If you’re looking for a good variable neutral density (VND) filter, it can be hard to figure out whether it’s worth spending hundreds of dollars for the high-end brands, or whether you’ll get the same performance from less expensive models. For this video, PolarPro and Moment both sent me VND filters to test (PolarPro sent me two samples of the same model, Moment sent me two different models), and I shot with them at a few locations around Washington state. The Moment filter costs $159, while the PolarPro costs $299. Is the PolarPro worth the extra money? Let’s find out.
The PolarPro and Moment filters are both very similar, as you’d expect, but with a few significant differences. Both filters contain two rings with two high quality glass elements (the PolarPro uses fused quartz glass, the Moment uses Schott B270 Pro Cinema Glass) Of course, on the surface, the PolarPro has a gold-painted outer ring and a golden iridescent coating on the outer surface, and the Moment has a red anodized inner-ring and magenta-red iridescent coating.
Though it has little to do with the filters’ performance (but something to do with the price), the PolarPro comes with expansive packaging, including an outer box sleeve, a hinged inner box with magnet closure, a hard filter case, a soft filter case, a Defender-style lens cap (see my review of the PolarPro Defender) and some other assorted odds and ends.
Moment ships their filter in much more minimalist packaging: an elegant black-on-black metal filter case with a threaded closure between the halves. And that’s it.
The Moment’s packaging is undoubtedly more Eco-friendly and contributes to keeping the filter’s cost down, but the case is not especially convenient to use in the field. Getting a good grip on the halves to twist apart is especially tricky in cold, wet weather. Of course, if you already have a filter wallet (I’m a fan of the ThinkTank Filter-Nest Mini, but there are dozens of good cheaper ones out there), this is not a concern.
Functionally, they work the same way: screw the filter onto the end of the lens and twist the outer ring to change the filter’s “density”. On the PolarPro, the stop-indicator markings are laser-etched on the outer ring. The outer ring on the Moment filter is angled back towards the camera, making the indicator markings printed on it visible from behind the camera, which is clever.
Movement between the filter rings is smooth and well dampened on both filters. In my case, the PolarPro is slightly easier to turn while the Moment is tighter, but the PolarPro is also a year older and it may just be a matter of getting worn in.
In the Field
To test out the PolarPro last year I drove out to the Washington Coast for a couple of days, and also spent some time along the Columbia River down on the Oregon border across from Astoria (of Goonies fame!). When the Moment filters arrived, I decided to return to the coast, but before I could go down toward Oregon, we went on COVID-19 lockdown.
Luckily, I did get a chance to go shoot the skyline before things really got bad. It may seem that an ND filter wouldn’t have been necessary this late in the day, but I found that without it, even at ISO100 at f/16 I was still getting shutterspeeds of around 1/4 second (any longer would have blown out the sky), and I was looking for 2-10 seconds.
Handling in the field was great with both filters; I didn’t have any problems with either one, though of course, I did have to manually focus much of the time. Image quality looked excellent with both in the field, and when I compared the images later on my computer, there was no obvious difference in sharpness or resolution, either.
Ruby Beach was beautiful, as always, but it was raining and droplets on my filters did cause some problems.
Just after sunset in the dying evening light, I decided to take a panorama of the seastacks up the beach. I probably could have achieved a similar effect without an ND filter in this case, but it was already on the lens, so I went with it.
In my review of the PolarPro VND filter, I noted that the first (pre-production) filter sent to me by the company had a variation range of only 2 stops, not the promised 3 stops (eg, 6-9). Believing that there had been a manufacturing error, they sent me replacement. The new filter, though, only improved things by about 1/3rd of a stop.
I was hoping that the Moment filter would improve on this, but it turned out to be identical. In testing, I used three separate light meters: my Sony A7RIII spot meter, my Canon 5DIII spot meter, and my trusty old Gossen Luna-Star incident light meter. I also tried using an Android based light meter app, and though it agreed with the others, I’m not sure how reliable these things really are. The exposure readings for each were not identical, but they were all analogous.
The results can be seen in the video above, but are summarized (based on the Canon meter readings) in this diagram:
Both filters provided 2 1/3rd stops of variation. With these two particular filters, the range started at 6 stops for the PolarPro and 6 2/3rds stops for the Moment, but I don’t expect this to be the case for every filter that comes out of their respective factories; it’s more likely that the exact layout of that range will vary a bit1This surmise is based on my limited experience with the PolarPro filters, which changed between samples, and between the two different Moment filters that I was sent, but it’s only a guess.
As the name suggests, a neutral-density filter should be neutral, equally affecting all wavelengths of light. Many ND filters, though, have a bit of a color cast, and these two are no exception.
The Moment filter has the stronger color cast, where it leans significantly to the warm side. Although it is less noticeable, the PolorPro also produces a warm color cast (about 1/3rd as strong as the Moment). In the figure below, the camera’s white balance was set according to the grey card (center) and then both filters were used to shoot the same card under the same LED lighting.
Although color casts are less than ideal, they’re also very minor problems in most cases. If you shoot RAW, color correction is quick and easy if you’re shooting at a fixed color temperature, and if you’re shooting with auto white-balance (or a custom white balance), the camera will do the job for you.
However, a color cast can still show up as a difference in contrast between different colors, or slight color shifts if you’re not using a custom RAW profile (based on a color checker) to correct your colors, so if your work is very color critical, it’s something to keep in mind.
Vignetting and Cross Polarization
For all practical purposes, neither of these filters produce the dreaded X-pattern interference that can occur with some VND filters, nor do they produce any traditional vignetting.
However, in some cases you will see some effect from the component polarization filters in both VNDs. In some situations (I noticed this particularly with the PolarPro set to its “6” setting) some darkening will occur in the sky in part of the image, and reflections in general may be affected. The two frames below are consecutive frames, shot with the PolarPro. The first is at “6”, the next at around “7”. Notice that the upper right corner of the first image is especially blue.
So, is the PolarPro worth it’s price? Not to me. For the kind of work that I do, there are no important differences in image quality between the two filter brands, and I’d rather buy two Moment filters for the price of the PolarPro. I don’t find the accessories, fancy packaging, or royalties to Peter McKinnon to be compelling reasons for me to pay $300 for a VND filter.
However, there will undoubtedly be some of you who are concerned about the color cast produced by the Moment filter. If it is going to make a difference to the way you work, then you may wish to consider the PolarPro… it’s certainly a very nice piece of equipment.
Questions? Comments? Let me know in the comment section below.
This post was not sponsored by PolarPro, Moment, or anyone else. All opinions are my own and as honest as possible. Links on this page are mostly affiliate links and will help support future reviews like this, at no extra cost to you. Thanks!
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