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When the topic of filters comes up, almost all photographers will tell you to go for the expensive option. Cheap glass in front of your high quality lens must be a horrible idea, right? Usually, yes. But there may be exceptions. I tried the cheapest ND 1000 filter I could find. All images in this article were taken with it.
WHY BUY AN ND 1000 FILTER?
An ND1000 lets one thousandth of the light through it. In exposure terms, that's 10 full stops. So a 1/1000th exposure without the filter becomes 1 second with it, or 1/30th stretches out to 30 seconds. For some types of photography (landscape in particular), this is incredibly useful. Most commonly it can smooth out moving water in rivers, lakes, oceans, or waterfalls. But also moving clouds and fog can look quite nice when softened with a long exposure.
If there are many people moving around, a very long shutter duration can make them disappear. While I rarely shoot people, I've also found an ND 1000 helpful against birds flying into my time-lapse sequences. With short shutter speeds they just create an annoying flicker effect by appearing in just a single frame. Especially the seagulls in Norway end up in almost all of my oceanside videos otherwise.
DOLDER X-PRO SERIES SLIM
First of all, avoiding cheap filters has always made sense to me. Why pay a lot for a high quality lens just to block its view with an inexpensive piece of glass? Anything you place in front of the lens will decrease the quality of your photograph, so surely you should only go for the best available filters.
While that's basically still true - all filters do decrease quality - it turns out the reduction isn't always so drastic even at the lowest price range. I ordered the DolDer X-Pro Series Slim ND 1000 from Amazon with the expectation of having to send it back. But the results were a little surprising.
There are four main areas where quality loss can occur - sharpness, chromatic aberration, color cast, and vignetting. Those are in order of importance (to me). Let’s see how the DolDer handles each.
SHARPNESS - This is the main one. If a filter causes the image to be soft when it reaches the sensor, it’s a useless filter. If my photo isn’t sharp it needs to be MY fault and not the gear’s. I was expecting the test to end right here, but actually even at 100% view there wasn’t really a noticeable reduction in sharpness with the DolDer X-Pro on my Tamron 24-70mm:
CHROMA - The second cause of poor quality is chromatic aberration. It’s that color fringe on the edge of light and darkness. This is easily removed with one click in Lightroom, so it's not too much of a problem. But the test resulted in another surprise - pretty much all the chromatic aberration in the photos comes from my Tamron 24-70mm lens, while the filter doesn't seem to add any:
COLOR CAST - I’ll have to preface this one with a disclaimer/confession: I don’t care about exact colors in my landscape photos. My photography isn’t the documentary type where everything is supposed to look as close to reality as possible. I will make adjustments here and there, including to colors, if I believe it makes the picture look better.
All ND 1000 filters add some color cast, the question is only how much. The more expensive filters are likely to change the colors less. You can try to get around this by using Auto White Balance, but that may only work in sunny conditions where the camera can see through the dark filter. Otherwise it may end up with even worse results. Either way, Lightroom's Color Temp setting helps to restore the cast.
At manual white balance The DolDer X-Pro has a clearly visible warm color cast:
VIGNETTING - Again, I usually tend to add vignetting to my photos regardless, so I’m not that fussy about it. This is probably the area where this ND1000 filter performs the worst. There is very clear vignetting at 24mm and still a little when shooting at 70mm. If you use wide lenses and vignetting is not acceptable, you may want to look at alternative filters.
Pixel-peeping aside, I'm really surprised at the performance of this filter. While it can of course never be the highest quality filter out there, overall the DolDer X-Pro ND 1000 Series Slim is certainly good enough for my use. I love what I can do with it, and it has quickly become the favourite new addition to my shooting gear. It’s always in my pocket whenever I go walking around with the camera and tripod.