BEST 100MM FILTER HOLDER FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY
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WHILE TESTING FOR THE BEST FILTERS, I LOOKED FOR THE BEST 100MM FILTER HOLDER FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY AS WELL, SEE WHAT I FOUND OUT!
In my last article, BEST FILTERS FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY, I reviewed six top filter brands, looking for the best filters for my work. However, once you have your filters ready to go, the way you’ll attach them to your camera is nearly as important as the filters themselves. So, in this article I tested six holders, looking for the best 100mm filter holder for my work!
WHY HOLDERS ARE IMPORTANT
Filter holders, in my opinion, are one of the most important, and underrated, pieces of equipment in our bag. When working in the field, efficacy and efficiency are equally important; choosing the right filter holder will help you working faster, better and in a safer way to protect your prized filters and get those amazing images you envision.
So, what do we need to look for, when looking for the best 100mm filter holder? Here’s the 5 key areas for me, starting from the camera outwards:
1. The adapter ring’s size.
The way you attach your holder to your lens is the first thing we need to pay attention to. Back in the day, most professional lenses featured a 77mm filter thread. Nowadays, 82mm is increasingly popular, and 86mm is starting to get a foothold as well. Let’s see what our candidate holders will offer!
2. Attaching the polarizer.
Most modern filter holders come with a built-in polarizer sitting between the lens and the holder itself. Polarizers are either mounted on the adapter ring, or mounted on the holder itself. You can then control the polarizer and turn it to taste via a wheel positioned either on the ring itself, or on the holder. Let’s see which holder offer the best solution to control our polarizer!
3. Attaching the holder.
How to attach the holder to the ring is the next important thing to consider. Some holders use a click-on system, with a lip that clicks back in place pushing the holder on. Other holders use a screw-on lip to fix the holder on the ring. Some holders use different systems, such as turn-lock knobs catching on the ring at certain positions, or screw-down knobs. Let’s find out all the various attaching systems, and which one works the best!
4. Sliding in the filters.
Traditionally, you’ll add filters to your holder by sliding them into guides. The number of slots will determine the number of filters you’ll be able to use concurrently. More recently, some holders started to feature filter frames as well. Let’s examine all the different systems, with their respective advantages!
5. Light tightness.
To prevent stary light to wrack havoc on our photos, we need ND filters, those closer to the camera, to be light-tight. To ensure that, the field here traditionally divided in two camps: some brands favor having a gasket on the back of each ND filter, other brands favor having a gasket built-in the holder. Recently, other solutions appeared, such as the use of frames. Let’s see how our candidate systems fared in keeping stray light out of the way!
Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not associated with any of the brands reviewed in this article nor have I received any payment from anyone to write this article. Filters tested here either come from my personal stock or have been kindly provided as demo units for the purpose of this article.
Let’s now examine the brands tested in this best 100mm filter holder review. Below you’ll find a description and review of each brand’s holder, with scope of delivery, specs, and more information as well as July 2021 prices.
Brands are listed in alphabetical order:
Holder tested: X100 GND Holder
In the box: X100 GND Holder, 1 x extra slot with dedicated screws, cleaning cloth, diamond case.
Size: 14,5 x 11,5 x 2,9cm | Weight: 158gr (w/polarizer & adapter ring)
Attaching system: clip-on lip, with separate locking screw. Both the extra locking screw, and the screw controlling the locking lip, are non-captive.
Polarizer support: No (when asked, Breakthrough informed me that the newly announced magnetic filters coming later this year will solve this).
Gasket: no, on ND filters
Slots: 2 standard, with the possibility to add a third (no tools required).
Available adapter rings: 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, 82mm, 86mm
Vignetting: Voigtlander 15mm & Leica M10: No | Rodenstock 23mm & Phase One XT: No | Rodenstock 32mm: No | Rodenstock 32mm fully shifted 12mm/12mm: yes, past 3mm on X axis
The Breakthrough X100 GND Holder is well built and, for what is worth, looks pretty cool. The holder is kept in place by a clip-on lip system, which is fast and secure and to me still one of the best solutions to attach a filter holder. A separate locking screw allows you to prevent the holder from turning when working. Unfortunately, both the screw controlling the lip and the locking screw are not captive, and one managed to unscrew itself and fall off during my time with the holder. The holder comes with 2 slots installed, and the possibility to add a third without the need for any tools. Filters slide in and out of the slots smoothly.
Despite adding a X4 CPL polarizer between the adapter ring and the holder, the Breakthrough X100 GND holder didn’t vignette with my Voigtlander 15mm & Leica M10, nor did it vignette with the Phase One XT Rodenstock 23mm and XT Rodenstock 32mm, when unshifted. Shifting the XT Rodenstock 32mm fully on both axes, however, showed a 3mm shift limitation on the X axis with this combination.
That said, however, the Breakthrough holder feels like a generation behind the current crop of more advanced holders on the market. The impossibility to attach a polarizer to the holder, either between lens & holder or in front of it, is a serious drawback and frankly a showstopper for me. More, the holder’s shape is such that ND filters, despite having a gasket on the filter’s back, won’t prevent light to come in from behind the filter; there are actual gaps that the gasket cannot completely cover. Finally, the holder comes with no adapter rings, and while this is not necessarily a drawback for me, it is standard practice for most brands nowadays to include rings in their packages.
Luckily, Breakthrough is aware of the situation and is studying a new magnetic system holder, which should come out soon. I’ll be looking forward to testing it when available.
Price of the kit tested here: $287 US | Website: BREAKTHROUGH.
Holder tested: Firecrest 100mm Holder Mk II
In the box: Firecrest 100mm Holder Mk II, 86mm Firecrest CPL Polarizer, 86-86mm geared adaptor, 82-86mm geared adaptor, 86-77mm step-down ring, 86-72mm step-down ring, 1 x set vented end caps, 1 x set closed end caps, 1 x spare slot kit including longer screws for 3-slot set up and Allen key, 1 x holder carrying bag.
Size: 14,1 x 11,1 x 1,5cm | Weight: 113gr (w/polarizer & adapter ring)
Attaching system: screw-down lip. The screw controlling the locking lip is captive.
Polarizer support: Yes, screw-on the adapter ring
Polarizer control wheel: on the holder, left side
Gasket: yes, on holder
Slots: 2 standard, with the possibility to add a third (slot, Allen key & longer screw kit provided).
Available (geared) adapter rings: 82mm, 86mm
Vignetting: Voigtlander 15mm & Leica M10: No | Rodenstock 23mm & Phase One XT: No | Rodenstock 32mm: No | Rodenstock 32mm fully shifted 12mm/12mm: yes, past 5mm on X axis
Formatt-Hitech built on the experience of the first Firecrest 100mm holder, improving it in many key areas. The Firecrest 100mm Holder Mk II now attaches to the adapter ring via a screw-down lip, doubling as a locking mechanism as well to prevent unwanted holder movement and rotations. Unfortunately, the catches on the opposite side of the screw-on lip are a bit small and require attention to properly lock onto. Notably, the Formatt-Hitech Firecrest 100mm Holder Mk II offers much better filter slots, now equipped with side-pushing springs, which make it easier to slide filters in and out (a real problem with Mk I).
The polarizer is screwed on the adapter ring and can be controlled via a geared wheel found on the holder’s left side. The polarizer control wheel works smoothly and is of a good size, even though it wouldn’t hurt if it were slightly larger for use with gloves. While this is a good arrangement, the extremely thin profile of the polarizer makes it very difficult to remove it from the adaptor ring in the field; an operation nearly impossible to do in cold temperatures. While not ideal, when you don’t need to use a polarizer your best option is to carry a second adaptor ring without polarizer and replace the whole ring, rather than trying and remove the polarizer from the ring itself.
As well, the Firecrest 100mm Holder Mk II now supports lenses with 86mm filter threads. However, for some reasons Formatt-Hitech decided to stop producing a geared adaptor for 77mm lenses, forcing you to use a step-up ring for those. While this works, since 77mm is still a very popular filter thread, especially for wide-angle lenses, it also makes the likelihood of vignetting much higher with such lenses.
To ensure light tightness, the holder comes both with a built-in gasket and with two sets of end caps, one vented one closed, that slide over the filter + holder combo to prevent light leaks. While this new solution is an improvement over the Mk I caps, it is still very cumbersome to use in the field, especially when working in freezing temperatures and with gloves. Back when I used Formatt-Hitech systems, I probably used the Mk I caps once or twice in 5 years; I found that the holder worked fine without them in most cases, and when I needed to prevent light leaks, covering the filters with a cloth worked just as well, and was faster and easier to do.
The Firecrest 100mm Holder Mk II holder didn’t vignette with my Voigtlander 15mm & Leica M10, nor did it vignette with the Phase One XT Rodenstock 23mm and XT Rodenstock 32mm used unshifted. Shifting the XT Rodenstock 32mm fully on both axes, however, showed a 5mm shift limitation on the X axis.
Price of the kit tested here: $178,75 US | Website: FORMATT-HITECH.
Holder tested: K100 Holder + 95mm Drop-In CPL Polarizer
In the box: K100 Holder, 95mm Drop-In CPL Polarizer, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, 82mm adapter rings, blanking plate for light seal without CPL, protective pouch.
Size: 13,3 x 11 x 2cm | Weight: 147gr (w/polarizer & adapter ring)
Attaching system: two lock-down screws. Both screws are captive.
Polarizer support: Yes, drop-in the holder
Polarizer control wheel: on the drop-in CPL filter (stays with the holder), left side at 11h
Gasket: not needed, magnetic filter frames
Slots: no need, magnetic filter frames
Available adapter rings: 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, 82mm, 86mm
Vignetting: Voigtlander 15mm & Leica M10: No | Rodenstock 23mm & Phase One XT: No | Rodenstock 32mm: No | Rodenstock 32mm fully shifted 12mm/12mm: No
The holder from H&Y is completely different from any of the others reviewed here and is, in my opinion, the most innovative in concept. Three main things differentiate it for the rest: first, and most important, the magnetic system used to keep filters in place; second, the drop-in polarizer; third, the way the holder attaches to the adapter ring.
To attach the holder to the lens, you’ll have to loosen two captive screws on the holder’s back, slide it over the adapter ring and tighten the two screws again. It takes a second to get used to this solution, and while it works, it is slightly more cumbersome than either of the classic clip-on lip or screw-on lip solutions most holders use, and much harder to do with gloves on.
Filters come mounted in magnetic frames, where they sit perfectly without any movement or play whatsoever. The magnetic frames ensure perfect light tightness, help you keeping your filters clean from fingerprints, add some extra protection in case they’ll fall, and ensure your filters will snap in place when bringing them close to the holder. Once magnetically attached to the holder, you can then slide filters up and down at leisure. While there are no filter slots per se, there is a slot-like pair of guides, with marks, that you can use to perfectly position and adjust your filters.
If you want to use more than one filter, say a ND and a Grad ND, you can snap the ND in place first (there even is a locking system to ensure that the first filter you’ll add will stay put) and stack the Grad ND on top of it – in fact, you can stack as many filters as you like, without any of the limitations imposed by having a fixed number of slots.
While the H&Y K100 Holder is truly innovative and easy to use, there are a couple of potential issue you’ll need to pay attention to. The first issue is a very minor one, but worth mentioning, nevertheless. Since the filter frames are magnetic, obviously they will only snap on the holder if you approach the holder with the correct polarity; if you turn them to the wrong side, holder and filter will repel each other. When that happens, it takes just a second to turn the filter to the right side, and if you don’t want to risk losing time at all, adding some visual aids on the filter’s frame will easily fix it.
The second issue is potentially more serious; while in my testing the magnets have proved strong enough and I never felt that the filters would risk falling off the holder, in the field you might need to be more careful with the H&Y K100 Holder, compared to a standard holder, since if you catch a Grad filter by accident, it might be easy to knock it off the holder.
The drop-in polarizer sits on the holder rather than on the adapter rings. The wheel used to turn it is placed at 11h, the most natural position to turn it with your left hand’s index finger. When you don’t need a polarizer, all you need to do is pull it out to remove it and replace it with a blanking plate to ensure light tightness.
The H&Y K100 Holder didn’t vignette with my Voigtlander 15mm & Leica M10, nor it did vignette with the Phase One XT Rodenstock 23mm and XT Rodenstock 32mm, either unshifted or fully shifted.
Price of the kit tested here: $229 US | Website: H&Y.
Holder tested: K9 Filter Holder
In the box: K9 Filter Holder, 90mm CPL Magnetic Polarizer, 77-90mm magnetic geared adapter ring, 82-90mm magnetic geared adapter ring, 67-82mm step-down ring, 72-82mm step-down ring, 1 x spare slot kit for 3-slot set up, 1 x 1.1mm thick spare slot kit, Hex key.
Size: 13,5 x 10,2 x 1,5cm | Weight: 102gr (w/polarizer & adapter ring)
Attaching system: screw-down lip. The screw controlling the locking lip is captive.
Polarizer support: Yes, magnetic, on the adapter ring
Polarizer control wheel: on the holder, left side
Gasket: yes, on holder
Slots: 2 standard, with the possibility to add a third (slot & Hex key provided).
Available (geared) adapter rings: 72mm, 77mm, 82mm, 86mm. Special rings: Olympus 7-14mm, Nikon Z 14-24mm F 2.8, Laowa 12mm, Laowa 17mm
Vignetting: Voigtlander 15mm & Leica M10: No | Rodenstock 23mm & Phase One XT: No | Rodenstock 32mm: No | Rodenstock 32mm fully shifted 12mm/12mm: no
The Kase K9 Filter Holder features a mix of tradition and innovation, as well as a wealth of options. The holder attaches to the adapter ring via a screw-on lip, which doubles as a locking mechanism to prevent the holder from rotating when in use. Filters slide in slots the traditional way, and the slots work smoothly and easily. Consistent with Kase approach to always try and offer maximum flexibility to their users, the holder comes with two slots installed, but you have the possibility to add one more. Everything is included in the box to add either an extra 2mm thick slot, or a 1.1mm slot for use with Kase’s Slim line of filters. To ensure light tightness, the holder comes equipped with a gasket that will perfectly seal the back of your ND filter.
When it comes to the polarizer, the K9 Filter Holder is unique in offering an innovative 90mm magnetic polarizer that clips on to the geared adapter ring. Paired with a dedicated finger recess on the holder, this allows you to add and remove your polarizer in one second under any weather conditions, contrarily to other solutions where the polarizer is screwed on the adapter ring making it extremely difficult to remove. More, this means that you can leave one geared adapter ring on each of your lenses, as I customarily do, and very easily move your polarizer from one lens to the other when needed.
Making the holder’s opening larger and sizing the polarizer 90mm rather than 86mm or smaller like other brands, allowed Kase to make the system much less prone to vignetting than other solution, as well as offering dedicated rings to use 100mm filters with special lenses. Adding to the system’s flexibility, Kase offers ring caps that can be used if you, like me, prefer to leave an adapter ring on each of your lenses.
The Kase K9 Filter Holder didn’t vignette with my Voigtlander 15mm & Leica M10, nor it did vignette with the Phase One XT Rodenstock 23mm and XT Rodenstock 32mm, either unshifted or fully shifted.
Price of the kit tested here: $139,95 US | Website: KASE.
Holder tested: 100mm V6 Filter Holder
In the box: 100mm V6 Filter Holder, Enhanced Landscape CPL Polarizer, 82mm main Adaptor ring, 67-82mm step-down ring, 72-82mm step-down ring, 77-82mm step-down ring, V6 lens cap, V6 soft pouch.
Size: 13,5 x 11,5 x 2cm | Weight: 143gr (w/polarizer & adapter ring)
Attaching system: pull-out lip. There is a separate locking screw, not captive.
Polarizer support: Yes, screw-on the adapter ring
Polarizer control wheel: two, small, on the adapter ring. Their position will change from lens to lens.
Gasket: no, on ND filters
Available (geared) adapter rings: 82mm. Also available 86mm, 95mm (not geared, no polarizer support).
Vignetting: Voigtlander 15mm & Leica M10: No | Rodenstock 23mm & Phase One XT: No, hint of soft vignetting rotating the holder 45 degrees | Rodenstock 32mm: No | Rodenstock 32mm fully shifted 12mm/12mm: yes, past 5mm on X axis
NiSi traditionally does a great job in constantly developing their holder, now reaching V6. The 100mm V6 Filter Holder is a traditional holder in concept, not straying from what has worked for them so far. The holder is kept in place by a pull-out lip, located on the right side of the holder. A separate locking screw is available to prevent unwanted rotations when working, but unfortunately the locking screw is not captive. As well, I find the double-point operation more cumbersome than, i.e., a screw-on lip solution.
The holder offers a fixed number of 3 filter slots, equipped with side springs allowing filters to slide in and out very smooth. To prevent light leaks, rather than fitting the holder with a gasket, NiSi went with gaskets on each ND filter.
The Enhanced Landscape CPL Polarizer comes screwed on the 82mm geared ring fixed on the lens. Normally, with holders following this approach the extremely thin profile of the polarizer makes it very difficult to remove it from the adaptor ring in the field; an operation nearly impossible to do in cold temperatures. To overcome this issue, NiSi decided to raise the profile of the adapter ring. While not solving the issue completely, this helps making operations less annoying than with other holders using a screw-on polarizer solution.
The only brand reviewed here to do so, NiSi decided to build two control wheels to turn the polarizes on the adapter ring, rather than having one on the holder. This creates a few issues worth pointing out. First, the two wheels are quite small, much smaller than those offered by any other brand in this review. While this is just a bit annoying in normal conditions, it really makes it nearly impossible to operate the wheels when wearing gloves. Second, since every lens’ filter thread is different, when moving your adapter ring from a lens to another, your control wheel end up in different positions, thus annoyingly breaking the flow when working in the field. Last, given the position of the wheels, when turning the camera from landscape to portrait orientation on your tripod, the wheels will find themselves in a totally different place, again breaking the flow.
The 100mm V6 Filter Holder didn’t vignette with my Voigtlander 15mm & Leica M10, nor did it vignette with the Phase One XT Rodenstock 23mm and XT Rodenstock 32mm used unshifted. Shifting the XT Rodenstock 32mm fully on both axes, however, showed a 5mm shift limitation on the X axis.
Price of the kit tested here: $229 US | Website: NISI.
WINE COUNTRY CAMERA
Holder tested: 100mm V2 Filter Holder
In the box: 100mm V2 Filter Holder, 1x 100x100mm Filter Vault, 1x 100x150mm Grad Filter Vault, 1x Adapter Ring, 1x Circular Polarizer (optional, will set you back additional $150 US), pouch.
Size: 16 x 16,3 x 3,5cm | Weight: 353gr (w/polarizer & adapter ring)
Attaching system: two continuously turning, scalloped knobs. There is a separate locking screw, not captive.
Polarizer support: Yes, drop-in the holder, locked via three turning, half-moon shaped metal locks
Polarizer control wheel: one, large, on the holder.
Gasket: not needed, filter frames
Available adapter rings: 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, 82mm, 86mm, 95mm.
Vignetting: Voigtlander 15mm & Leica M10: Yes | Rodenstock 23mm & Phase One XT: Yes | Rodenstock 32mm: No | Rodenstock 32mm fully shifted 12mm/12mm: yes, past 6mm on X axis
Wine Country Camera’s holder is the second iteration of their innovative Vault System holder, and it comes with improvements in the attachment of the adapter ring, polarizer’s installation, security of the filter vaults. The holder attaches to the adapter ring via two continuously turning, scalloped knobs. To place the holder on the adapter ring, you must first align both knobs with the scalloped side turned inwards to leave room for the ring to pass; then, once you positioned the holder on the ring, you must secure it by turning the knobs so that the scalloped sides now face outwards. While this is very well-built, in practice I find it unnecessarily cumbersome and potentially unsafe, since there are no stops to prevent you from overturning one or both knobs, or from placing them less precisely, or from positioning in the wrong direction, any of which situations might cause the holder to fall off.
Filters come mounted in filter vaults to ensure perfect light tightness, help you keeping your filters clean from fingerprints, add some extra protection in case they’ll fall, and allow you to easily slide your filters in the holder’s three slots. This is a great solution; however, there are a couple of issues worth pointing out. First, the filter vaults are made in such way that filters aren’t perfectly blocked in the vaults; there is a little play, making filters rattle slightly. Second, the first slot, the one closer to the lens, is shaped in such a way that it only accepts a square Grad ND; if you need to use just a single Grad ND, you’ll have to slide it into the second slot. This, of course, will void the light tightness provided by the vault. While it’s of no consequence in most cases, since you won’t be able to do long exposures without a ND filter with most cameras, it might be an issue when doing long exposures using Frame Averaging with cameras offering such feature, such as the Phase One XT I use. To prevent the issue, I recommend you’ll fill the ND slot with an empty square frame.
The polarizer is mounted directly on the holder and is kept in place by three turning metal discs. Contrarily to the knobs keeping the holder in place, the polarizer discs don’t turn continuously but are keyed so that they can either be open or closed, and they even feature a lock sign on them to make sure you’ll have them where you want them to be. Polarizer’s rotation is controlled by a very large, red metal wheel placed on the lower left side of the holder. The wheel is easy to grab and turn, but its action is not particularly smooth. More importantly, ergonomically there are two main issues with this solution. First, the wheel has been built in a fairly counterintuitive place. Second, when turning the wheel, I kept getting my thumb caught up in the side gear activated by the red wheel.
The main issue with the 100mm V2 Filter Holder, however, is vignetting. Unfortunately, the 100mm V2 Filter Holder did vignette with my Voigtlander 15mm & Leica M10, and it did vignette with the Phase One XT Rodenstock 23mm as well. While it did not vignette with the XT Rodenstock 32mm used unshifted, shifting the XT Rodenstock 32mm fully on both axes showed a 6mm shift limitation on the X axis.
Price of the kit tested here: $449 US | Website: WINE COUNTRY CAMERA.
Filter holders are such an important piece of equipment that is good to see pretty much all manufacturers at work to keep improving them with each iteration. Long gone are the days when we had to attach a polarizer in front of the whole filter assembly, or the times when we were forced to use plastic holders with unsafe attachment points to our lenses. Nowadays, we can happily enjoy a large range of filter holders, all with their strengths and weaknesses, some more innovative than others, but all perfectly adequate for the job, albeit with some potential limitations. It’s truly great to have so much choice and to be able to find products covering so many different requirements.
Personally, I have been using Medium Format cameras for years, and I am currently using a Phase One XT equipped with a IQ4 151 Mp digital back with Rodenstock lenses. My gear choice traditionally put me in a limbo where 100mm filters started to have to make way for the larger, cumbersome 150mm filters. While they work great, of course, I would never use 150mm filters if I can help it. Luckily, today there are so many options available in the 100mm arena that I don’t have to step up in size, and that for me is truly wonderful news.
First, let’s examine lens compatibility, or adapter rings. If a brand doesn’t offer rings allowing you to attach the holder to your lens, there is very little point in examining their holder further. We can divide brands examined here in two categories; one includes those offering one or two geared rings and making do with step-up rings for all other filter thread sizes; the other those offering dedicated rings for each filter thread size. Having dedicated rings can help prevent vignetting, since it will not require you to use thickness-adding step-up rings; what counts the most, however, is whether a brand will allow you to use your favorite lens fully, either via a dedicated ring or via step-up rings, or if it won’t.
The most complete option here is Wine Country Camera, covering every filter thread step between 49mm and 95mm with native adapter rings, with a polarizer. Second come H&Y, covering filter threads between 49mm and 86mm with native adapter rings, with a polarizer. Kase and Formatt-Hitech will allow you to use dedicated rings with a polarizer up to 86mm, with four geared rings and two geared rings respectively. NiSi only offer an 82mm geared adapter ring, while Breakthrough at this point doesn’t offer the option to have a built-in polarizer in the holder at all.
SIZE & WEIGHT
Then, let’s talk about size and weight, keeping in mind that all kits have been measured with holders, adapter rings and polarizers. Size and weight are important points to consider if you, like me, like to hike long distance with your camera bags; if you work out of your car most of the time, it can be lees relevant for you.
Kase is the lightest and smallest option, at 108 gr, closely followed by Formatt-Hitech at 113 gr. Next, we find H&Y and NiSi, both slightly bigger and both weighing in at just over 140 gr. Then we find Breakthrough, at nearly 160gr, and last come the huge & heavy Wine Country Camera holder at 353 gr, which is over three times heavier than Kase & Formatt-Hitech.
Once you are sure that your favorite holder is compatible with your lenses, ergonomics is one of the two most important quality to look for, in my opinion, the other one being light tightness. Let’s start examining ergonomics, point by point.
Attaching the holder. My favorite way to attach a holder to its adapter ring would be a clip-on lip with built-in locking screw, both combined in one same control point. Sadly, none of the tested brands offers such a solution. Among the holders tested here, my preference goes to the screw-on lip attaching system available with Kase and Formatt-Hitech, since it allows you to secure the holder, and lock it if needed, via one single control point. Since the catches on the opposite side of the screw-on lock are quite small and not easy to engage on the Formatt-Hitech holder, making it harder to clip on, I’ll give my preference to Kase’s K9 holder here.
Second best is H&Y’s solution with its two screw-down attachment points, followed by the clip-on lip with separate locking screw offered by Breakthrough, together with the pull-out lip with separate locking screw provided by NiSi. All of these holders work quite well, but with all of them if you want to lock your holder’s position, you’ll have to fiddle with two control points, with the risk of forgetting to lock or unlock something and end up having an accident. NiSi is clearly aware of this, so much so that they felt they had to add a warning about this on the holder.
My least favorite way to attach a holder to its adapter ring is the double-scalloped, continuously turning knobs solution adopted by Wine Country Camera. Not only operating the knobs is cumbersome and hard to do with gloves, but it feels like a potentially dangerous solution in that you are never sure whether your knobs are in the right position, or turned too little, or too far, and even when properly positioned they don’t firmly hold the holder in place, leaving some play that doesn’t feel too reassuring. To secure the holder, Wine Country Camera added a third control point, a locking screw to prevent the holder from moving, which unfortunately feature a non-captive screw.
Adding & removing the polarizer. Coming to polarizers, the field splits in two camps, with some brands attaching it to the adapter ring, and other brands attaching it to the filter holder. Let’s examine the two solutions separately, starting with the first group. Among the brands attaching their polarizers to the adapter ring, Formatt-Hitech and NiSi choose a screw-on solution, while Kase went for magnetically connecting the polarizer to the adapter ring. Since screwing the polarizer on and off in the field is extremely annoying and you must remove the holder to do it, while Kase’s solution is elegant and practical, allowing the polarizer to be removed with one finger while leaving the holder in place, Kase is definitely the best of the first camp for me.
In the second camp, H&Y went for a drop-in polarizer which takes a second to add and remove replacing the polarizer with a blanking plate, an operation that can be done without having to remove the holder from the lens, while Wine Country Camera went for a solution with the polarizer held in place by three half-turning discs, which can only be removed taking the holder off the lens. H&Y definitely offers the easiest, fastest and most efficient way to add a polarizer to the holder of the two and gets my vote for best of the second group.
Personally, I don’t have a definite preference for ring-attached polarizers versus holder-attached ones. What counts for me is being able to add and remove a polarizer, when needed, in the fastest and most secure way possible. Therefore, this section’s winner for me is Kase; second comes H&Y, followed by Wine Country Camera; in last come NiSi and Formatt-Hitech, with the former slightly easier to add and remove.
Controlling the polarizer. Here too the field splits in two groups, with most brands building the polarizer control on the holder, and one brand, NiSi, adding it to the adapter ring. Among brands building the control on the holder, the best arrangement is H&Y’s, with a large wheel perfectly placed where your index finger would be when your left hand is on the holder, allowing you to grip the older and turn the wheel in the easiest and most efficient way. Kase and Formatt-Hitech follow suit, with a wheel positioned at 9 o’clock. Wine Country Camera comes last, with a wheel positioned on the lower left corner of the holder, in the least ergonomic position, and with a second gear that might easily catch on your thumb when turning the polarizer.
The only brand going for a polarizer control on the adapter ring is NiSi, and unfortunately this is the less ergonomic and practical option of all, in my opinion. First, when you turn the camera from landscape to portrait orientation and go for the wheel, you’ll notice that it’s gone to a completely different place. Second, when you move your ring from a lens to another, you’ll notice that the wheel is in a different place. Last, the two wheels are so small, and recessed, that they become pretty hard to use when wearing gloves.
Dropping the filters. All modern holders reviewed here make it very easy to drop filters, thanks either to side-action springs working much better than the top-to-bottom pressing ones of old, or to frames. While the only clear advantage allowed by frames is that of preventing fingerprints, something I never had a problem with because I never hold my filters in such a way that my fingers stay off them, I’ll have to give this section to H&Y and Wine Country Camera.
Cleaning your filters. Fingerprints aren’t by far the only way your filters can get dirty. Dust, sea spray, rain droplets, and so on can leave their marks on them. My favorite way to clean my filters is by running them under fresh water, which removes salt and dust without grinding on the filters, and then drying them with a clean cloth or towel. Filters with gasket on them make cleaning them this way much harder to do, and since the gasket tends to stick to cleaning cloths, make cleaning them more difficult overall.
Coming to filters with frames, that depends; if the filters are removable, such as with Wine Country Camera, then no problem – just take them out, clean them and put them back in. With H&Y, however, frames are glued to the filters with double-sided tape, making it unfeasible to remove them from the frame every time you need to clean them, and very hard to clean running them under clean water. I cleaned them with a wet towel, which works as well if you took care about removing dust and sand before wiping them.
This is one of the most important aspect when choosing the best 100mm filter holder for your photography. In short, this is the issue: doing long exposures with a strong ND filter, stray light bouncing around during the exposure might start to affect your image by creating halos, areas with lower contrast, faux-images, flare, and so on. To prevent such phenomenon, we need to make sure that there is as little stray light as possible.
Traditionally, brands tried to solve this problem adding a gasket on the back of the filter; in more recent years, some brands moved the gasket to the holder, a solution I personally prefer. Some added holder caps to keep stray light out. Finally, some brands started enclosing their filters in frames built in such a way that they would perfectly seal ND filters, including their sides, thus preventing stray light from coming in.
Among the holders tested here, H&Y and Wine Country Camera went for the frame solution; both systems work perfectly in keeping stray light at bay, being the clear winners of this section.
In second place, we find three brands: Kase and Formatt-Hitech, both featuring on-holder gaskets, and NiSi, featuring on-filter gaskets. While they all cover a large portion of the ND filter, all three holders are designed in such a way that a tiny portion of the ND filter itself will protrude out of the holder’s profile. Since this can cause light leaks in particular shooting situations, when the light hits the filters at certain angles, a solution needs to be found. Formatt-Hitech added holder caps, which do improve things in certain situations, but are so cumbersome to use that I never did during my years working with them. Kase and NiSi didn’t offer any such cap, which is just as well since my solution has always been that of covering the filters with a cloth, when needed – just as efficient, if not more, than Formatt-Hitech’s caps, albeit definitely not as elegant.
In last place we’ll find Breakthrough; while they went for on-filter gaskets as well, the shape of their holder is such that it’s nearly impossible to place the filter in such a way to make it perfectly seal against the holder itself. In turn, this makes Breakthrough’s holder the least light tight of the bunch.
WHICH ONE SHOULD YOU GET?
Finally, let’s now come to my overall recommendations for the best 100mm holder for landscape photography.
Overall, you’ll find the best combination of ergonomics, ease of use and light tightness on the market today in Kase’s and H&Y’s holders, which share the first place in my review.
H&Y. Their frames ensure perfect light tightness, their polarizer solution is the second best, and the system never vignette, not even with the XT Rodenstock fully shifted. Thanks to the magnetic frame system, you can add as many filters as you like. They offer a large range of dedicated rings, allowing you to use it on 86mm lenses without any problem, and their holder is small and light enough to carry it without even noticing it in your bag. Putting together these results with the results of my filters’ test, H&Y is now my brand of choice!
Kase. Ergonomically extremely well organized, their holder is the smallest and lightest in the bunch, their magnetic polarizer system is the best, and their holder never vignettes, not even with the XT Rodenstock 32mm fully shifted. More, they offer the most complete package out of the box in terms of accessories. While less light-tight than H&Y, their system works well enough and for those situations where stary light can be a problem, covering the filters with a cloth will work.
Second comes Formatt-Hitech. While their offer is very similar to Kase, adding and removing the polarizer on the Firecrest holder is much more difficult to do, the package is slightly less complete and the holder will vignette with the XT Rodenstock 32mm fully shifted, thus making it overall a less compelling choice.
In third position, we find NiSi. While apparently also very similar in design to Formatt-Hitech, the design of the polarizer rotating mechanism makes it much less of a joy to use, not to say downright annoying, than any other holder in the review. More, the largest filter thread supported while allowing for the use of a polarizer is 82mm vs the first three holders’ 86mm, thus limiting the holder’s use. Last, this combination will also vignette with the XT Rodenstock 32mm fully shifted.
In fourth position comes Wine Country Camera. Their holder is an engineering feat, but the result is bulky and between 3 and 2.5 times heavier than the four holders above; in use, it is much more cumbersome than any of the above solutions, and despite its size it will vignette much more easily than any other holder reviewed here, having troubles even with the Voigtlander 15mm on the Leica M10, a combination that all other holders worked perfectly fine with. The filter vault is a good idea, but it’s not enough to overcome all the above shortcomings in my view; and, if frames is your solution of choice to prevent light leaks, H&Y’s solution works much better at half the price, and you will buy into a brand offering a much wider selection of filters as well.
Last comes Breakthrough, but as mentioned at the beginning of the article, there will be a new system coming soon which should be more comparable in terms of features to the more advanced holders tested here. If possible, it will be my pleasure to test it and add my findings when the time comes.
Last, let’s not forget that holders don’t work without filters, check out my previous article BEST FILTERS FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY to find out the best filters for you!
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