Filters are rapidly becoming an essential piece of equipment in most photographer’s camera bag. However, as the demand grows so does the number of suppliers; Lee, NiSi, Formatt-Hitech, Wine Country Camera, and more.
Choosing the right filters isn’t as easy as it sounds. High-quality filters are rarely cheap and many of us can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a product that doesn’t meet our expectations. The price of ND Filters varies from $10-200+ which means that you don’t need to buy the most expensive (even though the price in many cases does also reflect the quality).
About one year ago I was contacted by a Chinese brand named NiSi and invited to test their products. Initially, I was a bit skeptical as I knew little about them and I haven’t had a great experience with Chinese equipment previously (unfortunately). This is my experience with their filter system and filters one year later.
The NiSi Filter System provides a positive impression straight out of the box. The filter holder is contained in a beautiful leather box, just like the filter pouch.
I won’t spend too much time talking about the packaging, as I believe the filter quality is more important. Still, it is worth mentioning that the presentation is beautiful and it looks exclusive right away. The only drawback to these beautiful leather boxes is that they are a bit large and they take up a lot of space in your backpack compared to smaller pouches such as LEE’s. However, if it takes too much space you can just remove the holder and leave the box at home.
The Filter Holder
During the first couple of weeks using the NiSi Filters, I wasn’t quite sure whether I preferred their filter holder or the one made by LEE (which I had been using for more than two years). The NiSi holder is made of metal compared to LEE’s which is made of plastic, but it also seemed slightly less stable. Since the clips are so small I was afraid that the filter holder would fall off the adapter.
After having used the system for nearly one year, however, I’m no longer in any doubt that the NiSi holder is better. I’ve had no problems with neither the V5 Holder (standard for most lenses) or the larger holder for my Nikon 14-24mm.
Also, the NiSi Filter Holder has one of my all-time favorite features. It has the possibility of having a Circular Polarizer behind the Graduated Neutral Density (GND) or ND Filters, and it is easily adjustable using a small wheel.
I’ve always found it hard to combine a Polarizer and Graduated or regular ND Filters. Either you need to screw the Polarizer on the lens and attach the holder outside, which usually results in vignetting. Or you need to purchase an adapter and a huge Polarizer to place in front of the lens (which also often leads to vignetting). NiSi has completely removed this problem and it’s never been easier to combine these filters. I’ll come back to the NiSi CPL in a bit.
It’s also worth mentioning that you are able to use other brands’ filters in the NiSi holder. I’ve tested with both Singh-Ray and LEE filters and it works perfectly fine, though it can be a little tight to insert them.
The Filters (ND, GND, CPL)
So, the filter holder proved to be of high quality but what about the actual filters?
When I evaluate filters there are two main things I look for; colorcast and quality of the glass. This was my biggest worry in the beginning since, as I mentioned, I was already pleased with my current system.
NiSi Neutral Density Filters
One of my biggest frustrations with the majority of filters I’ve tested so far is the color cast. Worst of them all, despite being a great filter otherwise, is LEE Filters. I had used LEE Filters for years and had gotten used to the heavy blue color cast. Even though it’s fairly quick to fix in Adobe Lightroom or Camera RAW, it feels unnecessary to repeat this step each time you bring out a six or 10-stop ND filter.
Even though I initially had no intent of switching from LEE. But I would consider it if I found the color cast to be significantly less and the quality of the glass to be no less. My biggest surprise when taking the first image with my new NiSi 10-Stop ND Filter was that there was absolutely no color cast. Nothing. Nada. I honestly had to rub my eyes a few times to make sure I saw it correctly. No heavy blue color cast, no bright yellow. Nothing.
This is a big reason why today, more or less, I only have NiSi Filters in my camera bag.
Another benefit of the NiSi filters is that the filters are of glass, not resin. This makes them more durable, harder to scratch and (most importantly…) easier to clean! All the ND Filters (regardless of strength) have a soft foam/sponge on the back to avoid any light leaks. This is similar to LEE’s Big Stopper and Little Stopper but NiSi also has it on their lighter ND Filters.
NiSi Graduated Neutral Density Filters
The NiSi Graduated Neutral Density Filters have a slightly warmer color cast compared to LEE. However, the color cast is so little that it’s hardly worth mentioning. The same goes for LEE; the GND color cast is hardly noticeable at all.
Again, the NiSi filters are glass, not resin, which makes them harder to scratch and damage. This is great for outdoor photographers who often find themselves in less than ideal situations. After a year of using these filters regularly, I still haven’t got any scratches besides the few on the edges as a result of being placed in and out of the filter holder. These scratches aren’t visible on images, though, and are completely normal for any brand.
While I do like the NiSi GND Filters, my only issue is that the color cast of the 175mm (for my Nikon 14-24mm) is more visible than on the V5 holder. I only recently received this filter so I haven’t been able to do extensive tests on it yet. But at the first glance, it was a yellowish cast in the upper part of the filter.
NiSi Circular Polarizer
As I mentioned in the introduction, the NiSi Filter Holder has one of my all-time favorite features of a filter system; the possibility of placing a Circular Polarizer inside the holder.
Compared to most other brands, NiSi’s Circular Polarizer is extremely slim. I was actually surprised by how thin it was when I first saw it and, honestly, that gave me a negative first impression.
Being able to insert the CPL within the holder and adjust it by turning a tiny wheel is a brilliant solution, though. Despite the fact that I felt like the filter was a bit too thin and perhaps not as high-quality as the other filters, it’s a more convenient solution than stacking a huge CPL outside of the other filters (and a more affordable option as well).
After testing the CPL for a while I concluded that the quality is in fact as good as my current B+W CPL and the color cast is, again, not a problem.
The biggest drawback is that you’re not able to use only the CPL without the Filter Holder. Since the CPL is placed in a special thread inside the holder you can’t place it on the lens without the holder. I often prefer to keep my CPL on the lens when walking around a city or going on a hike. This isn’t a good option with the NiSi CPL, unfortunately, so I still bring my B+W filter with me.
Besides the fact that it’s not as portable as other options the quality meets my demands. Therefore, I hope that they make an extra option where it’s easy to leave it on the lens at any given time.
Was it a mistake switching from LEE?
It’s been almost a year since I got my first NiSi Filters now and every week I’m asked what I think about their filters and if it’s worth switching systems.
I think it’s important to state that I never considered switching from LEE and I was very satisfied with their filters and I still believe that they are among the best available on the market. However, I do not regret switching and I love using filters that have little-to-none color cast, while still being of a high quality.