A few months ago I was lucky enough to pick up a sponsorship with a new camera filter maker, 84.5mm. Their aim is to produce high quality filters at affordable prices. The filters are made by an enthusiastic bunch of photographers and are based in Slovakia. When I first accepted their offer I agreed to write a review of their filters on the basis that it would be a truthful and honest review and not biast in any way.
First off just a little note to say all pictures in this article are straight out the camera JPG’s with no post processing and also may not be a true reflection of my standard of work.
If you are unaware of what filters do, they for me are an essential piece of kit along with a tripod for landscape photography and a little bit of explanation below:
There are three main types of filters:
Graduated neutral filters (GND):
Camera’s unfortunately do not have as much dynamic range as the human eye and as such will either expose for the foreground or the sky. If you’ve ever took any photos without filters then at some point, depending on the conditions you’ll have noticed either a “white sky”, very bright sky with little detail or a foreground which is a silhouette.
GND’s are essentially a piece of plastic (or glass in some cases) which has a neutrally coloured grey top and clear bottom. They come in a number on strengths, usually from 1 stop to 4 stops of difference. The grey section of the filter is lined up in front of the lens to level be level with the horizon and covering the whole sky. What this then does is reduce the exposure of the sky bringing the dynamic range of the overall scene into a range which the camera’s sensor can deal with and if used correctly will result in a perfectly exposed image. GND’s come in two forms, hard edged or soft edged. Hard edged is particularly useful for scenes with a straight horizon and a soft edge is good for mountain scenes where you don’t want to see the effects of a filter on uneven foreground. A GND can effectively be replicated in post production by ensuring you take two images of the scene initially exposing one image for the sky and one for the foreground and merging the two correctly exposed images together in Photoshop.
Neutral Density (ND):
Neutral density filters are solid grey filters that are designed to reduce the exposure throughout the whole scene. By placing one of these filters in front of the lens you reduce the exposure throughout the whole scene. This technique is used where you want to slow the movement in the scene e.g changing flowing water into a silky white flow. ND filters tend to be most common from 1-3 stops of exposure but go all the way up to 10 stops. The 10 stop filter is an extreme filter used to change exposures that would usually be seconds into minutes and minutes into hours allowing really abstract and surreal creative effects. ND’s can’t be recreated in post production but using a smaller aperture when shooting the image will have the same effect, albeit at the expense of image quality and sharpness.
This is another filter that can’t be replicated in Photoshop and no camera technique can compensate for it. A polariser is a filter which contains two pieces of glass which you rotate to give you desired effect. They are very good for removing unwanted reflections from water or any other reflective surface (e.g. leaves after rain) as well as saturating colours, mainly blues and making clouds pop and appear 3d.
84.5mm sent me out around 20 filters. Currently they are only making GND’s (light, medium and strong soft edge and a medium and strong hard edge. Roughly light is 1 stop, medium is 2 stops and strong is 3 stops) and colour filters. I received the 3 soft edged GND’s and almost all of their colour filters.
84.5mm filters are the same size as Cokin P filters meaning you can use them in any of the equipment designed for Cokin P filters. They are also looking to release a professional range which are still the same width, but 150m in length which gives a bit more flexibility when using the filter.
The review will be mainly based upon their GND’s because I rarely use colour filters. Colour filters can be replicated in Photoshop but 84.5mm believe using a filter is the better way to go about it. As I generally don’t wish to change the colour tone of a scene I don’t really wish to use either approach though having the filters there are a nice to have.
First off is really how they are packaged and presented. If you have ever had Hi-Tec filters then they are packaged fairly similar. They come in a tough plastic sleeve with a cardboard insert displaying the filter name, brand details etc. The cardboard insert is there to help protect the filter from scratches because any grit that gets in the packaging will no doubt scratch the filter if the grit got between the filter and the plastic sleeve. They’re presented simply but I think if possible get yourself a proper pouch to store them in because I know with the Hi-tecs they would scratch over time anyway.
84.5mm filters in their packaging
84.5mm filters are made of what they call organic glass which is meant to have a high scratch resistance. I think it’s worth noting the filters are not made of glass, but actually resin and are similar in feel to other filters. 84.5mm claim that they are made of special organic glass, which is characterized by excellent optical and mechanical features (refractive index from 1498 to 1501, Abbe number 58 a high percentage of light a high percentage of light transmission, excellent resistance to scratching etc). Now I’ve had the filters for around 3 months and so far they seem to be holding up well. They have incurred slight scratching but I think we have to remember the difference between “scratch resistant” and “scratch proof”. Certainly an area Hi-tecs have always disappointed me is they scratched way too easily.
As you can see from the below pictures, you can see the different strengths of filter and what kind of effect they have on exposure to the sky:
Neutral density filters, by principle need to be colour neutral hence the name. This means that by placing a filter in front of your camera the colour balance of the “filtered” part should remain the same. However Cokin filters are particularly renowned to have a magenta colour cast, which is unwanted and where using graduated ND filters is hard to correct in post production. I’m very pleased to say that 84.5mm do not exhibit any colour casts and the scenes remain neutral. A big advantage they have over Cokin here.
However what was more important to me was the ability to stack filters without a colour cast. I have used Hi-tec filters for a number of years and a big bug bear was never being able to stack a filter without a very hard to correct cast. There are a number of applications where you may wish to stack filters. Coastal scenes where you want to use an ND filter as well as a GND filter to ensure the sky is properly exposed as well as slowing movement of the water is a good example and my heart always sinks a little when I do go to the coast (not often) but you may also wish to stack filters if you want to add heavy drama to the clouds or quite simply 3 stops isn’t enough exposure reduction. Thankfully 84.5mm filters can be stacked and remain colour neutral just as Lee filters do so bonus points to them there.
I have mentioned above that you can replicate graduated filters in Photoshop by merging exposures, this for me isn’t something I like to do. I find it tricky, time consuming and I’d rather see the image right in camera when I take it rather than waiting until I get back.
Lens Flare: Adding any filter to a camera greatly increases the risk of lens flare and filters need to be made as well as possible to help minimize and reduce lens flare. In my tests I think 84.5mm filters performed pretty well though I do have concern when shooting into the sun. Granted some people say shooting into the sun is bad practice and it is bound to induce flare but as you can see from the following example you can see how much was gained.
As you can clearly see, adding a filter has greatly increased the amount of flare. I spoke to 84.5mm about this and I was informed given the subject it is to be expected. They did also mention that the filters I had been provided with were sample filters and had been used before, which may have small scratches on which is enough to induce this kind of flare. My advice then is try to avoid shooting into bright sunlight and prefer side lighting where possible.
However these two images do make me move onto the next point, colour filters. Like I mentioned before, colour filters are no where near my forte and I don’t wish to alter my images in post production either. But I thought i’d try them out and see how I got on. As you can see from the two images above they do have their uses. For example the first image was shot without a filter on their and has a cool, neutral feel to it but I decided by adding an full graduated orange filter I could really warm up the scene and make the sun appear as orange as we perceive the sun.
Below are some sample images showing uses of different filters:
Below is a quick example of how neutral the pictures turn out, even when stacked which I’m really impressed with.
Price wise at 19 euros 90 cents (around £17) the filters are competively priced to compete with hi-tec and while more expensive than the Cokin filters, they are very much a way better brand.
Finally, some other sample images. Please scroll along in the gallery:
As you can see from the sample images I generally like to use the stronger ND’s and when at sunset/sunrise hours I often like to stack to try and hold the exposure. When using Hi-Tec’s they do a great reverse grad which is specifically designed for sunset/sunrise. Rather than the darker part of the grad starting at the top, it actually starts at the bottom which is where the brightest part of the image is going to be. I am a big fan of this filter and generally find I only need to use a 3 stop reverse grad for most situations given my style of photography. I’m pleased to say that 84.5mm will eventually be releasing their own.
Slightly unrelated to 84.5mm and not really their issue but I need to highlight this to anyone considering buying the filters. I have been using the Lee Filter System with Hi-Tec filters for around 2 years. The Lee system is light years ahead of the Cokin system even if they are just bits of plastic. I really can’t get on with the Cokin system, it is slow, cumbersombe and cheap. I’ve got the official Cokin gear too. It’s alright for those on a budget and those that are novices and amateurs but if you’re either used to the Lee system or a professional I would wait until 84.5mm release the 100mm Lee compatible filters.
So after a fair bit of use I’m glad to say I’m keen on 84.5mm filters. They offer a cheaper alternative to Lee filters and are on the same kind of price range as Hi-Tec filters. For me the filters are of better quality than Hi-tec, especially as they don’t appear to colour cast when stacked with another filter. As it stands, the filters are great but 84.5mm need to extend their range of filters before they can truly compete. Luckily there are plans to extend this range to include both ND’s and reverse GND’s. Once they have these in place I probably could quite happily leave my old kit at home and rely just on 84.5mm filters. The other sticking point for me is as mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of the Cokin system which isn’t 84.5mm’s fault. The company are planning to release 100mm filters which will be compatible with Lee holders, once these are available I would be more than happy in using them in daily use. I think Lee filters are too expensive and prohibitive for most and Hi-tec do have certain issues with colour casting and scratching easy. If 84.5mm could offer the quality of Lee at the price of Hi-Tec I believe they will be on to a winner.