A while back, I reviewed the X1, X2 and X3 UV filters from Breakthrough Photography. Their slimline cells with ridged edges that make them easier to mount and stack on your lenses have had a permanent place on my Canon 24-105 f/4L and Canon 16-35 f/4L lenses ever since. They remain wonderful companions, not getting in the way of getting great shots. They also protect my lenses while being easy to clean thanks to the nano coating. When I was asked to review their new X3 neutral density filters, I jumped at the chance. They sent me two different densities, a three-stop and a six-stop filter.
Neutral density filters cut down on the amount of light coming into the camera, allowing for a longer exposure than one would usually get. Sure, you can stop down the aperture, but the higher you go, the more diffraction effects come into play. And there’s only so low you can set the ISO. ND filters allow you to blur motion to get all kinds of effects, like a nice smooth flowing to water, smoothing of fast-moving clouds or blurring out of existence people walking or cars driving through an area. They can also be used to darken skies to help with daytime lightning photography. I tested these filters for their ability to blur water but will be using them to photograph desert monsoon thunderstorms this August.
Both of these filters have the same slimline brass cell with ridged edges that make them a snap to stack onto the X3 clear filter. No jamming that might require a filter wrench here! They share the same Schott glass, antireflective coatings and nanocoatings that make the clear filters such a joy to use. They also confer weather-sealing for lenses that support it (like my L lenses) and clean up quickly and nicely. And, best of all, they do not give any false color cast! The X3 is on the left and my B+W ND filter is on the right to compare the cell thickness:
I tested the two filters out on a photo hike to Dover Stone Church in Dover Plains, New York. A stream carved a cavern into cliffs and continues through a rock-strewn creek bed, giving nice little cascades and waterfalls, the perfect place to blur water.
This next photo was taken with the X3 3-stop filter. Notice how the water has not been smoothed entirely but retains streaks due to the shorter exposure. I used a Canon 5D Mark III with 24-105 f/4L at f/8, ISO 100 and 1 second exposure time. No color correction was made in the processing of the image. It was shot at 24mm with the X3 clear filter stacked with NO VIGNETTING, which is something that always plagues me with this lens.
First, the flat RAW image:
And here’s another, before tweaking:
Details held up great for editing:
This was shot with the 6-stop filter. The streaks are almost nonexistent compared to the above photo due to the longer exposure. Canon 5D Mark III with 24-105 f/4L at f/8, ISO 100 and 2.5 second exposure time. Untweaked:
For comparison, this is an 8-second exposure taken with a B+W ten-stop ND filter. Longer exposures allow you to blur the water into near-fog! Flat RAW image:
And after virtually no tweaking:
So, not only do these filters give a great image straight up front, there is no color cast and it holds up great to editing!
Here’s a straight comparison of what these filters do. The shutter, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation were all held constant through these tests. The first is a shot with no filter:
Next one is with the 3-stop:
And, finally, the 6-stop:
I love these new X3 ND filters and they have found a permanent home in my camera bag, alongside my 3-stop and 10-stop B+W filters:
My conclusion is that, just like the X3 clear filters, these are robust, slimline filters that are stackable, cleanable and desirable. They do their job while keeping the image free of false color cast. In other words, a fantastic addition to your filter collection! The 77mm varieties are available from B&H for $169 for the 6-stop ND filter and $89 for the 3-stop ND filter. A ten-stop filter is also available and they are currently available in 77mm or 82mm variants.