I’ve been using ND filters for a while, albeit without paying too much attention to the different aspects of the filter, except for what it basically provided me for what I needed, mainly, to achieve one purpose: prolong the shutter speed.   This effect would result mainly in: a foggy/dreamy water flows; removing to some degree, people or moving objects from your images, and in doing so, without degrading the resulting images too much.  Furthermore, due to the fact that I come to accept that every time you put something else in front of your lens, you can’t expect it to be better than nothing, hence, some side-effects from using the ND filter was generally OK with me.  However, there were times when I got frustrated with the end-results because of the time it took me to perform post-processing to fix some issues, mainly:  vignette and color-cast.

I had also been OK with what I’d used, most recently, the inexpensive ICE ND1000, which you can get from Amazon.com for a great price.  Most of the ND10 filters at that time were not giving me any reason to spend more than the price of this reasonably good ICE ND1000 either, until now.

Click on the image below to take you directly to the Amazon website, so you can check out the price:

And I’d also been able to correct most of the color-casting issue with the ICE filter, and sometimes, it took me a bit of work to correct the vignette issue, but at then end, after the post-processing, the images usually turned out good.  However, there were times when the color-casting and the vignette were so severe that the resulted raw files were unusable unless I turned them to B&W images, since B&W is not my interest, mostly because I’m probably not good at it.  So the bottom line is that with a not-so-perfect raw results, one needs to possess a bit more than just a casual Lightroom skills or Photoshop skills to make your images look more naturual or free from these defects or loosing some images outright, not counting the time and post-processing skills to do so.

Then comes these new breeds of ND-10-stop filters:  Hoya ProND 1000 and Breakthrough X4 ND.

Hoya ProND 1000 (10x ND Filter)

Breakthrough X4 (10x ND Filter) – Note:  On Amazon, it still shows the older name, which is X3, but I ordered it and communicated to Breakthrough people, who told me that I would get the X4 instead since they’ve already shipped the X4 to Amazon, and sure enough, I got the X4.  The X3 and X4 versions are basically the same, just the name change due to some name-trade-mark issue, I’m told.

If you don’t want to read further or see why I picked what I picked, is the best one of these 3 filters, then here is the verdict:

Below is the order of my ranking, based on some of my basic tests and experiences of using the ICE 1000 filter and a brief use of the Hoya ProND 1000 and the Breakthrough X4.

  •  Breakthrough X4, then Hoya ProND 1000 and then  ICE ND1000.

The Breakthrough X4 is basically the best of among these based on not just the raw image results, but also in other areas as well.  It is a thoroughly though-out product, as with a real user who uses someone else products for a while and then would build a similar product which basically would remove any dislikes, imperfection or inconveniences along the way while using other products.  This resulted in a product that I would call a perfect 10x-ND filter for now, until someone else comes along with a better product or Breakthrough improves it.  More often than not, the people who design certain consumer products, or a programmer who designs an writes an application for the end-users, are not those who actually use the products day in and day out, and hence the usability issues, which are basically part of the user experiences.

Why Breakthough X4 and not Hoya ProND 1000?  I would not list the ICE ND1000 as in the same league as these 2, for obvious reasons: color-cast and vignette issues.

For comparison purposes, I think it is worth mentioning what I used for these comparisons, since the equipment and gears (camera type, model, lens type, model), will have some influences on the outcomes of the results. For example, all of the equipment we use, inherently not absolutely neutral, however, since most of us mortals don’t have the necessary equipment to come up with the absolute neutral baseline, I can only compare this to with-the-filter and without-the-filter and other factors as well, and not just the color-casting issue, but the actual usability with my equipment and my own requirements, then you can deduce from that and apply to your situation. I believe my tests have more of a reality base and facts rather than just one dimension: color-casting issue.   I’m listing the equipment that I used here so you know the frame of reference: Nikon D800E, Nikon 20mm F1.8, Gitzo 2x tripod, and wireless control shutter release (by the way, this wireless shutter release has been my dependable and absolute awesome wireless shutter release that I can recommend it without hesitation, RNF-4s)

Here are just the basic tables for comparison for your convenience, however, you might want to read on to see why I rated these the way I did, basically due to my needs and requirements, which in some cases, might not be same as yours.

 

Color Cast Slim Profile Vignette Brass Ring Post Process Sharpness Price
Breakthrough X4 Warmer than no-filter Thin with front threads) Excellent Yes Excellent Excellent High
Hoya ProND 1000 Cooler than without filter Thick with front threads Very Good No Good – Excellent depending on stacking filters Excellent Medium
ICE ND1000 Very Warm compared to without filter Thin with front threads Heavy Vignette at corners, darker than 10 stops No Difficult, sometimes raw images not usable, even without stacking filters Good Low

 

As I said before the color-casting issue, nothing can be perfect, and in this case, if a filter is warmer or cooler, as long as it doesn’t deviate drastically from the absolute neutrality, then it is OK. Who is it to say that my camera/lens without the filter is THE NEUTRAL state?  It is similar to putting on the B+W polarizer as opposed to the Hoya Pro Polarizer that I have, each also produces a different color-cast, but we’re OK to accept that, therefore I don’t see any difference here by comparing the color-cast of the Hoya ND1000 versus the Breakthrough X4. The ICE ND1000 does have more warmer tone than the Breakthrough, and especially when stacking it with a polarizer, for very long expose, it created a totally one color-cast raw image (usually blue cast) that rendered the raw images unusable for me.

For vignette, both Breakthrough and the Hoya is good, with the Breakthrough a bit better probably due to its thinner profile. The Hoya seems to have a bit more vignette at the corner, however, it is not an issue when you don’t stack filters. In my case, I usually stack the ND with the POL plus my ND is used with a step-down rings for the 77mm lenses and smaller, therefore with my setup, it created a very dark 4 corner vignette that took a bit of work to remove. This type of vignette sometimes renders these area unusable because you might lose detail data there and can’t be recovered thru post-processing and I don’t want to crop my images just because of this issue. This is the reason why I rated the Hoya lower than the Breakthrough. However, in your situation, you might not need to stack the filters and also don’t need to use the step-down ring, then it is just as good as the Breakthrough.

As I explained above, the slim profile is a great feature that I need to have in my setup. Reason why I use the step-down ring because I have different lenses which don’t usually have the same size filter, and this would save me money and also I carry less weights and filters. I don’t want to have multiple Polarizers and ND filters for all my lenses! This has worked well for me and I continue to do this way. Even though the Breakthrough ND has a slim profile as the ICE ND1000, since it made of brass and also has knurled outer ring, it doesn’t bite to to other filters or step-down ring like the ICE does, so it is a breeze to put on and take off. With the ICE, and so is the slim profile Hoya Polarizer that I have, it is sometimes a pain to take it off.

For sharpness, I don’t see any issue with the Hoya ProND 1000 as some other reviews indicated. It is just as sharp with it on as without it and so is the Breakthrough. And yes, I did look at the 4 corners as well!. The ICE seems to be lacking a bit in sharpness but not that noticeable.

The only that seems to be inhibiting people from buying the Breakthrough and not the Hoya is the price. Yes, $189 for the ND density filter is a bit high, however, considering all of the thoughts that have gone into designing this filter and the quality and top materials that have been used with it, AND how often do you buy another ND10 filter, with its 25 year warranty, I think it is justifiable to get this, and I did. I did tempt to get the Hoya ProND because I think it is a great filter, just that the vignette issue really spoiled it for me. As for the ICE, I’ve using it before I bought the Breakthrough, and it served me well, even with some issues. Look at it this way, if you compare the Breakthrough with the B+W 82mm MRC ND3 (10x), it doesn’t look that bad! I think the B+W below costs about $269 on Amazon.com, and it doesn’t even have the thin profile like the Breakthrough and probably not the long warranty and probably has even more color-cast. Don’t get me wrong, B+W has always been and still is the best brand that I would consider when buying any filters, but in this case, the Breakthough is just better and cheaper.

B+W 82MM Neutral Density 3.0-1,000X Multi-Resistant Coating

All in all, I highly recommend the Breakthough X4 and can’t wait to use it in the field in the next few weeks and will report/update this blog if I find something else about it. As of now, with the excellent priced Hoya ProND 1000, I can’t no longer recommend the ICE ND1000 anymore.

Happy shooting!

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