KIT BAG: Filters In A Flash!

 

You’ve never fitted and changed filters this fast! Marumi’s new system makes clever use of magnets to speed things up. Professional Photographer Terry Hope took a set out to see how they might lift his landscape shots.

We might live in a digital age but old-school technology still has plenty left to offer. Take filters for example: no self-respecting landscape photographer would dream of heading out on a shoot without a set tucked away in the gadget bag, and no amount of postproduction trickery could replicate what you can achieve in real time with the likes of a polariser or a neutral density filter.

The problem is that filters can be fiddly, and if you’re regularly using a collection of lenses then things can get expensive, because each one is likely to have a different filter thread. You can buy screw-in filter holders that can get around this, but you’ve still got the hassle of slotting filters in and out; it all takes time, and there’s every chance of getting greasy finger-marks all over them.

This was why I was looking forward to trying out Marumi’s latest filter set, in which simple technology in the form of magnets has been employed to make life a whole lot easier. At the centre of the system is the ultra-slim M100 Magnetic Filter Holder; once this is screwed into your lens, you can simply snap your filters on and off in a matter of moments. The magnets are even strong enough for up to three filters to be used in tandem, so there’s no messing about and you can react quickly to changing lighting conditions.

The line-up of filters that makes up the system was another reason to get excited. There’s nine different density classifications of 100mm square ND filter available – I had the 2.7 and 3.0 versions – and three classifications each of soft graduated ND, hard graduated ND and reverse graduated ND filters, all 100x150mm, and I had one variety of each. I also had the circular polarising filter in my gadget bag; to fit this, you simply unscrew the filter holder and screw the filter directly to the front of your lens.

ND Filters

Photography is all about light, and you might think this is something you can never get enough of. Which makes the concept of a neutral density filter a little difficult to grasp for some, since its role is to hold back the amount of light that’s reaching your sensor or roll of film. So, why would you want to do this? For the photographer the idea is that you can then reach for a tripod and set some really long exposures, even during the middle of a sunny day, and if there’s anything moving in the scene – such as a fast flowing river or a gushing waterfall – it’s going to record as ethereal blur, which can look stunning in a landscape shot.

Sadly I live in a part of the world where there aren’t too many natural waterfalls, but there was a park not too far away where I knew there were some landscaped mini waterfalls that would serve my purpose. I found what I wanted and then set up my tripod and shot a few images where the water flow was captured in sharp detail. Then I fitted my 2.7 ND filter, which provides a 9 f-stop reduction, and I switched to manual so that I could close my aperture down to a point where I had the exposure – four seconds – that I wanted.

At these kinds of exposure times it’s really easy to shake the camera as you press the shutter, so I used my self-timer and this gave the camera enough time to settle down before the shutter was fired. It worked, and the images I achieved were crisp and sharp and the water was beautifully misty and soft. From here you can play around with exposure times to vary the effect, but instead I fitted my 3.0 ND filter – which creates a 10 f-stop reduction – and I tried this out as well, and was really pleased with the variety of different looks I achieved.

Graduated ND filters

With the graduated ND filters the aim is different, namely to hold back exposure just to a chosen area of the image and to darken it down for effect. So you’ll expose for the image in the normal way, but depending on where you position the graduated section of the filter this area will be slightly underexposed.

This is where a huge advantage of the Marumi Filter System became apparent, because while the filter is secure once it’s been snapped into place it’s also very easy to then slide it up and down until you’ve got the graduated line exactly where you want it. I started off with the hard graduated filter, which I had in a strength of 0.6, giving a 2 f-stop reduction to that part of the image. I could visually see the effect the filter was having through my viewfinder so it was relatively simple to line things up just as I wanted, and the result was a shot that had a lot more punch than the unfiltered shot, due to the extra definition in the water.

I repeated the shot, this time using the soft graduated filter, which also had a strength of 0.6. I liked this even more, since once again the water had been lifted and had a shimmering, silvery look, while the sky had not gone quite so dark. I did decide to also try out the Reverse Graduated filter, which had a strength of 0.9, a 3 f-stop reduction. The scene I was photographing wasn’t ideal for this filter since its main strength is for photographing events such as sunrises and sunsets, where the brightest point on the image is close to the horizon line. Even so I still liked the result, and there was definitely more detail in the water.

Of course graduated filters can be used any way round you choose, so you could opt to flip it 180-degrees and darken down the bottom half of the image, and that’s entirely up to the individual and the scene they’re photographing. Filter technique is ultimately very simple since you can see your result in real time, but it can make a huge difference to your final image.

Polarising Filter

I was so pleased that Marumi has included a polarising filter in this family, since it’s an indispensable accessory for so many reasons. I removed the filter holder and then screwed the filter into the adapter, and it’s designed so that while it might be attached firmly to the front of the lens it will still rotate, and this is crucial. As you look through the viewfinder and slowly spin it around you’ll see an almost magical effect as areas of the picture darken down and then lighten up again. Blue skies are particularly affected, and what I wanted to do was to darken down this area of the picture and to make the white clouds stand out in high relief: it worked beautifully, and I really liked the far more dramatic shot I achieved. Once again you can see exactly what you’re getting through the viewfinder and it’s up to the individual to go as strong or as subtle as they like.

Polarising filters also have another trick up their sleeve, however, and that’s an ability to tone down or to make reflections disappear altogether. Once again this is something you can see on the spot and you won’t be able to replicate this kind of effect in postprocessing.

Simple Technology

I really enjoyed my shoot with the Marumi filters and it was a reminder that simple technology still has a part to play in this modern world. But there’s always room for refinement, and I grew to love the fact that changing filters was so quick and easy. Clever solutions married to traditional and time-honoured filter performance: what’s not to like?

Reviewed and written by Terry Hope, photographer

 

Thursday, 13 December 2018