My first filter was a circular polarizer. And that’s all I am going to say about this one for now. After that, I kind of forgot about filters. And I despised anything that would get in front of my lens, fearing it would ruin my images. Then I started working with the GFX line and the infamous shutter sync limited at 1/125th of a sec and thought, is there a way to have more control over my exposure, without touching my ISO, depth of field, and shutter speed? and this is when like a fool I finally decided to find out more about Neutral density filters.
So this is a 3 part video and to help me out a bit I will concentrate on 3 different tools or set of tools by 3 different brands.
Today we are keeping our eyes on the PMVND II the Peter McKinnon Variable ND edition II that you probably have seen everywhere. Like the simple Neutral density filters, They reduce the amount of light that reaches your sensor. You can either buy a bunch of them with different strengths or choose to work with a variable ND like this one. I’ve talked about this type of filter, in my What’s in my bag 2021. I am shocked I haven’t considered having these in my bag sooner. The PMVND blocks from 2 to 5 stops of light, and it is as simple as that. If for whatever reasons you need to set your shutter speed, and Aperture at a specific setting but still have an overexposed image at ISO 50 then this is where these filters can help you out.
The most common situation is shooting outdoors during the day with your lens wide open. Your ISO is at its lowest setting, so your only option would be to crank up your shutter speed to some crazy levels. But what if you need to stay at a low shutter speed. And what if you have a small entry-level flash that delivers a limited amount of power. You don’t want to go past that sync limit between your flash and camera because avoiding the HS or HSS mode will let you use all the available power your flash can give you. So if you are not photographing a moving subject you can stay around your shutter speed sync limit (1/200th or 1/125th depending on your camera brand and model), and have your lens stay wide open (at f/1.2 for example), and still have total control over your exposure thanks to your VND.
Do you like playing with slow shutters? No problem, you don’t want to raise your aperture to f/22 to compensate, so your VND filters will help you balance your exposure even indoors. I sometimes play at home with slow shutter speeds to have a bit of blur and movement. A little choreography that could only last 2 to 3 seconds, and during my various tests I could quickly get the image I wanted with the help of this VND.
There are 2 versions of the PMVND, the 2 – 5 stops and 6 – 9. Most of the VND’s I had in my hands that did 2 – 9 in one filter were awful. X pattern, color cast, and so on. This one gives a slight green tint to my images, not the end of the world for my photography, but a bit tricky sometimes in post-production for my videos. But it has a clever system that prevents you from leaving fingerprints on the glass and eases the screwing mechanism. I also sometimes keep it on and use it as a lens cap.
I am using the 82mm filter that fits my biggest lens and uses step-up rings to use it on the smaller ones I have. A lot of people will use them for video and if you are working with DSLMs you will need a little bit of help under certain circumstances. If your camera has a native ISO of 800, and you are filming at 24fps and 1/50th of a sec during the day, wide open like Zach Snyder, then you won’t be able to do it without a Neutral density filter. I used the PMVND for the short dance film “Will You Be There?”. For all of the exteriors, and also some sequences indoors:
I barely shoot without a VND these days for video, I always have one laying around, it gives me the freedom to achieve any shot I want. Ther is a mist version of the PMVND II. To make it simple, it’s a layer of glass that will raise your contrast and take a bit of the edge off your digital image, giving it a more organic feel, or a TV soap opera effect… Yes because sometimes it’s a bit too much. I’ve used this effect in one of my recent videos… but more on this in a later video.
I only have the PMVND II 2 – 5 because the cost of having all 4 versions is a pretty big step to make. One filter costs 279 euros here in Europe, so if you do the math, the clever system comes at a cost. Is it worth it? Given my heavy usage, I would say yes, and you get what you pay for. They are well built, it is quality glass, and again I love the system. But recently, I discovered that other manufacturers propose their own solutions, their own set of filters with sometimes neat little designs and concepts… and at a lower price. But what do we really get at a lower price? Let’s find out in part II.