The Fader ND Mark II is a high quality optic that will give you more control over your exposures, especially in certain situations. It is very much like the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter, but costs less than half of the standard one and less than a third of the thin one. Vari-ND filters have notoriously been on back order for month after month in the past due to demand so people were begging for an alternative. This is a welcome sight to the photography/videography community. There are a lot of knock-offs now, under a plethora of names and I cannot vouch for any of those off brands sold on Amazon and eBay, so we will just talk about this one the “Authorized” one. Light Craft Workshop sells their Fader ND Mark II on Amazon as well, plus they do have an eBay store and a web site. I purchased mine from their Amazon store. I ordered mine on Sunday and it arrived Wednesday with standard shipping. Pretty fast! Here are worldwide distributors.
Application: Refined shutter speeds & aperture
I don’t find changing my aperture gives me enough control over shutter speed. Plus you give up creative freedom and some technical issues come up. I prefer ND to slow things down and ISO to speed things when aperture and shutter speed are not changeable, or at least not very far for technical or aesthetic reasons. So what are these reasons?
HDSLR – shooting video, you cannot simply change aperture and shutter speed to your whim, at least not without compromising things. You lock down your desired aperture, set your appropriate shutter speed, and in many light situations you will have to stop down he lens in order to expose properly. Not very creative. If you are shooting at 24fps, you should be around 1/48 (1/50) shutter speed. If you are shooting at 30fps you should be around 1/60 of a second. Shooting at 60fps it should be around 1/120 (1/125). This is called the 180 degree rule. You can break this rule, but slower shutter speeds introduce more blur and faster shutter speeds make the resulting video look choppy and unnatural. The human eye can see when the shutter speed is off too far, so it is best to stay within a stop or so of the optimum shutter speed. Purists will tell you it has to be double the frame rate. ND to to the rescue. Dial in your aperture, shutter speed then apply the right amount of ND to gain a proper exposure.
Aperture is not enough – As you start shooting a lot, you realize that aperture really is pretty limiting when it comes to controlling a large range of desired shutter speeds. There is just not enough range, and the range you have has to many compromises to creativity. If you shoot long exposures a lot, then heavy ND is likely a great method. If you shoot a lot of ND in the range of needing 2 to 6 stops of light loss, then a variable ND can be very handy for you. Of course you can shoot both together and get even more creative control.
Panning – lock in a desired shutter speed and aperture, then dial in the exposure and rock those panning shots to your heart’s content.
Long exposures – I love long exposures and variable ND is so much more handy than a kit full of ND filters.
Wide-open mid-day – Want to shoot at f/1.4 in the middle of the day? Good luck without ND. I have used my ND400 on several occasions for such things like car shows in bright sunlight. Having a variable ND lets you get creative with ease like shooting with a 30mm f/1.4 wide open at 1/8000 becomes 1/125 with a maxed out Fader ND or 1/1000 dialed in at three stops of ND. Very handy!
Heavy ND – I have shot with a heavy ND (ND400) for years now and it is my favorite filter besides my B+W circular polarizer. Now I can shoot with the Fader ND, ND400 both depending on the needs of the day. They also make a Fader ND Ultra that gives you a range of 9 to 12 stops. 77mm is $225 and they call it “Lord of the Dark”. I might just have to pick up one of those too, as I do so much long exposure work. A three stop variable range can mean the difference between 4 seconds and 30 seconds or 4 minutes and 32 minutes!
The Variable Part
Variable ND really is variable, in more than one way. This is something you have to get used to – and surprising to many, it depends on the focal length as to the strength of the ND that can be applied with the filter. The details in this chart show the degree of ND that can be applied at different focal lengths (on a cropped sensor DSLR represented in this chart):
|12mm||ND4 to ND8||2 stop operating range|
|15mm||ND4 to ND16||3 stop operating range|
|18mm||ND4 to ND32||4 stop operating range|
|24mm||ND4 to ND64||5 stop operating range|
|35mm||ND4 to ND125||6 stop operating range|
|40mm||ND4 to ND175||6.5 stop operating range|
|50mm||ND4 to ND250||7 stop operating range|
|70mm||ND4 to ND350||7.5 stop operating range|
|100mm+||ND4 to ND500||8 stop operating range|
I was a bit skeptical given the varying prices I found for “Fader ND” searches, but decided to pull the trigger on this one since they claim they are the authorized distributor, that the rest are knock offs, and the photography and cinema reviews were all positive.
I find it superb. Clarity, neutrality, smooth operation, no vignetting. Well made and should last a long, long time. It is easy to see the minimum and maximum effect in daylight. When working in darker areas, it is a little harder to see when you might have dialed it too far, so watch for that.
- Great build quality
- Smooth operation
- No vignetting
- Thinner than a standard Vari-ND from Singh-Ray (11mm thick vs. 14.1mm)
- Less expensive than the Vari-ND from Singh-Ray and especially the thin one ($125 vs. $390)
- Scale gives you a reference of what is min and max, but not really all that useful since the scale values change based on focal length
- Depending on the lens you use, the scale may or may not be easy to see – depends on how it ends up on different lenses when threaded on = the min/max dot might wind up in an inconvenient place on some lenses
- Rotating the filter with a super-wide angle lens does contribute some polarization to the sky, which is often not a good thing if your sky is expansive in a shot
- If you are used to threading on a filter and then putting the lens hood on, it likely won’t work for you, as the filter will be wider than the lens hood back opening
If you own a Singh-Ray, go use it. If you have had trouble saving for one, or getting your hands on one even when you do have the money, this is a viable option. The 77mm filter is wider at the front (82mm threads) to help with vignetting, so if you want to stack filters, you have to put the Fader ND on the front. You could buy three of these for what one Vari-ND thin will cost you and you can put them on three different lenses at once. Very handy for cinematography.
You can get the Fader ND in different sizes from 52mm to 82mm:
I will be comparing the Fader ND Mk II to the Singh-Ray Vari-ND side by side.
I will also be putting it through use on location, at a wedding, a portrait session and some video work.
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