Taking control of exposure for creative effects is one the pure joys of photography. Neutral density filters are one tool you can use to control exposure in their ability to reduce the amount of light that enters the lens.
We’ve explained what neutral densities filters are and how to use them, but sometimes you want a more compact, all-in-one solution that lets you explore the effects of an ND filter at a range of different densities. This is when you might want to consider buying a variable ND filter.
What is a variable ND filter?
A variable ND filter is a neutral density filter that allows you to just the density of the filter. Typically you twist a ring on the outside of the filter, and the filter shifts between low and high densities (often anywhere from 2 up to 10 stops of light).
Variable ND filters come in a range of sizes and price points. To help you choose the best variable ND filter for your needs, we’ve rounded up our favourites from the high end to the budget options.
B+W XS-Pro Digital ND Vario MRC Nano
- Price: £224/$189
- Sizes: 52-82mm
- Multi-Resistant Coating
Schneider Optics’ B+W XS-Pro Digital ND Vario MRC Nano is more than you’ve likely budgeted for a variable ND filter, but it’s the variable ND filter you should buy. What sets the B+W XS-Pro Digital ND Vario MRC Nano apart from others is a Multi-Resistant Coating that perfectly repels water. Rain or sea spray, droplets bead up nicely and roll off the filter. What’s more, this coating also effectively reduces ghosting and reflections.
The B+W XS-Pro Digital ND Vario MRC Nano is a screw-in filter, which is 9mm deep (not including the thread), and provides between 1 and 5 stops of light reduction on your scenes.
In use, you’ll find the front ring rotates and is marked with hard stops to indicate where the different densities are located between the minimum and maximum.
Syrp Variable ND Filter
- Price: £139/$139
- Sizes: 52 & 82mm
- Adapter rings
The Syrp Variable ND Filter is also no budget option at £139/$139, but again, it oozes quality and its performance is superb. Interestingly, unlike other filters where you’ll find a range of sizes, Syrp provides two versions: 67mm and 82mm.
The 67mm Small Kit comes with adapter rings that allow you to mount the filter to lenses ranging from 52mm to 58mm. The 82mm Large Kit option provides adapters for lenses from 72mm to 77mm.
So the Syrp offers a lot of flexibility. It also provides near flawless quality in both build and performance. And like the B+W, front coating on the filter makes it water and dust resistant.
Marumi DHG Vari ND2-ND400
- Price: £55/$93
- Sizes: 52-82mm
- Weather resistant
Distributed in the UK by Kenro, the Marumi DHG Vari ND2-ND400 offers between 1 and 8 stops of light reduction. While not as expensive as the Syrp and B+W, the Marumi still manages to offer solid build quality.
It’s also very quick and easy to mount to your lens. A textured area on the ridge lets you grip it firmly and rotate with ease.
There are no hard stops like the Syrp and B+W, and nor does it offer the coatings. But as a mid-range option, the Marumi is probably your best bet.
Singh-Ray Variable ND Filter
- Price: £/$390
- Sizes: 49-82mm
- Controls up to 8 stops of light
Singh-Ray’s Variable ND filters come in both standard and thin ring options and let you add between two and eight stops of neutral density to your images.
This variable ND will cost you plenty, but its durability and consistent colours all throughout its different density settings will give your images a reliable style and feel.
At this price, if you’re a hobbyist photographer the Singh-Ray might not be for you. But if you’re a professional or advanced enthusiast looking build a consistent body of work, the Singh-Ray Variable ND Filter is just what you need.
Hama Vario ND2-400
- Price: From £33
- Sizes: 52-77mm
Hama’s budget offering is a variable ND filter that really punches above its weight. It might not have the same build quality as the Singh-Ray above, but if you’re a hobbyist or just taking your first steps into using ND filters, the Hama Vario ND2-400 is the perfect variable ND for your needs.
Colours and sharpness remain respectably consistent throughout the densities, and beginners will also like how easy this filter is to fit and remove from their lenses.
You won’t find hard stops on the Hama Vario like you do the more expensive ones (there are markings on the ring, however) and there’s no 82mm diameter option. But for price, user friendliness and consistency, this is one of the best variable ND filters out there.