An intro to neutral density and circular polarizer filters
By Mike Steidley
This article was originally published in August/September 2016 issue.
Polar Pro has been making filters for filmmakers for quite some time as well as products for GoPro and adventure sport applications. Having used many of the products in the past with great success, we were extremely excited to try out their new six-pack of filters and several specialty filters they make. Polar Pro also makes a handy filter case for transportation and keeping organized. Let’s take a look at some of the stand-out products in the lineup and also use this as an opportunity to see which filters to apply in different settings. Even if filming in auto mode, they still make products that will help you capture superior images. Shooting in full manual, but want to take a look at some insider tips and hints to get the most out of your image? Stay tuned and we will cover when to use what and give an explanation on each.
OPTIMIZED FOR THE DJI PHANTOM 3 AND 4
What’s great about the Polar Pro brand is their commitment to manufacturing products optimized for Phantom users. The filters we tested were nothing short of top construction. Having tried a wide variety of others on the market we were impressed by the attention to detail in the Polar Pro line. At first, you will notice how incredibly light the filters are, tipping the scales at only four grams, they can replace the stock Phantom clear filter without any need to worry about gimbal balance issues. The threads on the inside of the filters are very sturdy and machined perfectly, ensuring that they will be around for the long haul. Each filter comes with a small carry pouch that doubles as a cleaning cloth. We highly recommend the filter pouch they make as it is super compact and can fit into most drone cases and backpacks specific for the Phantom. Above and beyond amazing construction are the astonishing optics. The material used for the filters themselves is top notch and provides for stunning imagery. We tested the filters for sharpness and image degradation that sometimes takes place with lesser quality optics and were presently surprised by what we found. Upon inspection and review we didn’t notice any harsh shadowing that can sometimes happen, any vigneting or strange color shifts. With some of the drone shots demanding perfection on the first pass or in action sports where there are no second takes, we can confidently trust Polar Pro to deliver imagery that won’t disappoint.
The six-pack of filters comes with a Polarizer (PL) filter, ND8, ND16 and ND32 filters and then two blended filters that are a mix of polarizer ND in the form of ND8/PL and ND16/PL. This kit is a great starting point that will cover you for almost any filming situation. Additionally they off er an ND64 and ND32/PL filter for alternative creativity.
THE 180 RULE
You always want to set your shutter speed to about double your frame rate. This means at 4k/30FPS set to shutter speed 60, while at 1080/60 you want shutter speed 120. Additionally, 24FPS you want shutter speed 50 and for the 120FPS mode on the phantom this means you need to shoot at 250 shutter speed. This will give you the correct motion blur. Ever film in auto on a sunny day and get choppy video? This is due to the camera selecting the wrong shutter speed. Even filming in auto and knowing which filter to apply means the camera can then do the rest. If the image is too bright it will have to increase the shutter to darken the image and introduce choppy motion blur into the video clips. For experienced cinematographers looking to control light, the Polar Pro filter kit will have you crafting beautiful video with correct settings every time.
THE POLARIZER FILTER
Much like a good pair of sunglasses, this filter helps cut through reflections and provide more definition to what you are viewing … great for seeing detail in clouds and the ability to see through glass reflections. It’s also very useful for filming bodies of water as they will cut through any glare and help you see under the surface; a feature ideal for Caribbean drone shots where the water is crystal clear. PL filters help provide vivid colors and bring the image to life due to their ability to minimize the back cast of light.
ND serves to do two things. First, they darken your image to help get you to a point where you can select a slower shutter speed and get your fi lm settings optimized. Second, it allows the light to be more evenly dispersed on the image. This gives you less contrast and a more balanced exposure which is perfect for aerial video and photos as it helps combat the bright sky and the subject below. When you see numbers attached to ND filters this refers to how much light the filter absorbs. It’s measured in light stops and normally the greater the number, the more light it blocks. Pick an ND4 for a dusk shot, ND8 or ND16 for cloudy days or using 1080/60FPS video and ND32 for bright sunny days when shooting 4k video is a good baseline to start at. Polar Pro also offers a ND64 which can help get your shutter speed lower for photos or for video use in extremely bright conditions. The ND32 and 64 ND filters can be useful for the beach and snowy conditions.
COMBINED ND AND PL FILTERS
Offering the best of both combined into one filter. Polar Pro integrates the two to give filmmakers the marriage of both worlds, allowing the ND to darken the image and control your shutter speed while offering the advantages of adding vivid colors, shadow detail in the clouds and an overall stunning image. These combined filters really do wonders. The stand alone ND32/PL is an excellent filter for those using auto and filming in 4k video on bright days. If I had to pick one filter to use this would be it, but this certainly doesn’t replace the entire six-pack kit.
GET OUT THERE AND FLY
The optimal way to see what works best for you is to get out there and fly while experimenting with different filters to see what look you prefer. Overall, almost all filming and photo setups will benefit from some type of filter to assist. Polar Pro comes in at the top of our list and was the go-to on our 30 days of test flights with the new Phantom 4. They also offer additional comments and suggested uses for each filter on the website. Happy flying and using these filters to create stunning imagery!