Neutral Density Filter

I have an issue with the sharpness and detail of my pictures. My digital is a great little 3.2 megapixel Sony, and I 've been thinking of ordering the neutral density filter, since I've heard some chasers singing its praises. Can someone tell me more about this piece of equipment?
A ND (Neutral Density) Filter is really nothing more than a dark piece of glass. The color tint is usually a shadel of black (Hence the neutral) so it won't affect the color. They come in varying tints usually +1, +3, and +8.

What they do is cut down the amount of light coming ni through the lens. They are great on bright days where you might need a slower shutter speed and not blow out the highlights of the photo.

There are also variations of the ND Filter. These would be a Gradual Split ND and a Split ND, and a Center cradual ND. Respectively: One half the filter is tinted gradually to the Center, darkest on the outside edge. One half the filter is tinted, straight. The Centerline of the filter is tinted graduating out to top and bottom.

The good ones are expensive. The Cheap ones aren't so expensive, but aren't always quite neutral in tint either. The best one are LEE (Filter plate system similar to Cokin, some filters can be used with the Cokin system), Tiffen, B+W. There's atleat a couple more manufacturer's I can't pull off the top of my head right now.
For graduated neutral density filters I have used Hitech. Still farily costly at $40 a filter, but since it uses the Cokin P mount, I can use it on all of my lenses.

The very best IMHO is Singh-Ray, however, these filters are quite expensive ($100 for Cokin P mount) . Despite this, the results from Singh-Ray filters are remarkable to say the least.
Check out the galleries and what not on thewebsite. Singh-Ray is a relatively small business that caters to individual needs (will custom produce filters) and strives for excellent customer service.

Thanks for helping me out there Aaron. I should have remembered Singh-Ray for the mere fact I can't afford them! :lol: I haven't used High Tech's stuff but I've read good things about them.

On another note, I would stay away from Cokin's ND Filters unless you are really desperate. They are not truly neutral and are more like grey smoke filters.
My problem is that a lot of the cloud and background in my pictures tends to be washed out. Correcting that would go a long way towards improving the quality of my pictures.
Along with Aaron's C/PL filter, how about using a tripod? If not a tripod, you can use the door of your car to help steady the image. Remember, the slower your shutter speed, the more likely you will get movement blur. If your going to use the car door to help stabilize the image, make sure the engine is turned off.

You may also want to try the manual settings on the camera. Aperture priority will open or close your lens iris and set the shutter speed accordingly. Also try different metering modes. You probably don't want to spot meter a cloud formation as the camera only takes into account a small portion of everything you see in the viewfinder. You might also try manual focusing the camera rather than letting it autofocus. AF can be fooled or not focus properly as clouds don't always give enough definition for it to work properly. In Wide angle shots, your camera may actually be focusing on something fairly close by and ignoring the clouds all together! Most AF systems tend to focus on something with a hard line. Especially if there's lots of contrast (large difference between light and dark) on the edge. That will fool the camera into focusing on that point rather than the point you want.

I personally, use Aperture priority quite a bit. In low light, I will change over to shutter priority and then enhance later in Photoshop.

Here's one other possibility, Most cameras have sharpness setting. I generally leave this at low or off and do the shaprpening later in Photoshop. If you don't have Photoshop, then you may want to look at what your sharpeness is set to. This could also make a difference.

It might be helpful to post a photo with the issues you described and we may be able to help a little bit there.
Don't want to interupt since my knowledge is not that high about settings. I do want to ask though have you checked to see if your camera has threads to be able to add a filter?
On your original post it sounds like you are using a point and shoot and not an SLR.
Hi David,

You bring up a valid point. Most of today's camera have either threads for filters or an extra attachment that allows the use of filters. There are a few cameras that don't support filters at all, but these are mostly on the low end of the spectrum.

Even point and shoot cameras usually have a thread for a filter. Cokin even has a way to use their filters even if the lens doesn't have a thread. So all is not lost. I'm assuming here, but since Joe hasn't listed the type of camera he's using, I could be wrong. He's asking about filters and most likely reading other photo oriented web sites about these filters. Many PNS (point-n-shoot) cameras have more manual functions available. You might have to dig in the menu depending on the camera, but I would almost bet they are there. Especially since he's using a 3 MP + camera.