ND Filters For Drones
If you plan on filming anything outside with your drone, I highly recommend you pick up a set of ND Filters and download the PolarPro App. The filters not only reduce glare and add contrast, but preserve the saturation of your clip. I personally use the PolarPro Cinema 6 Series for my Mavic Pro (available for the DJI Spark, Phantom 3, Phantom 4 and Inspire too), and here’s why:
What are ND Filters?
ND Filters are “Neutral Density” Filters, which sound complicated, but they’re actually quite simple. ND Filters are caps that attach to your drone’s camera; helping reduce glare, adding contrast and preserving the natural colors in your clip. ND Filters are especially important to use on sunny days as they will protect your footage from being overexposed. Exposure is a combination of the ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed, but most drones have a fixed aperture meaning you can only play around with the ISO and Shutter Speed. Often on sunny days, if you start changing the shutter speed to get the proper exposure, you risk getting film that appears shaky or jittery. The job of the ND Filter is to reduce the amount of light that enters your lens, thus allowing you to play with different shutter speeds without having to risk the jittery film.
It’s common to only get one chance to film something, and overexposure or shaky footage will completely ruin that footage. The filters don’t only protect your footage but also enhance it by giving your video a more professional appearance with the contrast and color saturation it adds. One of the biggest mistakes from amateur drone pilots is overexposure, and it’s avoidable. When footage becomes overexposed, it’s very difficult to fix it post production. Be prepared and have some filters handy.
The setup of the filters couldn’t be more simple. They easily attach to the front of the drone’s camera, snapping into place. It’s best to hold the gimbal as stable as possible with one hand while sliding the cap on with the other. I highly recommend flipping your drone upside down in order to stabilize the gimbal easier while pushing the filter on. The filters themselves weigh almost nothing so there’s nothing to fear with the additional weight on your camera and gimbal. You can leave the filters on as long as you want, but I remove them after each flight to make sure I don’t fly with the wrong filter on my next flight.
As if the ND Filters weren’t enough, PolarPro has a free app available for smart devices that couples perfectly with drones. Their app has an arsenal of features, which are superb for drones, even if you aren’t using a filter. Check out some of the core features:
The calculator will use your current location and filming settings to determine the best ND filter to be using (if any!). The calculator takes in to account the ISO and FPS that you plan to shoot at, meaning you should re-calculate if you move either the ISO or FPS around a bit. This is super helpful for pilots to realize the importance of ISO, FPS and overexposure. The calculator may say to use a filter that you haven't purchased, but I haven't found one that couldn't be worked around by tweaking the ISO a bit.
One feature that's great to look at, with or without the ND Filters, is the sunset timer. Using your location, the app will tell you what time sundown is, how long the sunset will be, and the current angle of the sun. It also conveniently lets you know when the next sunrise is and how long the sunrise will be. I use this more often than the other features since I fly mostly after work and like to know how much time I have left before my shots start to get too dark. This becomes very handy in the winter months and for travelling where you may be less familiar with the sun's schedule.
Wind & Weather
Besides the sun set timer, you can also see the current wind speed, visibility distance and upcoming weather. This is a must have for anyone flying their drone in unfamiliar territory. Before I fly, I like to know whether the wind is too strong, visibility too low or if bad weather is coming up. Since I bring my drone with me nearly everywhere, I can't always plan a flight with the weather, but I can always use the app to see the whether before my spur of the moment flight. Sure, I could find all these weather metrics using a quick google search, but coupled with all the other features, there's no need to look outside the app.
I highly recommend ND filters to anyone looking to capture stunning videos and pictures. The sets from PolarPro are not only high quality, but are also overly simple to setup. The fact that PolarPro went above and beyond some of their competitors by releasing the App to help guide users speaks volumes. The filter calculator may not be necessary once you get more attuned to using the filters, but it’s extremely handy to have in the beginning. Do yourself a favor, and pick up a set of these ND Filters. Go download the app and start making your footage even more impressive. As always, I’d love to hear your opinion, so let me know!