Using ND filters handheld

Most photographers will be familiar with the use of an ND filter to smooth water, create streaks of clouds overhead or shoot landscapes in the brightest sunlight. But I’m fairly certain that a large proportion of those people would also assume that a camera with an ND filter has to be used on a tripod.

If we were talking DSLR then I would agree with that. The main drawback of an ND filter, especially something as strong as a 10-stop, is that when you put it on a DSLR lens, you cannot see the image in front of you. This necessitates composing the scene, with the camera secure on a tripod, getting a correct exposure without the filter, then calculating the exposure based on the strength of the filter, attaching the filter to the lens and finally taking the shot.

Swans, f4.8, 2.6 seconds, ISO 160

Mirrorless cameras are a gamechanger. With an ND filter in place a mirrorless camera will still show you the potential image on the EVF. You can actually see the image you’re going to take. In my case I went out to shoot some ICM and abstract images, using the motion of the camera to create the picture. I was able to fit a 10-stop filter to my 50-200mm lens and still have a perfectly clear viewfinder on my Fuji X-T3. This really opens up a whole new world for abstract images, giving me the ability to shoot at any time of day or, for example, to follow birds in flight, with no more swapping filters on and off. Today was a bright sunny day but I was easily able to expose for several seconds at a time. And again, being able to see the image in the EVF before shooting makes one heck of a difference.

Swan, f11, 4.5 seconds, ISO 160
Gulls, f4.5, 1/7 second, ISO 1600

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