Why doesn’t my DSLR have a digital variable ND Filter?

A lot of you may be asking what the hell I’m talking about and I can’t blame you. Photographers have been using ND filters in the same way for generations to lower the exposure of an image for creative control. They’re in almost every photographer’s kit bag and we spend a fortune on them. A decent one can run to a couple of hundred quid but what if I told you you there was another way?

A million miles away from most photographer’s minds Sony released PXW-X160s earlier this year. A low level pro camcorder meant for documentary, corporate and general videography. As someone who does a fair amount of video work it was kind of underwhelming. I really look for interchangeable lenses these days and haven’t used something like this since the Sony FX1. It did however have a very intriguing feature which has only just come to my attention. One that should interest every photographer out there.

Digital Variable ND.

By using a liquid crystal element over the sensor Sony has created an ND which can go from transparent to 12 stop simply by passing a very low voltage current through it. This gives 128 steps of ND that the camera can seamlessly move between making it way more flexible than your shutter speed or aperture. I know this gets batted around a lot but this could be a game changer!

Check out the video….

The exposure triangle of Shutter speed, ISO and Aperture is something we all battle with. Changing any one to adjust the exposure of a shot has a cost; be is motion blur, grain or depth of field. The ND sits outside of everything with the only cost being possibly a little color cast. Sony’s even eliminated that problem! What amazes me the most about the video above is how fluid the transition is when it’s working on auto.

Having this in any high end DSLRs or mirrorless camera would be a killer feature and would benefit almost any photographer. Combine this with ISO ranges getting into the ridiculous (we’re talking to you again sony)  creative control in any lighting situation could soon be massively improved.

For the videographers out there Sony have announced this new tech in the Sony FS5 which launched in December. For everyone else, who knows? Maybe the long rumoured A9?

What are your thoughts? Would you pay extra to have this in your camera or are you happy fumbling around with slot in/screw on NDs?


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