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ND Grads - Hard or Soft?

fraser 15 631 14 Scotland
17 Oct 2011 12:06PM
Apologies of this has been discussed before but I'm looking for advice on whether to go for a hard or soft grad filter set. I've seen some advice that hard grads are best for a cropped sensor camera (I use an EOS 7D) but my instinct is to go for softs as I fancy the transition for hards would be too steep for me in most circumstances. I'm guessing that you could increase the effect of the transition (if needed) by using stacked filters - am I right or is that just a daft idea?

Any other advice would also be appreciated.


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discreetphoton Plus
14 3.5k 20 United Kingdom
17 Oct 2011 12:22PM

Quote:I'm guessing that you could increase the effect of the transition (if needed) by using stacked filters - am I right

No, just the strength of the filtration.
A lot of it depends on the diameter of your lens as well, because of the percentage of cover over the front element. I found that a harder grad is better on smaller lenses (eg, my Tamron 18-270 with a 62mm filter thread), as the transition of the soft covers too much of the frame. However, on lenses with a wider element (eg, the 77mm thread on my 17-55mm Nikkor), I would use a softer grad in most cases.
You also need harder grads if using telephoto lenses, and obviously the type of horizon affects things too. A tree line will beg for a softer grad than an ocean horizon. It's a bit of a mine field.
fraser 15 631 14 Scotland
17 Oct 2011 12:29PM
David, thanks for your comments. The filters will be used with the Canon 10-22 and 24-105, so that's another point towards softs.

I was thinking if you varied the horizon position between stacked grads you might be able to steepen the grad effect, but I understand what you're saying about degree of filtration.
h4rsx 9 17 5 United Kingdom
17 Oct 2011 12:58PM
I have a set of both hard and soft and find that I use hard grads 70% of the time. 20% of the time using both, ie. a Hard and soft grad at the same time, and 10% of the time just soft grads. Perhaps this is due to my own style or type of shots I take. Ie. Sunrise and Sunset shots where the sun is lower in the sky, only hard grads will hold back the light as its strongest around the horizon, whereas soft grads are at their weakest at the horizon and strongest at the top, so perhaps more suited to shooting away from a sunset?!

If you can afford it, get both sets, as you will find you use both at some point or another.

sut68 15 2.0k 76 England
17 Oct 2011 1:07PM
My recommendation to you would be for the hard variety Fraser, the transition isn't as noticeable as you might think on a wide angle - to my eye I would say it's about as noticeable as a soft grad on a full-frame sensor.

Most of my landscape work [when filters are needed] involves using a hard grad - possibly combined with a soft to achieve a softer overall transition - to get what I am after. The trick at times is where you place the grad for maximum effect, along the horizon is not the only place it can go Wink

Soft filters can be a little limiting at times as I find you have to push them down slightly more to get the filter to register on brighter horizons for example, this then has the effect of darkening the portion of the scene below the horizon a little too much for my liking.

If you could afford to get a full set of both then do so, but if not then my choice would be for set of hard and also a 0.6ND soft.

JackAllTog Plus
10 5.6k 58 United Kingdom
17 Oct 2011 1:16PM
Reverse Grads, you said other opinions may be of interest.
In your PF, you have more morning and evening shots than traditional daytime landscapes. A reverse grad has more filtering on the horizon band than in the sky (and none in the foreground). So it allows you to reduse the brightest part of the sky (horizon) for sunrises and sunsets.
JohnParminter 12 1.3k 14 England
17 Oct 2011 1:16PM
I'm a soft grad afficionado I must say if only for the reason that I have never used or own any hard grads - so best not to listen to my biased opinion.

Listen to Paul, I'd say.

fraser 15 631 14 Scotland
17 Oct 2011 1:40PM
Thanks for your advice guys. AT the moment I can only afford one set so hards I think it will be with the intention of buying a set of softs as soon as possible.

John, sorry I didn't mark your post as helpful but it sure as hell made me smileGrin

Landlord 12 25 1 Scotland
17 Oct 2011 2:02PM
Hi Fraser, I own both but rarely use the hard, if at all! The advise I got on my 1st set was that if its mountains your photographing you need soft, if its seascapes go for hard (or the reverse grads as mentioned above). You could always save 100 and blend like loads on here do..!
MarkBauer 9 127 1
17 Oct 2011 2:07PM
Hi, a couple of other things to consider:
1. it depends a bit on which brand you're buying. For example, Lee hard transitions are much softer than the Hi-tech hard grads. (Not sure about Cokin). So if getting Lee, I would agree with Paul and say get hard grads, for the reasons he mentions. If getting Hi-tech, then get the soft ones, which are much more similar to Lee hard grads.
2. If you can't afford to get full sets of hard and soft grads, consider getting the following (assuming you're buying Lee):
-two-stop hard
-three-stop hard
-three-stop soft
That will cover pretty much everything you need to do - I haven't used a one-stop hard grad for longer than I can remember, and have never used the one-stop soft on 35mm (film or digital)
A Lee three-stop soft grad on a crop sensor can be very flexible; the transition area is spread over such a large percentage of the sensor that you can vary the effect quite a lot just by how you position the sensor, yet still obtain a reasonably natural-looking result.

sherlob Plus
13 3.0k 129 United Kingdom
17 Oct 2011 2:15PM
Hi Fraser,

I believe Pauls advice is good (as you'd expect of a photographer of his calibre). I use a full frame and as many of my landscapes have a strong reflective element (usually a lake or similar) I often find the soft grads work best as I need the transition to well below the the horizon line - although I also use a combination of hard and soft if I have a strong horizon line. Having read similar threads in the past I have often heard it said that on a cropped sensor the hard grad transition is not too dissimilar to a soft grad when using a full frame sensor. I doubt you will be disappointed with your purchase and I look forward to seeing the results.

Paul - out of interest - does Fran agree with your argument when using the 5D or does she make more use of the soft grads?


fraser 15 631 14 Scotland
17 Oct 2011 2:16PM
Phil, I blend and/or use HDR quite a lot as it is but I haven't quite got the effect I was looking for on a couple of shots recently and would like the flexibility of grads.

Mark, thanks for the tip on which densities/grads to get - it makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately I don't have the cash for Lee filters so it'll be Hi-Techs this time (besides, there's a huge shortfall in Lee supplies at the moment with waiting times of up to 20 weeks).

fraser 15 631 14 Scotland
17 Oct 2011 2:21PM
Adam, thanks for your input. I think I might look at the gradation of the HiTech softs to see how this compares to Lee hards. I think this might be the way to go based on all the advice above:

HiTech 2-stop soft
HiTech 3-stop soft
HiTech 3-stop hard

Phil, meant to to ask, do you use a full- or cropped-frame camera?

Landlord 12 25 1 Scotland
17 Oct 2011 2:30PM
Both Fraser, 5D & 7D but I still use the soft grads on both cameras now with a little added blending.... Well lots actually!
Kris_Dutson 16 8.2k 1 England
17 Oct 2011 2:48PM
Both Lee (blended) and Cokin (121F) do a blended filter that has no 'line' as it fades from approx 3 stops at the top to 1 stop at the bottom. This is great for losing the grad line (something I hate) on obvious sticky up bits and is my most used filter. Smile

For normal use, like John, it's soft for me.

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