84.5mm medium reversed Graduated ND Square Filter Review

Filter applied to reproduce the tones of sunset. The darker part coincide with the lower part of the sky.

(Disclaimer: I’m not related to 84.5mm, this review is not sponsored and I bought the filters with my own money)

Continuing my series of reviews today I present my thoughts about a reverse graduated filter manufactured by 84.5mm in Slovakia. Their filters have great quality at an accessible price, but first some basic data:

  • What is a Reverse Graduated ND Square Filter? Is a filter that can be made of glass or resin with a half part totally clear and the other half darkened, this dark half usually is darker in the top and less dark in the end of its half, but in a reversed filter the darker part is at the bottom. It’s square so it needs a holder to put in front of the lens; ND stands for neutral density so it shouldn’t deform the colors of your scene. In short it’s like put a shadow in part of the front of your lens.
  • Do I need a Reverse Graduated ND Filter? If you shot landscapes, sunsets, sunrises… yes! Because the camera cannot see what your eyes can see in terms of highlights and shadows. If your camera is old then absolutely, but if you have a camera manufactured in 2014 or 2015 with a big sensor then not so much, you can simulate more or less successfully the effect with any modern raw converter.
  • Which one to buy? The cheapest you get is probably to be unusable for you. The cheapest ones have magenta casts. There are brands like Lee that sells them but they are expensive to my budget so I canont say much about them, the only problem with the most of companies that make them is that they are mostly made of resin and they always get scratches. I can say that 84.5mm’s filters are of quite good quality with a great price but they’re also made of resin (optical glass) and recently Chinese companies have real glass reverse graduated filters that I want to try next to reduce the costs to be buying one new every year.
  • Why you don’t use a soft or strong graduated ND filter? I can use my reverse filter to replace those filters, I’ll explain it with more detail.

The filter in the camera

84.5mm medium reversed ND mounted in camera. It’s attached via a Cokin type “P” holder, it allows me to rotate it to any position I want.

The filter is unfocused here, but it shows the effect. The sky under the “shadow” of the filter get the tones I see with my eyes and the the clear part is crystal clear.

THE 84.5mm REVERSE GRADUATED FILTER IS IDEAL FOR ME TO
SUNSETS AND SUNRISES

The darker part of the filter in the lens in mode tele coincides with the position of the sun rendering perfectly with the subtle warm tones.

I don’t use soft or hard graduated filters because they are darker in the upper part, and the sun never is going to be in the upper part in sunsets and sunrises.

Also I prefer to use graduated filters over digital techniques like HDR because in that part of the day usually there is wind or movement. And it feels more honest, of course every photograph here was shot in RAW and processed, but with the goal to get a photograph closer to what my eyes saw.

Stitched image with three photographs. The filter helped to get the field illuminated and the colors in the mountains show the highlights perfectly rendered, without it either the fields had been dark or the sky almost white.

As in the previous photograph the fields are not black despite the sun has gone and the sky shows detail in the clouds. Notice how the tree look like a silhouette but it’s the natural way we looked we our eyes.

CLOUDY DAYS

Without the filter the detail of the fog and clouds hadn’t be so well rendered.

This photograph could look not so amazing but the detail I got in the shining parts of the morning is amazing, without the filter that white line would be just something empty.

The clouds have such a drama… the filter allowed to make it possible, for me it’s vital to landscapes, its effect is quite subtle in comparison to using only digital tools, at least in older cameras.

TO BE CREATIVE

I darkened the top of the hills, so the silhouette could make them more impressive.

If you use this filter just to avoid clipped highlights then you’re using it just mechanically, you are not exploding the creative opportunities this filter opens for you. You can add drama shadowing parts of the scene, highlighting other parts. It can helps you not just to reproduce an scene but to say what you want to mean.

I darkened the part of the distant city, it was so shiny and my goal was to highlight the errant animal, its loneliness.

The darkest part of the filter coincides with the crashing waves in the foreground, so they could conserve their details, another benefit is that the stones are silhouettes so they contrast better with the clear water.

I CAN USE IT AS A SOFT FILTER

I used a reverse filter with this landscape and I didn’t need a soft graduated filter (another thing in the bag, nah!)

What happens when do you use a reverse grad on a landscape that is not flat? usually something nasty like it:

The darkest part literally is cutting the hills, in this case it doesn’t look natural so except to an artistic interpretation try to avoid this.

The trick is quite simple: buy a reverse graduated filter whose dark part is bigger than the diameter of your lens so you can invert the filter and align the middle (the darkest part) with the top of your lens and the top (the less dark part) with the bottom. Then it would be similar to another filter called attenuator. That way I make photographs in landscapes with hills.

Using my method I can use the reverse gnd like a soft filter.

THIS FILTER (OR ANY SIMILAR) IS NOT FANTASTIC FOR
QUITE IRREGULAR SHAPES

I loved the clouds in the part illuminated by the sunset so I used the filter despite annulling the hills.

A shape in “V” is quite complicated to resolve with graduated filters. Perhaps there an HDR could be useful but that’s another complication I don’t want to introduce to my shots.

WIDE ANGLE LENSES

See the tree in the right. It’s noticeable the line of the shadow of the filter. I cropped it to dissimulated it a bit but you can see it.

In wide angle lenses the line of these filters is more noticeable, a way to reduce it is reducing the aperture to f8 for example. Here I admit that a soft gnd would be ideal, but I can live without it.

CONCLUSIONS
PROS
  • High quality filter with no color casts.
  • Very affordable prices with regular promotions.
  • They send worldwide (I live in Peru)
  • Several lines for cokin P size and professional size.
  • Resistance to flares.
  • Durable considering the material.
CONS
  • They’re made of resin, durable but they scratch anyway. These days Chinese have lines in high quality glass.
  • They don’t sell a box to storage them, in their package they scratch with the time and to the size I choose, taller than the square Cokin P filters but with 84.5mm of width hence the name, there is no box were to reduce the damage.
VERDICT

They are the best alternative in relation quality/price I got. So I bought one the last year and another one this year. But this is a hobby to me so I cannot justify to buy every year again and again, in my personal case I’m going to buy a Chinese one, a bit pricier but not so much. If you are used to resin filters I can recommend warmly these filters for you.

*UPDATE: You can see the official page of 84.5mm with the e-shop here.

Perfect landscape.

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12 thoughts on “84.5mm medium reversed Graduated ND Square Filter Review

  1. Thanks for this review :) – I am waging if I should try out ND filters, your post gave me some much needed information on the topic.

    1. If I’m not wrong you have a D810 or D800. ND filters are a must to long exposures with daylight, but graduated filters for your camera are less needed, in my opinion. If you see that you exposer for highlights in sunsets, for example, and when you recover shadows they’re noisy then a grad could be useful for you. But if there isn’t problem with noise then a grad just would be useful for you to creative things. Thanks Krister.

  2. thank you Francis, useful info.. about filters. when i first got into photography i bought a set.. not a good set.. and they were round. and glass, they screwed on. i used them a few times.. but it was a hassle. im a lazy photog:)!! i dont even like to carry my tripod. that was many years ago…and 3 (primary) cameras ago. i loved seeing your landscape. gorgeous work!!!!
    take care.

    1. Yes, definitely they’re a hassle to carry on X_X Sometimes I wonder if I would save to get a more modern camera to avoid tripods or square filters but it loos so much money for something that it’s just a hobby.
      Thanks for the compliments kind lady :-) Greetings from far away,
      Francis.

  3. It’s beautiful, I love the sunset pictures. It’s just gorgeous. I can see why the filter is so popular, it allows you to make AMAZING pictures ! It’s still a bit too much for my budget, but maybe one day :p

    1. I know you’d do wonderful photographs, just remember to don’t rob the fun of your shooting experience, they can take some precious seconds to mount in the camera but when they’re there they can make close the camera to your eyes :-)

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