Updated: Aug 5, 2022
Photo filters are an integral part of my work. Whether I use them to capture the movement of water or the clouds or just for lens protection, I always put them in my backpack. I use a few filters the most: ND filters of various strengths and polarising filters. I occasionally use the Night Sky filter or UV filters for lens protection. Until very recently, I was exclusively using screw-on filters.
When I had the opportunity to try out the VFFOTO magnetic filters - I didn't hesitate for a minute. In my blog, I will share my experience with magnetic filters, highlight the benefits compared to screw-on filters, and sum up the initial troubles with using the new system. I will also talk about when I decide to use filters and explain why.
What are magnetic filters and how do they work
The new VFFOTO magnetic system uses a thin adapter screwed onto the end of the lens just like any other circular filter you use. The difference is that the magnetic filter itself snaps on this ring and holds firmly immediately. No screwing - easy to attach and change the filters. Watch the short video below:
Neutral Density or ND filters are the most used filters in my backpack. I primarily use them to capture the movement of the clouds or water in nature. Long exposures can also help to "remove" people from your shots.
Alpe di Siusi is a picture-perfect place in the Italian Dolomites. The road there is closed for traffic except for the guests using hotel facilities in the area. In late December, I visited this usually crowded spot, and I couldn't believe I had it all for myself. Geared up with a headlamp and spikes on my winter boots, I hiked in the dark for almost an hour on the slippery road. I found my desired composition, and I picked up a strong ND filter from my backpack. You may ask why I decided to use a filter? There were two main reasons:
When I saw the pink hues in the clouds, I took a few shots - I didn't dislike what I saw, but I thought the moving clouds would create a dynamic image.
My second reason to take one long exposure was more pathetic - I was cold. I was looking forward to sipping the hot coffee from my flask:)
Although the filters can do some magic - there is always the photographer behind the camera, who has to decide when it is best to use them. The image above shows the scene without the filter (0,5s) and using the 10 stop VFFOTO ND filter (5 minutes) with the same ISO and aperture settings. Observe the movement of the clouds and make sure you calculate the time correctly. With a strong 10 or 11stop ND filter, you will probably have only one opportunity to take a long exposure shot, as the sunrise colours usually don't last too long.
I use a CPL circular polarising filter when shooting waterscapes. Think of a polariser like a pair of sunglasses for your lens. The polarising filter is essential in landscape photography for:
Darkening and adding contrast to the sky
Removing glare and enhancing colours
Enhancing reflections and glare
Waterfalls are a great example to show the effect of a polarising filter. A polariser reduces the glare on surfaces like the shiny foliage, wet rocks, and the surface of the water. It will increase the contrast and saturation of the image. I took the image below in Iceland.
Polarisers reduce the amount of light reaching your camera’s sensor, so you need to adjust your exposure accordingly. Most polarisers will usually reduce your exposure by about one to two stops. A software program can not fully replace the effect of the polarising filter.
Graduated ND filters
Although I often use bracketing, graduated ND filters come handy in many situations. The picture below in Greenland was taken handheld from a boat. The red sailing boat was moving, too, as well as the ice fragments in the sea. Bracketing was not an option. I used a graduated ND filter to get the right exposure balance by darkening the bright sky.
The VFFOTO graduated ND filters are circular, too. It may sound unusual, but they work just as good as rectangular filters. There are two main types - 1/3 and 2/3 (1/3 of the filter diameter darkened, 2/3 transparent or 2/3 of the filter diameter darkened and 1/3 transparent) - see the illustration below. The soft graduated ND filters come in various strengths. The advantage of circular ND grads compared to rectangular filters is that you can use the lens hood and protect the filter from water drops in snowy or rainy weather.
If you are not a big fan of post-processing and prefer to balance your exposure with a graduated filter, this could be an ideal solution.
Night Sky filters
I use the Night Sky filter when shooting cityscapes or nightscapes in places with light pollution. The comparison below shows the slight colour shift when using a night sky filter - it removes the excess yellow light smog, giving the photograph more accurate colours.
Other areas of use are Astro and Milky Way Photography, and the Night Sky filter also enhances sunsets and fall colours without affecting blue or green.
White Mist Filter
This filter creates a subtle overexposure around the highlights of the image and slightly reduces contrast. Area of use can be night sky and starscape photography.
I attach a UV filter when shooting on a sandy beach or from a very low angle, often just a few centimetres above the ground. It serves as lens protection against scratches, grease and water.
The image above was taken in Iceland on the famous Diamond beach from a very low angle, only 10 cm from the ripples in the sand.
The weather in Iceland is often unpredictable. The wind can pick up any time, and if you are not careful with your gear, the sand can damage it.
Combination of filters
I often use a polariser in combination with an ND filter when shooting seascapes. The polariser helps deepen the blue sky and make the turquoise water and white clouds stand out. At the same time, the ND filter allows blurring the water. The polarising filter's effect is most pronounced when the lens is pointed perpendicular to the sun at 90 degrees. That is, the sun is to your right, left, or above your head. The photographs below were both captured in the Bahamas around midday.
Another combination of filters I occasionally use is a polariser with an ND graduated filter like in the image below. The reason to use a grad filter, in this case, was that the flowers were moving in the wind. To blend a bracketed image would have been a bit difficult.
To capture a solar eclipse or the sunspots - you need to use a very dense ND filter, reducing the light by approximately 16 - 24 stops. If you don't own a special solar filter, you can stack two ND filters together (e.g. 11 stop + 6 stop), and you will get the desired results. WARNING: If using an ND filter (or stack of ND filters) for solar photography, do NOT use an optical viewfinder. Specialized solar filters filter visible light and harmful UV and IR radiation as well. ND filters DO NOT provide this protection. Use them only with electronic viewfinders and/or Live View mode.
Some situations require taking multiple shots - with and without filters and blending them in Photoshop. I use this technique when shooting with a wide angle lens and want to use the polariser for parts of the image but not for the sky. Polarising filters can cause uneven effects in the sky in wide angle scenes.
Sometimes, I go even further and experiment with blending short and long exposures in one final image. The picture below captured on Christmas Island in Australia is a great example. I set up my camera and took a short exposure of the birds on the rock without a filter and then took another photo with an ND filter to blur the water.
The following chart explains the stops of light reduction of the ND filters. Some manufacturers label their filters based on optical density, whereas others use the filter factor.
What I like about the magnetic filters
The ability to add, remove, or change filters very quickly.
Easy handling in cold temperatures - I don't need to take off my gloves when using filters.
Easily stackable on top of each other - no screwing.
Multiple threaded filters often get "stuck" by excessive tightening, grains of sand or even seawater. Taking them apart could cost you precious minutes when shooting sunrises or sunsets. This is not an issue anymore with the magnetic system.
I can use the same set of filters on lenses with various diameters with a step-up ring.
When shooting in tricky conditions - standing on slippery rocks or shooting from water, I can easily swap the filters without worrying that I will accidentally move the camera and change the composition.
My initial troubles with the magnetic filter system
First, I was worried if the filters would hold on the lens. I went on a trip to Norway with my new mirrorless camera and a set of new magnetic filters. I was shooting all day seascapes, and in the evening, when the Aurora showed up, I decided to take a few test shots from a nearby location. I struggled to set the correct exposure, and my first thoughts were that my new camera was not working correctly. When I looked at the front of the lens, I realised that I had left the ND filter on :) No wonder I couldn't capture the night sky! So yes, the filters hold firmly.
It is recommended to take the filter off after use. If you walk or manipulate with your camera, you may accidentally bump into your lens, and the filter could fall off - remember, the filter is not screwed on, only the adapter.
The lens cap was the only thing bothering me; it wasn't holding tight on the adapter. This problem is solved now as VFFOTO designed a great magnetic lens cap.
Whether a screw-on or magnetic system, two filters on a wide angle lens can cause strong vignetting. With a step-up ring, the vignetting can be minimised. I use the 82-105 mm magnetic step-up ring on my Canon RF 15-35 mm lens. VFFOTO is always happy to advise you which filter and adaptor diameter are best for your gear.
When using the step-up ring it is not possible to use the manufacturer’s lens hood. VFFOTO offers their own lens hood for the magnetic system.
Overall, I am very happy with the new system, especially the ease of use in challenging conditions. You can find the entire range of VFFOTO filters at https://www.vffoto.com/
All Participants of my Photo tours and Workshops can try the filters in field and receive a discount code. For more information on my planned Photo Tours, click on https://www.epicbyerika.com/phototours