Advice on Grad ND filters for Nikon 16-35VR and 24-120/4.0 VR

Registered: Jun 25, 2012
Total Posts: 870
Country: N/A

Guys, please answer as completely as you can. I have a D800 and the two lenses listed above will be my "landscape" options. I've never even shot with ANY neutral density filters -- Graduated or traditional.

I've noticed a LOT of landscape photogs (especially in magazines) used a square Cokin/Lee type fo system. I want to get a system that will also work (not vignette) with my planned future purchase of the Zeiss 21mm Distagon. There are so many options (resin/glass/soft/hard) that frankly I cannot even begin to sort out what works best. Also, I will not always be set up on a tripod so maybe a square system is not for me, right?

If you landscape pros can offer me advice, and/or link to specific filters than it will be greatly appreciated. Some people tell me the D800 needs no filters with its great DR. I've always believed proper exposure > blending bracketed shots or lifting shadows, etc. in PP. Then you have others that believe a traditional threaded filter is better because of reflections/light leaks? I will also experiment with (non-Grad) ND filters as well. Looking forward to hearing back from any FM member. Thanks!

Registered: Jul 02, 2010
Total Posts: 612
Country: United States

There is no such thing as a catch all 'proper exposure'. The exposure that you use to get a nice jpeg SOOC (jpeg goal: get your main subject appropriately lit) is sometimes not the same exposure you use to get a quality raw file (raw goal: get as much detail/color saturation on the file as possible), and the exposures may be very different.

D800's do have less of a need for grad ND's, but they still help sometimes.

For your lenses mentioned, I guess with the 16-35, you will get vignetting in the corners no matter what, especially towards the wide end. It's usually not a big deal to crop out the extreme corners.

The Cokin P system is economical but it will definitely cause a little vignetting. You can step up to the Cokin Z-Pro or Lee, but you'd be paying a lot more money, and it still may cause a bit of vignetting. There is a low profile Cokin P holder that only holds 1 square filter, and that helps reduce vignetting. When you have extreme wide angles, it's just something you have to contend with.

For traditional ND filters, it really depends on what you want to accomplish. Every filter manufacturer has 3 stop filters. If you want to get into the exotic 9 or 10 stop territory, your choices are round filters from B+W and Hoya, or square filters for Lee. Square filters are significantly easier to use because you can rapidly remove the filter, focus/compose, and reinstall it. With round filters you spend time screwing on the filter and removing it. For 3-stop filters, it simple isn't an issue.

The problem is, the Lee Big Stopper is out of stock just about everywhere.

I use traditional ND's a lot, but I am a hesitant user of grads. The DR capabilities of modern Nikon's basically means that you can use them a lot less. Hard ND's especially have a straight, distinct transition line, which doesn't match well with the composure. Soft ND's are easier to use, but they don't have as beneficial of an effect.

I'm not sure if that helps or not.

Registered: Jun 07, 2012
Total Posts: 39
Country: United States


I would HIGHLY recommend reading this book before you purchase anything, :

The authors esentially recommend getting 4x6 filters if you are using a full-frame camera like the D800. The book goes into more details about Lee vs. Cokin holders and what filters to buy in what order. There are also articles written by the author on the Singh-Ray site. I hope that helps =).

Registered: Mar 24, 2004
Total Posts: 3023
Country: United States

Hi, I use the Cokin P system. Its good for threads up to 82mm. It works well with my 24mm TSE-II but if I shift near max I get vignetting with multiple filters but works fine with one only.

Generally you only want/need 2 filters, 2 stop ND soft grad (Tiffen Glass is my choice) and a ND of maybe 4 to 6 stops (I have a 4 stop Tiffen glass). Some people like to add a polarizer and a 2 stop hard edge ND grad and maybe another, stronger ND.

Chris Tylko
Registered: Nov 04, 2007
Total Posts: 838
Country: Canada

With the 16-35 II at 82mm I moved up from the Cokin to the Lee system and I'm much happier with the results (especially that I now have the TS-E 24 II which is also 82MM and the 24-70 II is going to 82 as well). I have both hard and soft edged ND grads at 3 levels of intensity; the 4x6 size gives you tons of "real estate" to work with.

And I definitely agree with Krickett on ease of use.

Registered: Jun 25, 2012
Total Posts: 870
Country: N/A

Jeez, I wasn't expecting such comprehensive advice!! I will read the book recommended by poster. I figure I will buy $10-20 Grad ND traditional filter and see how much I use/need.

I know in these southern California days, the sun washes out A LOT of pictures. I know there is a definite benefit to using ND filters. As my skills improve, so will my equipment.

I'm ready to plunk down $300 for a good system. I know this will go a long way towards completing all equipment I need. Thanks for all advice! others may chime in as they wish

Registered: Apr 06, 2005
Total Posts: 502
Country: United States

Here's some advice that will get you some quick results. It will not teach you how to use them, but you might get some help there as well. Call and talk with them. They are very knoweledgeable and helpful. They will ask about your goals and help fit you into the system you will do the best with. Their prices are very good as well.
By the way, for he 16x35 and the 21mm you will need to use a larger filter than the P sized Cokin. That size will certainly give you bad news at the corners and edges.
Best wishes.

Registered: Jul 15, 2009
Total Posts: 379
Country: United States

Lee FK holder. UWA ring. Lee 4x6" .6 soft, .6 Hard, .9 Soft, .9 Hard. Maybe replace the .9 Hard with a Singh Ray .9 reverse if you shoot a lot of sunsets. Some people like to mount a CPL in the front, others like the back of the filter holder. I use the Lee front mount ring along with a 105mm B+W CPL. I also have the Big Stopper. I don't use any other solid ND filters. Most of the time I get my water blur from the time of day I shoot. Though if there was a really good 6 stop ND filter that worked like the Big Stopper, I'd buy it.

I get vignetting w/ the CPL if I go wider than 20mm w/ my 17-40mm (2 slots on the holder). Not sure how that translates over to your lenses. No vignetting on my set up w/o the CPL.

I don't have a D800 and you do, so whether or not the DR is good enough to pass on the GND filters is a question you could answer better than me.

Registered: Oct 29, 2005
Total Posts: 406
Country: United States

Greetings from a fellow Tiger!

You mentioned $300 should cover all your filter needs. I'd caution to buy the best even if you don't get everything at once. I'd stay away from $20 GND filters unless you are using just for experimentation with no intent to print those photos. You don't mention circular polorizers and may already have one but I consider a CP essential to landscape photography. I have a Nikon and B+W and like both ($100-125). ND are a little cheaper but a quality 4x6 GND will be around $150.

I can't speak to using HDR instead of filters because I havent experimented with it and prefer field techniques to post processing. Maybe one day I'll have time to try/learn HDR