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Why I NEVER use ND Filters With Drone Cameras

herein2021

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I see a lot of posts regarding ND filters for people's drone cameras and each time I ask myself why; why are people buying ND filters for their drone cameras, risking their gimbal motors, potentially damaging their camera lens, etc. etc. for an almost imperceptible amount of additional motion blur if any at all. I have never used an ND filter on any drone that I have owned and I have worked hundreds of projects for paying customers over the years; not a single one has said my footage doesn't have the proper motion blur or asked for a reshoot or a refund because they could tell I didn't have an ND filter on my drone. Sure, if you are shooting the next Hollywood blockbuster and using hexacopters to lift $100K worth of cinema cameras into the air then an ND filter just makes sense.....but for Youtube, Instagram, Vimeo; where your video will probably most commonly be viewed at 320P on a 5" cell phone screen? It makes no sense at all to me.

I know a lot of people use ND filters with their drone cameras but in my opinion I think a lot of people use them just because they have read somewhere that they are supposed to use them based on the 180 degree shutter angle rule (i.e. shutter speed "should" be 2x the frame rate). But if you study the reasons why that rule came about you may reach the same conclusion that I did; which is that it doesn't make sense for drone footage.

The shutter angle/shutter speed rule is meant to reduce or eliminate flicker in certain scenarios such as at night under street lights. Well when you think about it how often is a drone in that situation? The rule is also meant to ensure that there is the "proper" amount of motion blur during fast camera movements; once again, how often is a drone close enough to an object for it to matter? So what about fast moving objects other than the drone.....once again, how often is the drone close enough to that object for the motion blur difference to really be noticeable? And if you still want that barely noticeable motion blur that you feel like you are missing...it takes seconds to add it from within your NLE as you are editing the video.

So if there's not much benefit to using ND filters on drones are there any downsides? Sure there are:

  • Another Lens - ND filters are another lens between the camera and the scene which means its another thing that can get smudged, dirty or dusty, and can affect the incoming quality of light
  • Image Degradation - Cheap ND filters can add a color cast, corner softness, chromatic aberration, and other problems to the image the camera records. Even the most expensive ND filters out there tend to add a slightly green cast.
  • Gimbal Motor Burnout - This was the main reason I chose not to use ND filters years ago. Back then they were heavy and not designed for drones. People were reporting their gimbal motors burning out trying to support the additional weight of the ND filter on the front of the camera. What may feel nearly weightless to humans is still an additional load on the gimbal motor that was not accounted for in the original design of the drone's gimbal motors.
  • Cost - ND filter sets for drones are not cheap, they are easy to break and to lose and offer marginal if any benefit to the actual footage. Drones have a very limited lifespan (the avg is 3yrs), so almost every accessory that you buy for one is wasted if you crash it or get a new drone.
  • Setup Time - They add to the drone setup time. You have to figure out the proper ND filter based on the current ambient lighting situation and there's always the chance it could change drastically while you are in the air (i.e. the sun goes behind heavy cloud cover or you fly beneath tree cover).
  • Camera Modification - If the ND filter has to replace the UV filter you are breaking the original factory sealed filter which will increase the chances of getting dirt, moisture, and other undesirables behind the lens. The better solutions slip over the UV filter....but then there's the weight problem.
So after looking at all of the pros and cons I personally just ignore the shutter angle / shutter speed rules and increase my shutter speed as needed to properly expose the scene. With a drone like the EVO II 6K at F11 ISO 100 I can practically point it at the sun and still not be much over 1/200s.

Another thing people then frequently say is..."but they've seen xyz's footage on YouTube and it looks like it is stuttering....if the YouTuber had ND filters and had properly followed the 180 degree shutter angle rule their footage would not have stuttered and been choppy". This is another common misconception; the shutter speed does not make the footage stutter, the typical cause of stuttering YouTube footage is due to whoever shot the footage incorrectly conforming the footage in post to the timeline framerate they intended to render to. Many times people shoot at 60FPS then try to export the timeline to 24FPS.....without properly configuring their NLE to account for the fact that 24FPS is not 50% of 60FPS which brings me to my next point which is that I don't understand why people shoot in 24FPS....but that's another topic/rant for a different day.

My simple advice to get the best footage out of these drones in bright daylight; shoot at 60FPS or 30FPS, use a 30FPS timeline (29.97FPS), render your footage at 30FPS (29.97FPS), push the F stop to F11 and keep the ISO at 100, then use whatever shutter speed is needed to properly expose the footage and leave the ND filters to the regular cameras or the Hollywood blockbusters. BTW, I have absolutely nothing against ND filters themselves, I use them nearly daily with all of my other cameras to control the shutter speed either for video or for photography; its just that when it comes to drones I can't think of a single use case where they would provide any value whatsoever.
 
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gschulzuio

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Like so many things, ND filters have their place and use, similar to lens shades/hoods. They are not for everybody all of the time, however they can help in some scenarios, and are also a preference for some. UV filters are good some of the time, likewise CPL for around water sometimes. Key is experiment, find out what works good for what you are imaging and when. Have gotten some nice video and still shots with filters, likewise without. Another key point is, dont get locked into an always use them, or, never use them scenario. Instead, they are just another tool to have in your tool box, experiment with them, learn how and when to use them or not. Fwiw, the only rule or thing I advocate when it comes to ND filters, avoid them at night, however Im also open to input ;).
 

herein2021

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Like so many things, ND filters have their place and use, similar to lens shades/hoods. They are not for everybody all of the time, however they can help in some scenarios, and are also a preference for some. UV filters are good some of the time, likewise CPL for around water sometimes. Key is experiment, find out what works good for what you are imaging and when. Have gotten some nice video and still shots with filters, likewise without. Another key point is, dont get locked into an always use them, or, never use them scenario. Instead, they are just another tool to have in your tool box, experiment with them, learn how and when to use them or not. Fwiw, the only rule or thing I advocate when it comes to ND filters, avoid them at night, however Im also open to input ;).

That's not necessarily true, IMO ND filters have no place when it comes to drones; yes they definitely have a place with regular cameras, but for the reasons I listed above, in my opinion they are just another consumer product that vendors have managed to get consumers to buy that provide absolutely no added benefit to the footage that is created by those customers with drones. Give me a single scenario where an ND filter on a drone is actually useful.

ND filters have a single purpose....reduce the shutter speed, my point is there is no scenario with a consumer drone camera where the shutter speed reduction is necessary. My purpose with my post is to simply provide an alternative point of view on the matter....if it helps even one person save their hard earned money, their time, and the risk they pose to their drone then that's a good thing. So lets go through the scenarios where ND filters are actually useful on regular cameras:

Motion Blur - This is the main reason vendors use to try to sell drone ND filters. What they don't tell you is that motion blur becomes more and more imperceptible the wider the lens is (drone lenses are wide angle lenses), the farther away the camera is from the motion (drones are typically pretty high up), and the less motion there is in the frame (by being higher up the effective motion is also reduced) the less it is perceptible. So what about when you fly faster and lower to the ground...what about that motion blur? If you really feel like those few seconds and that one scenario needs motion blur......simply add it in post in your NLE. But my point is....no one else will notice or care (or be able to tell the difference). YouTube macro blocking and artifacts will make that portion of your footage look so terrible anyway that motion blur is the least of your concerns.

Flash Sync Speed - Like I mentioned, I use ND filters nearly daily with my regular cameras. My camera's max flash sync speed is 1/200 so to prevent having to use HSS I sometimes use ND filters to lower my shutter speed so that I can use flashes for fill lighting while properly exposing the background. Of course none of this applies to drones because you can't use flashes with drones.

Landscape Photography - ND filters can be used with landscape photography to get that smooth look in waterfalls. To get that look with a waterfall the water will really start to smooth when the shutter speed falls below 0.5s. Drones are nowhere near stable enough to get good results with a shutter speed that low, sure it can be done, but at that speed you will need a tripod to get the best results. So when it comes to waterfalls drones are best at getting a unique angle; not the blurry smooth water effect that can be easily done with ND filters, tripods, and regular cameras. So once again, ND filters do not make sense for this scenario either.

BTW a CPL is also nearly useless on a drone because the lens has to be at the proper angle to the sun to be effective, an angle which is nearly impossible to predict from the ground. I suppose if you first orientate the drone in the exact direction it will be filming, then rotate the CPL until you have the proper 90 degree angle in relation to the sun, then only fly in that one particular orientation a CPL could provide some value (oh by the way as soon as you angle the camera lens down towards a subject all of that careful planning is once again wasted).....but at least with a CPL there is a niche scenario where it could provide some value vs an ND filter where there are none. The biggest problem with a CPL is it could ruin your video footage because as the drone rotates and the camera tilts in different orientations to the sun the strength of the filter will change which is not fixable later in post. So even for the niche scenario I described it's best left to photography or to flying in a single straight line for video.

@Eagle928 :) Definitely not...want anamorphic? Simply shoot the normal 16:9 aspect ratio then go into your NLE and pick 2.39:1 for your timeline aspect ratio...done.
 
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Eagle928

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I want you to know I respect and value your well thought out informative posts and threads like those in this thread. I will rethink my use of ND filters on all my drones and see if I can compensate for the bright light in other ways. They may be preventing me from getting first class quality footage from their camera's ability.
 
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gschulzuio

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That's not necessarily true, IMO ND filters have no place when it comes to drones; yes they definitely have a place with regular cameras, but for the reasons I listed above, in my opinion they are just another consumer product that vendors have managed to get consumers to buy that provide absolutely no added benefit to the footage that is created by those customers with drones. Give me a single scenario where an ND filter on a drone is actually useful.

ND filters have a single purpose....reduce the shutter speed, my point is there is no scenario with a consumer drone camera where the shutter speed reduction is necessary. My purpose with my post is to simply provide an alternative point of view on the matter....if it helps even one person save their hard earned money, their time, and the risk they pose to their drone then that's a good thing. So lets go through the scenarios where ND filters are actually useful on regular cameras:

Motion Blur - This is the main reason vendors use to try to sell drone ND filters. What they don't tell you is that motion blur becomes more and more imperceptible the wider the lens is (drone lenses are wide angle lenses), the farther away the camera is from the motion (drones are typically pretty high up), and the less motion there is in the frame (by being higher up the effective motion is also reduced) the less it is perceptible. So what about when you fly faster and lower to the ground...what about that motion blur? If you really feel like those few seconds and that one scenario needs motion blur......simply add it in post in your NLE. But my point is....no one else will notice or care (or be able to tell the difference). YouTube macro blocking and artifacts will make that portion of your footage look so terrible anyway that motion blur is the least of your concerns.

Flash Sync Speed - Like I mentioned, I use ND filters nearly daily with my regular cameras. My camera's max flash sync speed is 1/200 so to prevent having to use HSS I sometimes use ND filters to lower my shutter speed so that I can use flashes for fill lighting while properly exposing the background. Of course none of this applies to drones because you can't use flashes with drones.

Landscape Photography - ND filters can be used with landscape photography to get that smooth look in waterfalls. To get that look with a waterfall the water will really start to smooth when the shutter speed falls below 0.5s. Drones are nowhere near stable enough to get good results with a shutter speed that low, sure it can be done, but at that speed you will need a tripod to get the best results. So when it comes to waterfalls drones are best at getting a unique angle; not the blurry smooth water effect that can be easily done with ND filters, tripods, and regular cameras. So once again, ND filters do not make sense for this scenario either.

BTW a CPL is also nearly useless on a drone because the lens has to be at the proper angle to the sun to be effective, an angle which is nearly impossible to predict from the ground. I suppose if you first orientate the drone in the exact direction it will be filming, then rotate the CPL until you have the proper 90 degree angle in relation to the sun, then only fly in that one particular orientation a CPL could provide some value (oh by the way as soon as you angle the camera lens down towards a subject all of that careful planning is once again wasted).....but at least with a CPL there is a niche scenario where it could provide some value vs an ND filter where there are none. The biggest problem with a CPL is it could ruin your video footage because as the drone rotates and the camera tilts in different orientations to the sun the strength of the filter will change which is not fixable later in post. So even for the niche scenario I described it's best left to photography or to flying in a single straight line for video.

@Eagle928 :) Definitely not...want anamorphic? Simply shoot the normal 16:9 aspect ratio then go into your NLE and pick 2.39:1 for your timeline aspect ratio...done.
Thanks for your opinions.
 
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UasDriver

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Give me a single scenario where an ND filter on a drone is actually useful.
I don't fly with a tablet, Autel doesn't allow me much functionality from just the RC so I shoot "default". I use them for "light control". with no filter on a sunny day, i'm washed out, with a 16, I get good images without a lot of post work
 

herein2021

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I want you to know I respect and value your well thought out informative posts and threads like those in this thread. I will rethink my use of ND filters on all my drones and see if I can compensate for the bright light in other ways. They may be preventing me from getting first class quality footage from their camera's ability.
Glad I could help, I know my opinion may not be popular especially for people that have already purchased ND filters, but I know the vendors selling ND filters and the YouTubers who are also making a commission from affiliate links to ND filters will never mention they are mostly if not completely a gimmick when it comes to drones.

Non-Linear Editor...i.e. whatever video editing software you use should offer different aspect ratio options, the anamorphic aspect ratio is 2.39:1.

I don't fly with a tablet, Autel doesn't allow me much functionality from just the RC so I shoot "default". I use them for "light control". with no filter on a sunny day, i'm washed out, with a 16, I get good images without a lot of post work

This is absolutely by no means meant to offend anyone...but the image is washing out because your camera settings are wrong. I tested the EVO's camera settings with just the remote and all of the ones you need to control the exposure (Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO) are available right on the remote. It sounds like your F stop is too low (i.e. F2.8), your shutter speed is too low (i.e. 1/80s) or your ISO is too high (i.e. ISO 400) for a sunny day and you are using the ND filter as a band aid to fix the issue instead of just setting it properly.

On a sunny day all you need is F11, ISO 100, and 1/200s - 1/400s (depending on the amount of light and time of day) and the exposure will be perfect. The remote also has an EV readout which helps somewhat, the histogram is more useful but probably only available in the app. If the image still looks washed out in post...just set the proper black point and if needed add contrast and the image will be perfect.

If you want simplicity, you could even leave it on Aperture Priority mode, Auto ISO, and Auto WB and simply control the exposure using the EV control. The only thing you would then need to do is set it to F11 on a sunny day and use the EV control to properly expose whatever is important to you in the composition (i.e. the highs, mids, or lows). All of these options are available right along the bottom of the remote's LCD screen.
 
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Cosimo

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the ND filter is not only intended to contain a correct exposure or a motion blur, NDs are also essential to manage and adjust the depth of field and to avoid strobing.
Personally, if I have to show my work on youtube I prefer to publish a good work.
Then the rules of photography were not written for someone's enjoyment there will be a reason.
From experience it is important for those who are just starting to master the rules and know how to adopt the right solution to every situation, such as flying even without Nd or with a CPL.
 
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herein2021

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the ND filter is not only intended to contain a correct exposure or a motion blur, NDs are also essential to manage and adjust the depth of field and to avoid strobing.
Personally, if I have to show my work on youtube I prefer to publish a good work.
Then the rules of photography were not written for someone's enjoyment there will be a reason.
From experience it is important for those who are just starting to master the rules and know how to adopt the right solution to every situation, such as flying even without Nd or with a CPL.

An ND filter does not affect the depth of field. An ND filter can be used to allow you to use a wider aperture in bright daylight such as F2.8 to achieve a shallower DOF by reducing the shutter speed but it cannot directly affect the DOF on its own. A drone camera is too wide of an angle of lens for the DOF difference between F2.8 and F11 to be noticeable, unless you are extremely close to the subject (5-10' or less) and the background is very far away...an unlikely scenario for a drone camera to be in. Shallow DOF starts becoming noticeable at reasonable distances as you get into 50mm, 85mm, and 100mm+ focal lengths.

The EVO II 6K's camera has an effective focal length of 25mm, no way will the difference in DOF be noticeable 100' up in the air between F2.8 vs F11. I also already mentioned flickering/strobing effect which is caused by LED lights operating at 60hz.....the only time you will encounter this is at night which is irrelevant to ND filters since at night ND filters are not required to achieve the 180 degree shutter angle.
 
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UasDriver

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I tested the EVO's camera settings with just the remote and all of the ones you need to control the exposure (Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO)
still learn'n, do those settings apply for both video and images? I shoot mostly video, I do tweak the EV when I shoot images.
 

Brock Inspector

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TLTR. Diffraction is a sufficiently strong argument in favor of NDs or CPLs rather than stopping down beyond f/5.6
 

herein2021

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TLTR. Diffraction is a sufficiently strong argument in favor of NDs or CPLs rather than stopping down beyond f/5.6

The EVO II 6K only stops down to F11 not F22 or F32 and it is a 25mm wide angle lens; most lens' sharpest Aperture is around F7.1 or F8.....F11 is not that far away from F8 and on a 25mm lens hundreds of feet up in the air the diffraction difference once again will be negligible if it's perceptible at all. Additionally, the EVO's lens is a prime lens, diffraction is a bigger concern for zoom lenses. All of these concerns (motion blur, shutter angle, diffraction, DOF), etc. need to be put into the perspective of the equipment being used and the way it is used.

Even diffraction concerns go out the window when talking about photography because at F7.1 on a bright sunny day you can just raise the shutter speed to 1/600 or 1/800 to get proper exposure. When it comes to video you actually want less sharpness not more which you can then add back in post which is why I shoot video with sharpness at -2 in ALOG.

The ONLY type of filter that I do think would be useful for drone work would be a graduated ND filter to better control the sky's exposure but even those will then limit the tilt angles available to the camera because beyond a certain tilt angle the ND portion of the filter will start to affect the ground but as long as the camera remained level a graduated ND filter could potentially provide some value in some scenarios.

still learn'n, do those settings apply for both video and images? I shoot mostly video, I do tweak the EV when I shoot images.

The settings do apply to both video and photography, the exposure triangle is the same for both; but with video you have less latitude since video is only 10 bits of data vs photography which is 14bits when shooting raw. So with video you have to more accurately dial in the EV. This is where the histogram is useful especially when shooting in ALOG; but you can definitely dial in the proper exposure without an ND filter using just the remote for both video and photography.

I know you don't want to use the app...but it is nearly impossible to get the full quality out of the camera without it. In my testing, the EV meter is wildly inaccurate; the histogram which is only visible in the app is the only tool I use to set exposure in ALOG and when shooting images and it helps me nail the proper exposure every time.
 
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herein2021

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TLTR you don't have as much knowledge as you purport wrt small sensors.

Sensor size has nothing to do with the way a camera and lens operates so basically in lieu of any actual facts or evidence to the contrary that's all you can come up with. Since diffraction is such a "strong argument" for ND filters you should have no problems picking the images below that were shot at F11.

I even made it easy....same time of day, same distance from subject, and a scene with plenty of detail in the tracks and rocks.

Diffraction-Proof (1).jpg Diffraction-Proof (2).jpg Diffraction-Proof (3).jpg Diffraction-Proof (4).jpg Diffraction-Proof (5).jpg
 

herein2021

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So it's not just me you're a jerk to. There's a name for guys like you but I'm too polite to repeat it here.

There's always one, usually more than one. The funny thing is; no response is still a response and when faced with facts silence speaks volumes. Every single scenario that's been presented so far on why people think they need ND filters for their drone cameras can easily be disproven by anyone willing to set up a proper test to do so.

Sensor size isn't even a consideration when discussing ND filters; regardless if the sensor is a cell phone 1/2.3" sensor or a Hasselblad MF sensor; if it is attached to a 25mm lens and lifted into the air with a drone my opinions about using an ND filter would not change.

BTW, for anyone who was unfamiliar with the reference that @Brock Inspector was trying to make; lens diffraction is when an image loses sharpness as you stop down the aperture. So for a lens like the one on the EVO II 6K, F2.8 will have the least amount of lens diffraction while F11 will have the most; this is true for all lenses regardless of what sensor is behind the lens.

So if you go strictly by the textbook (and ignore all other potential sources of image softness).....to get the sharpest image possible you would want to shoot at F2.8. In bright daylight there's a possibility that the only way to properly expose an image at F2.8 is to use an ND filter. The theory seems sound but its in fact very flawed (as textbook answers usually are):

  • ND Filter Induced Softness - I have never heard of a photographer or videographer using an ND filter just to counter diffraction...why? because ND filters themselves introduce more problems than the "diffraction" problem they are theoretically meant to fix. A customer will never notice diffraction distortion in most modern lenses, what they will notice is a green color cast caused by using an ND filter. For this reason, if you want the absolute sharpest image your camera can produce you typically use the shutter speed to control the exposure, not an ND filter or you buy a better lens. The last thing you want to do if you are trying to get the absolute sharpest image is add another piece of glass between the camera lens and the subject.
  • Lens Focal Length - Like I mentioned earlier, the lens is a 25mm prime lens; diffraction is more noticeable at longer focal lengths and with zoom lenses due to the additional glass elements that light must travel through. Also, as the images above proved....it is pretty much impossible to identify diffraction distortion with that particular lens. The images above were shot at F2.8, F5.0, F8.0, and F11.....diffraction distortion differences between them is nearly imperceptible even for someone looking for it.
  • Other Factors - There are many other factors that affect final sharpness; the type of lens, the number of elements in the lens, and many other factors affect how sharp a lens really is. Due to the way each lens is built, each lens has a specific focal length at which it is at its absolute sharpest. After testing hundreds if not thousands of lenses, the people who test these lenses for a living have concluded that most lenses are sharpest at F7.1 or F8.0. So even though lens diffraction may have the least impact on the lens at F2.8, other factors typically mean the lens is not actually sharpest at F2.8; in fact few if any lenses are at their sharpest at F2.8.
 
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parkgt

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"On a sunny day all you need is F11, ISO 100, and 1/200s - 1/400s (depending on the amount of light and time of day) and the exposure will be perfect. "

I would never use f11 on this or any lens I own. My 6K lens is sharpest around F4.0 and significantly worse at F11. Others may find their lens sweet spot not at f4.0, but I doubt any are anywhere near f11,
 

herein2021

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I would never use f11 on this or any lens I own. My 6K lens is sharpest around F4.0 and significantly worse at F11. Others may find their lens sweet spot not at f4.0, but I doubt any are anywhere near f11,

As I demonstrated with the images that I posted in #15 above.....the diffraction difference is negligible at best (at least with my own particular 6K); but yes if you want the absolute sharpest image you would shoot somewhere below F11. However, that applies primarily to photography and the context of my statement was that for video, your shutter speed would still be somewhat close to the 180 degree shutter angle rule by shooting at F11 without needing an ND filter.

Fortunately the 6K has a max shutter speed of 1/8000s vs 1/4000s which should allow anyone to shoot photography images well below F11 even on a sunny day. For video on the other hand overly sharpened images are the enemy and if you do not want the crispy camcorder look the image out of the 6K at F11 is perfectly acceptable; in fact I even reduce the sharpness further in camera by setting the sharpness to -2 when shooting in ALOG.
 

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Light rays don't scale with sensor size. The assertion that most lenses are designed to be sharpest at f/8-11 is not applicable to small sensors and lenses designed for them, with or w/o with irises. The ray angles become more severe, sooner. Herein2021 you're a gaslighting windbag. And just like a troll with multiple personalities, keep talking to yourself. Eagle928 I called you out for spreading false information, so that makes me a hater? Honestly, where do you (two? Same troll?) find enough time in the day for this nonsense?
 
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