review

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.

First Impressions of ON1 Photo RAW 2019 by John Clark

The new look of the Photo RAW 2019 Edit module showing layers and the panes of the workflow

TL;DR: It’s a different workflow from prior versions and has some great new features. I like it. 

The development team at ON1 took on a major challenge to develop a new non-destructive photo editor, and with the launch of Photo RAW 2017 two years ago they set out to show the photography world that there can be strong alternatives for post-processing software. 

Now, three versions later, Adobe should be looking over their shoulder as ON1 Photo RAW 2019 is, for many photographers, the real Lightroom® alternative they have been waiting for.

I’ve been able to work with PR 2019 for a few weeks now thanks to early access to a Beta version of the program, and today the final release was made available to the public. Here are some of my initial thoughts on the program and things I like about the latest version.

The Workflow is Different: Those who have used prior versions of PR will notice that 2019 has a totally new user interface and this requires a new workflow. No longer do you have to switch between modules like Develop and Effects; instead they are all combined as tabs in the Edit pane and it’s easier to quickly move between Develop, Effects, Portrait (a brand new module!) and Local Adjustments. 

It takes a few moments to figure out where things are now located and how to access them, but you’ll quickly learn the workflow and appreciate the thought the software team put into creating this new layout.

Auto-Align of Layers: Sure, this was available before in the HDR module. But with 2019 you can use this to align multiple images and then use the masking brush to paint in just selected areas from different exposures. This will give photographers a lot more ability to paint in specific areas from different exposures to really work the light.

Inside the new Focus Stacking module. Image courtesy of ON1.

Focus Stacking: Macro photographers, and those wanting hyper-depth of field for landscapes, will welcome this new feature. You can even move a slider to adjust exactly the depth of field and focus of the stacked images! I’ve not done a lot of focus stacking so far, but this new addition makes me want to break out the macro lens in search of subjects to play around with it. In fact, I think I’ll try it out it for my landscape photos as well. 

4. New Features: Each build of PR has added new several features, and 2019 is no different. Photographers specializing in people will love the new Portrait module that automatically detects faces and allows precise control over skin smoothing, sharpening and brightening the eyes, and whitening the teeth. 

The ability to manage keywords is one very welcome new addition. I have quite a few typos in my keywords that I can finally delete, or edit as needed. Those used to mock me each time they would show up and now I can finally say Sayonara to those fat finger mistakes!

There is also a new Film Grain filter in effects that makes it easier to mimic the grain and style of several types of film (remember that?).

And for the first time a Text Tool has been included which will be welcomed by those photographers creating greeting cards, posters, or simply wanting to add a text copyright to your images. You can add multiple blocks of text, and of course change the font, alignment, color, size, and opacity of each.

One promised feature to be released during a mid-cycle 2019 update is a new Artificial Intelligence Masking Tool, and I cannot wait to see how this works! As described, the AI technology detects the subject matter and automatically creates a mask. This could be a game-changer when trying to make selections in challenging subjects, such as around leaves in a tree, grasses, hair and other finely-detailed areas.

I made the switch to ON1 PR as my full-time editor, and love the simplicity of adding and moving images around. Not having to be restricted to the catalog system of Lightroom is a real blessing, and for those photographers wanting to also make the switch here’s a bit of good news – PR 2019 now has new AI-powered algorithms to give people the ability to transfer Lightroom-edited photos, keep the non-destructive settings, and move them into ON1 Photo RAW 2019.

To close, PR 2019 is a major step forward in the development of the program and definitely worth consideration for photographers looking beyond the Adobe ecosystem for a stand-alone program. But even if you still choose to use Lightroom Classic CC as your primary file manager and editor, PR 2019 works as a plug-in for that program as well as Photoshop.

If you are interested in seeing PR 2019 for yourself and how it could work with your images, download a free trial copy. You’ll get 30 days to experience the full program and come to your own conclusions.

Got any questions about ON1 Photo RAW 2019 that I can answer? Drop them in the comments below!

  

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.

Review: The $99 Lens You Should Have in Your Bag by John Clark

The wide angle came in handy in Thailand for capturing the beauty inside the Buddhist temple and the worshipper

What if I told you there was a M43 lens that would take up virtually no additional space in your bag, yet allow you a world of new visual opportunities that no (in most likelihood) no other lens in your kit offers? And what if this magical lens cost you under $100 dollars? I suspect that most photographers would be interested in learning more.

Well, this lens is the 9mm Fisheye Body Cap lens by Olympus (model BCL-0980), and I honestly believe it should be part of the standard kit for any M43 shooter.

A great many shooters, myself included, pack their camera body in the bag without a lens attached. The standard body cap that comes with the camera is most often used to protect from dust and impacts and, of course, is extremely small, lightweight and doesn’t extend out beyond the grip.

Yes, this is a very small and lightweight lens. No additional room needed in the bag!

Yes, this is a very small and lightweight lens. No additional room needed in the bag!

The Olympus 9mm Body Cap lens doesn’t extend beyond the grip either. In fact, it isn’t much larger than the original body cap itself. So, in essence, just swapping this out for the original body cap will give you one additional lens in your kit for no additional space! When packing my bag I have this lens attached in place of the original body cap which gives me one “free” lens in the bag without any additional space or weight, yet still offers the same protection.

The 9mm gives you a full-frame equivalent of 18mm, and while not quite a true fisheye, it offers an amazing 140-degrees of view. What this means is you have to be extremely careful about framing and what shows up on the edges of your photo!

While walking around I often toss this into my pocket so that if an opportunity comes up for a wide angle shot I will be ready, especially while traveling and not having access to my full selection of glass.

Now there are tradeoffs, of course. The big one is that this lens is a fixed F8 aperture. This is great for depth of field but not necessarily optimal in low light situations. The other big issue is that this is a completely plastic lens, including the elements itself, although that should not be a deal breaker as this lens is surprisingly sharp for the price and construction.

Shooting is extremely simple. The minimum focus distance is just a tad under 8 inches, so you can get extremely close which does give some interesting perspectives. Operation is as simple as moving a lever which opens the lens cover to one of two focusing positions; you must choose either Infinity or close focus and there is no autofocus. Personally, I don’t find much difference between the two focal ranges and just use the Infinity focus setting.

While this lens is not likely going to be a main workhorse, for the price paid and the space (not used) in the bag it is well worth adding to the collection to give yourself a whole new viewpoint.