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.
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.
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.
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.