All filters are the 77 mm versions, and they were tested on a Nikon 16-35mm f/4 lens on full format.
1. Build quality
Let’s start with the build quality, because this had an impact on my tests: The Haida Slim MC filter had a thread that was somehow off, I couldn’t mount it to the lens properly and it would get stuck half way. So I couldn’t test it properly. It doesn’t really impact the test content, though, since I still had a slim (but non-MC) version and an MC (but non-slim) version to test, so you can simply combine the results of those. But anyway, worth mentioning. The other two Haidas were flawless, though.
While the B+W filter frames are made from that famous brass, the Haidas come in something that I’d guess to be aluminum, which makes them lighter. The B+W finish appears a little rough at first glance, since it’s not clean black but the brass sort of shines through. The finish of the Haidas looks nicer in my eyes, but that’s a matter of taste. After all, who’d admit they care about the looks of their equipment… right? On all filter frames, the letters are applied, not engraved.
The feel when you screw the filters into the cheap plastic thread of the 16-35mm f/4 Nikon lens is actually a little less “scratchy” and hence smoother with the Haidas than with the B+W.
While we’re at it: Although it might be hard to believe that a cheap plastic case can make much of a difference, the case of the Haida filters indeed has a slightly cheaper feel than the B+W. This is due to the detail that the sides of the bottom part are a little concave (bending to the inside). Maybe, it’s because of this that you have to fiddle around quite a bit to get the filter sit properly in the padding. In the B+W case, it just fits. What a difference two cents in production costs can make.
2. Sharpness reduction
To check this out, I chose an extraordinarily beautiful subject: I printed text on sheets of paper and mounted them in the frame on a flat wall. The camera was of course on a tripod and aligned exactly rectangular to the wall using a laser level.
For all tests, I’ve been using the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 lens, which is what I’m using the ND filters with. According to DxO, the 24mm setting is the one with the highest sharpness also in the corners, so I’m using that. The lens is set at f/8, also because this is the supposedly most even-sharp setting. I’m using the full-power modeling light of two studio strobes with normal reflectors to illuminate the beautiful subject. The result looks like what you can see on the right.
Here are 100% crops from the individual 36-MP images. Center:
If you ask me, I can’t see a difference in sharpness. What I can see is how unexpectedly bad the lens performs. And the 16-35 f/4 is supposedly rather sharp.
3. Flare resistance
As ND filters of this type are often used in bright daylight, flare resistance is very important for me. All multi-coated B+W filters I’ve used so far are incredibly resistant to flare. How about the Haidas?
I took two test images for each filter, both at 35mm, one with the light source within the frame, and one with the bright light source outside (top right) the frame. As a light source, I again used a studio strobe with normal reflector and modelling light on full power (250W), as you can see on the image on the right.
Here are the results for you to click through. With the slider, you can always compare filter (left image) with no filter (right image):
As you can see, the B+W doesn’t add any flare at all, while the Haidas do. In fact, there is no difference between the coated and non-coated version. The non-coated version does add a little more haze, though.
Vignetting, color cast, actual transmission
No, my passion for beautiful imagery didn’t stop with the sheets of paper from the sharpness comparison. Here are some more. The following images illustrate all three criteria mentioned in the title at once.
The images have been taken against the evenly-illuminated white studio wall, using studio strobes with large softboxes and the modeling light on full power. Again, the lens was set to f/8, because this produces a rather vignetting-neutral result. You can see the image without any filter in comparison further below. The top and bottom bar are neutral gray.
All of the above shots were taken with the calculated exposure times – 10 EV lower than the camera measured for the image without the filter.
There’s actually not much difference: In the center, all filters are a little lighter than they should be, meaning they are maybe a fifth EV less dense then their nominal value. The are slightly different in detail, but at this level, who cares? I don’t. All of them work, and for me, it wouldn’t be a criterion to prefer one over the other.
Any ND filter produces rather strong vignetting with wide-angle lenses, no matter how high the quality. Which is simply because the light from the wider angle is hitting the filter in a steeper angle than the light from the middle of the frame. Hence it has to pass through more (tinted) material. If you wanted to avoid this effect, you’d have to make the filter convex and not flat.
This effect cannot be eliminated by stopping down – naturally, because it won’t change anything in the logic fo the above description.
As you can see above, all filters produce a strongly visible vignette, and just like with the sharpness comparison, there’s no visible difference.
Interestingly: Do you see any filter mount getting in the way?
6. Vignetting, part II: From The Filter Mount
No, you don’t. Neither with the Slim nor the normal versions. None of the filters’ frames gets in the way of the image! Although B+W claims it’s only usable down to 24mm, you can use the non-slim version even for 16mm. Same goes for the Haidas: Slim or non-slim, it doesn’t matter. In other words:
There is actually no advantage of the slim versions over the non-slim versions for normal filter usage.
The issue starts when you want to use another filter on top of the ND filter, i.e. a polarizer. The slim versions are 1.8 mm deep as opposed to 3 mm of the normal versions. When I mount my HOYA HD Circular Polarizer onto…
- …the B+W F-PRO, I can zoom back to 22mm focal length, at 21mm the filter frame becomes visible in the image corners.
- …the Haida Slim filter, I can go down to 21 mm focal length, at 20mm, the filter frame becomes visible in the image corners.
So, the advantage is actually only 1 mm in focal length. The value can be directly transferred to the B+W X-PRO Frames (in case they will ever make an X-PRO version of this ND filter class), as they have the same dimensions as the Haida Slim filters.
Filter Frame Dimensions
(for 77 mm versions)
Haida Pro II
|Ring Depth (a)||4.5 mm||4.5 mm||3 mm||3 mm|
|Glass Diameter (b)||71.5 mm||71.5 mm||71.7 mm||71.8 mm|
|Female Thread Depth (c)||3 mm||3 mm||1.8 mm||2 mm|
* There is no XS-Pro version of the B+W 1000x ND Filter (yet), these values are taken from another 77mm filter frame for comparison.
7. Color cast
While you usually can correct the cast by simply using a gray card and the eyedropper tool in your image editor, there’s always the risk of not getting rid of the cast completely. This is due simply to the different intensity of the cast to shadows and highlights. If you’re in bad luck, the cast cannot fully removed unless going into rather deep editing. Which is the reason why it’s important that the color cast and you can become friends.
All images above have been shot in RAW and then white balanced (using the eyedropper tool in Aperture) to the same value that the first image without the filter used. Hence, all of the color cast you can see is purely from the filter.
As you can see from the above, the B+W features a brownish sepia-like cast. Since the multi-coated Haidas have pretty much the same tone to them, I guess this has to do with the coating. In the histogram (below), you can see that the channels of the Haida MC are more apart than the B+W, meaning the cast is even more intense. The non-coated Haida has a slightly cool cast to it which is rather neutral and easy to fix. The following histograms are from the 35mm test shots that you could see in the bottom row of the Vignetting comparison above:
Even if it’s harder to remove, I don’t really have a problem with the B+W’s color cast. Again, a matter of taste. But if you want neutral, the non-coated Haida is the winner.
Continue with part 3: Real-world Relevance & Summary
Go back to part 1: Introduction