Nov 20, 2019

NiSi Pro Nano 1.5 - 5 Stops Enhance ND - Vario Review

In the past year I've taken a keen interest in shooting video with my Fujifilm cameras such as the X-H1 and X-T3.  The hope is to be able to broaden my professional skill set I can offer my clients and possibly make something worth watching in the process!

Video is a different beast than photography. When shooting video it's preferable to keep shutter speeds about double the speed of the frame rate you are shooting. That means if you are shooting a frame rate of 24 frames per second (FPS) you should aim for a shutter speed of 1/48th. Some cameras offer shooting in slow motion at 120 or 180 FPS. If this were the case you'd be aiming for a shutter speed of 1/240 and 1/360th of a second, respectively. By doing so you add a little motion blur into each frame and the output tends to flow more cinematically instead of being choppy due to high shutter speeds and perfectly sharp frames.  Many cameras that shoot high dynamic range log modes use a higher base ISO setting such as ISO 640 or ISO 800. The increase in sensor sensitivity compounds the issue of having to shoot at higher F stops to achieve the desired shutter speed.  

To keep the shutter speed low these circumstances you must shoot at stopped down apertures. Or you have to option of decreasing the amount of light available to the sensor via Neutral Density (ND) filters. ND filters are akin to sunglasses in that they decrease the amount of light that passes through them.

NiSi Pro Nano 1.5 - 5 Stops Enhance ND 77mm

ND's are measured in stops of light. An ND 2 allows half the light to reach the sensor. An ND 4 allows just a quarter of the light.  An ND 8 one eighth, and so on. 

The NiSi Enhance ND-Vario's (scroll to bottom) are marketed as high quality variable ND filters able to reduce light reaching the sensor by 1.5 to 5 stops.  

1.5 - 5 stops of light filtration.  NiSi lens coating is very evident by purple reflection!

'Min and Max' settings.

To the filmer stuck shooting at F22 in bright light by adding the filter to the lens on minimal setting you'll be down filming at f13. Dial filtration all the way to five stops via the lever and your down to f4 and into shallow depth of field territory. In simple terms a variable ND allows control over the aperture (depth of field) in your video and as a side bonus you are far less likely to see dust spots in your footage when shooting at lower apertures!

Depth of field examples at f5 vs f1.4 with Vario ND - min. vs. max. setting.

There is also a metal lever that extends out past the filter to control the amount of light filtering. This lever is advantageous for several reasons as compared to how traditional variable ND's adjust. First, it keeps accidental fingerprints off the filter, as there is no reason to grab the filter ring and second, it's much easier to use with any kind of gloves on, especially insulated gloves.

Filtration adjustment lever.

Adjustment lever in action.

NiSi also claim the filter eliminates the dreaded X effect known to happen while using these filters. I've fallen victim in the past so this was of interest. Sometimes I just didn't notice the X effect creeping into the image or video until I got home and viewed my work on a large monitor. Here's how the X effect happens. Variable ND's are two polarizers stacked on top of one another. By rotating them in different directions one increases or decreases the amount of light filtration. In NiSi's design, by limiting the amount of movement between the two polarizers that make up the filter they also keep us from inadvertently producing the X effect in our images and video. 

The outer cases for the filter are of slim design meaning no vignetting in your images.

A few years back a big corporation hired me to shoot photos on a work site, however they did request that I shoot some 4K video of a few key events that took place on the worksite and some of a large ship anchored off shore.  Filming the ship required shooting with the XF100-400mm as I needed the reach. Unfortunately the lens didn't like the variable ND that I had attached.  Unable to check quality while working run and gun in the field, I didn't find out until I was back in the office that the footage was of terrible quality. With help from some friends at Fujifilm it took a few days to figure out it was the variable ND I was using. Even though it worked well on the XF16-55mm and XF50-140mm it just didn't play well with the longer XF100-400mm.  When I received the NiSi Pro Nano 1.5 - 5 Stops Enhance ND - Vario this was one of my first tests.  Thankfully the NiSi filter works very admirably with the long Fujinon lens!  Image quality from the filter matches any other filter from NiSi I've tried, including from their m75 system and the larger V6 system, both I've reviewed great detail here and here. NiSi's filters are touted as being of high definition, seemingly made for todays pixel peeper. From the scrutinizing I've done, especially to high resolution photos, they're certainly doing a great job! 

I'm currently running two NiSi Pro Nano 1.5 - 5 Stops Enhance ND - Vario's.  I have a 77mm that I can use with step up rings on the XF16mm f1.4, XF18-55mm, XF16-80mm, and XF50-140mm or without extension rings with the XF16-55mm and XF100-400mm.  I've also a 49mm that I intend on using with step up rings on the XF16mm f2.8, XF23mm f2 and XF50mm f2 which makes an affordable, small, lightweight and very capable set of lenses for filming video. This would be an advantageous kit for me for filming fly fishing and other adventures such as this fly fishing video I shot this past summer at a remote location with very limited access.

If you are considering variable ND's for your photography or filming needs I would certainly recommend you give serious consideration to the NiSi Pro Nano 1.5 - 5 Stops Enhance ND - Vario filter available in filter sizes from 40.5mm to 95mm!

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