Review: Irix Edge Neutral Density ND32000 (Used with the IRIX 15mm f2.4 FireFly)

Playing with the IRIX 15 Stop ND filter was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had.

After reviewing two of their lenses, the folks at IRIX sent me the Irix Edge Neutral Density ND32000 for review; and the experience of using it became one involving a better understanding of the environment around me, settings, the weather, etc. Yes, that’s right–it cuts out 15 stops of light. With an ND filter like this, a photographer can shoot with their camera on a tripod and not need to stop their lens down a whole lot. Instead, they can shoot at f4, f5.6, etc. While it’s very tempting to sometimes shoot at incredibly long exposures too, the photographer using the IRIX 15 Stop ND Filter should be incredibly aware of their environments. While that may sound like common sense, it’s a situation that baffled photographers who have been shooting for even longer than me.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Cuts out a lot of light
  • Lets you shoot in the middle of the day and get a nice, long exposure

Cons

  • An ND filter that cuts out this much light will really make you rethink your photography process involving landscapes.

Gear Used

We tested the Irix Edge Neutral Density ND32000 with the Irix 15mm f2.4 Firefly, a Metabones adapter, the Sony a7r III, and the original Sony a7. The tripod used was the Gitzo Traveler Alpha along with a Manfrotto BeFREE tripod.

Irix Edge Neutral Density ND32000 Filter Tech Specs

Specs taken from their website

Technical data

FILTER TYPE: Neutral Density
THREAD SIZE: 95mm x 1.0
ADDITIONAL THREAD AT THE TOP OF THE FRAME: 95mm x 1.0
DENSITY: 4.5
LIGHT REDUCTION: 15-stops
FRAME THICKNESS (WITHOUT THREAD): 3.5mm
ANTIREFLECTION COATINGS: multi-layer NANO coating
SPECIAL TYPE COATINGS: double side waterproof and oil repellent

Compatible with:

Irix Blackstone 15mm f/2.4

Irix Firefly 15mm f/2.4

Ergonomics

The Irix Edge Neutral Density ND32000 is a very standard ND filter. It doesn’t have a grooved ring like that of Breakthrough’s, and there are no two sets of rings because it isn’t a variable ND filter. Instead, it’s a straight up ND. You’ll need to handle it carefully lest you get fingerprints on it or oil.

Build Quality

The exterior ring of the Irix Edge Neutral Density ND32000 is made of brass. So immediately, that’s a big plus. The fact that it isn’t plastic means that it isn’t a cheap filter. As far as the glass quality goes, there is a very solid quality to it. It feels just as good as one from Breakthrough, Tiffen, Tokina/Hoya, etc. I had no problems with it. There was a situation where I thought that the glass would get scratched, but that didn’t happen. Indeed, it is waterproof and oil repellant.

Ease of Use

Due to how thin the Irix Edge Neutral Density ND32000 ring is, you’ll need to carefully screw it onto the lens. In this case, the massive size allowed me to attach it to the IRIX 15mm f2.4 FireFly lens. Affixing to the front of the lens needs to be done slowly. Once it is attached, you just need to shoot. When 15 stops of light is being cut though, then there are different things that you need to consider. For example:

  • Shooting on the coast line made us realize that some of the new manmade structures in Brooklyn aren’t as stable as we’d like to think as the super long exposures picked up some very slight movements with the camera, the tripod and the ground as people passed by.
  • Clouds in NYC surely do move faster than we believe them to, so they’ll create streaks
  • Using the zoom enhancement on the Sony cameras still resulted in some muddy details. When we imported the images onto our iMac, we found the details to be just fine
  • Using this lens with a high contrast black and white image profile helps to deliver gorgeous photos
  • You’re often best shooting at under 4 seconds, lowering the ISO setting and stopping the lens to f5.6 or so.
  • Obviously, shoot in manual mode
  • When attached to the lens, the hood is very difficult to affix

Image Quality

When shooting with the Irix Edge Neutral Density ND32000, I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t see any out of character color shifts. At a white balance locked to 5500K, it stayed at that setting. It was really surprising and astounding. Granted, in digital photography this isn’t such a big deal. But it surely does save you time.

Here’s where some of the problems that I spoke about earlier come into play. The images below though are much better. Thankfully, the sharpness of the lens still remains in tact as long as you don’t shoot at a very long exposure beyond something like 5 seconds. Even then you can still get very sharp photos in ideal situations. But again, we’d recommend ensuring that everything is incredibly steady. Sometimes, I found issues involving chromatic aberrations when using this filter and sometimes felt like it softened the image quality. Sometimes, it was due to how long the exposure was. Othertimes, it was just due to a simple loss of detail due to the glass.

This reminds me of shooting with Phase One and Hasselblad cameras where it’s often recommended to shoot at the most stable position, the fact that Phase One has a seismograph in their camera, and that with Hasselblad’s higher megapixel levels, one needs to take absolute ridiculous precautions to ensure top notch sharpness.

Conclusions

While the Irix Edge Neutral Density ND32000 is a great filter that works just as one would expect it to, I also think that it’s a great idea that one should have a fair amount of experience before using a filter like this. With most other filters, photographers are bound to shoot at really, stupidly long exposures like 30 seconds. In that case, don’t even bother with the filter. It’s best used for fairly short exposure times.

The IRIX 15 Stop ND Filter gets four out of five stars.