories in all of my work.
Have you given Vü filters a try? Sound off below and tell us your experience!
Learn more about Vü filters, including the full product line, and you can purchase them online at Amazon.
Vü Professional Filter System
I am going to jump right in to the nuts & bolts of this review, without a lot of explanation about what a Neutral Density filter actually is. If you aren't familiar with ND filters, my ND 101 article would be a great place to start. The main goal for this article is to provide unbiased, real-world examples of each filter, covering a wide array of price points, and give you a useful tool to compare the various options in the Neutral Density Filter marketplace.
Scope of Study
This is not a scientific study of the optical qualities of these filters. I did not have access to a spectrometer, or any other scientific equipment. Quite the opposite. I was in the position of realizing that my very old and very inexpensive filters were no longer a reasonable decision for my Canon L lenses and a 5D Mark III. It's just crazy to have spent many thousands of dollars on great photography gear, only to have a cheap (and I'll admit it… JUNKY) filter. The whole idea for this article came out of the fact that I wanted to pick out filters to buy for my own photography, but I wanted to make a very educated decision. That being said, since I was reaching out to as many vendors as I could find, I also asked them to provide their “low level” gear, in addition to their top level gear, if they would like. That way, I could offer everyone a great cross comparison of what an image looks like through a $35 filter, versus what it looks like through a $450 filter.
My test process:
I shot all of the test photos during the same hour, on a VERY bright day, at high noon, with zero cloud cover, in direct sunlight. Rather than purchasing a color chart, I took advantage of the free paint cards from a local hardware store, and I taped them on a white adirondack chair, and put a gray scale across the stop as well, using the same method. The photos were shot on a Canon 5D Mark III, set to “faithful” style. The White Balance was set to “Daylight.”
When compensating for the number of stops, I adjusted the camera exactly the correct number of stops for the name of the filter. SO – if it was a 3-stop filter, I adjusted the shutter speed exactly 3 stops in comparison to the reference photo. I re-shot the reference photo for each major grouping of photos (one reference photo for 1 & 2 stops, one reference for 3, 4 & 5 stops, one for 6 stops, and one for 9 and 10 stops, and one final reference photo for the 15-stop photos.) Even though there was essentially no change in the brightness of the day, I wanted to ensure that I would be comparing each set of filtered images with a relevant and accurate control image. I observed in the testing of numerous filters of the same “stopping power,” that they weren't all exactly identical. For example, when testing the 10-stop filters, one or two of them appeared to stop a little bit less than 10 stops of light. The light meter in camera would read +1/3 or +2/3, even though I had done the mathematical adjustment correctly for ten stops. I felt that it was important to remain consistent, so I used the mathematical exposure time, and ignored the light meter. From a pragmatic perspective, a photographer is not going to own all of these filters. He/she will shoot their chosen filters and truly learn that piece of gear inside and out, just like we learn our cameras, or lenses, etc.
In each category, I am going to list the filters based on price point for Amazon, at the time of the writing of the article. All prices and all links provided are to brand new 77mm variety of the filter, or the 100mm size for square filters. Of course as a consumer, you will want to double-check for price changes taking effect after the writing of the article. You will also want to make sure that you have the correct size filter for your own needs. I was testing the filters on a Canon 24-70 2.8L, which is a 77mm lens. It's worth mentioning that if you are going to eventually own a big wide-angle lens, you may be better off buying the 82mm version of the filters, with a step-up ring for whatever lenses you are currently using. This will save a substantial amount of money in the long-run, since you can use the larger filter an all of your smaller lenses, without any difficulties at all.
The 1-stop category contains 3 filters:
Vu Sion ND 1-Stop
B+W 101 ND $80.00 USD
Heliopan Grey ND 1-Stop $115.00 USD
My overview of the 1-stop filters is that while there are clear differences from one filter to another, none of them really fall into the category of ‘unacceptable' color caste. All three of the contenders in this category performed well. The Vu filter looks to caste toward the blue side of things. The B+W and Heliopan look very similar to each other, both generating a slight warming caste. Here again, though, I don't view any of the effects to be a “deal breaker” for any of these filters, and would be comfortable using any of them.
The 2-stop category contains 4 filters:
B+W 102 ND .6 $90.00 USD
Vu Sion ND 2 Stop
Heliopan Grey ND .6 $115.00 USD
Lee Pro Glass .6ND 100mm Drop Filter $266 USD (plus holder)
The 2-stop filters also have just slight casting involved. The B+W and Heliopan are still toward the warmer side of things, and again, looking very similar to each other. Of all of the filters in the 2-stop category, I think I personally would opt for the Lee Pro Glass .6, if making my choice completely independent of cost. The test photography for this article was actually the first time I had used a drop-in filter with a filter holder, and I could easily see myself greatly enjoying the “tactile” side of the Lee filter system. I actually found it extremely fast to make changes and adjustments with the Lee holder system.
The 3-stop category contained 5 filters:
Tiffen Neutral Density .9 $42.00 USD
Tiffen Water White ND .9 $80.00 USD
Manfrotto ND 8 $115.00 USD
Breakthrough Photography X4 ND (Amazon link says X3, but the X4 will ship, and link will soon be updated.) $163.00 USD
Lee Pro Glass .9 ND $259.00 USD (plus holder)
The 3-stop category includes the first entries by Tiffen, Monfrotto and Breakthrough Photography. As regular listeners to the podcast know, the Breakthrough Photography filters are the filter of choice of Nick Page. I find myself agreeing with Nick Page on virtually every topic. That tradition is not going to change here! The thing that I absolutely loved about the Breakthrough Photography filter is how neutral the color is, but then how the fine hues are differentiated. For example, use the sliders above to move slowly across the Breakthrough test image. I feel that the slight hues at the bottom of the color charts are much more defined in the Breakthrough image than any of the other filters. The other filter that I again really enjoyed was the Lee. There is a distinct color caste to the Lee, it definitely skews toward the blue side of things, even at the 3-stop range. I think Manfrotto held up quite well at the three-stop range. The one filter that I feel I would place in the “avoid” category are the Tiffen filters. I was truly hoping not to have any strong negative reactions to any of the filters, but for my own personal taste, I would not consider the Tiffen filters. This becomes even more extreme at the higher stopping powers.
4 & 5-stop Filters
This category contains a 4-stop and a 5-stop filter:
Tiffen HT ND (4-stop) $131.00 USD
Singh-Ray 77mm MOR SLO ND-5 $250.00 USD
I only had one 4-stop and one 5-stop filter in the line-up. The 4-stop Tiffen was the highest-end model that I evaluated. It was better than the others, but still not necessarily a filter that I would feel an urge to purchase. There is a distinct caste toward green here. The 5-stop filter is the first appearance of Singh-Ray in the review. I was extremely excited that Singh-Ray joined the line-up, and sent me three filters to test. The 5-stop every-so-slightly warms the image, but certainly not to an extent that I would consider objectionable. It is noticeable, without a doubt.
The 6-stop category contains 4 filters:
Tiffen Water White IR ND $89.00 USD
Tiffen Water White ND $104.00 USD
Breakthrough X4 ND 6-stop $173.00 USD
Lee Little Stopper 100mm 1.8 $150.00 USD (plus holder)
The 6-stop category is the next appearance of Breakthrough Photography. Again, they perform absolutely incredibly when it comes to color neutrality. By this time in my test another, perhaps unintended benefit became obvious. I was shooting in bright sunlight, on a 100+ degree day. Man of the filter rims became so very hot, that I was burning my fingers. Perhaps it's the proprietary grip on their rims, or perhaps it was the material of the rim, or maybe even the fact that the filter was packaged a certain way – but I could easily handle it when so many of the others were literally so hot that I was afraid to drop them. By far, the number one reason that I find the Breakthrough Photography a very clear winner in this category, is yet again they are so amazingly color-neutral! Lee's 6-stop is definitely casting toward blue. I am still extremely drawn to the drop filter type of system, but the blue caste is quite pronounced. Breakthrough is clearly ahead of the game here when it comes to the neutral color.
10-stop Filters (plus a 9-stop)
The 10-stop category contains 9 filters, plus one 9-stop.
Manfrotto ND 500 9-stop $115.00 USD
Tiffen XLE Axent 10-stop $39.00 USD
B+W 110 ND 10-stop $67.00 USD
Vu Sion ND 10-stop $97.00
Nisi 100mm 10-stop filter $118.00 USD (plus holder)
Tiffen XLE Advantix 10-stop $140.00 USD
Lee Big Stopper 100mm 3.0$150.00 USD
Breakthrough x4 ND 10-stop $183.00 USD
Heliopan Grey ND 3.0 10-stop $189.00 USD
Tiffen XLE Apex HOT Mirror 10-stop $225.00 USD
Singh-Ray MOR SLO ND 10-stop $380.00 USD
The 10-stop category is the largest category of the entire review. This is also the first appearance of a relatively new filter company for the United States market. NiSi, a Chinese manufacturer, sent me two filters to test. One of my most embarrassing moments was when I dropped the case that contained both the 10-stop AND the 15-stop NiSi filters, just after I had shot the 10-stop filters. So, completely due to my own clumsiness, I was unable to include their 15-stop during my initial publication of this review. I have asked them to re-send the 15-stop, because the results from the 10-stop are really very exciting! The NiSi 10-stop performs very well in terms of color neutrality. I'm incredibly interested to see what they have to offer in the future. I'm also very interested to see what they have to offer with regards to Graduated Neutral Density filters, etc. The 10-stop category also has another phenomenal showing from Breakthrough Photography. Breakthrough absolutely knocked it out of the park with consistency across all three of their filters in the review.
The 15-stop category contains 2 filters, with a possible third and forth to be added soon.
Lee Super Stopper 100mm 4.5 15-stop $150.00 USD (plus holder)
Singh-Ray MOR SLO ND 15-stop $480.00 USD
I was actually very wonderfully surprised that both entries in the 15-stop category had minimal problems with color casting. Both the Singh-Ray and the Lee Super Stopper fell into what I would view as entirely acceptable as a 15-stop filter. The incredibly exciting news here is that Breakthrough Photography will be releasing a 15-stop filter in their product line-up. Also, I am very hopeful to get another chance to test the NiSi 15-stop as well.
I wanted to avoid coming right out and saying “buy this filter” in this review. The main goal I set for myself was to get everything set up so that each photographer can make their own determination with regard to what they would want to use. My decision-making process has narrowed down tremendously, and I fully intend to do a lot more shooting, and perhaps to offer a subsequent update with a few different products.
First and foremost, I love the Breakthrough Photography line-up. For a threaded filter, they are absolutely, hands down, my choice. I want them in my camera bag. Regardless of any other filters I decide to work with.
The other two that I am incredibly interested in spending much more time with are the Lee and NiSi filter systems. I am very interested to see how the Graduated Neutral Density filters work in conjunction with the ND filters with these systems. I feel that the holder system will generally be a “love it or hate it” type of thing. For me – I love it! Vu also has drop filters available, and I would be extremely interested in seeing how they fit in with the other two drop filter options. There is something very appealing to me having to do with the tactile, ‘mechanical' side of using the drop filters. In an ideal dream world, I would really want to have the option of BOTH a threaded system, and the drop filter system.
Vu Filter Review
I had the chance to play with the VU filter system. It is made up of a holder that mounts to the camera and then you have 100mm glass filters (Neutral Density and Graduated Filters), that you can slip in and out of the holder.
The Holder - VFH100
The holder (VFH100) is well constructed and comes with a 77 mm adapter ring and an 82mm adapter ring. It can hold up to 3 rectangle or square glass filters and one 82mm polarizing filter.
The nice part about the holder is once you thread on a slim polarizing filter you can still use up to 3 square filters, while still being able to rotate the polarizing filter. On the back of the holder is a knurled ring that lets you rotate the polarizing filter without removing the square filters. This is great when you need to use the filter, the only drawback with it is taking the polarizing filter on and off, it is very difficult to remove once the filter is on, your fingers have nowhere to grab the filter, it took me ten minutes to slowly work the filter off of the holder, so there is no quick changing of the polarizing filter. The one option I would use if I was to use this system would be to have a ring with the polarizing filter on and a ring with no filter on it, this would make it quicker to take out the polarizing filter.
Another feature of the holder is a foam ring that will block out the light for the filter closest to the lens, it was designed for using Neutral density filters, especially the 6 and 10 stop ones to block light coming from the side. The good part is it does seal out the light well, the bad part would be once the seal gets old how could you replace it and pulling a filter in and out all the time, might wear that seal out after a couple of years. It also makes putting that one filter in a little harder because it sticks to the glass. It does do it job well in keeping the side light from coming into the lens.
I ordered three filters, a 3 stop neutral density filter, a 2 stop graduated neutral density filter and the polarizer. I will start with the polarizer, it was very neutral in color and worked well as a polarizing filter, working as you would expect a polarizer to work. The 3 stop neutral density filter is a good filter to extend your shutter speed, I like to use this type of filter to smooth out the water in a water fall. I currently use a 6 and 10 stop neutral density, so trying a 3 stop one was a new experience, as I expected it dropped the exposure 3stops, I measured the color of the filter with a densitometer and it was a neutral density. I saw no color shift using the filter, it slide in and out of the holder very easily, plus dropping exposure just 3 stops, I could still compose through the viewfinder. I will be adding a 3 stop to my system in the future.
I next tried the graduated neutral density filter. It is darker on one end and slowly fades to clear. It is used for darkening sky. It is rectangular, so that you have room to adjust where the end of the neutral density starts. It was also very neutral in color not seeing any color shifts. It work fine for darkening the sky, although I think I would use a stronger one, maybe 3 stops instead of the 2 stop. It did make a difference in the sky, but I have also found that I can use the Graduated filter in Lightroom to accomplish the same result, it is always better to do the adjustments in capture than after the fact, but I am finding that it is easier to use the Grad filter in Lightroom than it is to use the real filter out in the field. The part I found the hardest is to tell where the filter is gradually fading out, while when I use the filter inLightroom, you can see your adjustments as you apply them.
So to sum up my thoughts on the VU filter system. The filters are glass, so you must handle them carefully, if you drop them they will break, while the resin filter made by other companies will just scratch. I mainly use Lee filters (http://www.leefilters.com) which are glass and I am extremely careful not to drop them and so far they have lasted me a couple of years. VU’s website is lacking in information on how the holder works, especially using the polarizing filter. The site also is weak on explaining the strengths of their various filters. So learning what the codes means makes it difficult to figure out which filters you would want to have. It is a well made filter system and would make a great addition to someones camera bag. The use of neutral density filters to slow down your shutter speed is great, I love using the square filters, you can take them on and off very quickly, and you will be taking them on and off often, just to recompose the shot. So for me the square filters are the ones I will use all the time. The Vu Filters are good, I still prefer the Lee Filter system, which I will review over the winter. Both systems are good and fill a need, you must ultimately decide which would work out better for you.
Here are the cost of the VU Filters:
VFH100 Holder with a 77 and 82 mm ring $150.00
3 stop neutral density 100 x 100 mm filter VSQMD3 $144.00
2 stop soft graduated 100 mm x 150 mm filter VSQNDG2S $224.00
82mm Polarizing filter $180.00
For more information on the VU Filter see www.vufilters.com or contact Hunt’s Photo and Video, they carry this line of filters.
Filters reviews vu
.Haida 1.8 (6 Stop) and 3.0 (10 Stop) Neutral Density Filter Review
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