Review – URTH ND8-128 Variable Filter + Discount Code
As mentioned in our previous review of the URTH ND2-400 Variable Filter, we have never really been big fans of using a Variable ND Filter in our photography. Mainly because we’d heard so much about the dreaded ‘X’ effect issue that these filters have. The URTH ND2-400 filter has the ‘X’ effect when used at the Maximum Setting but it is usable from 1 stop to about 5 stops reduction in light. Beyond the 5 stops, the corners are just too dark for our liking, although some people may find it acceptable. As we needed a second Variable Filter we decided to get the more expensive URTH ND8-128 Variable Plus+ filter (USD$99.00 / 77mm thread) which would reduce light by 3 to 7 stops.
We have great expectations for this filter, considering the usable range of the Urth ND2-400 filter. Generally speaking, in most cases you will not need an ND2 (1 stop) or ND4 (2 stops) filter in the field. In fact, in some cases, a CPL filter can adequately be used to replace an ND2 filter. So, in our opinion, a variable filter starting at either ND4 ( 2 stops) or ND8 (3 stops) is perfect for most occasions. Therefore, our first impression is that the ND8-128 (3-7 stops) could be a very desirable range to work with.
It will be interesting to see whether it will become a permanent fixture in our camera bag. Keep reading to see our conclusion at the end of this post.
SO, WHAT IS A VARIABLE ND FILTER?
A Variable ND filter is a neutral density filter that allows you to manually adjust the density (strength) of the filter. Typically, you twist a ring on the outside of the filter, similar to a polarizing filter, and the filter shifts between low and high densities (often anywhere from 1 up to 10 stops of light depending on the brand).
WHY USE A VARIABLE ND FILTER
As Travel Photographers we tend to take a wide range of images and more recently during trips to Japan, Hong Kong, Macau and Shanghai we have been taking a lot of street/urban type images. We love to blur movement in our images, and this was not ideal at times using our bulky NiSi Square Filter Holder combined with the 6 or 10-stop filters, so on bright sunny days, many of our images had to be shot at a small aperture (f16-22) with low ISO settings to obtain the slow shutter speeds that we required. However, shooting at a small aperture can result in ‘Diffraction‘, which most photographers try to avoid (don’t worry about shooting at small apertures if your intended output is just social media). Ideally, we wanted to shoot at larger apertures (f2.8-f8) but with slower shutter speeds (see image below). The only alternative solution was to look at a Variable ND filter where we would have complete control over the amount of light that would allow us to achieve the slow shutter speed we needed.
Please Note: We are NOT dedicated Landscape Photographers. For our tripod-mounted landscape images, we would generally NOT use a Variable ND Filter. Instead, we would use the URTH square ND Filters.
Above: Urth Variable ND8-128 Plus+ Filter
Above: Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo – Japan
As mentioned above, Variable ND Filters have had a reputation over the years for being quite expensive. However, over the last couple of years, we have been using the GOBE/URTH brand of filters and have found their filters to be of the highest standard in quality, while still remaining reasonably priced. The URTH Variable ND8-128 Plus+ Filter ranges in price from USD$67.00 for the 37mm lens thread up to USD$138.00 for the 95mm lens thread (check out the discount coupon code at the end of this post). The filter arrived in a round metal case slightly larger than the filter (so much better than the crappy plastic cases that are supplied by some filter makers). Also included was a URTH Cleaning Cloth which is a great touch. The filter is well-made and the rotating ring is smooth although it is a little tight to rotate which, in our opinion, is a good thing as it restricts it from moving once set. The rotating ring is also quite narrow so for those of you with ‘big fingers’ it may be a bit awkward, however, it is a necessary evil to avoid excessive vignetting in the corners of the frame. The filter is made with premium German B270 Schott optical glass with 20 layers of ultra-nano coating and is weather sealed.
For best results when using the filter always make sure that it is clean and free of any fingerprints. This can be achieved using a blower brush for removing larger particles, cleaning fluid that will not damage nano-coated optical glass, and a microfibre cleaning cloth. Urth produces a Glass Cleaning Kit which contains all these items in a handy travel-ready recycled nylon case.
The URTH Variable ND8-128 Plus+ Filter can be rotated from ND8 (12.5% light transmittance) which is equivalent to 3-stops all the way up to ND128 (0.781% light transmittance) which is equivalent to 7 stops. This is a fantastic range and will cover most of your long-exposure needs. The filter has ND8 and ND128 marked on the rim of the filter separated by dots in between to indicate each stop of light reduction.
In our testing with the Gobe version of the filter we were sent for this review, we have found that it works well with wide-angle focal ranges such as 16mm-24mm. We tested it with our Sony FE 24-105 f/4 and Sony FE 16-35 f/4 lenses. Straight out of the camera, the filter causes vignetting on the 24-105mm lens, but this is immediately corrected once the lens profile is applied in post-processing. We used a 72mm-77mm step-up ring to use on the 16-35mm lens which caused some vignetting. Even without the step-up ring, there should be some vignetting, however, we are unable to test whether this is completely correctable on the 16-35mm lens in post-processing.
THE ‘X’ EFFECT
No matter what focal range you use we have found that the dreaded ‘X’ effect issue does not affect images when you use this filter.
The filter will give you a colour cast. As you can see from the test images below the filter displays a slightly warmer colour cast than the shot without a filter. Personally, we don’t mind this.
There are no ‘stop’ markings on the filter so when using the filter you will need to have some sort of an idea of the shutter speed you want to attain for your image. Naturally, at the ND8 setting, it should be a 3-stop (or thereabouts) reduction in light but beyond that, you will have to watch your shutter speed if you want to calculate full-stop increments. Quite frankly, we would suggest you ignore the marks on the filter ring and instead rotate the ring until you obtain your desired shutter speed to capture the effect you want.
As is the case with most, if not all, Variable ND filters there is a slight loss in sharpness when using this filter. As Variable ND filters are constructed from two circular polarising layers of glass that are placed in opposition to each other, a slight loss of sharpness is to be expected.
Note: This is just a guide. You should always test your filter settings as they may change from copy to copy. The test below was taken using a Sony A7R III camera with a Sony FE 24-105 f/4 lens at the 24mm focal range. These have only had the lens profile applied and have been straightened. Hover over the images for a magnified view.
Above: La Perouse in Sydney, Australia
Sony A7R III + FE 24-105mm f/4 lens + No Filter
24mm – f/8 – 1/80 – ISO 100 – WB Auto. Profile Correction added and straightened only
Above: Sony A7R III + FE 24-105mm f/4 lens + URTH ND8-128 filter.
Set to the ND8 (3stop) mark on the filter.
24mm – f/8 – 1/4 – ISO 100 – WB Auto. Profile Correction added and straightened only.
Above: Sony A7R III + FE 24-105mm f/4 lens + URTH ND8-128 filter. Set to the 2nd mark on the filter.
24mm – f/8 – 0.4sec – ISO 100 – WB Auto. Profile Correction added and straightened only.
Above: Sony A7R III + FE 24-105mm f/4 lens + URTH ND8-128 filter. Set to the 3rd mark on the filter.
24mm – f/8 – 0.6sec – ISO 100 – WB Auto. Profile Correction added and straightened only.
Above: Sony A7R III + FE 24-105mm f/4 lens + URTH ND8-128 filter. Set to the 4th mark on the filter.
24mm – f/8 – 1.3sec – ISO 100 – WB Auto. Profile Correction added and straightened only.
Above: Sony A7R III + FE 24-105mm f/4 lens + URTH ND8-128 filter. Set to the ND128 mark on the filter.
24mm – f/8 – 1.6sec – ISO 100 – WB Auto. Profile Correction added and straightened only.
We found this filter easy to use. It gave us so much more control over our shutter speed when shooting at our ideal apertures. There is minimal loss of sharpness and only a slight colour cast. But most importantly, this filter does not have the dreaded X effect. The filter is ideal for wide-angle lenses, however, as mentioned, we can not vouch for the lens correction performance on lenses wider than 24mm. Undoubtedly, there will be some vignetting on wider lenses which should be correctable in-camera or in post-processing, but to what degree, we are not sure. You may also want to consider the URTH Variable ND2-32 Plus+ filter (1-5 stops). Needless to say, this filter has definitely found a permanent home in our camera bags and we look forward to many years of use.
The filter is available in the following lens thread sizes –
37 – 40.5 – 43 – 46 – 49 – 52 – 55 – 58 – 62 – 67 – 72 – 77 – 82 – 86 – 95
At the time of writing this post, the filter is priced from USD$75.00 up to USD$159.00 based on the lens thread size. To purchase the filter click on the banner below and use the discount code on the banner to receive a 15% discount on all Urth products. If you have any questions about this filter please leave us a comment.
RATED: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Other Gobe/Urth Filter Reviews
If you are interested in reading any of our other Gobe/Urth filter reviews click the links below –
Disclaimer: Although we are affiliated with URTH Filters and receive a commission on any sales when using the coupon code, this review is totally unbiased (we are also NiSi Resellers). As Professional Photographers we would never recommend the use of any product unless we use the product ourselves. We always strive to give you our honest opinion in order to help you make the best choice. We did receive the product with compliments of URTH but were not paid for this review. We may also receive commissions on other links in this post.