Are ND Grad Filters Dead? A D800e Dynamic Range Landscape Field Test

New Zealand Photos | Milford Sound Clearing Storm over Mitre Peak

Clearing Storm, Milford Sound, New Zealand. This is one of my most successful images – made with the Nikon D2X and a 3 stop Singh Ray Grad filter.

It would be no over-statement to say that I have built my landscape photography career on the back of Singh Ray ND grad filters.  Almost all of my best selling images have been made using a grad.

Being a hair-shirted Luddite at heart (and pre-disposed to leisure time) I have eschewed hours chained to the computer blending exposures and mastering HDR by instead using Singh Ray Grads to get the bulk of my exposure work done in-camera.

I have no particular love of ND Grad filters – they are, after all, just a pricey piece of acrylic – but I do LOVE the results that Grads impart on my photography.  This love of results has always had me going all ‘Charlton Heston’  “you can pry my [Grads] from my cold dead hands” whenever the topic of surrendering my filters to the forces of progress has been raised.

Well, my hands are still warm and seemingly very much alive, yet I feel my grip rapidly loosening, particularly after this morning’s Nikon D800e test shoot.

I have been getting quite a few queries via the interwebz ( ‘z’ is surely the edgiest of letters) as to whether ND grads were still required for use with the D800.  My gut feeling was yes but I had been seeing some very thought-provoking results coming from the D800e – particularly once I upgraded to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 .  The combination of the D800e’s capacious dynamic range Lightroom 4’s revolutionary tonality enhancements (particularly shadow/highlights) seemed to be delivering a vastly extended DR.

This morning I saw a sunrise forming and promptly abandoned Sarah during the hellish pre-school circus in order to perform a meaningful DR test between my Singh Ray ND Grads and the D800e’s naked sensor.

About The Test:

  • Nikon D800E on tripod
  • Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D at 17mm, f/8
  • Aperture Priority
  • Daylight WB
  • ISO 100
  • f/8
  • Singh-Ray 3-stop soft edge grad
  • The scene is exactly the kind of situation where I ALWAYS use an ND grad – reasonably flat horizon with huge tonal range and plenty of colour to capture.

The Results:

Nikon-D800e-Dynamic-Range-ND-on-samples-699px

With Singh Ray 3-stop Graduated ND filter. The ND grad did it’s job well here – just a little highlight recovery in LR4 and we have the basis of a workable exposure. Note the smudgy flare in the vineyard just below the sun – this is one of the drawbacks of ND filters, especially once they gather a few scratches.

Nikon-D800e-Dynamic-Range-ND-off-naked-699px

Naked D800e Image, matrix metering -1 EV. Straight from the camera the no-Grad image looks pretty underwhelming – the sky is properly exposed but the foreground is underexposed. Can a quick trip through Lightroom 4 get this image looking as good as the Singh-ray shot above?

View The ‘Worked’ Image & 100% Crops >>>>

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3 comments on “Are ND Grad Filters Dead? A D800e Dynamic Range Landscape Field Test

  1. Pingback: Sunrise – MacArthur Ridge, Central Otago, New Zealand | Nikon D800e sample Download | The Photo Autocracy

  2. Pingback: Nikon D800e / D800 Dynamic Range Article | The Photo Autocracy

  3. Pingback: Nikon D800e Dynamic Range For Landscape Photography | Field Test Revisited | The Photo Autocracy

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