It is time for another product review, and for this one I am going to cover a product I have been wanting to review for a while now, but haven’t used part of the set that I am wanting to review. Until last weekend, I have not fully experienced what I am wanting to talk about here. Today, we will be looking at Singh-Ray’s Mor Slo neutral density filters. I still love the name they came up with for this line, and it fits well for those that want to make their shutter speeds more slower than normal. Before I get into this review, I want to say that this is not paid review, and the two filters that I am reviewing were bought with my own money, but I did get to use a $250 store credit to apply to the 15-Stop filter a few months back. There have been no agreements made based on this review and Singh-Ray doesn’t even know I am writing this one…yet. Anyway, let’s get back on topic here.
If you have been in photography for more than a few weeks, chances are you have at least heard of a Neutral Density, or ND filter, and you might actually have one. I remember years ago, I carried three different ND filters (1, 2, and 4 stop) for use with waterfalls. These are the types of ND filters that most photographers are familiar with. They are used to reduce the light entering the lens and are very useful for extending the shutter speed by different amounts and can allow for a wider aperture in brighter light for those wanting to get less depth of field in their image, as with portrait photographers. For a landscape photographer that is looking for extreme depth of field, this kind of filter has limited use. As I said, I used my set of ND filters exclusively for waterfall photography where I was trying to get an exposure time of a few seconds. In the past few years, I have learned new ways of using ND filters that really add to my creative toolbox in photography. These are the extreme ND filters which reduce the light going into the lens by 5-Stops or more. Singh-Ray calls this line the Mor Slo ND Filter, but you might be more familiar with another terminology from another filter manufacturer of Little Stopper or Big Stopper. Either way, these are the ones that go into a different realm of photography by increasing the shutter speed to several seconds, minutes, or even hours and days!! We will discuss a bit about how they work, and what the Singh-Ray Mor Slo series can do for you.
What is in the box?
When you purchase these Mor Slo ND Filters from Singh-Ray, you get the same treatment as any other filter that you order. The filter comes in a protective pouch with plenty of padding on the inside. There is a label on the strap to tell you what the filter is. This has always been my issue with Singh-Ray’s packaging as for the way I used to store my filters in these pouches; I could never see the label in my camera bag. I’ll get into that in more detail in a little while. You can store the filter in these pouches with no problem if you choose to do so. The filter on the inside comes sandwiched between two sheets of paper and in a plastic bag for added protection inside the pouch during shipping. I always remove that part as it becomes very difficult to manipulate the filter with all the extra packaging. The filter itself (if you order the 100x100mm application) is a very dark filter with a nice gasket built in to shield the rear of the filter from any extra light. this gasket should always be mounted toward the lens. That is pretty much what you get for $415.00 (for the 10-Stop), or $550.00 (for the 15-Stop). I know this seems like a lot, and quite frankly it is. However, as with the other filters that I use, quality is of the utmost importance when selecting my filters. these are all hand made to a very high quality standard which is important to me.
What you are paying for is a truly color neutral filter which will not affect the color balance that your camera records during its capture. Cheaper filters can be very dicey and will often add color casts that must be dealt with in post production. As I have said many times before, I like to use filters in the field to get the image closer to perfection and limit my time in the digital darkroom. If I have to clean up the effects of a filter then that contradicts my reason for having a filter. I have never seen any odd color casts from the Mor Slo series of filters, and they maintain the sharpness of the lens at the same time. They just simply reduce the light that enters the lens which is what I need these filters for.
Also in the equation is the actual quality of the materials. I have been using my 10-Stop Mor Slo for about six years now and there has been no wear or tear noticed on this filter or the gasket. It fits nice and snug in my Lee Filters Foundation holder which I have to use to keep this filter in place. The filter itself is nice and sturdy and feels very substantial in your hands. It is uniform in the ND effect from top to bottom so you don’t get any strange effects when using it. It really is just a simple piece of equipment that performs wonderfully.
Something worth mentioning here is that you can get them in several formats to include a screw on filter. While a screw on filter is great for blocking the light, it becomes a little problematic when setting the exposure since it will limit the effectiveness of live view and will negate the use of your viewfinder. The slide in filters are much easier to work with and are what I strongly recommend.
What does it do?
This is from a recent shoot that I did at Lake Brandt in Guilford County. This image is from my cell phone and is pretty much what a snapshot would look like at regular shutter speeds. The clouds are dramatic, and you can tell that there is wind on the lake from the waves and ripples. This is not what I wanted to capture though, at least not for an artistic representation of the scene. There was just too much going on here. My goal was to smooth out the water and show some motion in the clouds to simplify the image and draw the attention to the boardwalk and the distant trees. When I set the image up, I got an initial exposure of ISO 100, f/20, at 1/60th of a second which wasn’t going to get that effect. I added my 10-Stop Mor Slo and brought that exposure down to 15 seconds with all the other settings staying the same. This still wasn’t enough, so I brought out the 15-Stop Mor Slo and changed the exposure around a bit. I had to boost the ISO to 200, for an aperture of f/11, with 3 minutes which gave me the right exposure for what I was after. Check out the results….
You can see from the description here that I also added a 2-Stop Daryl Benson ND Grad, also by Singh-Ray, to balance out the exposure in the sky. The final result is obviously much more simplistic than the “normal” exposure with the motion in the water and all the texture in the sky. By smoothing it all out, you actually achieve a couple of different benefits. First, you draw attention to just what is static in the picture. In this case, the dock and the distant trees. The rest of the image is just a backdrop which is what I wanted to show. Second, it creates an otherworldly experience for the eyes which immediately brings the viewer into the image to examine it. It is no longer a matter of looking and saying “I’ve seen this kind of image before….next.” As a photographer, I really try hard to engage my audience, and the Mor Slo series of filters allows me to do just that with the right composition and subject matter.
This filter is not restricted just to water scenes either. Any time there is motion in your image you can take advantage of that fact with these filters. In this situation, I had an interesting sky, but really wanted to take full advantage of it to add to the drama of the image without distracting from the car. In order to do this, I needed to blur the clouds which I was able to do very easily with the Mor Slo 10-Stop ND Filter which allowed a 30 second exposure right at noon on a very sunny day. That is the power of these filters! If I had the 15-Stop version on this date, I could have stretched this exposure to 16 minutes or anything under that. In fact, it was this photograph that prompted me to want to get the 15-Stop because I could see the limits of the 10-Stop under very bright conditions. It is all about what tools you want in your toolbox for what you want to present to your audience.
In this example, I wanted to smooth the water, as well as streak the clouds to give a different appearance to this often photographed waterfall. By using a 10-Stop Mor Slo ND filter, I was able to get an exposure time of 175 seconds which caused just the effect I wanted in the waterfall, and the pool at the bottom, as well as the sky above. It simplified the image and brought the attention directly to the waterfall and the foreground boulder. The sky also added visual interest without being too detailed.
This is the last example of what a Mor Slo filter could actually do for you, but ironically, they were not used for this shot. The only reason I am including this image from nine years ago is to illustrate a concept where the Mor Slo can really benefit you. In this image, there were about 20 people walking around in the scene which I didn’t want in the final image. Fortunately, the lighting allowed for a 30 second exposure at f/20 using a 4-Stop ND filter. At 30 seconds, everything that is moving through the image like people, vehicles, or birds will disappear in the final image. It is a wonderful tool for those that are working in urban settings where there are people. With a Mor Slo ND filter, I could actually take this image during the day and achieve the same effect.
These are just some of the examples of what the Mor Slo line can do for your photography. By no means are these the only things that will possibly benefit from the long exposures. You are limited by only your own imagination when it comes to applications for these filters. Just remember that they excel in showing motion in an image so you will have to have elements that are in motion as well as elements that are very static to make the effect work right. Let’s get into how to actually use these filters.
How do you use them?
These are a little different from many other filters with how they are used, so it makes sense to talk about the procedure here so you know what you are getting into. I’ll do this step by step for how it is typically done. Depending on the lighting, you may not need all of the steps, but this is a really good way to work them through.
- Find a scene with movement and stationary objects.
- Mount the camera on a tripod as the exposures will be much too long to hand hold.
- Fine tune your composition with no filters because you can’t see through the viewfinder at all with the filter attached. Even live view is limited due to lighting concerns for this stage.
- Once the composition is set, find your focal point and lock in the focus. Manual focus is ideal here as you won’t have enough light to use auto focus when it comes time to make the exposure.
- Go into manual mode if you aren’t there already and find a good exposure based on the aperture you need for the depth of field. This will give you a baseline exposure where you can adjust for the Mor Slo ND Filter later.
- While looking at the exposure, see what the exposure latitude is to see if an ND Grad filter is going to be needed and add that in to check the exposure once again.
- Go to an exposure chart for ND filters and enter the exposure that you have set in your camera. Select the density of the ND filter you intend to use (5-Stop, 10-Stop, 15-Stop) and see what the equivalent exposure is. There are many apps out there which allow you to get this information on your smart phone, or you can print out a table with the exposure values and keep in your bag (example shown above).
- Decide which filter works for what you are wanting to create and adjust the ISO and/or aperture accordingly to achieve that exposure.
- Once the ISO and aperture are determined, switch over to Bulb mode if the exposure will be over 30 seconds and dial in the proper aperture that you determined in the last step.
- Place the Mor Slo filter in the holder. Unlike an ND grad which can be held in front of the lens, you will have to have this one mounted to keep any light from leaking in from behind the filter
- You will need to cover the viewfinder at this stage. It is useless anyway with the filter on. Nikons will have a shade internally mounted to the viewfinder which is very nice. Canon will require you to remove the bezel and place a separate shade over the hole. You could also use a lens cloth over the camera covering the viewfinder if you need a different option. The main thing is to keep light from getting in here as it will cause some really bad effects in the picture over a very long exposure.
- Switch into live view if you have it. You will find that even with the 15-Stop filter on, you will still be able to see the general composition. You will not have a light meter, so you will need to remember the exposure time from step #7 and either set the camera up for that (some will do that, mine doesn’t). Or you can generally use the ND filter app to start a countdown for the exposure.
- Using a remote release, and mirror lock up (if not shooting from live view) start your exposure and lock the button.
- Wait for the exposure to complete by looking around and feeling really uncomfortable if folks are watching.
- The exposure will conclude either automatically or by releasing the lock on the remote release.
- If you have selected the in-camera long exposure noise reduction, you will have to wait for a second exposure of equal length to be made of a totally black screen to allow the camera to deal with noise.
- That’s it, just check the histogram on the LCD image, review and adjust your exposure as necessary.
Processing the image is where the fun really comes into play I think. You will be amazed at how the image looks in the LCD, but just wait until you get it into Lightroom or Photoshop. These images lend themselves particularly well to post processing options like adding contrast and converting to monochrome. You have just spent a lot of time creating this image, so don’t skimp on your time processing it. Keep in mind that processing should not correct errors in the image, only enhance the effects that you captured. This is really getting into fine art, so have a little fun with the processing. You have already captured something that isn’t visible to the naked eye, might as well make it exactly your vision. Don’t forget to watch out for, and control noise as well as hot pixels.
Hot pixels happen during long exposures because some of the pixels will overexpose causing bright, colorful spots in the image. these are easily removed with a spot correction tool in post processing. It is a normal occurrence as the sensor is heating up with each exposure. The more long exposures you make, the more of these pixels will show up. At least they are easily corrected in post. I try to allow several minutes between exposures to allow the camera to cool down a bit before going for another on.
The final verdict….
I have a lot of great things to say about the Singh-Ray Mor Slo filters and have said pretty much all of them here. They are well made, optically superior to any other filters that I have used in the past, and give me consistent results when it comes to color rendition in my images. They are well worth the money, even though they are far from cheap. However, they are not without their issues. My biggest gripe is in the labeling of the filters as always in the Singh-Ray line. This time, it is a little more problematic for me. Unlike the ND Grads which have a stamp on the filter themselves, these Mor Slo filters do not. Since they are so dark you can’t see through them, it is hard to tell them apart when holding them side by side. I have to be really careful how I store them in the filter wallet to keep from mixing them up. If you leave them in the Singh-Ray pouch, this is really not an issue at all. However, the pouch is labeled in a way that I can’t see what filter it is until I pull the pouch out of the bag. I have added my own label to the tops of these pouches in the past to ease my selection when I would keep them stored in the pouch while in the bag .
Beyond the labeling gripe, I have no negative comments with these filters. They do exactly what they are supposed to do and nothing more. I count on them in my exposures to give me a true capture of the colors of the scene for those times that I want to present the image in color. Would I recommend these filters? Absolutely, without hesitation! If you are serious about your photography and have decent glass mounted on your camera, why put something inferior in front of the lens? Go with the best quality you can find, and for me, Singh-Ray hits that mark in every product that I have purchased from them. The difference for you is, you can use the discount code “KISER10” at checkout and get 10% off your purchase. That makes the 15-Stop Mor Slo in the 100x100mm square version $495.00 as opposed to $550.00! Hey, its something, and you will love these filters!