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Review: LightCraft Workshop DigiPro HD Vari-ND Filter

by Chris Gampat on 03/24/2013

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer LightCraft Workshop Digipro HD filter product images (1 of 6)ISO 2001-125 sec

LightCraft Workshop has produced some very good variable ND filters that were all rated very highly on this site. Recently, they released their DigiPro HD line–which they state as having better optical qualities and better ergonomics than their previous lines. Specifically branded as the HD line, this means that videographers would probably be the ones to take the most advantage of this filter. However, ND filters have long been used by not only landscape photographers, but portrait photographers as well.

So how does it perform when used with a monolight?

 

Pros and Cons

Pros

– Excellent ergonomical tab

– Smooth turning

– Accurate stop reduction

– Small and simple to use

– Negligible loss of image quality

Cons

– Cuts down the AF abilities a bit too much for my liking

Gear Used

For this review, we used the Canon 5D Mk II, Sigma 35mm f1.4 EX, PocketWizard Plus X radios, Plus III transceivers, Paul C Buff Einstein E640 Monolight, and the LightCraft Workshop DigiPro HD ND filter.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the B&H Photo Video listing

Type Variable neutral density
Size 77 mm
Filter Factor 0.3 – 0.3 (1 to 10 stops)
Rotating Yes; to vary density
Effect Permits a longer exposure
Construction Optical glass, matte black filter ring
Front Filter Thread Size 77 mm
Front Lens Cap Size 77 mm

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer LightCraft Workshop Digipro HD filter product images (2 of 6)ISO 2001-50 sec

One of the newest features of the new DigiPro HD is the new tab on top. This tab lets the user twist the ND filter to cut down the light without accidentally touching the front of the glass. It’s a simple and really nice touch.

On top of the DigiPro HD you’ll see the sliding scale to cut down the light.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer LightCraft Workshop Digipro HD filter product images (6 of 6)ISO 2001-50 sec

The set overall includes the filter, a cap for the filter and a nice soft case that still protects your package quite well. In fact, I like the new case better than the older hard plastic shells.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer LightCraft Workshop Digipro HD filter product images (5 of 6)ISO 2001-50 sec

When the ND filter has reached its maximum light cutting abilities, this is what it looks like.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer LightCraft Workshop Digipro HD filter product images (4 of 6)ISO 2001-50 sec

When the filter is opened up to its minimum light killing (which it starts out at about a stop) this is what it looks like.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer LightCraft Workshop Digipro HD filter product images (3 of 6)ISO 2001-50 sec

To kill the ambient light, you’ll have to bring it all the way down to the max setting. The interesting thing is that the filter doesn’t lock here but instead continues to keep spinning if you wish.

Build Quality

This has to be LightCraft Workshop’s most solid filter to date. Not only does it feel very high quality but the addition of the tab also just makes it feel that much beefier. I’ve never had a problem unscrewing it from a lens–which also tells me that the construction is high quality.

Ease of Use

Slap it onto your lens, slide it around to cut down the light, and that’s it. For the simplest results, I typically use a light meter beforehand and figure out all the necessary calculations I need to balance the ambient light with my strobe.

Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Grace Morales Umbrella Fantasy shot (1 of 1)ISO 2001-30 sec at f - 5.6

For the majority of my testing with this filter, I slapped it onto the Sigma 35mm f1.4 EX–one of the sharpest lenses in my camera bag.

One reason why people hate using filters at all is because of the fact that they can degrade image quality. In our tests, we didn’t find any major degration of quality. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised. When I shot the image to the left, I set my shutter speed to 1/30th, f5.6 (though I metered the light for f8) and ISO 100. The image still ended up coming out quite sharp despite winds acting against Grace and I (plus the poor lady was shivering.)

Because of the negligible loss of quality, it was easier for me to just shoot my subjects and concentrate on creating a scene vs fiddling with gear–and that was quite a breath of relief as a reviewer.

In the samples down below, I did something that could be confused as quality loss. Because of the fact that an ND cuts light out, it can also make focusing quite tough on a camera. So for those images I needed to focus and recompose. When I did this, the focusing plane was thrown off–but that’s just physics.

Additionally, I also just needed to work with Lulu’s movements–but that’s just how the focus and recompose method works and it’s why I never do it.

All of that is totally aside from the filter though. One of the best things about this filter is that it doesn’t vignette, but that means that if you want that creative effect, you’ll have to do it in Lightroom or Photoshop. That’s actually what I did to some of these images (and it is clearly visible).

In my tests with this filter on a medium format film camera, I also didn’t see any vignetting when using a cheap step up ring. That just tells us that the construction of this particular ND filter was thought about very carefully.

Here are some extra samples that I was talking about earlier in this section.

Unretouched Chris Gampat The Phoblographer LightCraft Workshop DigiPro HD ND filter (6 of 6)ISO 1601-50 sec at f - 5.6

Unretouched Chris Gampat The Phoblographer LightCraft Workshop DigiPro HD ND filter (5 of 6)ISO 1601-50 sec at f - 5.6

Unretouched Chris Gampat The Phoblographer LightCraft Workshop DigiPro HD ND filter (4 of 6)ISO 1601-50 sec at f - 5.6

Unretouched Chris Gampat The Phoblographer LightCraft Workshop DigiPro HD ND filter (3 of 6)ISO 1601-50 sec at f - 5.6

Unretouched Chris Gampat The Phoblographer LightCraft Workshop DigiPro HD ND filter (2 of 6)ISO 1601-50 sec at f - 5.6

Unretouched Chris Gampat The Phoblographer LightCraft Workshop DigiPro HD ND filter (1 of 6)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 5.6

Conclusions

For a photographer like me that is moving away from Speedlite use and working more with monolights, a variable ND filter like this is a godsend due to the balance of excellent ergonomics, simplistic design, and very little loss of image quality. Not all lights are able to sync with faster shutter speeds, and so less ambient light can sometimes be killed. In order to solve that problem, you’ll need an ND filter.

For the advanced user, we give the LightCraft Workshop DigiPro HD some of our highest recommendations.

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