Review: Genus Variable ND vs. Tiffen Single ND

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Video, in a lot of ways, is the new photography. The means of production, editing and sharing have never been more accessible. In that spirit, I thought I’d share some insight into a crucial decision you’ll have to make if you jump down the video rabbit hole: variable ND or single ND. Without going into a super long explanation, if you are shooting video with a DSLR you will NEED ND filters (neutral density). They allow you to cut down light and shoot at shutter speeds that match your frame rate.

The easiest and most cost effective solution is to get a variable ND filter. It is a filter with two pieces of polarized glass that you rotate to reduce the amount of light that is coming through the lens. It makes for quick and fine tuned adjustments in environments where the light is always changing. Of the many that are available, I purchased the Genus because of many online recommendations. It worked great and did its job, but I was constantly frustrated at how soft the images were and how much contrast I had to pump back in post.

This led me to consider single ND filters, which are separate glass filters that reduce light by a fixed amount. I recently purchased a Tiffen ND Filter Set that comes with 3 fitlers and a wallet (.6, .9 and 1.2 ND). The downside is there is no fine adjustment and you literally have to remove a filter and place another one on. This can be a pain in dynamic environments, but if you are shooting narrative work or have more control, it is doable. Fortunately, I stumbled upon Xume magnetic filter holders that have greatly sped up the process. Instead of unscrewing and screwing on filters (and risking cross threading), you just snap them on with magnets!

So how big is the difference between variable NDs and single NDs in quality? Is it worth the hassle to swap out single NDs? I shot some video this afternoon to find out. The results are pretty obvious as to which is better. For me, I’m switching to single NDs and magnetic holders for most of my work, but will keep a variable for real dynamic situations.