Anamorphic on a Budget – SLR Magic Ep 05 – Variable ND

February 14, 2016

Fifth and last – for now – episode of the SLR Magic series. This one is about their new Variable ND filter. It’s a great piece of gear, not only for anamorphic users but anyone looking for control over exposure without loss of image quality.


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Tito Ferradans checking in for the last episode of the SLR Magic series and also the very first video of 2016! In this episode I’m not talking about anamorphic gear per se but something that can definitely benefit us all. ND filters. Actually, variable NDs or faders. If you haven’t thought about it, a variable ND is simply a pair of polarizers stacked against each other and by changing the angle between them you get to cut down light transmission. I’ll get to some issues of that a little further ahead, but, for the time being, having variable NDs make life much easier than having a whole bunch of regular NDs.

What are NDs, after all? Well, ND stands for neutral density, which means it’s a piece of glass without any color tinge or effect. It follows photographic standards of how transparent it is, so it cuts down the light coming from the world and into the lens in a seamless way without any side effects. NDs are the best way of controlling your depth of field in strong lighting conditions by cutting down the light and allowing you to open up the aperture – while keeping your shutter angle at 180 degrees, unlike I’ve been doing so far.

SLR Magic’s Variable ND MkII claims to have improved performance over its contenders by keeping color and sharpness under control even at its strongest setting. Here’s where that “two polarizers thing” comes into play. When you’re twisting the light like that, you’re prone to get artifacts. Most strong variable NDs get a LOT of color shifting and loss of sharpness at their strongest position, even the most expensive ones. Rob helped me in this video by lending me his various NDs – Tiffen, Lightcraft Workshop and Singh-Ray. Each of them has different maximum light stopping power. SLR Magic’s cuts from 1 1/3 to 6 stops, which isn’t a HUGE amount, but it’s good enough for most outside shots – if you’re not riding your ISO through the roof, that is.

This variable ND has 82mm threads (but you can get a 77mm version too) and markings from 1 to 10 according to its strength at the moment. These are very useful for keeping tabs on how much ND you’re applying to your shots. One thing I hadn’t seen before is this little lever on the side so you can rotate it without touching the ring – that usually leads to messing up shots and fingers showing up in the frame by accident more frequently than anyone would want.

SLR Magic’s Variable ND MkII is available at B&H, Adorama and SLR Magic’s website. The 82mm version goes for $189 while the 77mm is $149. Price fits the same range as its competitors – except for the Singh-Ray, which goes for a lot more than that.

One issue that comes up from the combination of polarizers and lenses with rotating front elements is that, even though the exposure won’t change, the polarization will and reflections go haywire across the frame as you can see in this shot. Another thing deriving from that is that polarizers cut reflections while standard NDs wouldn’t. This is a common issue with any other Variable ND. Once you screw it in, polarization is set for good. SLR Magic’s isn’t, though. You have this other ring in the back, which operates just like the locking mechanism for their anamorphics, and you can rotate the filter until you’re happy with polarization, and then lock it in place! For the following samples I kept the ISO and aperture identical and only made changes to the shutter speed according to the level of ND applied so exposure remained constant. You can also download them or check them at 1080p resolution on flickr!

Sharpness is barely – if any – altered at all, and colors go a little warmer, but not much. You can probably white balance it out in camera, or easily dial it back in post. Ghosting artifacts – quite common with other faders – are also fixed in this one, which highlights how much work they’ve put into this filter to make it stand out from the crowd by fixing all these flaws inherent to Vari NDs in general.

I was very pleased with this filter – I think it’s a great starting point for me that never use any kind of filter, but that might spoil me a bit too! – and it’s needless to say I’ll keep using it along the next reviews, trying to keep my shutter speeds lower since that was one of the main complaints I heard so far! Rotating front elements are a little annoying, but that only applies to rack focusing, so all my “locked down” shots are easy to do. Thank you very much, SLR Magic and Andrew Chan for providing me with this opportunity, and I look forward to seeing your anamorphic primes soon!

Lastly, if you haven’t checked my idea for an in-depth anamorphic guide, you’re missing out on it! I need all the help I can to get this done and you can be part of this journey. Subscribe to the channel for the upcoming videos and head to the blog for the rest of the reviews and much more! Tito Ferradans out!

  • TFerradans. · A Few Notes on the Sony A7s II. April 7, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    […] takes a lot of NDs and stopping down the lenses for a correctly exposed shot during daytime. I had SLR Magic’s VariND on at the maximum strength while shooting both at sunset and sunrise well after the sun was up and […]