Most landscape photographers regard filters as essential to their art. They carry them on every photo shoot and agonise over which type to choose, just as much as they do over their lens choices.
At the top end of the market Lee Filters have stood largely unchallenged for their range and optical quality for a couple of decades. Other manufacturers, such as Formatt Hitech and Singh Ray, have introduced alternatives. Chinese manufacturer NiSi have now staked their claim for market share with a range of square and rectangular glass filters, together with their own filter holder featuring a unique facility to mount their circular polariser within the adapter.
A few weeks ago I received their V5 100mm System Filter Holder Kit together with some hard and soft edged 150x100mm graduated neutral density filters and their 10 stop 100x100mm neutral density filter to review. They came carefully packed in stylish and robust leather-effect hard cases. The filter case has six slots to take either 150x100mm filters or 100x100mm filters using plastic spacers to raise them to the top of the case. The filters cannot touch each other and the outer shell is very rigid in order to protect them, just as well as they are all made of glass. I hope in the future they produce a ten-slot filter case.
The filter holder is fitted with three slots for square or rectangular 100mm filters and includes an 82mm adapter inside which their circular polariser threads neatly without increasing the distance from the lens at all. For smaller lenses, 62, 67, 72 and 77mm stepper rings are included in the kit.
The filter holder detaches from the 82mm adapter by pulling on a knurled knob which retracts one of three lugs which hold it in place (the other two are fixed). These are very small components which do not inspire much initial confidence but the holder is well engineered in sturdy aluminium and stayed on my lenses throughout my field tests. Despite a rather alarming tendency to spontaneously rotate on the adapter when changing from horizontal to vertical format, it never actually fell off. There is no cap supplied to cover the adapter if it is left on the lens so the adapter has to be unscrewed each time.
I like the way the circular polariser is fitted inside the lens adapter instead of in front of the filter holder, especially for those situations where you need to combine a CPL with ND or ND grad filters without causing vignetting – although I would rather have the CP fitted inside the filter holder for more convenience. It is possible to combine a polariser and three other filters with no vignetting, even at 16mm on full frame or 10mm on APS-C cameras. I tested this claim on my Canon 70D with a Canon 10-22 lens at 10mm and it is accurate. No other filter system can do this to the best of my knowledge.
The polarising effect is always fully adjustable using an ingenious knurled gear built into the adapter; it offers pleasing rich greens and browns and the usual improvement in cloud/sky contrast. Other reviewers have reported that the NiSi polariser darkens images less than other CPLs. The darkening clearly depends on sun position and subject matter so comparisons are difficult, but I found that I needed an extra 1.33 stops of shutter speed for this example with full polarization – certainly a little less than I am used to.
The ND and ND grad filters are made of high quality optical glass with the neutral density effect achieved with a nano coating applied to both sides. My only concern here was that if I drop one of these glass filters it would definitely break into pieces, which is something that would not happen with the resin ones.
In all my tests I could detect very little or no colour cast. In the Lofoten images shown here the camera white balance was set to daylight and has not been altered in processing. The settings reveal that my copy of the NiSi 10 stop ND proved to be closer to 9.2 stops (some individual variation is quite common with the stronger ND filters).
The NiSi 10 stopper comes fitted with a foam gasket which is wider at the top and bottom, completely excluding light entry when used in the innermost slot of either the NiSi filter holder or a Lee filter holder. I found this foam gasket to be the best. In case you were wondering, NiSi 100mm filters and Lee 100mm filters can be used in each other’s filter holders, although some variation in tightness is to be expected. If you already have filters you can mix and match brands.
My recommendation is definitely to consider NiSi in your filter choices. The optical quality of NiSi filters, their lack of colour cast and the absence of vignetting with the CPL are all very attractive features.
On the negative side there is some rather tricky fiddling with screw threads necessitated by the NiSi system. I have got used to fitting Lee adapters and plastic caps to all my landscape lenses and just clipping on a Lee filter holder. You cannot do this with the NiSi system. You need to screw and unscrew adapters depending on the lens you are using – and this can be very tricky when on location and under very cold conditions. I would rather have an adapter on each lens, just like the Lee system.
My current plan is to carry the NiSi holder for use with the polariser only. I will also carry the NiSi filter case with the excellent NiSi 10 stop filter and a mixture of NiSi, Lee and Formatt Hitech filters.
So, what is my advice for photographers who possess no filters already? I would definitely consider NiSi seriously. The cost of the V5 system filter holder complete with CPL and adapter rings is around £100 in the UK, much less than the equivalent from other manufacturers. The glass filters themselves are priced quite highly, similar to Lee filters, but the optical quality and lack of colour cast may make them worth it for you. Just handle them carefully and use the hard case.