Variable ND’s can be a powerful tool in the photographer and videographers tool kit.
A good variable ND will enable full creative control when light conditions restrict the correct shutter speeds for use with wide-open apertures, or can’t be balanced with frame-rates for video.
The Nisi 1.5-5 stop is available in 40.5-95mm diameters making it compatible with a huge array of lenses from all manufacturers. The low profile and high-quality build offer excellent value for money.
- High Quality
- Plenty of adjustment
- Adapter required for different thread diameters
What is the NiSi 1.5-5 Stop Variable ND?
Knowing how to control exposure is key to capturing a great image. Thankfully with aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity at your disposal, it’s usually possible to get the right balance of light through the lens to your sensor.
However, there are many occasions when the camera settings are not enough to fully control the flow of light in the creative ways you need. Shutter speeds with wide-open apertures are not possible due to too much light, or shutter speeds can’t be balanced with frame-rates for the same reason.
To reduce light travelling through your lens, you’ll need a neutral density filter. This type of filter stops down the light, extending exposures, and comes in either fixed value NDs, usually in filter systems or variable, such as the NiSi 1.5-5 stop.
The NiSi 1.5-5 stop filter screws into the front of your lens, in the same way as any other filter, then once attached a front element can be rotated to increase or decrease the density, creating the exposure reduction.
The filter is available in a wide selection of diameters from; 40.5 to 95mm. The 95mm version will be of particular interest to Sony A7 users with 35-135mm video lens.
The filter itself is of decent quality with the two elements, essentially two polarisers, fitting snuggly and smoothly together.
A small pin sticks out from the side of the front element, enabling rotation in order to adjust the intensity of the ND effect.
One variable ND issue can be a black X effect that appears across the image. This happens when the exposure reduction is pushed too far, NiSi has ensured that this can’t happen by limiting the rotation at the max and min points, which is a nice touch.
Another common issue is colour casts and here’s NiSi highlight in their marketing that the quality of their glass helps to reduce any unwanted colour effects. Likewise, NiSi also focuses on the thin profile and high-quality optic to ensure minimal loss of detail and definition.
A nice feature which is increasingly common with all filters is the nano-coating. This protects the front element from water, dust and dirt and means that if it does get wet or splashed then the element can be wiped clean without smears easily.
The profile of the filter is nice and slim; this is another of NiSi’s major selling points, and around the front element are clear markings showing the amount of exposure reduction.
The filter offers 1.5 – 5 stops of exposure reduction, and in the chart below, you’ll be able to see exactly how that will affect your exposure times.
- Exposure time = 1 Second | ND Filter = 1.5 Stop | Adjusted Exposure Time = 3 Seconds
- Exposure time = 1 Second | ND Filter = 2 Stop | Adjusted Exposure Time = 4 Seconds
- Exposure time = 1 Second | ND Filter = 3 Stop | Adjusted Exposure Time = 8 Seconds
- Exposure time = 1 Second | ND Filter = 4 Stop | Adjusted Exposure Time = 16 Seconds
- Exposure time = 1 Second | ND Filter = 5 Stop | Adjusted Exposure Time = 32 Seconds
The case a filter arrives in is often a good indicator of the quality of the product inside. Here the NiSi variable ND 1.5 – 5 arrives in a good quality case that isn’t just designed to protect the filter in transportation and on the shop shelf but also once thrown into your kit bag.
Removing the filter from the case and the quality is instantly apparent, the two elements are precisely manufactured, with smooth rotation, and there’s no rattle or movement that you can sometimes find with some variable NDs.
Gently screw the filter into the front lens element and threads meets perfectly and holds tightly to the lens as expected.
Once in place, a quick test and the small side lever makes adjusting the intensity easy.
You can see the effect of the filter through the viewfinder or on the live view screen, but if you want to check the direction of rotation for increasing or decreasing the effect, Max and min are written on the edge of the filter. This is a nice touch, especially for videographers.
I use a variable ND regularly for video work and occasionally for stills photography if I don’t have a straight ND available.
With a range of 1.5 – 5 stops of exposure reduction, this variable filter brings the same convenience as a zoom lens brings to fixed focal length lenses.
In one screw-in filter, you get all the options of four or five fixed ND filters without the need for adapters, filter holders of the faff of attaching and swapping.
Popping the filter on to your lens is easy, as is adjusting the intensity. Just rotate that front element to get the reduction of exposure you need, and that’s it, all very convenient.
Checking through the viewfinder and clarity and colour all seem ok, if there is a colour cast, then the Sony A7 III has it under control, and I certainly can’t see any issue.
In use, the filter works as intended in the field, screw-on, adjust the front element to get the shutter speed required and take the picture as per normal. There’s no issue with the cameras focusing or exposure.
Testing the filter for both stills and video, and I have to say the quality feel of the filter was exceptional. It performed like other far more expensive Variable NDs I use and the picture quality, at least on the Sony’s small display and through the viewfinder, seemed good.
Performance in the digital darkroom
Checking out image quality on the back of the camera can only give you a surface idea about the image quality. It’s only when the image is opened on your computer and viewed on your monitor; you can get an accurate idea of the picture quality and any effect that the filter has had.
Opening the images in Adobe Bridge and having a quick shifty through, and it’s instantly apparent the Black x is not an issue. This is, of course, no surprise as NiSi has placed limiters to stop any possibility of this occurring, but worth a check.
Zooming into a random selection of images and again all look good. Any effects on the definition and clarity are minimal if there is any image degradation at all then it’s hard to spot.
Colour cast is the one issue where you can see a slight cool hue to the images, to be honest, this is to be expected, and a small tweak in post-process settles this without issue. It’s something that I’m not concerned about and is easy to fix.
Variable ND’s are incredibly useful. In still photography, they’re still underused but cross over to video, and they form an essential piece of kit in any videographers kit bag.
The NiSi 1.5 – 5 stop is an exceptionally well-made example. It impresses from the start coming in a decent quality case, and the thin profile and high precision build all add to the premium feel of the product.
In use, the small pin on the side enables smooth adjustment over the intensity of the filter, and the limiters help to avoid you from pushing the effect too far and getting the dreaded black X.
The filter performs mechanically as it should, and this performance is replicated in the resulting images and video.
Videographers will be used to the slight colour casts created by this type of filter and adjust their settings to neutralise, stills photographers have powerful and fast tools that eliminate any issue in a brief click. Although there is a slight cool cast from the NiSi 1.5 – 5 VND it can be removed in a fraction of a second, so isn’t an issue.
On clarity and detail, the low profile and quality optics certainly do their job ensuring the preservation of image quality.
At between £100 and £250 the NiSi Variable ND is well priced, cheaper than some and more expensive than others. It’s an excellent mid-range variable ND with a quality that will not fail to impress.
If you’re in the market for a variable ND then the NiSi 1.5 – 5 stop is well worth a look.