Full disclosure: Breakthrough Photography sent me these filters to review and the links in this post are affiliate links that I make a small profit from if you purchase through them. I can assure you that I keep my reviews unbiased, I honestly love these filters and they are the only ones in my bag!
Recently, I posted a guide to solid ND filters and mentioned Breakthrough Photography Filters after hearing about them through colleagues. I decided it was time to test them for myself to see if the claims of no color cast were true. I was getting sick of the blue cast of the Lee filters, but I really enjoyed the drop-in system vs. the screw-on filters.
Super short review: These filters are incredible, no color cast even with the 15 stop filter! Do not hesitate to buy them.
Image above: Left is only with a polarizer, right is with the polarizer and a 15 stop filter.
X4 Circular Polarizer
Before jumping into the ND filters let’s do a quick review of Breakthrough Photography’s X4 Circular Polarizer. I have been through many polarizers over the years and I am finally happy with the X4 CPL. It is made from solid brass with big knurled edges that make it easy to turn. The filter is what I would call a ‘thin-mount’ where it does not cause vignetting with wide angle lenses, but the front does still have a few threads to allow additional filters to be put on the polarizer (or a lens cap). This is unlike other thin-mounts that have no threads on the front. They use a specially designed film that has the least amount of color cast on the market, you will be hard-pressed to find any color cast in the real world. I found there to be about 1 stop of light loss with this polarizer, which is very good.
The only con I can come up with is that it can be hard to get off at times, with the knurled part to remove it being less knurled than the area to turn the polarizer, to me it seems they should be reversed. This is especially true when using a step up ring, they will get stuck together often. To overcome this I also purchased a rubber coated filter remover, which works great! UPDATE: They have since revised the design and made the knurled edge stick out farther, I have since had no problems getting the filters off!
X4 Neutral Density Filters
On to the meat of the review! Solid ND filters are an essential piece of gear in any photographer’s bag, but they tend to come along with a nasty color cast especially when working with 10 or 15 stop filters. Those days are gone. Breakthrough Photography has blown my mind with filters that have nearly zero color cast.
For the test, I used my camera’s meter to take a base exposure without any filters, which was ISO 200, f/8, 1/250 sec. in midday light. I then used PhotoPills to calculate the exposure for each filter.
- 3 Stop – 1/30s
- 6 Stop – 1/4s
- 10 Stop – 4s
- 15 Stop – 2m 11s
I then evaluated the luminance and color values using the LAB color values (right click on the histogram to enable LAB) along with the Reference View in Lightroom. Using the L value (luminance) I found the 3, 6, and 10 stop filters were actually 1/2 stop darker than advertised. The 15 stop was nearly exactly 15 stops. Not a problem, just something to take into consideration in the field.
To evaluate the color I used the A value (balance of green and magenta) and the B value (balance of blue and yellow) to determine if there was any color cast. I found the 3, 6, and 10 stops to have a very slight warm cast (about 500 Kelvin, which is next to nothing), and virtually no green or magenta cast. The 15 stop had a slightly warmer cast (1000 Kelvin), and a slight magenta cast which was easily removed by taking the tint slider down 10 points in Lightroom, which again is nearly no cast as you can see from the image below.
I corrected the exposure for the 3, 6, and 9 filters by 1/2 stop for this comparison to only evaluate color. The white balance is set exactly the same on all images, unbelievable results!
I could find no degradation of sharpness with any of the filters. Below is an extremely zoomed crop with no filter on the left, and the 15 stop on the right, any difference you see is simply lighting, not sharpness.
Positives – Almost zero color cast and exceptional sharpness which is the most important aspect when evaluating ND filters, I can confidently say that you will not be disappointed. The construction is top notch using brass rings and exceptional quality glass. They have been incredibly durable, showing no signs of scratches after over four months of use despite being covered in sand and water.
Negatives – The polarizer can be hard to get off at times with the thin knurled area, but the ND filters are very easy to use with big knurled edges. 3, 6, and 10 filters are 1/2 stop darker than advertised. Currently, they are only available as screw-on filters, but the drop-in filters are coming very soon. Personally, I enjoy using the screw-on filters more now that I have a complete set.
The negatives are quite minimal and the positives outweigh them massively. I can confidently say these are the best filters on the market and you should not hesitate to purchase them. If you plan on stacking the filters get a size bigger than your lens takes and use a step-up ring to avoid vignetting.