Have you ever tried to look at the sun? Its fierce light can damage your eyes and make you blind. Haida has introduced the One Million X Edition Neutral Density Filter, which should allow you to photograph the sun in a safe way. I got a chance to use this amazing filter.
Imagine what will happen when you look at the sun through binoculars. It will literally burn your eyes out, making you blind for the rest of your life. When I got interested in astronomy, it was the first thing I learned from books; never look into the sun, especially when using binoculars or a telescope. Special filters were available, but you had to be careful nevertheless. If the filter would break due to high temperatures, then the light became focused through a telescope, your eyes would burn within a second.
I wrote the warnings on a piece of paper and placed it on the wall in my room, never to forget it. But when I got a chance to shoot a partial sunset from my backyard, in 1999, I bought a welding glass and shot the blazing sun with a 300mm lens on analog slide film.
The benefit from placing a dark filter in front of the lens, is the reduction of light that enters the lens before it gets magnified. This way there is less danger of reaching extreme high temperatures inside the lens. Nevertheless, it is something to be very careful with. But the welding glass worked, although the image had a nasty green color cast.
Many years later I made another attempt with the Lee Big Stopper and the Lee Little Stopper stacked. With a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second I managed to photograph sunspots with my Canon EOS 20D and a 70-200mm lens, fitted with a 2x tele converter. With these two filters stacked I even managed to capture Mercury when it made its transition in 2016.
The Haida One Million X Edition Filter
Now Haida has released the One Million X Edition Neutral Density filter. A filter that reduces the light by a ridiculous amount of one million times. It is a ND 6.0 filter, or in other words a 20 stops neutral density filter. A filter that is perfect for photographing the sun in a relatively safe way, without the need for stacking multiple neutral density filters.
The One Million X Edition restricts more light than any other filter, being able to shoot straight into the sun without any problems. It restricts even more light than the Big Stopper and Little Stopper together. It should be ideal to photograph the sun, especially during the moments when an eclipse occurs, or a transition of one of the inner planets, or even the International Space Station.
It is part of a series of filters. I got the M10 drop-in filter that can be used with the Haida M10 filter holder. It is also available as a 150mm magnetic filter, as well as the regular 100x100mm and 150x150mm filter size. So you’re not limited to the Haida filter holder for using these filters.
Using the Filter for Photographing the Sun
The first picture I took when I received the filter was a picture of the sun when it was half obscured by clouds. I managed to capture the blazing sun between white fluffy clouds, which turned almost completely black due to the brightness of the sun, on which I exposed the image. And it works perfectly.
Unfortunately the sun is now in its quiet period of the 11 year cycle, and as expected no sunspots are present. But the clouds I managed to capture made the image a little bit more interesting. I can imagine it will become even more interesting if it were a solar eclipse.
Using the Filter for Regular Long Exposure Imaging
If you would use the ND 6.0 filter for regular long exposure photography, you will need ridiculously long exposures. After all, every stop will double the exposure time, so it adds up very quickly. During a bright sunny day it is no problem whatsoever to make an hour long exposure, or even longer.
In a way, the filter is easy to use because the exact exposure time is not that critical anymore. But you have to take some things into account. First of all, you need to block the optical view finder if you are using a camera with a mirror. If you don’t, you will end up with serious light leaks through the view finder.
Exposures that are longer than half an hour will show a significant amount of noise and hot pixels. Of course, it will depend on the camera you are using. Also, a camera that has been used a lot may show more noise and hot pixels, probably due to the aging of the sensor. Exposures longer than one hour may lead to an unusable amount of noise and hot pixels.
Keep battery life in mind also. It takes a lot of battery power to keep the shutter open for so long. But sometimes the difference between a long exposure and a ridiculously long exposure will fade. If you are photographing water, the surface cannot become any smoother.
In normal situations, with normal neutral density filters, I calculate the exposure time by using stops. It is very easy to lengthen the exposure time with 10 stops if you use such a filter. In the case of the Haida One Million X Edition, determining the exposure with stops will lead to a difference in exposure time compared to calculators like the one in the Photopills app. It is because of the rounded numbers we use for exposures, like 1/15 sec to 1/8 sec. The different will become noticeable when you are using 20 stops.
But then again, it doesn’t matter that much if you exposure your image sixty minutes or fifty minutes. The difference is something like 0.1 stop, well within reach of the camera's dynamic range. Even 0.5 stop or 1 stop offset may be easy to correct in post-processing. In other words, if your calculator advises a setting of 27 minutes and 16 seconds, just like the image below, you can easily expose somewhere between 25 minutes and 30 minutes.
I find the ND 6.0 filter to be much too dark for regular long exposure photography. You will end up with exposures times that will have no real benefit anymore. Unless you are in search of extremes. And if you do, you can be sure the Haida One Million X Edition filter is completely color neutral. Your images will have the correct color.
Using the Filter for Long Exposure Imaging With a Shallow Depth of Field
Although the filter may be too dark for regular long exposure photography, it might be very interesting to use it for long exposure photography with a shallow depth of field. This is something that is almost not possible with a 6, 10, or perhaps even a 15 stops filter.
By using a longer focal length, combined with an aperture of f/2.8, it is possible to use very long exposures in a creative way. Unfortunately I was not able to go out and experiment a lot, but I am planning to do so in the months to come. I did find the exposure to be long, even with an aperture of f/2.8 on a sunny day. Exposures between 3 and 6 minutes will be needed with ISO100 and f/2.8. When you have overcast or thick clouds, the ND6.0 filter may still turn out too dark, even with wide apertures.
Although I did not wanted to write this as a true review, I guess in a way it is. First of all, the Haida One Million X Edition filter is fun to use. But at the same time it is difficult to find a good use for it. I think the primary application for this filter is photographing the sun, sunspots, eclipses, and transitions of planets and the International Space Station. I find its use for regular long exposure photography limited. Even when you try to shoot with shallow depth of field. If you don't have a bright sunny day, the exposure times will become too long to be practical.
What I Liked
- It is easy to photograph the sun, even with long focal lengths, without a lot of danger
- There is no color cast whatsoever
- The M10 drop-in filter is very well protected against light leaks due to how the system is built
- It is possible to reach very long exposure times with a shallow depth of field
- The name One Million X Edition filter
What I Didn't Like
- It is much too dark for regular long exposure imaging
- The use of the filter is limited to bright sunny days
- Haida should deliver a bag with the filter, that can be placed over the optical view finder to prevent light leaks when using an extreme long exposure time
The Alternative: an ND 128,000 Filter
An alternative to the One Million X Edition filter, Haida has also announced a ND 128,000 filter, which restricts 17 stops of light. At first, 17 stops may seem not a lot of difference, but in reality it is. These three stops of light will change a one hour exposure into a 7.5 minute exposure. A twelve minute exposure will change into only 1.5 minute. But don’t be mistaken, an ND 128,000 filter is still very dar, and will make it possible to create extremely long exposures, or just shoot straight into the sun.
What do you think about this amazing One Million X Edition filter? What would you use it for? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.