We all need to slow things down occasionally and there really is no better way than indulging in some long exposure photography. I have been the very happy recipient of a beautiful 15-Stop ND filter from the guys at Breakthrough Photography over in sunny California and I thought that I would share with you my thoughts about the filter and also some of the images that I have taken. I should probably tell you that this won't be your normal, run of the mill review that would usually include 100% crops and colour testing etc. It will instead be a more real-world review including some very real-world images!
We should, of course, start with the packaging. The packaging of this Breakthrough Photography 15-Stop X4 ND filter is about as sexy as it gets in the ND filter world. A cellophane wrapped white box that could easily be straight out of Apple HQ in Cupertino greets you, inside which hides a sealed container with the filter nestled within. Upon picking up the filter for the first time, it is instantly obvious that it is a high-quality item with Breakthrough Photography's signature traction frame making it easier to handle in the field during wet and cold conditions. I know, as would any landscape photographer, how difficult it can be to change filters while out on location (I almost lost one just the other day) and this really is an excellent addition. The other thing that is noticeable is the weight...at 0.25lbs (or 113g), it is more than double the weight of a similar filter made by Singh-Ray, but don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad thing. Many ND filters feel flimsy and cheap, but that isn't what you get from this ND, it oozes quality. If you've spent $1000 (or more) on a good lens, you need to take care of it and you want the best images it can possibly produce. If that means spending a little more on a quality filter, then so be it and my first impressions of this particular filter were excellent!
OK, I have waffled on enough and I'm sure you've had a good laugh about my awesome product images that were, incidentally, taken on my iPhone! Time for some real photography:
The great thing about ND filters, and especially one as dark as 15 Stops, is that there really are no limits as far as what time of day you can go out to shoot or what weather conditions you can go out to shoot in. The 15-Stop ND is tailor made for shooting in bright sunlight when without it, there would be no way to take long exposures of 2 or 3 minutes.
The image above was taken in exactly the conditions that I described. Although taken in the early morning, it was bright sunlight with a few clouds appearing. I managed to get an exposure of 131 seconds, which is far longer than my original exposure, taken without my trusty filter. If I'm honest, I wouldn't have even gone out to shoot if I didn't have the filter. Having the 15 Stop ND in my kit bag has certainly given me more options to shoot and also another reason to go out!
There will be times when using the 15-Stop ND just isn't viable. On a cloudy, dull day in the middle of Winter, when you're already getting exposure times of 1/4 of a second, definitely wouldn't be the time to use it. Unless of course, you're willing to wait over 2 hours for your exposure to finish. It would, of course, make for some interesting photography!
Using the 15-Stop filter does give some excellent results and, as in the above example, opening up your shutter for a longer time period will remove any distractions and make your image simpler. The image on the right is far more pleasing to look at, especially with the clean lines of the rocks compared to the smooth water and streaky clouds.
I love long exposure photography and I find it extremely therapeutic to sit down with my remote shutter and wait for the end result, whether it's 30 seconds or 6 minutes. You're never quite sure what the end result will be...how the water will react with the rocks or how the clouds will (or not) streak across the sky. This filter takes my creativity to another level and coupled with my Black and White photography, it seems to be a match made in heaven.
To sum up, I would absolutely recommend the Breakthrough Photography X4 15-Stop ND filter. There are usually a couple of negatives when you use a new product, but I've really struggled to find any and with their awesome customer service, my whole experience has been first class. I should probably point out that I am, in no way, affiliated with Breakthrough Photography and although they very kindly sent me this filter, this review is purely my view and my experience using their product.
Last, but definitely not least, is this:
Yep, Breakthrough Photography are so sure of their product that their '25 Year Ironclad Guarantee' comes with each and every one of their products. This filter was the first Breakthrough Photography product I have tried, but it will definitely not be the last!