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Tiffen Variable ND Filter Review

A test of the Tiffen Variable ND filter.

|  Tiffen 77mm Variable ND in Filters
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Tiffen's Variable ND provides a single filter solution for landscape photographers who want to slow down the shutter speed when photographing seascapes and waterfalls, or to show movement in foliage and clouds. Architectural photographers and Portrait photographers will also find the filter offers creative advantages too. It's one of the more expensive filters made so Peter Bargh sees if it's worth what appears to be its weight in gold.

77mm Variable ND

Tiffen Variable ND Filter Features

The Tiffen Variable ND is a neutral density filter with a chunky rotating mount offering a variable degree of exposure reduction from ND2 (1 stop) to ND400 (8 stops). The lens is marked with a series of stops from minimum to maximum to indicate roughly where each increase in exposure occurs.

It was available in just 77mm, but there are now six sizes ranging from 52mm up to 82mm. The 77mm tested here costs £240 (or £160 currently at Amazon) and is supplied in a soft protective pouch case with built in lens cloth.

Tiffen Variable ND Filter with Case

Tiffen Variable ND Filter Handling

This variable ND filter is two sheets of polarising filter mounted in a thick filter ring. The front ring rotates and by turning you increase or reduce light transmission. It's a much more substantial looking filter than the SRB version we tested recently, and over twice as heavy at 89g.

The rotating part is large so you can get a good grip, but this dominates the rim so screwing into a lens can be quite tricky with gloves as you can be turning the outer rim and not screwing into the lens. But once in place this 7mm deep rim is really easy to grip and rotate.

The deep rim would easily cause vignetting on most wide angles, so the filter has been designed with the rim being a larger 85mm diameter.

The exposure scale is not centred on the top of the lens (same with the SRB version). It would be good if you could line it up, especially as the scale is hidden under the lens when used in standard landscape orientation, but that may over complicate the design.

Tiffen Variable ND Filter On Lens

Tiffen Variable ND Filter Performance

Variable NDs suffer from a cross pattern at the higher settings. So I photographed a white screen to clearly show any unevenness of exposure and highlight any potential colour cast that is often seen when combining polarising filters.

The first 13 shots below are with the lens set at 12mm, ISO200 and f/8 and the last three at 24mm. The filter was rotated using the marker scale, which is far more accurate than the SRB version. The change in exposure is gradual from the first stop to the last, so it's easy to be precise, unlike the SRB version.

The cross pattern is bad on the wider angle setting and will be noticeable on photos when you reach the seventh stop or more.

You can see from the last three frames at 24mm, that the cross pattern is much less of a problem when you use longer focal length lenses - the last dark frame was, like all other frames, on auto and the camera meter has been fooled. You need to remember to increase the exposure when shooting at the maximum setting - even the middle exposure needs a small exposure increase to compensate.

The colour is very neutral through the range with no significant shift in hue.

You can see even though the filter rim is stepped out from the filter ring it still vignettes very slightly on the extreme wide angle setting (see the tight clipped corners). It's such a little amount that it could easily be either cloned out or the photo cropped down slightly or just shoot with a slightly less wide angle.

Variable NDCross Pattern No Filter | 1/20 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
1/20sec - No filter
Tiffen Variable ND Cross Pattern - minimum setting | 1/8 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
1/8sec - Minimum Setting
Tiffen Variable ND Cross Pattern 2 | 1/6 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
1/6 sec
Tiffen Variable ND Cross Pattern 3 | 1/4 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
1/4 sec
Tiffen Variable ND Cross Pattern 4 | 0.3 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
0.3 sec
Tiffen Variable ND Cross Pattern 5 | 0.5 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
0.5 sec
Tiffen Variable ND Cross Pattern 6 | 0.7 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
0.7 sec
Tiffen Variable ND Cross Pattern 7 | 1.5 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
1.5 sec
Tiffen Variable ND Cross Pattern 8 | 2 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
2 sec
Tiffen Variable ND Cross Pattern 9 | 4 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
4 sec
Tiffen Variable ND Cross Pattern 10 | 6 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
6 sec
Tiffen Variable ND Cross Pattern 11 | 8 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
8 sec
Tiffen Variable ND Cross Pattern  - maximum setting | 15 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 200
15 sec - Maximum setting
Tiffen Variable Nd Filter White Wall - Filter at stage minimum setting| 1/15 sec | f/7.1 | 24mm | ISO 200
24mm 1/15 sec
Tiffen Variable Nd Filter White Wall - Filter at maximum setting | 0.5 sec | f/7.1 | 24mm | ISO 200
24mm lens 0.5 sec
Tiffen Variable Nd Filter White Wall 13 - Filter at extreme position | 0.8 sec | f/7.1 | 24mm | ISO 200
24mm lens 0.8 sec

Here's what happens when the cross pattern occurs in a real life scene.

Tiffen Variable ND Filter 1 | 1.3 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 100 Tiffen Variable ND Filter 5 | 15 sec | f/8.0 | 12.0 mm | ISO 100

Left is near minimum setting with an exposure of 1.3 sec at f/8 on the 12mm wide angle. Right is the same scene with the filter on maximum setting, resulting in a 15sec exposure and the cross pattern causing darkening of areas of the scene.

Another aspect of this type of filter is the potential reduction of sharpness. To check this out a sheet of stamps were illuminated with a flash modelling light and photographed with an 80-320mm lens set at 320mm on a Pentax K20D. The first is a straight shot without a filter attached (below left), the second shot (below middle) is the filter attached and set to minimum strength and the third shot (below right) is the filter set to maximum strength.

Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version and note there's no significant quality loss. This is a sign of quality material used. If you hold the filter to your eye and move it up or down the view should be clear and wobble free, unlike the view you see looking through cheaper models such as the SRB tested earlier.

Tiffen Variable ND Sharpness No Filter | 1/30 sec | f/5.6 | 320.0 mm | ISO 200
1/30 sec - no filter
Tiffen Variable ND Sharpness minimum setting | 1/10 sec | f/5.6 | 320.0 mm | ISO 200
1/10 sec  - minimum setting
Tiffen Variable ND Sharpness maximum setting | 10 sec | f/5.6 | 320.0 mm | ISO 200
10 sec - maximum setting

While using the filter the polarising aspect was not working, so the filter won't reduce reflections. This was not the case with the SRB version. So that's another sign a lot of effort has gone in to making this filter do its job as just an ND.

After using the filter for a while I noticed that the exposure scale was not correcly positioned like it was at the begining of the test. Now the Max setting was not the maximum. You had to rotate past that position to get full strength. I realised that this was due to the rear sheet being slightly lose in the mount so it had rotated in the mount. There's no way this can be tightened without a special tool so could be an inconvenience if it becomes loose.

Value For Money

The Tiffen Variable ND is 6x the price of the SRB Variable ND and is more competitively priced than the Kenko Variable ND with its incredible £360 price tag! The Tiffen is optically and mechanically far superior than the SRB, so if quality is your main factor it makes sense to consider the Tiffen. 

Tiffen Variable ND Filter Verdict

The Tiffen Variable ND is a chunky filter that's clearly very well built. It's optically very good, so you can rely on sharp detail and accurate colours, but due to the way polarisers work you cannot avoid the cross pattern that starts to affect the filter at the higher ND settings. If those are the areas you work in most it would be better to buy a fixed ND, otherwise this is a versatile option that has many uses.

Tiffen Variable ND Filter Pros

Optical quality
Easy to adjust - even with thick gloves
Wide exposure range
Fairly accurate steps on scale.

Tiffen Variable ND Filter Cons

Cross pattern at the maximum settings
Scale's position cannot be change
Rear filter become loose so scale was no longer aligned
Thick rim shows tight corner vignette on wide lenses


Tiffen 77mm Variable ND Specifications

Box Contents
Box Contentspouch case, cleaning cloth

View Full Product Details


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Consultant 13 51 United Kingdom
18 Oct 2012 2:15AM
Would love to see the Singh-Ray Vari ND also added to the group test:

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22 Nov 2012 1:33AM
No wonder so many reviews at B&H complained about the uneven exposure. This is a crap filter - an over-priced crap filter to boot!
teabelly 8 45 England
1 Jan 2013 10:52PM
The singh-ray looks great but soo expensive!

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