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DIY $10 10-Stop Neutral Density (ND) Filter

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Most photographers at one point or another wished they had access to a ND or Neutral Density filter. But at $100 or more per filter, that might be hard for an amateur or enthusiast photographer to justify the cost. Fear no more, this guide will show you how to build your own reusable 10 stop ND filter on the cheap. If you already have a spare UV filter, then you can do this project for less than $10. That's less than $1 per stop!  Because this build is not permanent , you can use the ND filter on different lenses with different filter sizes. You can also use step down rings too if you have multiple lenses. Actual performance of this ND filter is anywhere between 10-12 stops depending on conditions, camera metering and quality of the welders glass.

A ND filter is essentially a dark piece of glass that reduces the amount of light entering the lens.  For this project, the ND filter will reduce the amount of light by 10 STOPS!  Why would anyone want to reduce the amount of light entering the camera? Well, by reducing the amount of light, we can use a slower shutter speed. This will create motion blur (great for moving water). Another popular reason for using a ND filter is to use a larger aperture, creating thinner depth of field without over exposing.  If you want to know more about ND filters, check out the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutral_density_filter.

If you're ready, lets begin.

Things you will need:
  • Welder's Glass/Lens Green Shade #10, <$10 on Amazon
  • DSLR or camera with manual controls
  • Lens or lens adapter that accepts threaded filters
  • A spare UV filter. These are pretty cheap, sometimes free if you buy camera related items on sites such as Amazon
  • Tripod
  • Remote for your camera
  • Lens cleaning supplies
  • Black or dark electrical tape. Must be dark to prevent light leaks
  • Time
  • Working knowledge of long exposures
  • Optional: Step down rings
 
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brittmiles229 months ago
So I created my ND filter using the welder's glass/lens shade green #10, but my pictures are coming out highly saturated in green. Have I missed a step in this process? If so, how can I correct it?! Thanks in advance for the help.

P.S. Here are the items I used: shade green #10 glass, Tiffen UV protection filter to attach my welder's glass to, and electrical tape.

See step 7:

"Most likely you will need to tweak the white balance and tint. Since the welder's glass is slightly green, you will need to compensate this green tint."

Just open your photo in your favorite photo editor (Photoshop, Paint.net, GIMP, etc) and you can reduce the amount of "green" in the photo.

This is a fantastic Idea! I glued my welders glass to a cokin adapter (the screw in part that attaches to the lens) I got on ebay for less than $2... It will be nice to have a removable ones as well to use on my other lenses!

It might be easier to use cokin adapters and tape the glass to that. It's flat around the edges, so the taping would probably be easier... I'll have to get another glass and try it!
imjasonc (author)  Camping_DIY_Chick1 year ago
sounds good!

cokin adapter should work well.
aplauche1 year ago
great idea. quick question: is the uv lens just to serve as an interface to connect the welders glass to the camera? it seems like the welders glass would filter UV as is.
ck00501 year ago
I had the luck of finding round welding mask lenses with 50mm diameter. It fits exactly in a 52mm filter, so I just removed the glass from an UV filter and replaced with this one. Perfect!, but its green tinted... Well special effects are always welcome...
biggerilla1 year ago
While I think your technique is easily achieved and useful in the field, to a point, I believe I would get more use out of a Graduated ND filter. For the most part when shooting views of considerable contrasting light levels, I reach for my Grad ND filter. Putting the darker section of the filter over the lens to cover the brighter section of the seen (ie the sky) produces a sky with well defined clouds and makes it actually printable without having to fuss about with Photoshop.

Yes, the filters are bloody expensive. But, every time you put additional glass in front of your lens, you are degrading the image quality. The more expensive filters are designed to keep that degradation (if any) to an absolute minimum. Something tells me that a welders glass doesn't take that degradation into consideration.

For limited application, I could see your project being absolutely suitable. It's a good project, but with limited application.
imjasonc (author)  biggerilla1 year ago
thanks for your comment!

your right that this welder's glass is not the best optically. However, this is instructables. People are interested in mods, alternatives and diy projects even if there is a store bought solution. im sure you can go around this site and just say "you can buy something that is better" to every other guide, but then youre kinda missing the point of this site.

Enjoy!
arpruss2 years ago
Instead of welder's glass, with its unknown color balance, couldn't you just buy the darkest 20"x21" lighting ND gel filter ($7 plus shipping), and just stack it to get the effect you want?
Your results would be unpredictable, because that sort of filter is not designed to be part of the system of lens elements that produce the image on the sensor.

I suppose you could try it. But if that were the case, I don't think manufacturers of the lens filters would actually be selling any. The pro shooters would simply use your idea.
dave132 years ago
If you know someone who is really into stained glass, you might be able to get them to cut the welder's lens on their bandsaw.
Ranie-K2 years ago
imjasonc (author)  Ranie-K2 years ago
this is instructables, buying it is not the same as the spirit of building it. plus my welder's lens is reusable with different lenses.
I think you have to accept that Instructabilians are an eclectic mix. Many of us only make things that don't exist or we can't afford. Personally I would feel stupid making something I could buy cheaply; I would rather use my limited time making something else.

As for a range of lenses, commercial filters are stackable; a set consisting of ND2, ND4 and ND8 (<$10 from China) will give you 6 ND's all the way to ND64 (mind you anything beyond ND16 is fairly unlikely to find much use i{^_^}).

Having said that I love your picture of the deserted bridge. One of my favorite pictures is a late 1800's plate I rescued taken in the Melbourne Government library. The exposure time was so long that even the hour hand on the clock is a lost blur.
imjasonc (author)  Light_Lab2 years ago
its ok, you dont have to feel stupid for making something you can buy cheaply. people have different reason for building. some just do it for the sake of accomplishment while others do it out of need. some just do it as a proof of concept. A good portion of this site will not exist if cost was the primary motivational factor. most of the food guides probably cost more than eating out after you source all the ingredients, but you know, thats not the point. glad you enjoy the photo.
I miss a time when I could make things for the fun of it, many years ago, nowadays I am sole supporter for a wife with a chronic mental condition without financial support from the government. I don't even scratch my nose unless I can make a buck. The only reason I put up some instructables was because I was hoping to win a prize.
Light_Lab2 years ago
Or you could just buy a real one at the source for a few dollars:

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/52mm-Neutral-Density-ND4-Filter-52mm-lens-/250825426359?pt=Camera_Filters&hash=item3a665c45b7

Help a few malnourished Chinese kids instead of helping fat cat retailers ripoff a new BMW.
Would it be possible/feasible to cut the welder's lens so it is round?
The whole square thing seems to beg for problems.
imjasonc (author)  omalachowski2 years ago
im sure you can trim the edges with a glass cutter. but realize you need some surface for the electrical tape. or you can glue a filter onto the welders glass and use a step down ring for different lenses.
richardsan2 years ago
so if i understand this correctly, you'd have to dismount the welders lens from the 'sacrificial lens' and re mount it on another sized 'sacrificial' lens ? i understand the DIY aspect of your effort, but seeing as how the taping is quite a lot of work, that there is some futility in this, esp. when there are sub $8 ND lenses available? i don't know the cost of having(in my case) 4 different sized extra clear filters(77, 72, 67, 62) to use your instruct able with, but i'm assuming that it would be near or higher than your arrangement. i did like the energy behind this, and it also linked to a low cost solution, in my case. for about $40 i can get 4 ND filtres for my 4 lenses. i do have welders glass for other purposes, i might try this anyway before i plunk down on something i didn't think i needed...; ^)
thank you!
imjasonc (author)  richardsan2 years ago
taping portion of this guide took 2 mins at most. if you use a large filter, say a 77mm filter, then you can use a step down adapter to attach it on to your smaller size lens.
If you have a "sacrificial" (suggesting it's an extra) filter to use, there is no harm in mounting it permanently to the welder's glass using glue or epoxy that's meant for glass.

Use one for the largest filter size you use ie 77mm and then use step-down rings to reduce the size for different filter sizes on your different lenses. The step down rings are very inexpensive, far less than sacrificing another filter. I get them for about $5 at a local camera store.

You can even mount a large step down ring to the glass in the first place. Either way, then your ND filter would be truly universal for all your lenses.

This is a great idea and one that I will soon try out. Thanks
imjasonc (author)  iamunique1272 years ago
yes, that works too. great idea!
jolshefsky2 years ago
Have you tested the color neutrality? I'd be curious to set a fixed white balance (e.g. sunlight, or a manual setting) then take a picture without the filter, then take the same picture with the filter (adjusting exposure as necessary) and compare the color balance.

Ideally, you should check against a known pattern and test each color swatch on it in software. I suspect the welding glass is pretty close but not perfect.
Color balance will definitely be an issue. These cheap filters are designed to block the strong, brilliant light from an arc welder and not color fidelity. Most of the current DSLR cameras (no ideas about point and shoots) allow a Custom White Balance to be set from an image taken and is on the "chip". The idea is to take a photo of a plain white "card" (paper, fabric, etc) with the filter installed. The camera then resets the WB to make that "value" as white. The following images will be closer to a "natural" light. Be sure to return the WB setting to your normal usage after shooting with the filter. The same holds for shooting in the yellow sodium street lights.
schechm2 years ago
You can get "welder's glass" in
Shade 5
Shade 10
Shade 14
Any welder's supply place should have all three of those.

imjasonc (author)  schechm2 years ago
yep! not everyone needs a 10 stop nd filter.
LOL.. true... not everyone needs a camera.
But, if you want a #10 ND... this is a fun way to DYI.

EXCELLENT-ibble!

I actually picked up one of those at Home Depot for $5, last year.
They were changing brands or something...
(I won't mention that it's just sitting in my tool box drawer, unused so far)
rozaq2 years ago
Thanks for your tutorial. :)

But, i wanted to ask about "Welder's Glass/Lens Green Shade #10" where can i buy it? any links maybe? because i've searched at amazon but i'm scared i've got a wrong items.
skylane rozaq2 years ago
Home Depot and Lowes have them. just about any hardware store that has welding supplies.
imjasonc (author)  rozaq2 years ago
you can find the glass by searching "Welding Lens" on amazon. buy the square kind. You want the actual glass component, not the helmet or the mask. You can get the rectangular kind too as long as it covers your filter. There are different shades, some are darker than others. Its up to you how dark you want it. The darker it is, the more light reduction. If you want to get the brand i used, you can see it in the 2nd photo.

If youre not sure, you can go to a hardware store and check samples. Bring your filter with you to see if everything fits. This will be easier as you get to handle the actual glass piece. You can check it out in store then buy it online. ;)
Frost02 years ago
or you can buy a cokin p filter with adapter at less than 10$ on ebay.

Wildrat2 years ago
I used welders glass when in England with my Pentax K1000 to photograph an eclipse of the sun in the early 80's. It was my first pics using the glass and the photos were great.
If someone decides to try this and there is a welding supplier you will have more choices and possible less cost.
bertus52x112 years ago
Thanks for this Instructable!
That's great. Very clever. :)
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