Cinematic Footage with the Freewell VND+Mist Filters for Mavic Air 2

Freewell has released a very interesting filter for the Mavic Air 2S. This filter combines a variable neutral density filter, with a diffusion filter. This allows us to capture softer, less digital-looking footage while still allowing us to use a neutral density filter for filming on brighter days. This filter is a great addition if you're looking for a mist filter for your drone since you're not able to stack filters on a drone like you canwith a traditional camera.

The two filters in this set are a 2 to 5 and 6 to 9 ND filter, with hard stops so you can't over or under adjust the filters. This is nice, but there are still some cross-polarization issues that I'll go over later.

My favorite part of these filters is the fact that it gives a gentle mist, or diffusion effect, to our footage. A common complaint of DJI drone cameras is that the footage looks to be too digital and sharpened. If we can apply a gentle amount of diffusion to the image, this will cut down on the overall sharpness of our image and result in a nice, natural-looking image. This is a stylistic choice, so if you're shooting something technical like real estate or surveying land, this filter probably isn't for that job. However, if you're filming to shoot cinematic-looking footage, this filter is good to have in your kit.

A nice part about these filters is that you can leave them on the drone, and put the gimbal guard back on while the filter is still attached. They're also still able to be left on while the drone is turned on and the gimbal is calibrating.

VND filters are nice because of the incremental adjustments you can do. If setting 2 or ND4 isn't strong enough, but setting 3, or ND 8 is too strong, you can leave it somewhere in the middle and get the exposure you need without the need to remove the lens. But be careful not to get any fingerprints on the filter while you're adjusting it since one smudge on a lens can ruin your shots.

Color Cast

Like most filters, there is a slight color cast that comes along with this filter. I find that this filter skews a little warmer, with a slight green tint in my use. To get around manually adjusting this each time, I made a LUT that corrects this for me, and I just add this LUT before adding any other LUTs or further color grading in post-production. It's another step, but using a LUT to correct this isn't very difficult.

I've made a LUT pack for the Mavic Air 2S, that corrects the Normal, D-LOG, and HLG profiles to natural-looking colors, as well as some creative LUTs for the Mavic Air 2S. I included my Freewell Mist VND correction LUT in that pack along with some others as well.

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Cross Polarization

The biggest downside to variable neutral density filters is the fact that they usually have cross-polarization issues if you use them at higher strengths. That's why the new wave of "hard stop" VND filters have been a great addition to avoid this, but just like Freewell's normal VND filters, these Mist VNDs have some cross-polarization issues. Let's take a closer look at them against a whiteboard.

First up, here is what no filters look like while against our whiteboard.

The 2-5 filter has an arrow, then 2 to 5 stops. The arrow isn't quite as bright as no filter, but it's also not as dark as setting two. So this is nice to use if you're in a darker environment and don't need an ND filter, but still want to use the filter for the diffusion.

Taking a look at 2, if we look in the upper left and lower right, we can start to see some gentle vignetting happening. 3 were seeing that vignetting come out a little more, but it's not overkill. 4 is where we're starting to really be able to see the vignetting coming through on our whiteboard. Setting 5 is starting to creep into unusable territory for me, as the vignetting is very distracting and looks unnatural.

Hopping over to the 6 to 9 filter, we can see why using a different filter here is so beneficial. Setting 6 is a night and day difference from setting 5. We can see some very slight vignetting against our whiteboard, but in real-life use, you'd be very hard-pressed to see this unless you're really looking for it. Setting 7 is where were starting to be able to see our vignetting more, but is still usable for real-world applications in my opinion. Setting 8 is starting to really show the vignetting, and you can easily see this on the white board but also while filming outside. Setting 9 is unusable in my opinion, as the vignetting is just too aggressive.

Conclusion

The cross-polarization is typically enough for me to not like using VND's, especially if I'm filming on bright days and have to use the more aggressive strengths on each filter. However, these Mavic Air 2S VND Diffusion filters have the diffusion built-in have made me reach for this filter, more than my dedicated ND filters which I was really surprised about. The image coming out of this diffused VND is exactly what I was looking for to cut down on that clinical and over-sharpened look that is common amongst DJI drones. There isn't anything wrong with that for some shoots, but there were times where I was actually slightly blurring my footage a pixel or two in post to remove an overly-sharpened image. When I'm going to use setting 5, I typically just use the 6-9 stop filter at 6 and raise my iso slightly to compensate for the darker filter. This removes those strong vignettes and makes a more usable image.

Even with the color cast that comes along with this filter, I'm comfortable using it on my drone and correcting the colors in post with my LUT and then grading it like it's any normal footage. I love the slight diffusion and blooming effect that comes with this filter.

If you're interested in my Mavic Air 2S LUT pack, check them out here!

About Keith Knittel

I'm a designer from Cleveland, Ohio and love to shoot photos & videos. I made my first website in 2004 to show friends photos & videos (before YouTube/Flickr/Instagram were things) and have been shooting and designing ever since! I have a deep passion for making and helping others create.

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