Sunglasses for your camera” may very well be the best way to describe what a neutral density (ND) filter does for your photography. They allow for slower shutter speeds to be used in lighting conditions that would otherwise overexpose your photograph.
Of course, many of you already understand this and the overall concept of ND filters. You also understand that as far as filters are concerned there is an enormous range to choose from with an equally enormous range of quality. Glass grade, coatings, frame material, and construction methods all come together to influence the quality of your filters and the final image.
Did they succeed? We’re going to find out.
The folks at Breakthrough Photography sent over two gradients of the X3 Neutral Density Filters, the newest addition to their X-Series line of ND filters. The two filters, a 77mm 3-stop and a 77mm 6-stop arrived well packaged along with a step down ring to fit the smaller 67mm size of my test lens which was the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS mounted to a Sony A7r. It’s worth mentioning that the adapter ring itself was a solidly made piece of CNC machined aluminum. It fit both the X3 filter and my lens very well with no binding or signs of misalignment.
Let’s start at the very beginning and take a look at the containers for the filters themselves. It’s a small feature to some people but I believe that packaging is always a good indicator of the effort a company puts into their product. The filters arrived housed in separate heavyweight cardboard boxes.
Inside each box is a plastic case which holds the actual filter. Breakthrough Photography claims these filters are the best manufactured and the design of the filter cases demonstrates this. The filter is nestled like a baby bird within a soft foam cutout.
There is no need to worry about the filter accidentally sliding out of the case as soon as you open the lid. Also, the foam cradle conveniently has two half moon finger recesses that make removing and replacing the filter back into its holder extremely easy. These filters were tested over a three day camping/hiking trip and the cases protected the filters beautifully .
Handle & Feel
When I first handled the filters I immediately noticed how sturdy they felt in hand. Substantial but not heavy. I suppose the word to use here would be “solid.” They definitely do seem to fit the “workhorse” designation that Breakthrough Photography places on them. The frames are manufactured from brass and there is a good reason for this. Brass is a metal that is not very prone to galling or binding.
The filters are easily stacked as well.
You commonly see brass used in parts such as bearings and bushings because it isn’t as prone to getting stuck. Aluminum on the other hand is somewhat prone to galling. This means that since the X3 is made of brass, by it’s very metallurgical properties, it is less likely to get jammed than are filters crafted from aluminum. Each X3 filter is electroplated in matte black with the filter type and serial number laser etched, not painted, into the filter metal itself for long lasting identifying of your filter.
Another great feature of the X3 is the “traction” frame concept. It’s one of those nice things that makes you wonder why it’s not present on more filter frames. The traction teeth which are machined into the outer circumference of the filter frame are there to make the removal and attachment of the filters an absolute breeze.
And below we have a filter without the traction frame. The difference is obvious.
Say goodbye to stuck filters when stacking. Fumbling around in winter with numb fingers (I’m not advocating it) trying to tighten filters is no longer problematic. These traction ridges really add a confident feeling of control during quick filter changes in the field when you’re racing a sunset.
Though a simple idea it is one of my favorite additions to the X3 ND filter