The NiSi variable ND 5-9 stop is a super strength variable neutral density filter. The neutral density enables you to extend exposures so that you can capture dramatic motion effects or use large apertures in bright conditions.
All it takes to get started with this high-density variable ND filter is for you to screw it to the front of a lens. Then by rotating the front element you can increase or decrease the exposure reduction. With a range of 5 - 9 stop the effect is instantly apparent, greatly reducing the amount of light that can pass through the lens. The filter is easy to fit and use with a smooth front elements rotation that makes for easy adjustment. Results through the filter are excellent, although there is the obligatory colour cost which is easily removed in post-process. If you're looking for a powerful variable ND filter then the NiSi 5-9 stop is an excellent choice.
- Excellent quality
- Protective Nano coating
- Available in 40.5 - 95mm
- Slight colour cast
What is is the NiSi Pro Nano Enhance ND Vario 5 – 9 stop?
Variable ND’s have multiple uses, primarily stopping down the exposure so that you can increase shutter speeds to create blur in your shots; be that people, water or clouds.
They can also be used to enable large apertures in bright conditions so that you can capture summer portraits with blurry backgrounds.
Variable NDs are incredibly useful, and if you don’t already, now is the time to ensure you make a VND integral part of your kit bag.
While many variable NDs, such as the NiSi Pro Nano Enhance ND Vario 1.5-5 stop, will enable a stop down of exposure, the Nisi 5-9 stop is in another league of exposure reduction.
For example at the height of summer on a sunny day, you wouldn’t usually be able to take shot with a 3 to 5-second exposure and an f/2.8 aperture. But, using the variable ND set to its maximum intensity, that’s exactly what you’ll be able to do.
The filter consists of two circular polarizers that have been fixed together, with the front element rotating and the rear element screwing directly into the front of your lens.
When the front element is rotated the intensity of the ND effect increases or decreases from 5 to 9 stops or visa versa.
Around the rim of the filter are markings to show the max and minimum effect with a stopper at each point to ensure you stay within the workable limits.
On the front element is a small lever. This makes it easier to rotate the element smoothly and it’s especially useful when shooting video
The two ultra-slim glass elements ensure optical quality while a Nano-coating ensures the elements are waterproof and deflect dust and moisture residue.
NiSi has produced the 5 to 10 stop variable ND in a variety of sizes ranging from 40.5 mm all the way through to 95 mm.
Quality and handling
In this test, I’m using the 77mm sized variable ND, with the Sony 24-70 mm f/4, as this has a 67mm diameter thread I’m using an SRB 67mm to 77mm adaptor.
The filter has been designed slim, so despite the increase in depth caused by the use of the adaptor there didn’t seem to be any increase in a vignette or other optical flaws.
Just for reassurance, I checked the filter on the Canon EOS 5D MKII with 24-70mm attached, and again there was little if any signs of increased vignette.
The first observation about the filter is the high-quality manufacture. The two metal rings containing the circular polarizers fit together beautifully and the rotation between the two elements is very smooth.
The small lever that helps rotate the front element is a real asset, but if you don’t like it can be unscrewed.
Screwing the filter into your front element is easy enough, just aline the screw threads, rotate the filter in the wrong direction until you feel the threads bite and then rotate in a clockwise direction to tighten the filter.
Once in place, the camera can be used as per usual, just with the filter effect increasing the exposure times. If you want to further increase exposure times then the front element can be rotated clockwise or to reduce the effect it’s rotated anticlockwise.
At the limit of each rotation is a stop so that the filter doesn’t go beyond it’s limit. At the lesser end this wouldn’t matter too much, but going beyond the maximum on many variable ND’s would create a black X across the image.
The black X isn’t an issue with the NiSi filter due to the stops. On many variable ND’s the black x could appear but you often wouldn’t be aware until the image was opened in the digital darkroom.
The effect of the NiSi 5-9 stop filter can be seen through the viewfinder or on the light screen.
Shooting in manual mode is advisable as this gives you the ability to adjust the exposure exactly as you require. Otherwise if you feel happier in one of the semi-automatic modes then these work equally as well.
Essentially use the camera in the same way as usual. Then rotate the filter to increase of decrease the effect.
Out in the field and the quality of the filter really shines through. The front element is smooth and easy to adjust, and the overall the build quality and feel of the filter is exceptional.
At maximum density, the filter has the effect of massively extending exposure times. The live view preview can get pretty dark even with compensation. Fixing the focus and then dialling in the maximum on the filter once composition and focus were set helped with capturing the images I wanted.
Overall when shooting with a filter in place it’s much like using your camera as per normal, just with greater flexibility over the ability to extend exposure beyond what would usually be possible in bright sunlight conditions.
Variable ND effect on exposure
0 stop (normal exposure) = 1/60
6 stop = 1 sec
7 stop = 2 sec
8 stop = 4 sec
9 stop = 8 sec
Back in the digital darkroom
Back in the digital darkroom and with the files downloaded and opened you can really see the effect of the filter. Standard exposure times have been increased far beyond what would usually be possible and the range of densities offered by the 5 – 9 stop variable ND is impressive.
Overall the clarity, colour and sharpness of the images is excellent but there is a very slight colour cast.
To be honest, all ND filters however neutral they’re advertised to be will have some effect on colour. This is due to a range of reasons from the camera trying to overcompensate or just the effect of the two polarizers working together in this case, either way, the cast is minimal and easy to correct.
As ever when you extend exposures you need to be using a good solid tripod. I utilised the new 3LT Winston 2.0, and this just helps to ensure no camera shake while exposing the longer exposures.
Overall I’m very happy with the results of the images, they look sharp, clear and crisp with plenty of tonal graduation and definition.
A few years ago I had to look at almost every Variable ND I could find on the UK market. Many were good and others were variable ND by name only.
From that test, it was very obvious that to get a decent variable ND you needed to pay a price, and I remember being impressed with the Tiffen Variable ND, which at the time was close to £150-200, the exact amount escapes me but even now it retails for £129.
When it came to options for a well priced, high-quality variable ND there wasn’t a great deal of choice.
However, today the quality and variety of Variable NDs has increased greatly, but even though the options and quality have increased the NiSi 5 – 9 stop still stands out. Why? Simply it’s one of the only variable NDs to offer 5 to 9 stops other than PolaPro who offer the 6 – 9 stop which is also well worth checking out.
It’s quite unique in its offering and from the outset, I was impressed by the build and optical quality.
It’s a perfect Swiss Army knife ND filter, giving you a good range of densities that enable you to capture truly stunning creative effects.
Due to the strength of the variable ND effect this filter is best suited for still photographers, but can be used by videographers.
Filters such as the LEE Filters big stopper are hugely popular because of the exposure reduction they offer, and side by side (Which is another test) you can see where the fixed density of the Big Stopper just wins out on optical quality, but only so you’d notice under the critical eye.
I’ve been incredibly impressed by the quality of the NiSi Pro Nano Enhance ND Vario 5 – 9 stop, and the images it enables you to capture. Ultimately I would highly recommend this filter and think that you should buy it now.