This episode provides an extensive tutorial on neutral density filters (ND Filters) and circular polarizer filters for the Mavic Air 2, and reviews the Freewell All Day 8pack of ND and CPL filters.
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Youtube Video Show Notes - Downloads
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Youtube Video Show Notes - The Script
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Thank you for watching videos by Jeff Sibelius and Land and Air Photos.com. You just bought the Mavic Air 2 - or maybe you’re considering buying one. Do you want to get the best quality video that you can from it?
In this episode I’m going to review the Freewell All Day pack of Neutral Density and Polarizer Filters for the Mavic Air 2 - along the way I’m also going to explain how these filters work and why you should use them for the best possible video.
In this video I'm going to review the Freewell All Day Pack of neutral density and polarizer filters and try to answer two questions.
First, why use nd or polarizer filters at all - what do they do for you? Second, why choose Freewell filters?
So let’s start by discussing what the filters do for you.
The most common analogy people make for ND filters is that they're like sunglasses. But I think that analogy creates a bit of a misunderstanding about their purpose.
If someone tells you the purpose of an ND filter is to make your image darker - that's not quite correct. A properly exposed image with the ND filter will have the same brightness as one without the filter.
The ND filter does reduce a percentage of the light coming into the camera, but the purpose for doing that is to force the camera to shoot more slowly.
You've probably heard the general rule that to get the best video, you should set your shutter speed at twice your frame rate. So, if you're shooting at 30 frames per second, the optimum shutter speed would be twice that, or 1/60th second.
Fact is, on a sunny day you can't set the camera on the MA2 to shoot at 1/60th second and get a proper exposure. The aperture is fixed, you can't change that. And even if you set the ISO to 100, its lowest sensitivity, a shutter speed of 1/60th second will let in far too much light.
The ND filter cuts out a portion of the light passing from the lens to the sensor. It's called neutral density because it cuts out an equal amount of all colors of light, so it doesn't affect your white balance.
As the ND filter reduces the light reaching the sensor, it allows you to slow your shutter speed down. If the filter blocks enough light, you can achieve a proper exposure while shooting at the twice-your-framerate speed that you want to achieve.
So - the purpose of the ND filter is not to make the image darker. The ND filter reduces light to make the camera shoot slower. Always keep that in mind.
When you buy ND filters for drones, you normally get several of them, in varying levels of darkness. This gives you the flexibility to reach that slow shutter speed no matter what your lighting conditions are. They typically range from ND4, which cuts out a small amount of light, to ND8, ND16, ND32 and even ND64. With this range of filters you can manage your shutter speed from the gloomiest of cloudy days to bright days out on the water or snow.
So why do you want a slower shutter speed? Who cares if you shoot at 1/60th second or 1/1000th second?
When you use a slow shutter speed, that means the shutter is open longer while it shoots each frame of your video. That means your subject has more time to move if you're using a slow shutter speed. And what happens when your subject moves during the shot? You get blur.
Look at this picture of a jet. Now compare it to this picture of a bird. Obviously the jet is flying faster than the bird, but the jet photo has no blur and the bird does. This was achieved by using a fast shutter speed for one and a slow shutter speed for the other.
So why do you want blur in your video? Because the blur softens the motion from one frame to the next and results in a smoother video. Video taken at a high shutter speed can take on a jittery look.
With that explanation I can show you two shots of a water fountain taken with the Mavic Air 2, with and without a neutral density filter.
The first was taken at 1/8000th of a second - as fast a shutter speed as you can choose on the Air 2. If I freeze the video, you can see the droplets of water very distinctly. Because the shutter speed was so fast, the water had almost no time to move during the exposure - and so you can see teh droplets of water very clearly.
Now let's look at the same scene taken at 1/60th second with a Freewell ND filter - in this case it was an ND32 filter. If I freeze the frame you can easily see the difference. The droplets are gone and all you see are blurred streaks.
The net result is a smoother playback of video. The ND filter will smooth the motion of a moving subject, but it will also smooth the motion of static subjects taken with a drone that is moving.
Polarizers are a different kind of filter. A polarizer filter reduces glare and reflection. It also affects certain colors, like blue and green, to make them more saturated. It can also make clouds stand out more in a blue sky.
Your typical polarizer can rotate once it is attached to the camera. As you rotate the filter, the amount and direction of filtering changes. The Freewell All Day pack includes one polarizer filter - called a CPL filter - and four combination ND/polarizer filters.
Watch this scene, taken with my Panasonic G9 camera and a polarizer. The camera is exposing with manual settings, so any change you see will be a result of me rotating the polarizer.
As I turn the polarizer, watch how the glare on the water becomes more and less evident. Notice the color of the water in particular changes. At one point the water almost takes on a metallic look from the polarizing.
Here is a polarizer filter for the MA2. You can see on one side is the word FREEWELL. Opposite that is the filter label to show what filter we're using - in this case, ND16CPL, which means a neutral density filter with circular polarizer. On the red ring you can see a white line. As we rotate the filter, the line allows us to keep track of where our rotation is - pointing at one of the words, or somewhere between.
Now let's look at the scene with the MA2 with an ND32/polarizer filter.
Here is the scene with the white line pointing at the ND32CPL label. Here is the scene with the filter rotated 90 degrees, so the white line is pointing straight up - halfway between the ND32CPL and the FREEWELL branding. Rotated another 90 degrees, here is the scene with the white line pointed at the FREEWELL branding. Finally, I rotate it again 90 degrees so the white line is pointing straight down, halfway between the filter label and FREEWELL branding.
I think the Freewell polarizer is less obvious than the one on my Panasonic camera, but you can still see the difference in the sky and the water as I rotate the filter. It cuts glare and influences blues and greens.
Want to test these files for yourself? I have uploaded fullsize clips of the polarizer test and the G9 camera polarizer test, as well as the fountain scenes with and without the ND filter on my Shownotes page. You’ll also find the full script for this episode there. You can download them and watch them on your computer yourself. You’ll find the link in the description below.
By now you've probably realized the biggest challenge of using a polarizer filter on a drone. When your Air 2 is 600 feet away and a hundred feet up, you can't exactly reach up and twist the filter.
To use a polarizer on a drone, you have to set it before launch. Power up the controller and drone, point the drone in the direction of your flight and watch the FPV view to help you choose the amount of polarization you want.
Incidentally - a polarizer filter is most effective when pointed at a 90 degree angle from the sun. You should plan your flight to do most of your shooting on a 180 degree arc from pointing at a right angle of the sun to a left angle of the sun. The effectiveness of the filter is diminished as you start to point the filter in the direction of the sun.
So that answers my first question - why use a neutral density or polarizer filter in the first place. You get smoother video, you can reduce glare and reflection from water, trees, snow or most other objects, make clouds more distinctive in the sky and pump up the saturation of some colors.
That leads me to the second question - why Freewell.
There are several brands of filters available for the Mavic Air 2, from recognized names like Freewell, PGYTech and Polar Pro, to less expensive brands you can find on Ebay at a wide range of prices.
This is typical for filters - if you go to B&H photo you'll find a polarizer for my G9's 12-60 lens as cheap as $27 and as expensive as $138.
When it comes to accessories, I will often go with the knock-off brands to save some money. I don't do that with filters. Remember, every shot you take will be affected by the filter. Why spend $800 on a great camera drone, and then put a poor quality filter on its lens? When it comes to filters, it's worth the extra money to buy quality.
Freewell has been making filters for all Go Pro and DJI cameras since 2012. They also make filters for other drones from Autel, Skydio and Parrot. Unlike other brands, Freewell manufactures its own filters, and with their experience they have engineered filters that are color-neutral, lightweight and durable. The filters are made of quality optical glass, and they're coated to eliminate glare and provide protection to the lens from water, dust, oils and scratches. Freewell stands behind their filters with a lifetime warranty.
The Freewell filters are extremely easy to change on the Mavic Air 2. To put them on you just turn the filter slightly and lift it off. Then place the filter on the camera and turn slightly, and it’s attached. They fit securely on the camera. The polarizer rotates smoothly but it takes a little pressure to rotate it so it will hold its position as you’re flying. It’s just really good quality.
I guess my only beef with the Freewell polarizer filter is that it doesn't make as dramatic a difference as the average polarizer you put on your camera. That's good or bad, depending on how you view it. The typical polarizer can make colors look metallic and unnatural if you take them too far, so perhaps Freewell has it right.
So who should buy the Freewell filters?
If you're a new drone pilot, it's probably too early to tinker with filters. Hold off until you are comfortable flying the drone - after that you can use filters to start to develop your video skills. That said, if you want to add some protection to your drone's camera lens, you can order an IR UV Filter from Freewell for $19.99. The filter does little to influence your images, maybe cut UV rays a tiny bit, but it does put a better barrier of protection on the front of the lens over what the Mavic Air 2 ships with.
If you're an established hobbyist pilot, I think the Freewell filters are a great way to improve your skills as a photographer as well as shoot better video. You can start with a four pack of Freewell filters called the Bright Day pack. That gives you four combo ND and polarizer filters, ND8, 16, 32 and 64 for $69.99. In lower light situations you'll need to use the ND8 and bump up your ISO, but that setup will work very well for you.
If you're an experienced photographer, a professional drone operator or you just want the best capabilities, the Freewell All Day pack is the right choice. For $129.99 It comes with 8 filters - ND4, 8 and 26, a circular polarizer with no neutral density, and ND polarizer combo filters ND8, 16, 32 and 64. That filter set will cover almost any lighting situation.
You'll find links to all three of these filter options - the IR UV filter, the Bright Day Pack and the All Day Pack - in the description below.
So that's my review of the Freewell ND and Polarizer filters. Are they essential to using the drone? No. But you've spent at least $800 on the drone. It's worth a little more to add some extra protection for the lens and make a great drone camera work even better. If you put in the effort to use these filters, you'll find that you become a more knowledgeable photographer as well - on the Mavic Air 2 and any other camera you use. And Freewell has the experience and lifetime warranty and technical support, so I really don’t think you can beat this package.
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Thanks for watching.