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Meta’s Digital Photography Reviews of the Best Variable Neutral Density Filters

The Best Variable ND Filters

In Hummingbird Photography, Meta ZOMEI Variable ND Filters to purposely darken the intensity of the background behind the Hummingbirds, which are exposed by the High Speed Flashes.

Long Exposure Variable Neutral Density Filters Table


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How to Use ZOMEI Variable Neutral Density Filters for Long Exposures

Meta’s Digital Photography Reviews of the ZOMEI Variable ND Filters

How Variable ND Filters Work

A Variable Neutral Density Filter or Variable ND Filter, reduces the intensity of all colors of light equally. It does’t add or subtract colors like many other camera filters do. ND2 filter reduces light by1/2, ND4 by1/4, ND16 by 1/16, etc.

Meta uses the 77mm Zomei Variable Neutral Density Filter (ND2 – ND400) on her Sony 70–200 f/2.8 Telephoto Lens to prevent overexposure on Long Exposures when shooting Sunrises, Sunsets, Waterfalls, Snow, Ice, Waves and Fog.

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ZOMEI Variable ND Filter Ring Indicators

The ZOMEI Variable Neutral Density Filter ring has Start Triangle, Six Dots, End Triangle and “Max”.
• First Triangle: -1 f/stop (ND2)
• 1st dot: -2 f/stop (ND4)
• 2nd dot: -3 f/stop (ND8)
• 3rd dot: -4 f/stop (ND15)
• 4th dot: -5 f/stop (ND30)
• 5th dot: -6 f/stop (ND60)
• 6th dot: -7 f/stop (ND125)
• Last Triangle: -8 f/stop (ND250) – Meta Uses This Setting The Most
• “Max”: 8+ f/stop (ND400) – Almost Black

Since the minimum light reduction is only 1 f/stop, so you could leave this filter on most of the time when shooting outdoors. Unlike some other brands, Zomei Variable ND FIlters are the same diameter front and back, so they can use your stock lens cap.

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How to Shoot Long Exposures with Variable ND Filters

Meta's Macro Photography Tips for Beginners - Long Exposures with Variable Neutral Density Filters
Long Exposures with Variable ND Filters

Variable Neutral Density Filters for Landscapes

The Neutral Density Filter Formula

For every 1 f/stop in ND Filter Reduction, you’ll need to Half your Shutter Speed or Open your Aperture 1 f/stop to get the correct exposure.

Meta’s Mirrorless Camera Procedure

The Shutter Speed on the Sony Alpha 77 II can go from 1/8,000th of a second to 30 seconds. For Longer Esposures greater than 30 Seconds, use Bulb Mode and Control the Shutter Release with an Intervalometer. Meta uses her Sony Alpha 77 II, a Mirrorless Camera, to compose her Long Term Neutral Density Filter shots in Manual Mode, Manual Focus using her Variable ND Filter Attached to the Lens. This procedure will not work with all Mirror SLR Cameras or in Bulb Mode.

1) Select ISO 50 for the lowest noise.
2) Select a Standard Daylight f/stop of f/11 to f/22, depending on your lighting conditions.
3) Select your ND Filter Shutter Speed, up to 30s, depending on how much Motion Blur you desire.
4) Slowly Adjust the Variable ND Filter Ring to get the Correct Exposure. Your Histogram should be nicely centered, not over exposed (too far to the right) or under exposed (too far to the left).
5) Take the Shot and wait for the Extended Noise Reduction Processing to Complete. Review and make any adjustments.

Which ND Filter Shutter Speed (Exposure Time) to Use

Meta always starts with the end in mind! When shooting Long Exposure Photography with Variable Neutral Density Filters, you should have some idea of what ND Filter Shutter Speed you will be using, depending on what subject you are shooting, the speed of the subject, and how much Motion Blur you desire. Fast moving subjects, like waterfalls, have faster Shutter Speeds. Slower moving subjects, like clouds, have slower Shutter Speeds. Here are some common ND Filter Shutter Speeds (Exposure Times).

Daylight Smooth Waterfalls – ND Filter Shutter Speed: 1s to 2s for desired Water Motion Blur. Dependent on the water speed.
Daylight Smooth Lake Ripples – ND Filter Shutter Speed: 1s to 2s.
Daylight Smooth Water Waves – ND Filter Shutter Speed: Length of 1 Wave Cycle.
NIght Car Tail Lights – ND Filter Shutter Speed: 5s to 15s.
Daylight Smooth Clouds – ND Filter Shutter Speed: 5s to 30s.
Night Fireworks – ND Filter Shutter Speed: 12s to 15s or Manually Trigger Shutter in Bulb Mode.
Sunrises – ND Filter Shutter Speed: 15s. Requires constant adjustment of Variable ND Filter Ring Darker as the sun rises.
Sunsets – ND Filter Shutter Speed: 15s. Requires constant adjustment of Variable ND Filter Ring Lighter as the sun sets.

Long Exposure Variable Neutral Density Filters Table


Meta's Macro Photography Tips for Beginners - Photographing Hummingbirds - f/18, 1/250th
Low Power Multi-Flash Method – f/18, 1/250th

How to Use Variable Neutral Density Filters To Adjust your Exposure

In High Speed Flash Photography, you might want to darken only the background, and let Multiple Flashes light up the foreground subject – The Hummingbird.

In Meta’s High Speed Multi-Flash Hummingbird Photography, she wants her backgrounds to be purposely darker, so she uses a Variable ND Filter from ND2 to ND15 (-1 to -4 f/stops reduction in light). Meta has to keep her Shutter Speed at 1/250 and her Aperture at f/18. This Variable ND Filter Setup results in a darker background, but the Hummingbirds will still get lit up by the Multiple Remote Flashes.

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How to Shoot Long Exposure Sunrises and Sunsets with Variable ND Filters

Meta's Macro Photography Tips for Beginners - How to Shoot Long Exposure Sunrises
How to Shoot Long Exposure Sunrises

Variable Neutral Density Filters for Sunrises and Sunsets

Meta uses her Energizer Intervalometer as a Remote Shutter Release with her Variable Neutral Density Filter on her Sony 70–200 f/2.8 Telephoto Lens to Shoot Long Exposure Sunrises and Sunsets.

Use Manual Mode. Manual Focus. Set your Aperture to f/16. Set your Shutter Speed to 15 to 30 seconds – Long enough to smooth the clouds. Rotate the Variable ND Filter Ring until the exposure is correct. Watch your Histogram as not to over expose or under expose the photo. Double Check your settings in Live View. Take the Shot. If exposure adjustments are needed, rotate the Variable ND Filter until the exposure is correct. Increase the ISO only as a Last Resort because this adds noise.

Find your Official Sunrise and Sunset Times Online. Start shooting 1 Hour BEFORE the Sun Rises and 1 Hour (The Golden Hour) BEFORE the Sun Sets. You want to capture the amazing background colors and glows, and not look directly into the sun.

Meta mounts her Sony Alpha 77 II on a her solid Slik Pro 700 DX Tripod
Disable Image Stabilizer
Mode: Manual Mode
ISO: 50
Aperture: Start at f/16 and Make Adjustments
Shutter Speed: 15s to 30s.
ND Filter Adjustment: Set for Correct Exposure. Watch your Histogram.
Manual Focus on an object in the distance
Plug In the Intervalometer to use as a Remote Shutter Release.

After each Sunrise shot, Check or Adjust your Variable ND Filter or f/stop for the Correct Exposure, as the light will be slowly increasing, so you will need to slowly darken your filter or close your Aperture as the sun rises.

After each Sunset shot, Check or Adjust your Variable ND Filter or f/stop for the Correct Exposure, as the light will be slowly decreasing, so you will need to slowly lighten your filter or open your Aperture as the sun sets.

Intervalometer Manual


TipTo avoid fumbling around in the dark when shooting Sunrises and Sunsets, Meta hooks an Energizer Keychain Flashlight to the side of her camera. This allows her to quickly see the back buttons and make any adjustments.

How to Shoot Long Exposure Waterfalls with Variable ND Filters

Meta's Macro Photography Tips for Beginners - How to Shoot Long Exposure Waterfalls
How to Shoot Long Exposure Waterfalls

Variable Neutral Density Filters for Waterfalls

Meta uses her Energizer Intervalometer as a Remote Shutter Release with her Variable Neutral Density Filter on her Sony 70–200 f/2.8 Telephoto Lens to Shoot Long Exposure Waterfalls at about 1 Second Exposure Time. Remember to shoot some Vertical Shots of the Waterfalls.

Use Manual Mode. Manual Focus. Set your Aperture to f/16. Set your Shutter Speed to 1s – Long enough to blur the waterfalls. Rotate the Variable ND Filter Ring until the exposure is correct. Watch your Histogram as not to over expose or under expose the photo. Double Check your settings in Live View. Take the Shot. If exposure adjustments are needed, rotate the Variable ND Filter until the exposure is correct. Increase the ISO only as a Last Resort, as this adds noise.

Meta mounts her Sony Alpha 77 II on a her solid Slik Pro 700 DX Tripod
Disable Image Stabilizer
Mode: Manual Mode
ISO: 50
Aperture: Start at f/16
Shutter Speed: 1s +/- 1/2 Second, depending on the water speed and the amount of blur desired.
ND Filter Adjustment: Set for Correct Exposure. Watch your Histogram.
Manual Focus on an object in the distance.
Plug In the Intervalometer to use as a Remote Shutter Release.

Intervalometer Manual

How to Shoot Long Exposure Fireworks with Variable ND Filters

Meta's Macro Photography Tips for Beginners - How to Shoot Long Exposure Fireworks
How to Shoot Long Exposure Fireworks

Variable Neutral Density Filters for Fireworks

Meta uses her Energizer Intervalometer as a Remote Shutter Release with her Variable Neutral Density Filter on her Sony 70–200 f/2.8 Telephoto Lens to Shoot Long Exposure Fireworks.

Meta mounts her Sony Alpha 77 II on a her solid Slik Pro 700 DX Tripod
Disable Image Stabilizer
Mode: Manual Mode
ISO: 50
Aperture: Start at f/11
Shutter Speed: Set to Bulb Mode and Manually Trigger
ND Filter Adjustment: Set for Correct Exposure during a Fireworks Burst. Watch your Histogram.
Manual Focus on an object in the distance
Plug In the Intervalometer to use as a Remote Shutter Release.

Manually Trigger in Bulb Mode – When you hear the Fireworks Fire (Pop Sound), press the Shutter Release to open the shutter. Once the Fireworks have finished bursting and have finished streaking downwards, press the Shutter Release to close the shutter. Wait for Processing to finish. Fireworks take about 12 – 15 seconds per burst.

With all Long Exposures, the Camera will go into Long Exposure Noise Reduction Processing after each shot, which typically equals the Exposure Time. Once Long Exposure NR Processing is finished, you’re ready to take the next shot. Don’t worry about the Long Processing Time. Sure, you’ll miss half of the Fireworks shots, but the Fireworks Photos that you do capture will be well worth the time and effort.

Intervalometer Manual


TipTo avoid fumbling around in the dark when shooting Fireworks, Meta hooks an Energizer Keychain Flashlight to the side of her camera. This allows her to quickly see the back buttons and make any adjustments.

How to Program an Intervalometer for Continuous Long Exposures

Program Intervalometer for Continuous Shots

For Extra Long Exposure Shots over 30s or when your camera is set to Bulb Mode, The Camera’s Shutter Control is passed to a Remote Shutter Release or a Programmable Intervalometer.

The first rule is that you don't want anything running in Auto Mode on your camera. Set your Camera to Manual Mode, Shutter Speed of Bulb Mode, Manual Aperture, Manual Focus, Single Frame Shooting and Image Stabilizer turned Off.

Plug in the Intervalometer to use as a Programmed Triggering Device. Press the SET button. Use the Right or Left Arrows to select Each Time and Mode, and the Up and Down Arrows to Adjust Each Time

In this example, Meta wants to Continuous Shoot 1 Minute Exposures with a 30s Review and Adjustment Time between shots.

DELAY: 00:00’:10” – This is the Delay before the shutter is released. Meta typically uses a 10 second delay so has enough time to get out of the way.

LONG: 00:01’:00” – This is your ND Filter Exposure Time of 1 Minute.

INTVL: 00:02’:30” – This is where most people get mixed up and can’t get the device to trigger correctly. The Interval is equal to the Exposure Time of 1:00 + Long Exposure Noise Reduction Processing Time of 1:00 + Review and Adjustment Time of 30s = 2:30.

If you set the INTVL = LONG, the device will trigger once and then lock up because there isn’t enough Long Exposure Noise Reduction Processing Time and the shutter will be locked out when the device tries to fire again.

N: [ – ] – This is the number of shots to be taken. You can set this from 1 to 399, or just set it to – for Unlimited.

Music: [ off ] – This turns on or off the beeping which is annoying.

Press Set once you have finished programming the Intervalometer.

Press Start / Stop – This Starts or Stops the timer. There is no On / Off Power Switch, so the Timer will go to sleep after 3 seconds of no use.

If you are using the Intervalometer only as a Remote Shutter Release in Bulb Mode, wait the Exposure Time, press once to open the shutter and once again to close the shutter.

If you are using the Intervalometer only as a Remote Shutter Release using a Fixed Shutter Speed of less than 30s, set your Shutter Speed in the Camera, and press once to take the shot.

(The Two AAA Batteries are not required when this is device used as a Remote Shutter Release).

Intervalometer Manual

Meta’s Digital Photography Reviews of the Best Variable Neutral Density Filters

The Best Variable ND Filters

Meta hopes that you found her Reviews of The Best Variable Neutral Density Filters for Beginner Macro Photography and Close-up Photography interesting and an insight into Meta’s Magical and Miniature World of Macro Photography and Close-up Photography.

If you have any Macro Photography Tips for Beginners or New Digital Photography Products that you would like to see Reviewed on Meta’s website, please Contact Meta.

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“Oh Lord, won’t you Fund Me, a Sony Zeiss Lens?
My friends all use Nikons, I must make amends!”

~ Meta

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