Experimenting with variable neutral density on a very fast lens. Shooting wide open. In broad daylight.

The obligatory self-portrait.

Since I shoot a fair amount of video with the lenses I have for my Panasonic GH5 I've bought a good number of variable neutral density (VND) filters. One's options for shutter speed settings outdoors in full sun are limited if you are shooting video. Especially if you are hopeful about using faster apertures...

I'm cheap when it comes to some parts of the photographic buying frenzy. I could never bring myself to spring for +$250 for a 62mm B+W VND is I can buy one that works well from Zomei for less than $40. If there are color inconsistencies that result from using the bargain filter I haven't found them yet...

So we use the VNDs all the time in video production but I rarely read about people using them in still photography. Especially for non-technical stuff like street photography. Come to think of it I haven't used them very often for that either. This morning I decided I'd see what I was missing (if anything).

Of course, if you are using a camera that offers electronic shutter capability you may already have the ability to set very high shutter speeds in order to shoot wide or nearly wide open with fast lenses in the sun. But you might find that the freeziness of those fast shutter speeds has a different look --- and you may not like it. I wanted to work with a solution that would give me: A. Low ISO. B. f1.2 or 1.4. And shutter speeds in the range from 1/125th to 1/1,000th. 

I took along a GH5 and the Rokinon 50mm f1.2, as well as a Zomei 62mm VND. I was able to stay at f1.2, where I remained throughout the morning - with only one or two exceptions solely to get more depth of field... I would comp a subject, look at the exposure numbers in the finder and then twist the VND front ring until the shutter speed numbers dropped right into my preferred range. What I found is that the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 is better than I thought. Previous test were done as such low light levels that it was hard to separate out which weakness in technique was giving me crappy results; bad focusing, subject movement or camera shake. With daylight, faster shutter speeds and ample light with which to focus it turns out that the actual performance of the lens is quite good. 

I'm excited about the technique but the very next time I go out to do this I'm bringing along a beautiful and mysterious looking companion/model so we can make better use of the subject distance to out of focus background. It will also give me a much more interesting subject to photograph. I just need to find someone fun and relatively immune to the wretched heat. We will always be looking for open shade. Although a sweating model would be novel.... Happy to try new stuff. Nice respite from the harsh reality of real life.

Subject too far from camera to show off effect well.

The second door from the left side of frame is my target in the image just above.

Nicely sharp wide open. And look at the pavement in the background....


  1. You know my first impression of all the pictures was of an overcast day. It feels like the tonal range was.. compressed somehow, rather than simply knocked down.

  2. I thought that the very fast shutter speeds of cameras like the GH5 (1/8,000 mechanical, 1/16,000 electronic), enabled one to shoot fast lenses wide open in full daylight without a filter? For example, applying 'sunny 16 rule' and setting the GH5 to ISO100 will allow f/1.2 at 1/16,000 with an overexposure of only 0.17 EV in broad daylight.

  3. Agree with amolitor -- these look compressed or flattened, like some sort of veiling or contrast loss.

  4. I'm not sure what about it is so compelling, maybe the stripes of static and color, but I love the image of the Quasar TV in the storefront.

  5. It is always great to do fast aperture photography on sunny days. As tnargs commented I use the 1/16000 shutterspeed to good effect on the em1.2 when using fast apertures.

    One way of getting around the price of a good VND is stop down filters, I bought 2 good ones for 2 larger filter lenses and then a few cheaper stop down rings to get them on a variety of lenses.


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