I can almost hear the question ringing in my ears as I type out these words....who still needs to use filters? Followed by the snickering jab oh, you must be a Canon shooter! Followed by the adolencent nana-na-na-na I've got more dynamic range than you! :) Ok, now that I've got that off my chest, let me answer the question. YOU still need filters for landscape photography. While there may be an argument for not needing graduated neutral density filters most of the time, I still disagree that they are a thing of the past. As someone who doesn't want to spend an entire Friday night sitting at their computer cooking up 37 layer image files when editing my images, a tool that can help ensure I create the single best exposure possible IN the field will always have a place in my bag. There will come a day when the dynamic range of our cameras is significant enough that both graduated neutral density filters and multiple exposure image blending will no longer be required but we aren't there yet. In my opinion somewhere around 20 stops of dynamic range will do the job nicely. Regardless of dynamic range, one must have tool that won't be going away anytime soon is a circular polarizer. Even if you never photograph water, there are reflections everywhere you look in nature and many times reduction of these reflections will help you create a richer, more vibrant image and removal of these reflections in post is all but impossible. In addition, as a creative tool and a critical one at times, solid neutral density filters are also staying in my bag, at least until they build the technology into our cameras.
Back in 2010 I began teaching both private and group workshops to photographers from around the world and for almost as long I have used LEE graduated and solid neutral density filters and my trusty B+W circular polarizer. The folks at LEE provided a large amount of support to both myself and my workshop participants over the years and for the most part I have always been happy with their products. For a very long time there was a need for a filter holder that would work in conjunction with a circular polarizer. The need was so great in fact that some photographers would get creative and build their own. I remember the good old days (back before Instagram for you youngsters) when Ryan Dyar would build these contraptions using a filter hood and they were the business if you could get him to build you one. Finally, after years with nothing but hope LEE built it's first multi filter holder and shortly thereafter others followed suit.
Having used resin filters for the past 8 years and the fact that I am slightly abusive with my gear, every year or so my graduated filters would be toast, scratched to the point that it would start affecting image quality in certain lighting situations. My solid neutral density filters almost always ended up with chipped or had completely broken off corners due to dropping or sitting on them. The fact is that because I was unable to use my circular polarizer with my grad filters for so many years I developed some bad habits like handholding my grads that I am still working through today. My last set of LEE filters were scratched pretty bad due to passing them around at workshops and my general neglect of them. After a few situations facing backlighting where I couldn't get the shot I wanted, I decided to check out glass filters to replace my resin ones. I wandered into a local camera shop and saw some very nice looking ones made by Schneider Opitcs, but couldn't believe it when I saw the cost of over $300 for EACH filter.
Along Came Nisi
Right around this same time that I was considering glass to replace my resin filters I began hearing about a new kid on the block creating glass filters, a company called Nisi. A few weeks later the team at Nisi reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in receiving a set of their filters to test and share my thoughts on. I looked their products up and was excited to see they were offering glass filters for about half the price of the Schneider ones I had seen. I happily accepted their offer and a few days later I received a package in the mail with their 100mm system V5-Pro Filter Set which included:
- 1 x NiSi V5 PRO Holder includes 67mm 72mm 77mm Adaptor Rings+82mm Main Adapter+Landscape NC CPL(86mm)
- 1 x NiSi Glass 100x150mm Multi-coated Soft 0.9 (3-stop)+ 1 x Hard 0.9 (3-stop)+ 1 x Reverse 0.9 (3-stop) Graduated ND Filter
- 1 x NiSi Glass 100x100mm Nano Multicoated IR ND 0.9(3-Stop) Filter + 1 x IR ND 1.8 (6-Stop) + 1 x IR ND 3.0 (10-Stop) +1 x IR ND 4.5 (15-Stop) Filter
- 1 x NiSi All in One Case(can hold V5 or V5 PRO, adaptor rings and 8pcs filters at most)
- 1 x V5 Lens Cap + 1 x Square Filter Cleaning Eraser + 1 x Cleaning Cloth+1 (minus the rocket blower).
I packed my old LEE filters up in a box and tried to find a place for all of the new Nisi filters in my bag. The All In One case they provide does an incredible job of housing all of these components and is a nice addition to the kit, but not something I would personally ever use so that was the first thing to get set aside. Next, I tucked away the adaptor rings. Using the 82mm main adapter, the Landscape CPL and the V5 Pro Holder I attached them to my camera to see how they fit.
Right out of the box I was impressed with the design and fit of the holder and the quality feel of the filters themselves. Everything fit together nicely and even looked good sitting on my 5Dsr mounted on the worlds greatest tripod.
In The Field
I received these filters from Nisi almost a year ago, during the winter when I don't typically do a large amount of shooting. By the time spring rolled around, my amazing wife Lisa was 7 months pregnant with our son and two months later we were blessed with our second child, a super cool little guy named Oliver. As a result of this incredibly busy time, I didn't get a chance to run these filters through their paces until the fall when I made a trip over to Colorado to photograph fall color there. Using these filters has been a great experience and so far I have no complaints at all. The ability to easily pair neutral density filters with a CPL in the field is wonderful and I found myself creating images I may have otherwise passed by as a result. The image below of the famous Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado was created using the Nisi Filter Holder, Circular Polarizer and a soft edge .9 (3 stop) graduated neutral density filter. While the grad filter allowed me to balance the exposure of the scene and keep the highlights in the snow and sky in check, the ability to fine tune the position of the circular polarizer using the dial on the reverse made using this setup a breeze and very enjoyable. The glass filters, like my resin filters before them, have taken their usual beating, but unlike those resin filters the glass has remained scratch free and clear.
The image below, titled Dreams Of Lucidity, was created using a combination of the Nisi Filter Holder, the Nisi CPL, a .9 Nano IRND Solid filter and a .9 soft edge graduated neutral density filter. It was a tough exposure with a varied level of light in the scene but using this combination of filters I was able to balance it out quite well and still allow for a slight amount of movement in the water despite the bright backlit conditions.
In conclusion, I honestly feel this is a great set of filters and anyone who chooses to purchase them will be pleased with the both the products themselves and the ease of use. While this product was provided to me at no cost for the purpose of this review, I would not agree to such a relationship if I didn't believe in and plan to continue to use the product. There are many more creative and problem solving reasons to use filters in landscape photography and if you would like to learn more about them and try out this filter kit yourself in the field please consider joining me on one of my workshops this year. If I was to purchase a combination of filters from Nisi today I would pick up the Filter Holder, the CPL, the 1.8 solid ND and the .9 soft edge graduated filter. One and two stop grad filters have never been very useful to me personally as I find the difference between sky and foreground to almost always be closer to 3 stops. While a 3.0 (ten stop) solid ND filter can be fun, I find the exposures too long to be practical in most cases and the 1.8 (6 stop) to be much more useful.
The future is NOW
For the past 3 years I have considered leaving my day job to pursue my photography business full time. Just two months ago I finally made the move and now look forward to the increased opportunity to create more art, connect more with other photographers and collaborate with other businesses both large and small that continue to create products that both inspire and make our lives in the field a little easier. In the coming year I will be regularly publishing content here on my blog including gear reviews, photography tips n tricks, information related to my successful fine art print business and my experience helping to create the first international art gallery showcasing my work in Moscow. If you would like to follow along please subscribe, stay tuned and most of all Happy Shooting!!