Photography

Review - ICE 72mm Solid Neutral Density Filter Set by John Clark

All this for less than $60? How good can these filters be? Read on to find out!

Even using today’s most advanced post-processing technology such as Adobe PhotoShop, Lightroom or ON1 Photo RAW 2019, there are still a handful of photo filters that you simply can’t duplicate well on the computer. The Polarizer is one, of course. And while you technically could mimic a ND filter in post-processing, it’s extremely time consuming and an extreme challenge to achieve the same natural results that you will in-camera.

The ND, or Neutral Density, Filter blocks the light coming into the camera and allows for slower shutter speeds that you can normally dial in, especially in bright light situations. These slower shutter speeds result in that lovely, milky white waterfall with smooth water, beach waves flattened out, clouds streaking across the sky and even a shot taken in New York City at midday where no people show in the image! I’m sure you’ve seen a number of photos like this online and wondered “how did they do that?”

So when I wanted to get a 72mm ND filter for an Olympus 12-100/F4 PRO lens I started to do a little research. Many companies offer a variable ND which is nice since you can “dial in” the exact exposure needed, but I have one for a 62mm lens and find that it doesn’t get quite as dark as I wanted (typically around a maximum of 6 stops of exposure). Often I’ve found that a longer exposure time was needed to capture what I had in mind, especially in very bright, sunny situations.

So, I began researching options. And while many of the name brands offered individual, solid ND filters that would do the job, one interesting option stood out. 

It was the ICE 72mm ND8 (3 stop), ND64 (6 stop), and ND1000 (10 stop) Solid Neutral Density Filter Kit (available from B&H Photo and Amazon, among other several retailers). As a side note, this kit is also offered in a variety of sizes from 49mm to 95mm. 

The first thing that caught my attention was the price. Less than $60 for a set of three! How good can they be for that price, honestly?

So, I did a bit more sleuthing… First, this is a set of three filters that reduce the light by three, six or 10 stops. Nice! You can also stack them to fine tune the needed exposure or go super dark to really slow down time.

Next, these are made of glass which is important for optical clarity. Excellent! Some filters are made from resin or polycarbonate plastics, especially those with lower price points. Personally, I prefer glass for the best possible image, though typically you pay more for a glass filter.  

Slim, but strong bezel

Another nice feature is these have slim filter rings help prevent vignetting which is important when you shoot at wide angles (this lens has a full-frame equivalent of 24mm). 

Finally, this set also comes with a custom nylon filter pouch with three padded, fitted and non-abrasive pockets to store and transport this filter kit.

OK, so this filter set really sounds too good to be true, right? I thought so too, and could only find limited reviews and additional information online which didn’t exactly help to put my mind at ease. But, B&H has a great return policy so I figured,  “Why not?” With the filters in my cart, I checked out and in a couple of days they showed up on my doorstep! 

The unboxing seemed positive… All the features I mentioned above seemed as good in my hand as they did on paper, so to speak. The quality and edge-to-edge darkness of the glass appeared high, based on looks alone. The aluminum frame was thick enough to prevent bending or twisting, yet narrow in width as promised. Even the nylon case seemed quite high quality!

But the real test would come in the field, and with a trip scheduled to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula I was eager to try them out. 

A few days later I found myself at Whitefish Point standing in front of a set of pier pilings near the lighthouse that clearly begged for a long exposure photo. But, even as the fog rolled in, there was still too much midday light to capture the waves splashing around the posts and really show off the fog as I envisioned in my mind. This was a perfect first test for the ICE ND filters!

I grabbed the ND64 (6-stop) and the real test began. I won’t bore you with the technical details of the image, but I will say that it threaded on smoothly to the lens, and came off easily. This is often a problem with inexpensive filters so that’s a positive sign.

There didn’t appear to be much loss of sharpness either, a testament to the quality of the glass used by ICE. 

As shot, straight from the camera. There seems to be very little color shift!

Additionally, I also didn’t notice much, if any, color shift when using this filter. One major complaint against other ND filters is that they introduce a color cast to the image, often bluish. While typically an easy fix in post-processing, it’s still annoying. Another positive sign was that I noticed no vignetting, even at the widest angle of this lens.

So far I’ve only used this set one time, but first impressions are very good (and you know you only get one chance at a first impression!). I look forward to more situations where I can give them a whirl and really see how well they stand up to multiple uses and things like stacking.

But, if you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll certainly be able to tell when I post a new photo that used these ND filters! 

The final image, processed with ON1 Photo RAW 2019. It’s quickly become one of my most favorited of the year on Instagram.



Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

My Favorite Photo from 2018 by John Clark

The “Eye in the Sky” was my personal favorite of 2018

This is the time of the year when I see a lot of photographers posting the top images that they shot during the year. These are often in batches of 10, 12, or in some cases 18 (I get what they did there… But what happens in the year 2100?!?).

Let’s cut to the chase… I’m going to give you just one photo. The image you see above is my single favorite shot that I took in 2018.

This is the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, located high atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Situated at nearly 14,000 feet, it’s located well above the clouds and you can see across the Pacific Ocean to the highest peaks of Maui in the distance. I was there in September and at sunset the sky turned from blues to shades of oranges and purples, and the temperature changed to decidedly “not Hawaii-like” and got extremely cold! (As a side note, I felt like a fool packing a down jacket for a trip to Hawaii, but even with that, a hat and gloves it was c-o-l-d!) 

What I like about this photo is the unique shape of the building, and of course the coloring. I framed the shot so it would be on the left side to incorporate the drop off of the cliff and more of the clouds way below the observatory. Looking at the photo, you get a sense of the size of the world, how small we really are in the grand scope, and the search that goes far beyond our galaxy.

Honorable Mentions

You really didn’t think I could get away with just choosing one image, did you?

Shots like this make me want to fly my drone more often!

The first Honorable Mention is the ridges of Calico Basin which is located about a half hour drive from the Strip in Las Vegas. This was shot with a drone late one September afternoon. What I like is how the setting sun created wonderful leading lines across the ridges that lead the eye towards the red rock formations, and how the beautiful shadows add depth to the image. You can almost feel the desert warmth, can’t you? I haven’t flown my drone as often as I would like, but shots like this make me antsy to take my photography airborne more often!

Such a beautiful animal!

My second honorable mention goes to this shot of a Leopard, taken in Kruger National Park in South Africa just a couple of weeks ago. Those who follow me on Instagram already know the story… He was hidden in a dark spot under a tree hunting a herd of Impalas when the wind changed to come from behind his back, which immediately warned them of his presence.

The Impalas all began hissing and huffing at the Leopard, and that quickly ended his dreams of a tasty meal since they were all watching him. The Leopard made a long, slow walk of shame during which I shot a LOT of amazing images, but he kept walking closer and closer.

Finally, he stopped just a few yards from our safari vehicle and was so close I could no longer keep his full body in the frame. Besides the close, natural portrait, the thing that I like about this photo is simply the memory of a most amazing wildlife sighting and the behavior of the Impalas. And, you know it must have been great as the Park Ranger, who sees these animals daily, was as geeked out about the encounter as I was!

More to Come

I’m not done processing my images from 2018 yet, so be sure to follow along on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook where I regularly post new images from my travels.  And for you wildlife enthusiasts, more from my recent trip to Africa will be coming shortly!

And now that the calendar has turned to 2019

Viewbug Asks to Go “Behind the Lens” by John Clark

Viewbug, one of the internet’s popular photo sharing and contest sites, recently asked me to go “Behind the Lens” on my photo of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.

BTL is a Q&A-style post that goes beyond the image itself and discusses the vision, equipment and other aspects of the creative process to help other photographers learn about the location and/or spur some thoughts for the future.

Click here to read my Q&A on this photo.

This is actually the second time Viewbug has asked me to participate in a BTL session. Here is the link to the first one, a shot of the Second Beach Sea Stacks at Olympic National Park in Washington state.