Solar photography must-haves: Will an ND (Neutral Density) lens filter do?

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Can you use an ND lens filter for solar photography? We discuss the options.

If you’re interested in solar photography, you may wonder if you can use a neutral density (ND) filter to shoot at the sun.

Although some ND filters could be used for solar photography, or you could stack them, proceed with extreme caution. At the very least, you’d need a minimum strength of a 16.5 f-stop filter. Certainly, never use an ND filter with an optical viewfinder and use only with an electronic viewfinder or the Live View mode. 

However, experts recommend you use a special solar filter for solar photography, so if you want to play it safe, this is preferable to using ND filters. 

Solar filters are designed to allow you to view and/or take photos of the sun. Without a solar filter, your camera may get damaged, suffering malfunction to the sensor, shutter, aperture mechanisms and image stabilisation. 

Unlike ND filters that cover the visible light spectrum only, solar filters block out non-visible infrared and ultraviolet radiation. This ensures solar filters protect your eyes from damage caused by looking at the sun.

There are various types of solar filters to choose from, depending on the light wavelengths they restrict or transmit. Pick one that suits your camera and shooting preferences. Solar filters that transmit white light are the most popular and least expensive types. However, photographers who take solar shooting seriously, and want to capture minute detail on the sun, may prefer H-alpha filters. Whichever type you choose, make sure the filter is securely fitted to your lens. You won’t want it accidentally falling off and damaging your eyes or camera.

Always choose filters carefully, even if they are considered safe for solar photography. Some may not be safe for direct viewing of the sun, for instance.

The only time you won’t need a solar filter when shooting the sun is during the totality phase of a total solar eclipse. This is because the sun is hidden completely behind the moon. Even if 99% of the sun is covered by the moon, you’ll still need your solar filter to view or photograph it.

When purchasing solar filters, be really picky about the filter brand/quality and make sure it comes with CE or ISO certification. When your eyesight is at stake, a good quality solar filter is a small price to pay.

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