As a landscape photographer, I love using filters. They’re a great tool for removing glare, creating dramatic skies, and slowing down time for long exposure shots (either creating a sense of movement, or “removing” moving objects/people). And I find that using actual filter glass in front of the lens creates much better quality photos than if you tried to create similar effects in your post processing apps.
Until recently, I’ve been using filters from a variety of brands. When I first bought my square filter holder and basic set-up a few years ago, I was purely relying on what my photography meetup friends were telling me. Quite honestly, I did not yet really understand the possibilities that this new piece of kit would open up to me.
At the time, the advice I was given was to go cheap, get used to using filters in the first place, and then upgrade to something like Lee Filters.
As a result, I think I ended up with a cheap Cokin holder to fit 100mm glass, a couple of Cokin natural density and graduated filters, as well as a Zomei “Big Stopper”. I remember the latter, especially, presenting a huge learning curve – never before had I even heard about the “bulb” setting on my camera. 30 seconds was the maximum exposure I’d ever used before, and that was to photograph the Northern Lights (badly). Now that the Big Stopper was reducing the light hitting the camera sensor by 10 stops, I had to expose for much longer. A cheap remote control was another resulting purchase..
This first set-up served me ok for a little while, or until I realised that my white balance was completely off, even a bit weird, when shooting with the Big Stopper. Every photo I took with it had to have its white balance adjusted quite dramatically in Lightroom, for it to look natural. That’s when the term “colour cast” entered my photographic vocabulary. The Zomei glass had a terrible purple-blueish colour cast!
Frustration set in, when I started comparing my photos with those of my peers, and it wasn’t long until I bit the bullet and invested in a Big Stopper made by Lee Filters. At £100 this was a big gamble for me at the time, as I wasn’t even sure yet whether I was any good at this photography thing, or even, if I wanted to stick with it.
The new glass was a revelation though, and I was happy with the colours my images were turning out with. So I decided to upgrade the filter holder and wide-angle adaptor ring as well to give me a more stable set-up.
Then I dropped the filter. Accidentally of course.. I was being silly and not paying attention to what I was doing, didn’t realise the filter holder wasn’t fixed to the lens properly, and before I knew it, the whole thing fell onto rocks on a beach and smashed.
How many years of bad luck do they say broken glass brings with it?
I can’t remember, but it really wasn’t a particularly happy year for me, so I’ll blame it all on the filters.
Anyway. As I said, these Lee Filters do not come cheap. So it took me a few months to scrape together the pennies to replace the broken Big Stopper – and add it’s friend the “Little Stopper” (6 stop) to the family.
More fun times learning to make better use of these and my other filters followed, and I became more and more confident that I knew what I was doing.
There were still a few little annoyances I was dealing with, however.
Even though I was using a 100mm filter set-up on my then 16-50mm wide angle lens on a crop sensor (Sony A77), I couldn’t actually shoot at the widest 16mm setting because with filters in front of the lens, the corners of the image would be heavily vignetted. This was fixable to some extent in post processing, but it was fiddly and annoying.
And of course the problem remained once I’d upgraded to a full frame camera (Sony A7Riii) with the equivalent lens (24-70mm). In retrospect, I think it could have been because I skimped on getting the super-duper wide angle landscape adaptor ring (which costs a small fortune), and was using the regular wide angle adaptor ring instead. But maybe I’m just making excuses now.
Either way.. Whilst on a photography weekend in my favourite location on the South Coast, I noticed my friend Emma using a fancy new filter set. It looked like a really clever set-up: stable, well made and perfectly sealed from letting in unwanted light between the filters and lens, and the glass looked distinctly different to my (now battered and old) filters. That’s the other thing I found with Lee Filters by the way: they scratch and smudge SO easily, and spray from sea water damages them badly in a very short time.
This is when I learnt about NiSi Filters. A brand I’d so far never even heard of before – and I’m usually pretty suspicious about things that appear new to me.
I was grateful that Emma let me play with her 100mm filter set, so I could get a feel for the glass. And I was instantly in love.
Whilst it was a huge step up from my cheap Cokin and Zomei filters to the Lee filters, NiSi was worlds apart from these guys. The glass produces no colour cast to speak of! It’s also coated in some special water-repellent material so that you can easily wipe them down or clean them without causing major damage to the filter. And, the most ingenious feature of all? The NiSi filter set-up comes with a dedicated circular polarizer filter which screws into your lens (or in the case of the 150mm kit, into the holder) and can be controlled via a little wheel that’s integrated into the filter holder!! My mind was officially blown.
Whilst I was still suspicious of the brand and wanted to do a bit of research first, I must say I was mightily impressed by this impromptu road test.
Back home from the weekend trip, I set about finding out everything I needed to know about NiSi – and basically ended up making an extensive shopping list.
Remember I said Lee filters are not cheap? Well, NiSi isn’t either, but I feel much more confident now that I know what I’m doing, and that whatever I spend on photography equipment will be put to damn good use. And besides, the way in which the NiSi kits are put together, you’re likely to spend less money overall than for the same set up with Lee, for example.
The basic V6 (and the older V5) 100mm square filter set-up kit comprises the filter holder, circular polarizer filter, a variety of adaptor rings to fit the holder onto lenses with different diameters, a lens cap to use when the polarizer is on the front of your lens, and a nice little pouch to keep everything safe and snug.
The S5 150mm square filter set-up kit, similarly, comprises the much larger filter holder (which you purchase specifically to fit your camera brand’s super-wide angle lens, in my case Sony), a giant circular polarizer filter which screws into the holder, and a slightly larger pouch to keep the bits and pieces in.
And then of course NiSi have an extensive variety of filter glass, both to fit the 100mm as well as the 150mm holders. Literally everything you could possibly need as a landscape photographer is available.
When the Photography Show then came around at the Birmingham NEC this year, I decided to have a look at the NiSi stall, to try and get some more advice, and maybe buy the first few components from my shopping list.
I had recently upgraded my super-wide angle lens from a cheap Tamron 10-20mm (for APS-C) to the native Sony 12-24mm (for full frame), and I love that lens. The problem is that a 100mm filter is too small, so top of my NiSi list was a filter set up for this beautiful lens. At the Photography Show, I ended up chatting with Phil Norton, one of the UK landscape photographers endorsed by NiSi. Not only did he give me a lot of advice, and let me handle the filter kit and glass I’d been reading up about – he of course also convinced me into making the purchase. And I still don’t regret it for one second.
Since then I have been using my S5 150mm kit at every opportunity, and I’m planning to buy more glass when I can. At the moment I mostly use either the Soft Grad or Medium Grad, or both combined, as well as the Natural Night filters. While the grads are fantastic for creating moody skies and slowing down the movement of water and clouds, the Natural Night filter instantly gets rid of the orange hues synthetic light creates at night, allowing you to take stunning night photos without having to adjust the white balance settings too much in Lightroom.
I was also given the smaller V6 100mm kit for my birthday this year, and am frantically saving up for the right glass to use in this one as well.
All I can say so far is that NiSi have changed the way I feel about filters for the better. A big thank you to Emma and Phil for introducing me to this brand and converting me.
I’m much more likely than ever before to spend the extra time to attach the filter holder and glass to my lens, because I’m confident that the results will be absolutely worth it. I can’t recommend the brand highly enough, which is why, below, you’ll find a bunch of Amazon purchase links if you’re in the market for some new filters.
If you shoot landscapes, seascapes, night scenes, or similar, give these guys a chance. You won’t regret it.
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