Testing NiSi filters
Those who fall in love with landscape photography will, sooner or later, ask the question: "How can I overcome the limitations of the dynamic range of my camera?" As you know, to overcome the problem I have chosen the use of optical filters, always trying to perfect the absolute highest quality.
With this in mind, over the last 10 years I have had the opportunity to test almost all the brands currently on the market and whenever I can, I'm happy to try new products. For this reason I'm really happy to be contacted by NiSi, a Chinese manufacturer of filters with decades of experience in the world of equipment for video, which recently decided to approach the world of photography. I know, every time we read "made in China" we turn up our noses, and so did I, I must confess.
"Only the dead and the stupid never change their opinion" said James Russell Lowell once. Was he right? Let's find out together
Opening a parcel takes you back to childhood, whatever age you are, let alone when it is a parcel full of photographic filters! The boys from NiSi were really friendly and gave me a very complete kit with everything a landscape photographer could want:
- Holder Kit 100mm V3
- ND filters from 3 to 10 stops
- GND filters Soft and Hard edges
- Filter bag and filter cleaner
It’s true, it is what's inside the boxes that counts, not how they are made. However I must admit that the packaging of individual filters are very well done: each filter is supplied sealed and placed inside a hard, faux leather case, perfect to be put in our backpack without the risk of breaking it.
A little less importance is given to the packaging of the Holder V3, but as we will see later, you will forgive this for its other qualities, which luckily are what count.
Build quality of the filters
I know I'm boring, but we are looking for quality, and for this, the details matter. For this reason, even before trying to use what I had received, I carefully inspected it at home and compared it with other filters I normally use.
As for the ND filters and GND, I have been struck by the fact that there are no filters made of resin, but all are glass filters. I think they chose this based on the experience of NiSi in the world of cinema, and I must say that I'm so happy because the resin filters are scratched way too easily, especially considering that we do not use them in a photographic studio but while clinging to some cliff!
In all the ND filters (even the 3-stop unlike the Lee filters that I use habitually) one side has a spongy seal to prevent infiltration of unwanted light once mounted in the holder: really great.
With regard to the GND filters, at first sight it looks that they have a warmer colour cast compared to Lee filters. In addition, the filters have a soft transition between the transparent and the ND parts, much more nuanced than Lee filters, which can again be very useful.
I am somewhat less enthusiastic about the polarizer that comes together with the Holder V3. As you can see from the still valid "LED TV Test", this filter does not allow you to achieve a complete polarization.
This is certainly due to the fact that the filter is very thin to be able to be used with the Holder V3. As we will see the results in the field, it is absolutely an acceptable compromise for the benefits introduced by the Holder V3.
UPDATE: Problem completely solved in the brand new V5 Holder version!
The Holder Kit V3 100mm
I have mentioned it too many times in this article, and now you will be curious to know what it is. The system Holder of NiSi consists of three elements:
- A set of adapter rings
- A Holder
- An ultra slim polarizer
The great advantage of this kit is that you really have everything you need, in a single package.
The adapter rings are modular, like the step-up rings. This allows us to not have to buy a new ring for each target that we have, but simply by joining one or more rings we can reach the diameter of our lens.
Above the ring you can mount the Holder that comes with three slots for filters. The three slots are customizable in number according to necessity as they are held together by screws
And the polarizer? And 'the real stroke of genius of this Holder. The whole system is designed to ensure that the polarizer is mounted on the adapter and not on the holder same as with the Lee Holder and Hitech for example. Through a mechanical transmission, you can then rotate the polarizer with the Holder installed!
The advantages are indisputable:
- Ability to use a polarizer without having to purchase a costly 105mm
- No vignetting at 16mm!
This requires a specially designed ultra slim polarizer and that's why NiSi had to choose the tradeoff between bias factor and thickness of which we spoke earlier.
Another positive of this is that Holder is made entirely of aluminum: this guarantees lightness and strength, unlike many holders that are on the market at even higher prices.
The filters in the field
Ok, so far these filters are promoted with flying colors but what use are filters that are only good on the kitchen table? None.
So I went to my beloved Gulf of Poets to try them, comparing them where possible, to my Lee filters. Because, as always, we are looking for quality, all tests were performed with a Nikon D810 and Zeiss Distagon lenses.
I tried every filter individually and I could share the results of each filter, but as the most difficult situation (and more like reality) is when using multiple filters together, I will show the pictures taken in these three cases:
- Image 1: Reference Shot
- Image 2: GND 3 NiSi stop + NiSi ND 10 stops + NiSi Circular Polarizer
- Image 3: GND 3 Stop + Lee Lee Big Stopper (10 stops) + 105mm Heliopan Polarizer
The photos have been imported into Lightroom and corrected only as far as distortion and chromatic aberration, as it involves defects of the lens and not the filters.
Here below you can compare some 100% crops between NiSi and Lee
I was speechless.
You can reach your own conclusions (obviously all the RAW files are available upon request), but for me on these NiSi filters I can point out:
- Absence of any optical distortion
- No unwanted reflections
- Colour cast is closer to reality and very uniform
I must admit that I was really amazed with NiSi, as these filters are really like (if not superior) to the far more popular Lee and Formatt-Hitech, and certainly light years ahead of the amateur Cokin or Ray Masters filters.
There is still some room for improvement in particular on the Holder, but it still represents a viable alternative to the more famous systems both for quality and price (and remember the possibility of using a polarizer without having to purchase a 105mm one).
In addition, this system allows in fact to use 3 different filters plus a polarizer without vignetting at 16mm, which nowadays is absolutely impossible with any other system on the market! (Including the Lee system that I commonly use)
Therefore, if you are approaching the world of filters or want to switch from an amateur system to a more professional one, I recommend you give serious consideration to NiSi (which by the way is easily purchased through Amazon).
As always, I am available for all your questions, and all NiSi filters in my possession are available for field trials during my Workshops!
Update - August 2016: V5 Holder
The review above was written after testing the V3 Holder, that even if it was a great tool, something could be improved. Since the beginning of 2016 I had the chance to test the brand new Holder V5 that introduces several upgrades from the previous version:
- New Polarizer: the limited polarization was completely solved! Also there is an improvement on color cast: the filters is even more neutral
- New packaging: well, not a big issue, but the V5 box was completely redesigned and now looks more professional
- Anti reflection details: all the chrome surfaces were removed, even from screws. This will prevent unwanted reflections.
If the Holder V3 was already a step forward from every holder seen before, the new Holder V5 is even better. Honestly I'm not able to find a reason why not to bring it with me in every adventure.