The Canon Powershot G1 X includes a built-in ND filter, like a few other cameras. You simply enable it in the menu and it reduces the light hitting the sensor. The camera also supports and adapter to add a screw on filter, so it is possible to use a standard ND filter instead.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of one type of filter compared to the other?

I already like that the built-in one is so easy to use and requires nothing to carry but its position with respect to the other lens elements is opposite. How does that affect results?

  • 2
    This would be a whole lot easier to answer if Canon made a real construction diagram available. With most interior/rear filter designs, the lens normally has a clear "filter" in place to keep the optics the same whether the ND filter is in use or not. If that's the case for the G1 X as well, you pay absolutely no "filter tax" by sliding the clear glass out of the way and inserting the ND filter—there's no opportunity for additional flare/ghosting, etc. But since there don't appear to be diagrams including the filter(s) released, I can't make this an answer. – user2719 Jun 20 '12 at 3:50

I think the biggest advantages of a built-in filter is being there all the time while the advantage of an add-on filter system is allowing different filters to be used.

So you can think in the built-in ND as an "extra" filter that you can use without the filter adapter for simpler situations (where the 3 stops would be enough). And then use the external filters for more sophisticated setups. For example:

  • You could use a second ND filter with more stops, allowing you to reduce even more the light entering the camera. Using a "big stopper" with 9 stops plus your internal with 3 stops, gives you a quite dark setup for long exposures during daylight.

  • You could use a polarizer together with the internal ND, so you could make a long exposure of water on a river without some of the reflections and making the leaves around it more "alive".

  • You could use a graduated ND filter together with the non graduated internal one, making it possible to reduce light differently in separated parts of the scene.

Just notice though that the quality of the internal and external filters can make a lot of difference in the final image quality. And if you happen to have a better external filter just use it instead of the build-in.

  • Damnit, why can CMOS sensitivity just be controlled electronically when it's a matter of lowering it ... ? – Skippy Fastol Jun 20 '12 at 10:47
  • @SkippyFastol: The thing which you want exists already: it is called ISO. However we cannot lower / raise it without paying price in DR and/or noise. There is no free lunch. – John Thomas Jun 21 '12 at 8:03

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