We all love a nice landscape, but there's often a tricky little technical issue to sort out when taking the shot. Typically, the sky will be a lot brighter than the landscape itself, and all the detail and depth and drama of the sky is lost.
The solution is a graduated filter that fits in a holder on the front of the lens and slides up and down so that you can position the darker part over the sky.
We test four of these kits to find out which is the best.
The Cokin Gradual ND tops the group with a great value kit. With stackable filters offering a good performance at a reasonable price, you can't go wrong.
1. Cokin Gradual ND kit with holder
The Cokin kit is effective and affordable and performs well
Filter width: 83mm | Filter height: 100mm | Holder included: Yes
This kit consists of a holder and a trio of filters in the popular P Series (83 x 99mm) size. That’s large enough to just about cover an 82mm-diameter lens, though you can expect vignetting on wide-angle optics, and there isn’t much room for vertical adjustment to suit your horizon position. The filters vary in both density and transition. You get 1-stop and 2-stop grads, both with a hard transition, and the third filter is a 3-stopper with a soft transition. This lets you stack the two lighter filters to effectively create a 3-stop hard grad. Despite the relatively low kit price, exposure consistency between the filters in our kit only varied by 1/3 of a stop.
2. LEE Filters ND hard grad custom kit
Professional quality but at a professional price
Filter width: 100mm | Filter height: 150mm | Holder included: No
Lee Filters doesn’t officially offer an ND grad starter kit including a holder, so we assembled our own, based around Lee’s 100mm system. We chose two hard graduated filters, in 2-stop and 4-stop densities, plus Lee’s Foundation Kit holder. You’ll need an adaptor ring to fix the holder to your lens; at time of writing these cost around £19/$35 each. The versatile 100mm-wide filters cover most common lens sizes, while their 150mm length enables plenty of vertical adjustment. The large holder also helps minimise vignetting when using wide-angle optics. The holder and filters are beautifully made, with excellent exposure consistency.
3. SRB ND Hard Grad filter set
P-size filters with hard or soft grad options
Filter width: 83mm | Filter height: 100mm | Holder included: No
Like the Cokin kit, SRB’s selection includes three P-size filters in 1-, 2-, and 3-stop densities, but here you get chamfered corners for easier insertion. The kit can be specced with either hard or soft grads. A harder transition is great if your horizon is straight, but should buildings or trees clutter the horizon, a soft grad will hide the transition from filtered to unfiltered. The kit doesn’t include a holder or adaptor rings, but SRB offers a basic P-size holder currently for just £5/$6.50, and the same amount will buy you an adapter up to 82mm in diameter. We measured very precise exposure consistency across all three filters in our kit.
4. Tiffen Pro100 ND starter kit
Nicely made but not the best performer
Filter width: 100mm | Filter height: 100mm | Holder included: Yes
Tiffen’s kit packs a single 4-stop soft-graduated filter, and one standard 4-stop full ND for long exposures. Both filters are 100mm square, so while they’re large enough to cover most wide-angle lenses, you don’t get the vertical positioning flexibility of the 150mm-tall Lee filters. Tiffen’s glass is unusually thick, though, and it’s held in a high-quality bundled holder. You also get 77mm and 82mm adaptor rings. Sadly, optical quality isn’t so impressive. The ND grad generated an obvious yellow cast, to the point it could almost be a dedicated warming gel, and there’s only a 4-stop light reduction at the very edge of the filter.
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