Reverse Neutral Density Graduated Filter Alternative

As most landscape photographers know, when shooting just before sunrise or just after sunset and, if we want to include 1/3 of sky in the frame, the part of sky just above the horizon is much brighter than the part of the sky at the top of the frame. Therefore we need these so called reverse nd grad filters. This is where Singh Ray and lately Hitech filters come in to place. They are darker near the lower end of the graduation and they give you a better balanced brightness in the sky, or do they?


Singh Ray reverse nd grad filterSingh-Ray

Now, this comes from a personal experience and after having paid a very costly $275 + PP + Tax for one Singh-Ray reverse nd graduated filter delivered in the UK. Unless half of your composition includes sky in the frame, the filter simply doesn’t work. As advertised (see pictures on their website), I expected the darker part of the filter on the grad side to be thinner than it actually is (see attachment of the actual filter that was delivered). I tested the filter once and found that it was not useful to me, I was glad I managed to sell it.


Hitech reverse neutral density graduated filterHitech

So, are the Hitech ones a good alternative? Again, this comes from a personal experience having tried the filter in the field. Not really, they seem to be very similar to Singh-Ray. However, the Singh-Ray one seemed to be neutral where as the Hitech seemed to cause a bit of colour cast during long exposures. You can read a full review of the Hitech here.


reverse nd grad filterAlternatives

So, is there an alternative to the above 2 filters? Well, I use Lee filters and I have adjusted the filter holder to take four filters (four slots). No, Lee don’t make reverse ND Grad filters, yet, but here is what you can do.

I have found that 1 stop on the reverse part of the filter is adequate to cover that bright part of the sky. So, you will need to buy (if you don't already own) 2×1 stop (2x0.3) ND hard grad filters. By inserting them in the holder from opposite sides (see attachment), you create yourself a reverse ND Grad filter. The good part is that you can adjust the size and position of the 'reverse' to precisely suit each scene.

Dimitri Vasileiou

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    • Avatar

      On a Canon 6D with the 17-40mm lens at 17mm I experience some vignetting but it’s still ok. In my case, for some reason it’s quite strong in the top left corner but with a bit of cropping I can easily get rid of it.

      • Avatar
        Dimitrios Vasileiou on

        Hi Gergo

        Thank you very much for your comment. However, you didn’t mention which filter holder you are using and how many filter slots there are on it. Also, are you using a wide angle lens adaptor?

        • Avatar

          Hi Dimitrios,

          I use a wide angle adaptor ring along with the Lee foundation kit with 2 slots on. Significant vignetting occurs when using 2 filters but even with one filter on I can see a slight darkening in the corners.
          The truth is the Canon 17-40mm vignettes anyway even if there are no filters on it (especially on a full frame body), so to be precise the filters only strengthen this effect further.
          If my B+W screw-on polariser is also on and the lens is at 17mm then cropping becomes a must. Therefore I like to zoom in a bit and shoot between 18 and 20mm which is still wide enough for me in most cases.
          I’ve read many discussions here and there about how Lee system cooperates with wide lenses and it seems that there is no one opinion and each case is different. For some photographers this issue is unknown while for others it’s a big problem. I believe this issue is quite complex and depends on many factors, but mainly on the particular copy of the lens, filter holder, and other gear you use in the setup.

          • Avatar
            Dimitrios Vasileiou on

            I agree with everything you said. The best case scenario is to find the composition you want, then walk back slightly and zoom in, in order to achieve the composition you originally had in mind. Not always possible but in many cases it works.

  1. Avatar
    Olivier FFRENCH on

    I wonder how you managed to pay $275 for a $120 Singh Ray filter. Was it a P size?

    I do not really understand why it “did not work” for you. These filters are not square, so you can adjust them vertically in the frame. Did you have problems with compositions that included 1/3 of sky or less?

    • Avatar
      Dimitrios Vasileiou on

      Hi Olivier

      The 4×6 filter 4 stops density costs $275, you can check our the website. Yes, the problem was with compositions that had 1/3 of sky (I wouldn’t expect it to work for less than that). The filter was fine when I had 1/2 sky in the frame, however, very occasionally there is enough interest in the sky to fill in 1/2 the frame. Check the picture they are promoting on their website and look at the filter that was delivered to me, you will where the problem is.

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