Graduated Neutral Density Filters have become one of my favorite accessories for landscape photography and it’s something I always keep in my camera bag. The challenge with graduated filters, however, is that the transition often is too soft or too hard, making it difficult to find a proper use for them.
If you’re familiar with Graduated ND Filters you might know that there are Soft GNDs, Hard GNDs, Reverse GNDs and within all of these, there are multiple variations such as the 2,3 and 4 stop (0.6, 0.9, 1.2). Is it really necessary to have all of them? Will you find a scenario to use each and every one? I doubt it.
I recently received the newest addition to the NiSi Filters GND collection, the NiSi Nano IR Medium GND. After more than a month testing it in various conditions, I might have found my new favorite filter – and possibly the only graduated filter I’ll need (at least the only one I’ll bring on longer hikes)!
The Difference Between Soft and Hard GND Filters
As I mentioned above, there are several varieties of Graduated ND Filters: Soft Filters, Hard Filters, Reverse Filters and now Medium Filters. But what does this mean? How will they affect your images differently?
These terms describe the transition between the graduated and neutral part of the filter. I recommend reading our Introduction to Graduated ND Filters for a more in-depth explanation on how Graduated ND Filters work but put simply, the main purpose of these filters is to darken the brighter parts of an image (often the sky) and create a well-balanced photo. That means that the filters are only partially darkened (unlike a regular ND Filter) and the lower part is transparent and not affecting the image.
How hard the transition is between the darkened and transparent part depends on the filter you choose; a Soft GND has a soft transition and a Hard GND has a hard transition. The latter is ideal when photographing scenes with an even horizon as it will leave a visible line on anything projecting the horizon. The Soft GND, on the other hand, won’t leave a visible line as the transition is softer – however since it’s not as dark towards the bottom of the transition, it might not be ideal for intense sunrises/sunsets or when the contrast between sky and land is great.
What About the Medium Transition?
So where does this leave the Medium GND? Well, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that the Medium GND’s transition is between the Soft and Hard GND.
What this means in reality, though, is that you can use this filter even when there are objects projecting above the horizon, either it’s a building, trees, mountains or anything else, without having to worry about a visibly darkened line cutting through them.
I’ve found this to be extremely beneficial as the lower parts of the transition remain dark enough to avoid serious clipping in the highlights while it’s still transparent enough to avoid darkening unwanted elements too much.
During the last five-or-so years, filters have been an important part of my photography and the perfect filter, one of my main criteria is color cast. The more neutral it is, the happier I am; even though it’s fairly easy to correct in post production I prefer to get it as good as possible straight out of the camera.
NiSi has become widely known for their low color cast (in fact, I’d go as far as saying there’s close to none on any of the NiSi filters I use) and this is the case for the Medium GND as well. This filter is a quality built glass filter which is made with Nano Coating Technology (making it extremely easy to clean, waterproof and durable) and compared to resin filters I’ve got from other brands, scratches won’t be an issue with this one.
I’m using this filter with the NiSi V5Pro Filter Holder but it’s also compatible with most other filter holders if you’re currently using something else. I’ve tested it with a LEE holder and it fits perfectly fine there as well.
What is a review without any image examples? During the past month, I’ve been in both Greenland, US and Spain and have had the chance to test the filter in various conditions. Below are several with/without examples and you’ll also notice that in a few of the examples I’ve also used a regular ND filter. All of these images are straight out of the camera and have not been processed, in order for you to properly see how the filters work in action.
Graduated ND Filters have become an important part of my preferred equipment and I always keep a filter pouch in my photography backpack. The problem, however, is as I mentioned before that there’s a wide range of filters to choose between and at some point, you’re carrying around more filters than what you actually need. While it is useful to have both a Soft and Hard GND, I don’t believe that you need to have both a 2,3 and 4 stop of each of them, at least not laying in your backpack all the time!
My impression of the NiSi Medium Grad is very positive after the first few months of testing and this filter alone will replace several of my others. I’ve found that ever since receiving this filter, it’s been the only Graduated ND Filter I’ve used besides my Reverse GND. So, for longer hikes and trips I’m most likely leaving the hard and soft filters at home and bringing this instead.
I’m also a big fan of the quality of NiSi’s filters and the fact that they’re made with glass, not resin, makes them more durable and it’s harder to scratch them. I got my first NiSi filters more than one year ago and I still haven’t gotten any scratches on them – keep in mind that I use them in all kinds of conditions and they don’t just lay in the pouch all the time!
If you’re looking for a new (or your first) Graduated ND Filter I can highly recommend this one and I believe you’ll be satisfied with it as well.
During the past year I’ve partnered with NiSi Filters and become a brand ambassador for them so my opinion can be viewed as somewhat biased. However, it’s important for me to share my honest opinion about the products I review (either I’m a partner with the brand or not) and I never recommend a product that I don’t like and use myself.