Is a $350 ND filter three (and a half) times better than a $100 one?

For a long time I’ve been using a Genus Variable Neutral Density (77 mm) filter with my Canon and Sigma lenses and a Metabones Speedbooster Adapter on a Panasonic GH4.


Since I recently got a couple of Panasonic Lumix lenses with a 58mm filter, it was time to buy another ND. I was originally planning to get a Genus or Tiffen filter (about $100 on Amazon), but noticed a $350 Heliopan, among many other cheaper options.

Would the Heliopan (costing three times as much as the Genus) be three times as good as the Genus? The only way to answer this would be getting one, doing a few non-scientific tests, and look at the images side-by-side. So that’s what I did.

All the tests where performed with a Panasonic GH4 on a tripod, pointed to the same wall, with diffused available light, within a 30-minute period. So, even though that light might change a bit I don’t think it is a significant factor to see the drastic differences below. Here are the most meaningful tests:

Lumix 12-35mm f2.8 at 35mm (70mm equivalent) with Heliopan Variable ND

Test-03 Lumix 12-35mm with Heliopan_850px

Lumix 35-100mm f2.8 at 35mm (70mm equivalent) with Heliopan Variable ND

Test-06 Lumix 35-100mm with Heliopan_850px

Canon 70-200mm f2.8 at 70mm with Genus Variable ND

Test-04 Canon 70-200mm with Genus_850px

Wow! What a difference between the Genus and the Heliopan! The first one is not only $225 cheaper, but the vignetting wasn’t as noticeable.

At that point I started wondering how much of that nasty vignetting was created by the lens and NOT by the ND filter. So I brought the widest Canon lens I had available a 24mm f1.4, and did another test.

Canon 24mm f1.4 at f2.8 with Genus Variable ND.

Test-05 Canon 24mm with Genus_850px

I was at a loss. There was some vignetting after drecreasing 4 stops, but never nearly as bad a the Heliopan on the Lumix lenses.

So the next step was to compare the Lumix 12-35mm f2.8 at 35mm (70mm equivalent), the Lumix 35-100mm f2.8 at 35mm (70mm equivalent), and the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 at 70mm WITHOUT any filters!


I didn’t see any issues or major differences between the Panasonic and Canon lenses, so I concluded that the Heliopan Variable ND filter was causing the vignetting issue. I returned the Heliopan and got a Vu Variable ND filter for my Panasonic lenses. Here are the results:

Lumix 12-35mm f2.8 at 35mm (70mm equivalent) with Vu Variable ND


Lumix 35-100mm f2.8 at 35mm (70mm equivalent) with Vu Variable ND


Lumix 12-35mm f2.8 Lens – Heliopan vs. Vu side-by-side


Lumix 35-100mm f2.8 Lens – Heliopan vs. Vu side-by-side


• Conclusions

None of this filter + lens combination is perfect. All the filters create some sort of vignette. After putting all the tests side by side, I picked the ones with a) the LEAST amount of vignetting and  b) the smoothest transition between one stop and the next one. Based on my won non-scientific experiments, with MY lenses, camera, computer, software, firmware, etc and only with one (somewhat) constant lighting scenario, the $102 Genus and the $125 Vu seem far superior than the $350 Heliopan.

Are you planning to buy one of these filters? Support upcoming tests and articles by using these links: Genus, Heliopan, Vu.

Did you find this article helpful? Please check out these online courses where I cover other essential filmmaking tools and techniques. Enjoy!



What’s the big deal with ND filters?

What’s the big deal with Neutral Density (ND) filters? Do we REALLY need to use them when shooting motion? We created a short video tutorial using Canon’s (super awesome) EOS C300 to demonstrate what happens when you can’t really control the light (shooting outdoors), you have too much of it (bright day, noon) and you want to use the aperture as a creative tool, not only as an exposure compensation tool. Remember that when shooting video we pretty much set and forget the shutter.

The C300 has three built-in ND filters; ND1 (+2), ND2, (+4) and ND3 (+6). We don’t have that luxury when using HDSLR systems, but we can always get a very nice variable ND filter that covers up to 8 stops!

Check the video below:

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