No More Screwing Around: Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter Review

Tired of screwing variable NDs on and off of your lenses all the time? The Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter aims to make that a thing of the past.

When it comes to neutral density filters, variable NDs are favored by many photographers for their versatility. Instead of carrying a bunch of individual ND filters of different strengths, VNDs cover a set ND range that can be adjusted on the fly. However, the way traditional variable NDs are designed (where two rotating rings are essentially conjoined) can sometimes make them a pain to remove. A filter wrench is often required. Haida is looking to change the way photographers use variable NDs. By leveraging their M10 Filter Holder System, photographers no longer have to screw and unscrew filters, VNDs included. The Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter works in concert with the company’s own M10 Drop-In Neutral Density and Circular Polarizing Filters. When combined, the M10 Insert VND acts as a multiplier for the M10 Drop-In ND/CPLs’ ND rating. Depending on the amount of light reduction needed, simply swap out the corresponding Drop-In ND/CPL rather than unscrewing a VND and screwing on a stronger one in its place. Sounds great in theory, but how well does the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter work in the real world?

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Works in conjunction with the excellent Haida M10 Filter Holder System, specifically the M10 drop-in circular polarizing filters
  • Supports a wide neutral density range (1 through 9 stops) depending on the M10 drop-in circular polarizing filter used
  • Eliminates the need to screw variable ND filters on and off repeatedly
  • Coatings do a good job of minimizing fingerprints and scratches

Cons

  • Hard to make precise neutral density adjustments as the M10 drop-in circular polarizing filters lack markings or mechanical clicks at each ND stop
  • Though not severe, color cast is definitely noticeable and requires additional work during post-production

Gear Used

We tested the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter using the following:

Tech Specs

Tech specs for the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter adapted from Haida’s official press materials:

  • Size: 100 × 100 mm
  • Thickness of Filter: 2 mm
  • Material: K9 Optical Glass
  • Type of Filter: Drop-In Filter
  • Variable Range: ND2 – ND16 / ND 0.3 – ND 1.2, ND8 – ND32 / ND 0.9 – ND 1.5, and ND64 – ND500 / ND 1.8 – ND 2.7
  • Features: Low Color-Cast, Scratch Proof Coating, Water Proof Coating, R5 Rounded
  • metallic filter case for storage and transport
  • works in combination with Haida’s M10 Filter Holder System and M10 Circular Polarizing Filters (including the Haida M10 Drop-In Circular Polarizer Filter that comes included with the Haida M10 Filter Holder Kit)
  • 10 additional scratch-resistant hydrophobic coatings on each glass surface further protect the filter substrate and result in an improved beading effect when in contact with water or oil for greater cleaning efficiency
  • rounded edges for easier placement within a compatible filter holder slot
  • constructed from high quality K9 optical glass for clarity as well as color fidelity
  • combined with Haida M10 Drop-In Circular Polarizer Filter: 1 – 4 Stops (ND2 – ND16 / ND 0.3 – ND 1.2)
  • combined with Haida M10 Drop-In Neutral Density and Circular Polarizer 0.9 Filter (3-Stop): 3 – 5 Stops (ND8 – ND32 / ND 0.9 – ND 1.5)
  • combined with Haida M10 Drop-In Neutral Density and Circular Polarizer 1.8 Filter (6-Stop): 6-9 stops (ND64 – ND500 / ND 1.8 – ND 2.7)

Ergonomics

Like other 100 × 100 mm filters from Haida, the M10 Insert Variable ND Filter comes with a branded metal clamshell storage case. The plastic case seen in the above image is holding one of the M10 Drop-In Neutral Density and Circular Polarizer Filters (3-Stop in this particular case).

Opening up the clamshell case reveals the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter within. From a cursory glance, it looks like any run of the mill 100 × 100 mm ND filter. The pre-production sample we tested did not feature any markings, but retail units will feature markings to help tell the filter apart from others you may have. Next to it is the 3-Stop M10 Drop-In Neutral Density and Circular Polarizer Filter once again, with its plastic carrying case also open.

You can insert the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter into a filter holder as you would any other 2 mm thick 100 × 100 mm filter on the market. Obviously, the M10 Insert VND was designed to work with Haida’s own M10 Drop-In Neutral Density and Circular Polarizer Filters. The above image shows the M10 Insert VND inserted into the M10 Filter Holder and one of the M10 Drop-In ND/CPL filter half inserted. You can place additional ND filters in front of the M10 Insert VND filter if more intense light reduction is needed.

Build Quality

Throughout our time with the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter, it withstood the abuses that come with being used and transported from various locations ranging from urban to rural. The metal clamshell carrying case did an excellent job of keeping the M10 Insert VND from sustaining any damage while being transported. We left the filter the filter attached to our camera as we were traversing through the wilderness, walking along/under cliffs and waterfalls at times. As a result, the filter was subjected to water (both rain and from the waterfall) and being struck by falling tree debris or small pebbles. To our surprise, we didn’t find any scratches or damage of any kind as a result of the abuses mentioned above. The filter was also easy to wipe clean thanks to the coatings on both surfaces. Well built as it may be, the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter is still made from glass. You’ll want to handle it with care and attention when using and transporting it at the end of the day.

Ease of Use

Usability is one area that’s a bit of a mixed bag for the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter. Attaching the filter itself works identically as you would with any other 100 × 100 mm photographic filter that’s ever come to market since said filters were first introduced. That’s the easy part. The usability hiccups actually stem from the Haida M10 Drop-In Neutral Density and Circular Polarizer Filters.

On its own, the M10 Insert VND offers a slight degree of light reduction (roughly 2/3 or half a stop at best by my estimation). To take full advantage of its light reduction prowess, however, it must be used in conjunction with the Drop-In ND/CPL. When paired with the “standard” Haida M10 Drop-In Circular Polarizer Filter (included with the Haida M10 Filter Holder System kit), the M10 Insert VND will give you between 1 to 4 stops of light reduction. Haida also currently offers two other M10 Drop-In ND/CPL filters (3-Stop and 6-Stop). Pairing the M10 Insert VND with the 3-Stop and 6-stop M10 Drop-In ND/CPL filters will net you 3 to 5 stops and 6 to 9 stops of light reduction respectively. If you’ve got all three of the Drop-In ND/CPL filters, the M10 Insert VND effectively gives you a fairly large range (1 to 9 stops) of light reduction. All you’ll have to do is swap in the Drop-In filters, which is much easier to do than having to screw and unscrew different filters back and forth.

To adjust the amount of light you want to cut out, simply rotate the dial on top of one of the Drop-In ND/CPL filters until your image is exposed to your liking. The M10 Insert VND essentially amplifies the variable light reduction range of the Drop-In ND/CPL Filter that it’s paired with. While adjustments can be made quickly and easily, this is also a source of frustration. There are no neutral density stop markings or mechanical clicks on the Drop-In ND/CPLs. As such, there is no way to accurately gauge how much you’re actually stopping down by. You can turn to your camera’s meter to give you an approximation, but it’s an estimation at best and far from reliable particularly under rapidly changing lighting conditions (such as when cloud coverage is changing erratically or during golden hour). To be fair, this is not an uncommon issue with a lot of variable ND filters currently available on the market, but an annoyance nonetheless.

One thing that using the Insert VND + M10 Filter Holder + Drop-In ND/CPLs combo does very well is that it significantly reduces the risk of moving your camera when adjusting your ND stops or swapping filters. As long as you’ve got your camera and the Haida M10 filter system mounted onto a sturdy tripod, the amount of movement introduced is practically negligible. This is handy for photographers that prefer to bracket their exposures to create HDR images in post. Using the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND and the 3-Stop Drop-In ND/CPL filters together, I was able to capture three different exposures of the same scene as seen in the samples below (none of these images have been edited):

Using Aurora HDR, we created the below HDR image using the three source images above. No additional editing was done besides merging the three exposures.

Since the camera didn’t move at all between the three source exposures, they lined up perfectly and eliminated potential ghosting or misalignment artifacts from appearing in the final image. This is also super useful for photographers that prefer to manually mask and create their own high dynamic range images rather than using third-party software to do so.

Image Quality

It’s not uncommon for variable neutral density filters to cause unwanted color casts in your images. In fact, Haida actually lists “low color cast” as one of the features in the press materials for the M10 Insert Variable ND Filter. This proved to be accurate from our test results. Images shot using the M10 Insert Variable ND filter appeared marginally warmer and took on a slight green tint. Thankfully, we didn’t detect any reduction in sharpness. While the color cast can be corrected during post-production, it’s still an extra step that can add up if you’re processing a ton of images. Here are two images of the same scene that showcases the color cast. The first was captured sans filter, while the second is a long exposure shot using the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter and the 3-Stop M10 Drop-In ND/CPL:

Additional Image Samples

Here are some additional images created using the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter. These images were processed using Capture One 20 Pro, ranging from color grading, cropping, levels adjustment, and/or perspective correction. As a matter of ethics, however, none of the sample images seen within this review have been retouched so that you can judge the quality of the images produced using this filter for yourself.

Conclusions

Likes

  • easy to use
  • build quality
  • sizable neutral density range

Dislikes

  • color cast
  • no way to accurately gauge the neutral density stoppage

Thanks to the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter, photographers no longer have to worry about having to screw and unscrew VND filters onto their lenses. In that respect, the M10 Insert Variable ND Filter does its job flawlessly. The fact that it must be used in conjunction with Haida’s own M10 Drop-In ND/CPL filters and functions as a modifier means that it also inherits much of the drawbacks that plague most VNDs on the market. The absence of visual or mechanical ND stop indicators on the Drop-In ND/CPL filters means that photographers have no way to accurately gauge the amount of light reduction. While nowhere near the severe levels we’ve seen from lower quality filters, color cast is still detectable when using the M10 Insert Variable ND Filter. This translates to longer times spent in post for photographers with color-critical workflows. All things considered, though, the Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter (along with the M10 Filter Holder System and the M10 Drop-In ND/CPL Filters) is much easier to work with than traditional circular variable NDs. Any photographer that’s had to deal with a stuck variable ND will appreciate that.

The Haida M10 Insert Variable ND Filter earns three out of five stars. It’s available now from Amazon.

Pauleth Ip

Paul is a New York City based photographer, creative, and writer. His body of work includes headshots and commercial editorials for professionals, in-demand actors/performers, high net worth individuals, and corporate clients, as well as intimate lifestyle/boudoir photography with an emphasis on body positivity and empowerment. Paul also has a background in technology and higher education, and regularly teaches private photography seminars. When not working on reviews and features for The Phoblographer or shooting client work, Paul can be seen photographing personal projects around NYC, or traveling the world with his cameras in tow. You can find Paul’s latest work on his Instagram over at @thepicreative.