A variable neutral density filter can be very handy. You only need one filter that covers multiple strengths. Haida released the CPL VND Pro II, a variable neutral density filter that works also as a polarizing filter. Haida asked me to review this new variable ND filter with polarization abilities.
First of all, I’m not fond of variable neutral density filters. This is from the perspective of a photographer. A while ago, I got the opportunity to use another variable neutral density filter, and it showed the downsides of these filters. You can read my review of this Haida M10 inset VND filter and see why I don’t like it that much.
As said, if you’re a photographer, I think you’re better off with a selection of good quality ND filters. That’s why I use the Haida Red Diamond filters and the Haida NanoPro magnetic filters: the former for normal situations, the latter if I want to travel light.
Why a Neutral Density Filter for Filming?
I have a short introduction for anyone who doesn’t know the basics for film exposure. The best choice for shutter speed is the reciprocal of two times the frame rate. The aperture is used to get the desired depth of field. Thus, the ISO level is the only thing that can be used to set the correct exposure.
If you use log footage for recording, you probably end up with a higher base ISO. For the CLOG-3 in the Canon cameras the ISO 800 is the base ISO. So if you want to film in a sunny outdoor situation, you will be forced to close the aperture to f/16 or f/22, which is often not desired.
In that situation, the only solution for the videographer OR filmmaker is a neutral density filter. This way, you can keep your ISO at the base value, the shutter speed at the reciprocal of two times the frame rate, and the aperture set for the desired depth of field. That’s the reason why professional video cameras often have built-in variable ND filters.
One ND Filter for All
A filter system is not practical for video. Although it’s possible to use, it’s often too bulky, especially when the camera is used on a gimbal or Glidecam. Up until now, I used the Haida NanoPro magnetic neutral density filters to get my exposure correct.
But the magnetic filter system is also not ideal, since I have only a 3-, 6-, or 10-stop ND filter available. Many times, the best exposure asked for something in between these. That’s why for the videographer or filmmaker, a variable ND filter is the best choice.
Haida has released a variable ND filter with built-in circular polarization filter. Since a variable ND filter is based upon the rotation of two polarization filters, I was wondering how well this could work. Haida sent me a sample of the CPL VND Pro II for a review.
A Closer Look at the Haida CPL VND Pro II
The Haida CPL VND Pro II is a nicely crafted filter that can vary between three and seven stops. Made out of an aluminum alloy, it’s lightweight without making a sacrifice for build quality. The red ring has a recess that shows the available stops. A well-designed lever allows you to rotate the filter to adjust it to the desired strength.
The red ring can also rotate separately from the neutral density setting. This is the polarization option that allows you to choose the desired polarization after you’ve chosen the right neutral density. It is easy to attach and detach the filter or to rotate the polarization without the risk of detaching it by mistake.
The filter is not very thin, which is to be expected. If you used it with an ultra-wide angle lens for photography, I think you would run into some vignetting. But for videographers and filmmakers, this poses no real problem because of the 16:9 aspect ratio.
Using the Haida CPL VND Pro II filter
There are two important things to look for when choosing a variable neutral density filter. First of all, the rendition of color has to be perfect. You don't want any color cast, no matter how dense the filter. The Haida CPL VND Pro II performs well in this aspect; it shows no visible color cast whatsoever.
The second thing is the risk of a cross forming when the filter is used at its extreme density. I’ve seen this with the Haida M10 inset VND filter, which allows a full 360-degree rotation. Check my review on that filter to see how this cross-forming occurs. The Haida CPL VND Pro II shows nothing of the sort. The footage and photos show an even exposure over the complete frame.
One thing to look out for is the uneven polarization that occurs with wide angle lenses. This is due to the angle of view and not related to this specific filter. But at first glance, you might mistake this for signs of cross-forming. When used at a longer focal length, where the uneven polarization becomes less obvious, there is still no sign of the cross-forming effect, just the normal polarization effects.
Placing the filter onto the lens is easy thanks to the excellent grip. Setting the neutral density is also easy, and since it’s infinitely adjustable, you can rotate the lever until the exposure is correct. The numbers in the inset might be difficult to see. You have to look from just the right angle to be able to look into the inset. But with normal use, the actual density that is set is not important. Just rotate the lever until the exposure is correct.
There is just enough resistance to the rotation of the red ring. This ring is used for the polarization, and its resistance holds it in place when you turn the lever inside the red ring. Operating the Haida CPL VND Pro II makes you feel full control.
Although I was a bit skeptical at first, I learned to like the Haida CPL VND Pro II filter a lot. It offers the control needed for filmmaking, and I get the option for polarization as well without the need for a second filter.
The filter is well designed and easy to use. It’s made of high-quality material, and the K9 optical glass has a lot of coatings to ensure a good image quality. Although it could be used for photography as well, I believe it is mainly aimed at the world of video. Nevertheless, if you don’t want to carry a lot of neutral density filters on your photography trip, you could consider this filter also.
What I Like
- Well designed
- Full aluminum alloy
- Practical and infinitely adjustable range of neutral density (3-7 stops)
- No cross-forming when used at maximum
- Buit-in polarization
- Polarization ring has the perfect amount of rotation resistance
- No visible color cast
What Could Be Improved
- The metal lever is easily unscrewed
- Neutral density indication can be difficult to read (although that isn’t that important in practical use)
- When used on ultra-wide angle lenses for photography, vignetting can occur
- The lever can be too long when using a matte box
If you’re in the market for such a filter, the Haida CPL VND Pro II is a good choice. My advice is to buy a filter with an 82mm diameter and use step-down rings to make it fit onto lenses with a smaller diameter. This way, you only have to buy one filter, and you can use it on every lens you own.
What do you think of this filter? Please share your ideas or experience with this filter in the comments below.