Neutral density grad filters - which to buy first?
I want to develop a collection of neutral density grads for colour work with slide film. Due to resources (or lack of!) I will need to build my collection up one or two at a time. So I wondered which ones are the most commonly used by APUG'ers in terms of:
a) hard or soft graduation
b) 1 stop, two stop or three stop densities
Basically I shoot gentle landscapes in the UK (rolling hills etc) on velvia in medium format - but I do not shoot many early sunrises or late sunsets.
Any advice on where to begin much appreciated.
My guess is that you'll be happier with a soft-edge gradation. As to the stop rating, I'd suggest metering your typical sky to determine an average difference between the sky's proper value placement in relation to your foreground. That might work out to a two-stop difference (ND .6), but it varies by geographic location.
The gentle rolling hills there will work better with an ND grad than in areas having sharply-angular mountains.
[COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]
Rio Rancho, NM
As Ralph says, a soft-edge is best to start with.
I bought a Singh-Ray 2-stop soft first , and added a 3-stop hard later.
Great filters, but expensive....
-Digital is nice but film is like having sex with light-
Originally Posted by pauldc
It depends upon what you are shooting. Some subjects work great with hard grads others soft. I live near the ocean, hard grads work good here, but they don't work so well in the mountains. It depends a lot on how rugged the country is. I would suggest you get both, but start with the one that you would use most of the time, based upon the terrain where you will be shooting. I would also get all three graduations, starting with the 1 stop, then the 2 stop - rarely, do I ever use a 3 stop.
Remember, with a split grad you can sometimes notice the transition line in your images. With soft grads it is much more gradual, and not as noticeable; the downside is that it is also harder to position these grads. With the hard grads it is easier to position them, but also more noticeable.
I have a Lee system, but you can get the Cokin system much more cheaply - until you can afford a better system. The Lee is much better.
Additionally, go look at the work of Joe Cornish. He uses split filters frequently.
If getting just one, I'd recommend a 2-stop soft edge for what you're intending to do. If getting two, get a 1-stop soft edge also. You can always use them together if you plan to do sunrise/sunset photos.
Hitech makes filters which are a good value. They have some that fit the Cokin P holders, which makes the system within the means of all but the most destitute. They're about half the cost of Singh Ray filters.
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Thanks for the advice everyone - I think I will start with a soft 2 stop grad.
One further question - when using grads is the aim to get the sky to the same light values as the land or do people generally still like to the leave the sky one stop brighter?
No hard, fast rules, but generally an image looks better if the sky is slightly lighter in tone than the foreground.
Originally Posted by pauldc
Don't go the opposite way though. I once commented, on another forum, about an image where the photographer used a .9 (3 stop) ND grad over the sky and had a lighter foreground than sky - it was an ocean shot - I commented that it looked odd, since that view doesn't happen in nature, and got blasted by everyone (but, since they are all d*****l shooters, I didn't care).
Though Robert and I have a common interest in subject matter and shooting with color slide film such as Fujichrome Velvia and Provia 100, here is a case where we have a minor disagreement. I know that Robert has suggested a kit consisting of .3 (1 Stop), .6 (2 Stop) and a .9 (3 Stop) filters, I would disagree with the 1 Stop ND Grad. Personally, I do not find enough of a difference to warrant the use of the filter. At least to some degree this can be dealt with in the darkroom or computer.
From my experience I will commonly select a 2 Stop or a 3 Stop ND Grad filter. I do not normally find a problem with the 3 stop filter (only a photographer may readily realize its use, but if used properly, it normally looks natural). These Grad filters are used primarily for transparency material which has a narrow recording range of 5 stops maximum. I normally expose for 3 1/2 to 4 stop range so that I can get some detail in the highlights and maintain some detail in the shadows.
The filters are usually selected to allow the film to record within the film's latitude. Therefore as an example, if there is a difference of about 4-4.5 stops between the foreground and the brightest areas of the background I would normally select a 2 Stop ND filter. However if the difference is about a 5 to 5.5 Stop difference I would select a 3 Stop ND filter.
As to the selection of the manufacturer of the filters, I would normally stay away from the Cokin Grad filters, they are not known for being very neutral. As to the size of the filters you have the option based upon the filter thread size of your lenses. I know that Robert and many others use the Lee System which I also have. But if your lens filter threads are smaller you can get and I am also trying to standardize to the Cokin P Holder system filter size (this size will also allow the use of the assortment of the special Singh Ray Polarizing filters [including the new Lighter Brighter Warm Polarizer] designed to fit the rear slot of the Cokin P Holder). High Quality Grad Filters in the Cokin P size can be gotten from both Lee and Singh Ray. The Singh Ray filters are a bit more expensive. Both manufacturers also make their Grad Filters to fit the Lee system as well.