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NiSi Titanium CPL Filter Review

This is a review of NiSi’s new Titanium CPL. NiSi were kind enough to send me an 82mm thread screw on CPL which fits onto my Canon 24-70mm F2.8II lens. For information about the benefits and limitations of using a CPL, see my previous article here: https://everlookphotography.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/tips-for-using-a-cpl-effectively/

There is a sad story of my first attempt to review this filter. I had started taking shots on a recent trip to Vancouver when unfortunately during transit, the camera fell lens first onto hard ground. As you can see from the picture below, the glass shattered so I had to dispose of the filter, but you might also make out that the Titanium frame is actually in-tact. Previously when this situation has occurred (I try not to make a habit of dropping my camera gear lens first!) , I’ve had great difficulty removing the filter but in this case, perhaps the strength of the Titanium filter maintained its integrity allowing an easy removal despite a hard impact. There was absolutely no science behind those assumptions but it does explain why I don’t have any ‘before and after’ forest images to show you.

Foliage glare is greatly reduced by using a CPL in forest and waterfall scenes. The smashed filter below was used to create this image before its untimely death.

You can see the blueish appearance of the filter along with its in-tact frame! RIP Ti CPL

This actual review is based on a shoot from Port Noarlunga. I intentionally chose this location as my preferred composition was close to perpendicular to the sunrise. Maximal polarisation tends to occur 90 degrees to a light source so these compositions allow a good test of how the filter might affect the sky in the image. As I was overlooking water from a cliff, it also allowed me to test the ability of the filter to allow ‘see through’ to the river floor. It is important to point out that this filter is a screw on filter that is independent of NiSi’s filter holder systems . This is another reason why I chose not to shoot directly into light else under normal circumstances, I would be using NiSi’s V5 filter holder setup and inbuilt CPL so that I can use other GND filters.

Planning the shoot : Aiming the shot perpendicular to sunrise.

I will make no comment on the packaging and presentation of the filter itself other than to say that it is as professional as other NiSi products and as a photographer who rips of the wrapping to get into the gear ASAP, it won’t bear any influence on your results. I liked it.

The appearance of the filter looks as though it might cool the image due to a blueish tint. I was also intrigued by doing a ‘screen test’. You can do this at home by holding up a CPL in front of a computer monitor and rotating it 90 degrees. Previous versions of CPLs have blacked out the screen at specific orientations whereas this filter gave a warming/cooling effect depending on its orientation. It’s solidly built and as mentioned before, the frame withstood a belting during an accident! It rotates seamlessly and smoothly.

During my field testing , I came to the following conclusions which you can view from the images below:

  • The see through effect is well achieved in the water and the polarisation effect is visible in the sky. Interestingly in the position I was shooting, the polarisation of the sky was most defined in the image with water unpolarised. Similarly, you can see that the image with ‘see through’ water has a more homogenous sky appearance with less definition.
  • The images confirm the warming/cooling effect of this filter. Both images below have been adjusted to have exactly the same white balance and tint (7200k , tint 11) . You can definitely see that the image on the right with ‘see through’ effect has the warmer appearance. (All other minor slider adjustments in lightroom were identical between both images which were also taken with a 3 stop soft edged GND handheld to best demonstrate the sky effect of the polariser).
  • This filter blocks approximately 1.66 to 2 stops of light. This needs to be taken into consideration when adjusting shutter speed for an appropriate exposure. This degree of light blocking is similar to NiSi’s filter holder system CPLs.

Demonstration of polarising and warming/cooling effects.

Another demonstration of the sky polarisation and how many stops of light the Titanium CPL blocks.

My conclusion is that this an excellent filter that will give you all of the desirable properties of a CPL. Because it is a screw on filter, it is more suited to walk-around handheld shooting. This is not the filter you are after if you are predominantly shooting with a tripod and wish to use other GNDs and ND filters to prolong exposure.  After testing this filter, I would be asking myself questions in two different scenarios (with proposed answers):

  • If I don’t have a CPL , should I buy this filter? My answer is yes. It is my opinion that a CPL is an invaluable piece of equipment for the landscape photographer and unfortunately, it’s just not practical to walk around with any filter holder kit setup all the time. A tougher question is whether you should buy this filter over another CPL and without having used other brands in a while, I can’t confidently answer this question for you other than to vouch for the quality of this filter in isolation.
  • If I already have a CPL, what does this filter add? To me, its advantages are in its build quality (no science to back this up!), and its warming/cooling effect. I guess much of this also depends on how much you aim to get images looking as you want ‘in camera’. This filter definitely allows you to achieve varying ‘in camera’ results. Otherwise, I personally would find it hard to justify buying this filter over and above the already excellent HUC series of screw on filters that NiSi offer (or other brand equivalents).

I hope this provides you some useful information about the filter and if you have any questions, ask away in the comments below! Here are some edited images taken with the Titanium CPL.

Steelhead Falls, Maple Ridge, BC

The ‘cool’ version of Onkaparinga River mouth.

The ‘warm’ version of the Onkaparinga River mouth

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ND filter checklist

The following are some of the practical aspects of choosing and using ND filters. This will hopefully be accompanied by a more in depth print article, but for now, here’s a summary!

What are they?

  • Dark glass (or resin) which allow a photographer to lengthen the shutter speed.
  • Screw on (circular) vs Square (slot in) – see below in accessories
  • Light blocking terminology:
Stops blocked 1 stop 2 stop 3 stop 10 stop
Exponential version ND2 ND4 ND8 ND1024
0.3 version ND0.3 ND0.6 ND0.9 ND3.0
Shutter speeds
No filter = 1 sec 2sec 4sec 8sec 1024sec

 

Accessory checklist:

  • Tripod : MUST be firm and steady
  • Cable release : essential to achieve exposures of greater than 30 seconds. Some firmware changes such as ‘magic lantern’ and some camera applications (such as for the sony A7r series) offer an alternative to a cable release but I prefer the former.
  • Filter holder and square filter set up. Allows 2(Lee default) to 3(Nisi default) filters to be stacked in front of the camera. Lee requires an additional slot for a 105mm CPL, Nisi system has a CPL attached to the default sized adaptor ring itself. Insert ND filter on the closest filter slot with padding firm against edges of the holder to prevent light leak.
  • Screw on filters need no filter kit. Minimises light leak but unable to ‘stack’ with other filters. Can be used with CPL but could lead to vignetting.
  • Optical view finder cover (to prevent more light leak). Can be on the camera strap itself (canon) or can be anything invented ! eg. Blue-tac, duct tape.

 Density recommendations (approximate)

  • 2-3 stop : for waterfalls, seascapes in bright light : target shutter 0.5-5 seconds

1 second foreground using a 3 stop ND filter 3 minute sky using a 10 stop ND filter

  • 6 stop : for fast moving clouds, seascapes in low light: target shutter 5-60-seconds

6 stop ND filter for 1 minute exposure at dawn , fast moving cloud

  • 10 stop: for elimination of water textures, slowish clouds: target shutter 1-5 minutes

10 minute exposure using a 15 stop ND filter after dawn with slow moving cloud

  • 15 stop: same target as 10 stop except in brighter conditions: target shutter 1-20 minutes
  • Vari-ND: limited by screw on setup and some brands have bad cross polarisation artefact.

 Camera setup :

  • Turn off long exposure noise reduction. (noise reduce in post processing)
  • Turn off autofocus . Leaving it on may result in the camera hunting in the dark for and lead to an out of focus image
  • Keep iso low. This is within camera limitations. I like to keep iso <400. (if going much higher, could you just achieve the same results with camera settings alone or less dense ND filter?)
  • Activate expanded iso (eg. Iso50 for canon users)
  • Adjust aperture according to given scene. At your lens’s sweet spot at f8, the exposure may not be long enough after minimising iso and placing your densest ND filter.

Shot at F11 with fading light. I worked for a 2 minute exposure after experimenting prior which meant using iso200 with a 3 stop ND filter.

 Composition tips:

  • Usual rules of composition apply
  • ND filters allow simplification of ‘chaotic’ elements eg random water motion, unattractive clouds. Use these to emphasise areas of detail within your image
  • Compose without ND filter on to achieve your desired composition and to find your focal point manually.
  • Don’t let the ND filter dictate the shutter speed. Use ND filters to achieve the shutter speed you desire for the scene.

Short exposure version of a scene (which allows many more options in changing light both with regard to shutter speed and compositions – this is a vertorama)

Biting the bullet and going for a long exposure can be hit and miss. More hits arrive with more practice!

Calculating exposures

  • For every stop of light blocked, exposure duration doubles. (See first table)
  • Use apps if you don’t mind bringing devices into the field
  • Alternatively, use this approach outlined in this link: https://everlookphotography.wordpress.com/2016/05/24/quick-tips-live-view-simulation-and-long-exposures/

This shot at Mannum Falls was taken with 10 stop ND filter – viewing through the viewfinder would be pitch black, hence composition using live view is a good work around.

How long do I want?

  • See the above section in ‘density recommendations’
  • Start with that filter and adjust iso/aperture accordingly to achieve the exact shutter that you need for the scene.
  • During your test exposures without the ND filters, take some dedicated shots with shorter shutter. You  might like them more!
Varying appearances of water and sky according to shutter speed and density of ND filter used.

Varying appearances of water and sky according to shutter speed and density of ND filter used. All images used the same settings in LR.

The 10 stop version was the pick of the bunch for me, but if I change my mind, I could use any of the previous images.

With or without filters?

  • Think about combining filters to achieve a single exposure result
    • Using an additional GND for the sky
    • Avoid stacking ND filters as the filter in the 2nd slot will almost certainly let light leak in
  • Think about taking an image for dark areas of the scene without the ND filter on as the ND filter will require a very long exposure for deeply shadowed areas. Blend them in post processing.

This 10 stop ND filter shot has some elements of shadowed areas blended from a shot with the ND filter. This was done in the field to save the time required to achieve a proper exposure with the 10 stop ND on.

Ultimately, repetition leads to reflexes and if the routine is a reflex, more thought can go into the art of achieving a result instead of the mathematical and technical processes of using filters. Enjoy!

Disclosure:  I am a Nisi brand ambassador who tries to write neutrally and objectively. If you are interested in purchasing filters after reading this article, feel free to email us dm@everlookphotography and I will be able to give  a discount code for Australian customers.

March madness

Adelaide goes crazy in March. Adelaide is a sunset city.   Its coast faces west and experiences some amazing conditions , particularly when the weather turns stiflingly warm and muggy. This happened for an extended period at the start of March madness this year and rather than being dbreezied* at home, I headed out a couple of times make use of the ongoing late sunsets offered by a prolonged daylight saving period.

Montage of selected dbreezied moments from March

Montage of selected dbreezied moments from March

 

*dbreezied : a term invented by USA photographer David Thompson : adj. The feeling of having the wind taken out of your sails when amazing light occurs and you, as a photographer, are nowhere near a landscape shooting possibility. Possible uses : “OMG did you see that nuclear sunset, here is a #dbreezied shot taken from my backyard”

Since returning from my last trip to Tasmania, I had been waiting for my metabones to return from BH. I might add that the returns process to BH was 100% painless and administration free. During this period, I had not been doing any shooting but the beckoning light lured me back toward the perfectly functional 6D sitting in a drawer waiting for use. Those who follow us may have realised that I have been doing a lot of complaining about the sony A7r2 in the field and loving it in the post process portion of image creation. The chance to go ‘back’ to a canon body was a real acid test in terms of whether it would feel like ‘going home’ or whether in actual fact, the sony did have its good points. I have mixed feelings.

port20noarlunga20blend-l

Wild weather at Port Noarlunga. Image taken with 6D and Nisi 3 stop hard edged GND

In the field, the reliability of not having to play around with the metabones was a definite bonus. I did however notice a few things I preferred about the sony in the field. First was the ability to change iso directly through a dial (one button less than the default canon settings). Second , was the ability to have easy access to timed bracketed shooting. I know I could probably do this with the canon with some setting up but it’s nice that sony included that option in their default shooting modes. Lastly, I definitely prefer the Hejnar L bracket set up which places the camera and lens in a similar position that a lens collar and footing would. This is particularly relevant for me since I shoot with a remote which can get in the way when setting up an L plate attached to the camera body for vertical images. In reality, shooting with sony in the field wasn’t as bad as I had made it out to be , particularly since I now have an almost 100% foolproof ‘fix it’ routine for metabones errors. My main anxiety in the Tasmania trip was that I would have no backup should the sony fail in the wilderness.

port20willunga20skymarch071907-3-l

I tend to manually bracket images with the canon while using the default sony timed bracketing option on the A7r2. Image taken with 6D at Port Willunga.

Strangely enough, going back to canon raised another issue with post processing images. Sure the sony has the clear edge on resolution and dynamic range over my 6D but colour optimisation is not its strong point (particularly in the red spectrum). I’m not 100% sure why, but they seem much easier to ‘extract’ from canon RAW files than playing around with white balance and tints on the sony files. It just seems that much harder (albeit definitely possible) to portray a real golden colour or intense reds working with the sony files.

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Intense reds on the A7r2 seem a little harder to extract than on equivalent canon RAW files. Image taken with sony A7r2 and Nisi 6 stop ND filter at Myponga Beach.

On the filter front, I’ve now acquired a Nisi 15 stop filter to experiment with. So far the conditions have been unkindly grey since I received this dark and cool piece of glass so I’ll probably have to wait until an upcoming weekend away to Kangaroo Island before I can reliably report back on its utility. As ever, watch this space!

mypongabeach3march280805-l

20 minute exposure with a  Nisi 15 stopper

In other random thoughts , I’ve been wondering why landscape photographers seem to act in a self destructive manner? I can’t imagine anything good coming of the quarrels that exist (mainly to do with post processing but some even to do with ‘turf wars’.) It’s OK for people to have different opinions. It’s OK for people to debate. It’s not OK to assume that your opinion is somehow more valid than the next person’s even if that opinion is the oft quoted ‘do what you like’ stance. Like it or not, whatever we as individuals do has an impact on the collective group , be it a tiny ripple or a tidal wave. Food for thought 🙂

Next update after a 4 day quickie to Kangaroo Island, then it’s time to hunt for some autumn colours locally!

Waiting for autumn colours. I  have my eye on a certain tree in the Adelaide Hills!

Waiting for autumn colours. I have my eye on a certain tree in the Adelaide Hills!