Neutral Density Filters And Another “Brilliant Idea”?

A little over a year ago I was shopping for neutral density filters.  While doing my research, I triggered the following e-mail from the owner of Breakthrough Photography:

Hello Bruce,

My name is Graham and I’m the founder of Breakthrough Photography. I wanted to take a second to say hello and welcome you.

Seriously, on behalf of myself and the entire Breakthrough team I want you to know that we’re truly excited and grateful that you decided to join us.

Here’s what you can expect from me…

We publish new and actionable photography content to our blog 1-2 times a month. You can see that I’m sending these emails from my personal address, so when you respond I’ll get back to you.

Sound fair? GOOD!

Now for the long exposure guide: click here to download our Essential Guide to Long Exposure Photography ebook. I wrote it as a reference guide so you can also save it to your iPhone or iPad for easy reference when shooting. Just click the link above on those devices. . . .

Best regards,

Graham

I downloaded and read his guide, and sometime during this research process I got another of my “brilliant” ideas and sent the following response to tell him about it:

To: Graham Clark (founder of Breakthrough Photography) at grahamclarkphoto.com
Sep 5, 2015 at 11:51 pm

Thank you for your Long Exposure Guide. I just spent a good part of the day shopping for neutral density filters for my wife, Nancy (She is a nature & wildlife photographer . . . . After seeing that your X3 line follows tradition and has only a 3-stop, 6-stop, and 10-stop version, I thought I should make a suggestion to improve versatility. . . .

Your last sentence in the “What Strength Should I Get?” section on page 14 [of the Long Exposure ebook] says “No need to buy a 10-stop!” That’s what I’m here to address. Instead of making a 10-stop just because everybody else does, you should make a 12-stop filter. Here’s why. Mathematically, I think your greatest versatility would come from having each filter in your line-up be double the previous one. From 3, you should go to 6 (as you did). From 6, the next logical step would be 12. With that combination of 3 filters, one could achieve every power (that’s a multiple of three (the lowest power sold)) in equal steps up to what would be the next step, 24. Obviously for 3 stops, grab the first filter. Similarly, grab the 6-stop for the next step. For 9 stops, the photographer should follow your advice and put the 3 and 6 together. Next, they would need the 12. 15 would be 12+3, 18=12+6, 21=12+6+3. The whole spectrum is evenly covered. If you wanted to go further, the 24 would be your next filter after the 12 (whether there is any market for the 24 is another matter). If the 3 is too powerful for some people (I don’t see why it would be), then the perfect choice would be a 1.5 (although at this point, the error of choosing either a 1 or a 2 ([so that] one wouldn’t need both), may not be significant enough to quibble about. You might say that this system unlocks the power of base 2. (Even though we use a base 10 number system, many of the things we use, like wrenches, measuring cups, and even cameras (I won’t even bother to mention computers) have been taking advantage of the benefits of base 2 for a long time). From a marketing perspective, I doubt anybody shopping for a 10-stop filter (because of tradition) would turn down the opportunity (and versatility) of a 12.

By the way, that base 2 thing reminds me of one . . . error I found at the top of that same section.  The first sentence of the second paragraph says “A 6-stop nearly doubles or triples the exposure time of what a 3-stop would have been . . .”  Since each f-stop lets in only half the light of the one before, technically, moving 3 stops would give one eighth (½ x ½ x ½) of the light and require a shutter speed eight times as long (instead of three).

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
Even though it has been over a year, the mistake still hasn’t been corrected.

Bruce

He immediately replied

Sep 6, 2015 at 12:10 am

Hey Bruce,

Couldn’t agree more, 12 would be more logical given 3 and 6, however 10 is where the demand is.

“One should not create demand with a product, only channel existing demand onto a product.” Eugene Schwartz

Graham

While I was impressed with the quick response time, I would have preferred that he spend the extra time to think before he responded.  I sent him one more quick response,

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.

Sep 6, 2015 at 1:29 am

Graham

Wow, thanks for responding. I understand that logic is not always the governing force in purchasing decisions . . ., but my suggestion does not contradict Eugene Schwartz’s advice (even though I think Steve Jobs probably never paid Mr. Schwartz much mind). You would be channeling the 10-stop market into the more favorable 12. Unless you are saying that all previous efforts to sell a 12-stop filter to those people have actually failed in the past. I didn’t realize anybody had ever tried. As I said in my last message, I didn’t think anybody shopping for a 10 would turn down a 12. For slowing down mid-day action (which is why I thought people bought the 10), I’ve seen some authors even suggest as high as 16. . . . Maybe you could sell all three (3, 6, & 12) as a package. . . . I just bought your 10 (possibly for the same reason everybody else did – because there aren’t any 12’s). . . .

Bruce

but (as happens with most of my “brilliant” ideas) I never heard from him again.  And since we bought our 10-stop filter, we haven’t had the chance to use it (but I’m confident we will).

So, what do you think?  If you have experience with neutral density filters, especially experience that would be relevant to this controversy, I’d love to hear about it.  Would you prefer to have a 12-stop filter or a 10? Do you have any other insight into the use of this tool to promote better photography?

Author: Bruce

Although I grew up in Garden Grove, California, I have lived here in South Miami longer than I've lived anywhere else in the world. I've been married to my wonderful wife, Nancy, longer than I was ever without her. We were both teachers. Nancy recently retired after 40 years. I have also spent time as an officer in the Coast Guard, a commercial property appraiser, and an electrical engineering student. Now I'm technical support for Bee Happy Graphics. That means I handle this blog, our web page, and all E-mail, I do all post-processing and printing of the images, I cut mats and glass and frames. If you have a technical question, I would be the one trying to answer it.

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