View Full Version : Grad ND Filters - Soft or Hard Edge ?

Doug Meek
9-Apr-2002, 09:51
Hi Everyone.

I already own a set of Lee ND grads soft edge. I recently read on the B & H web site that they recommend hard edge for 150mm and longer lenses and soft edge for the wider angles. No explanation is given as to why. On the other hand, Jeff at Badger Graphics told me that he can't remember ever selling a single hard edg e ND grad. My question is, am I missing something by not having the hard edge filters ? I shoot 4x5 color landscapes and have lenses ranging from 75 to 360mm . Is it perhaps easier to see the proper filter positioning on the hard edge ? I use the Lee filter system. I just wanted some advice from experienced users before going to the expense of buying additional filters that I may not even ne ed. Thanks in advance for your input.

Scott Walton
9-Apr-2002, 11:47
In my opinion, the soft edge gives a better transition. With the hard edge and a tele lens, your transition would be soft also. If you were to use the hard edge with a wide angle, you would see a hard edge making it easier to see that you filtered and making the picture not natural. I think the repositional Lees are a great way to go. Eventually, you might have a large compliment of filters to do the things that you want... we as photographers are "collectors" of stuff so use what you have for the purpose it is made for and save to get more!

Georges Pelpel
9-Apr-2002, 12:23
I use both a 2 stop soft-edge and a 3 stop hard-edge. I wouldn't recommend one over the other as both are used extensively, each depending of the situation. I use the 3 stop hard-edge more often with excellent result. I use them with any kind of lens as wide as 65mm. Most of the time I do not use the holder but carefully handhold the filter in front of the lens even for long exposures. I have found that it seems to help in making smoother transitions. These things are expensive but they are used often. I am planning on adding a 3 stop soft-edge to my arsenal and, may be, a 2 stop hard-edge. I sometimes combine my two filters for a more dramatic effect. The 3 stop hard-edge may seem odd because the transition is so abrupt but, believe me, there are many situations in nature where it can be used. I would recommend you to get one, you will be very surprised on how often you will use it.

Pete Chipman
9-Apr-2002, 13:52
Well, if you're talking about split neutral density filters (ignore me if you're talking about center filters), I use a 2 stop and 3 stop (often in combination) hard edge all the time. IMHO, Much better effect with clearly defined horizons than a soft edge. Soft edge is better for uneven horizons (physically, and lighting-wise). Good to have both kinds in your aresnal. Pete.

9-Apr-2002, 14:09
I have found the following:

1. Singh-Ray makes the best ND filters on the market 2. You can get by with only 2 filters: 2-stop soft and 3-stop hard 3. Practice, practice, practice.

I leared the technique from Galen Rowell last fall on a 3-day workshop. There is a direct correllation to how 'hard' the grad appears on film, in relation f-stop and lens length combination. The longer the lens, given the same ND grad filter, the less 'hard' the line appears. Also, the smaller the f-stop, the more defined the line will be.

Practice, practice, practice.

Pete Chipman
9-Apr-2002, 16:03
I second on Singh Ray.

And, if you're only going to one to start with (soft or hard), go with the hard first (3 stops) and get soft later. However, this is a general statement, as you might be shooting stuff that's more suited to a soft edge (I find myself using the hard edge, more often). As far as what lens to use, I can't argue with Galen's advice on the long lenses, but don't be afraid to use the hard edge on WA (in my experience).

Also, don't be afraid to combine them (2 stop plus a 3 stop), if the exposure range your trying to equalize is to wide for one filter.

Noshir Patel
15-Apr-2002, 14:14
I might point out that with LF, we typically stop down a lot. I would think that might cause LF users to favor the soft edge.

Paul Metcalf
3-Feb-2004, 13:54
Hasn't been a reply to this topic in a while, but I have a question and a comment relative to SND filters, so decided to put it in this thread.

First, my comment and in the spirit of sharing photo tips. I noted some comments about the difficulty of adjusting a SND filter so it is aligned to the horizon (or transition line). Here's a tip (if using a Lee or Cokin-type filter holder): after composing and focusing the camera on the subject, stop the lens down to the desired f-stop, insert an opaque object the same dimensions as the filters (I use a piece of cardboard cutout from a 12-pack box - Henry Winehard's, if I recall, one side dark green and the other light) in the filter slot closest to the lens with the dark side towards the lens, and looking through the ground glass under the dark cloth, align the bottom edge with the transition line in the scene. There is usually plenty of light to do this, and the edge of the board appears sharp (doing this with the filter alone is sometimes very difficult to actually see the transition line of the filter). Then, looking at the front standard, insert the SND filter(s) until their transition line aligns with the bottom of the cardboard (the light side of the cardboard acts as a backdrop and allows you to see the neutral density transition point). This works for tilted horizon lines, as well. BUT, be sure and remove the cardboard before exposing!!

Now my question - most horizons or light transitions aren't straight! Has anyone ever thought of a curved SND transition line? In my experience, a u-shaped line would be useful, as well as one that comes down from the upper corner towards the center, then goes horizontal towards the opposite edge (filters can be flipped and/or stacked to achieve different shapes). When filling the foreground with vertically extended objects framed against a bright sky, it's hard to use a SND and not have the top part of that object drop in density (sometimes it's just too obvious, other times it's acceptable). Is there a market for such animals?