I spent years getting away without using a filter system. I watched videos where photographers wouldn’t leave home without them and others who said modern technology makes them unnecessary. I told myself I can get by with just my circular polarizer and honestly I did. So why did I decide to invest into a filter system if I was getting by without one? The answer is versatility, ease of use, and the usability of graduated filters (we’ll get to that one later). I don’t want to dwell too much on why you need or don’t need a filter system. I personally think you can get by without them professionally, but it’s a wonderful tool to have when you have the space.
The advantages for using a filter system for me are:
- Stackable ND's for precise exposures
- Easily removable when using 10+ stop ND's to check composition
- Graduated ND's
- Less vignetting from Circular Polarizer
- Let's be honest - Style points!
You'll notice using Graduated ND's isn't at the top of the list, which I think is one of the main reasons many people invest in filter systems. My editing and workflow has gotten very adept at taking multiple exposures of scenes to capture the entire dynamic range. The use of GND's isn't as necessary for the style of photos I take, but at least now I have the option.
My biggest desire in a filter system was stackable ND's and ease of use. I want something where I don't have to screw on and off different filters to get the correct exposure, which can be a real pain in the butt when your standing in 20 degree weather or balancing on some rocks in a river! So when I started looking around at the options out there, the most important feature was how pleasurable the system is to use - something that enables me to shoot what I want and not get in the way.
After weeks of research and thinking, it became really obvious what system I wanted - Wine Country Camera! First of all, who or what is Wine Country Camera? WCC is a brand started by professional photographer Rod Clark with the idea in mind to really fix major issues in the filter system market. While I can admit that I didn't have first hand experience using other filter systems, after extensive research it became obvious how behind every other company was in their design. For complete transparency it should be known that no incentives were provided in any way for writing this. I actually emailed Rod to find out if he would send me a system to review before purchasing and he wasn't able to. With that out of the way, let me explain why this system is in a league of its own.
This is hands down the most important feature on the WCC system for me. When I'm out shooting, I really don't want my gear to get in the way of the photos I'm taking. The thought of having to handle each piece of glass without getting finger prints everywhere while also "gently shoving" it into place sounds like a nightmare. The casings, known as "Vaults" really change everything in the filter market. They do a few important things:
- Allow filters to be inserted without ever touching the glass
- Prevent filters from being able to fall out of the bottom of the holder
- The ability to easily insert and remove ND/GNDs
- Prevent light leak/No Gasket needed
- No scratched up filters
This means that you can keep the system attached to your camera lens while being able to gently insert and adjust filters without ruining your composition and without needing to take the system off the lens. You can pull ND's out of your bag via the tabs on the Vaults and never worry about touching the glass. On top of all that you get the piece of mind that they will never accidentally fall out of the bottom!
Why wasn't this thought of sooner? To me this is the home run. This single feature convinced me to buy a filter system. Before stumbling upon the WCC, I always felt like using a system would get in my way. I watched videos of people struggling to put expensive pieces of glass into tight slots, get fingerprints everywhere, and it honestly always looked like a pain to work with. So far the experience I've had using the Vaults has been really pleasant.
The only downside to these vaults is that they do restrict the size of the filters you can use. I don't necessarily mean 100x100, I'm talking about thickness. I actually had a 3 stop Tiffen filter laying around from some video work years ago and it was too thick to fit into a vault. So just be aware and feel free to email WCC if you're concerned an old filter might not fit.
Adjustable Internal Polarizer (CPL)
At this point my mouth was already watering at the thought of being able to use a system without having to get my dirty fingerprints on a bunch of nice glass. One thing I was concerned about was my needs for a polarizer. I found in my research that a lot of systems (Lee, Cokin, Format-Hitech) all used polarizers that screwed on to the outside of the filter system; NiSi was the only other brand I found using an internally adjustable polarizer. This was crucial for me as it meant I wasn't fiddling around trying to screw on or off a CPL in the field. I shoot often with a CPL so most of the time it's on my lens when I'm shooting landscapes. Having an internal polarizer like this one does three important things:
- I don't have to attach/detach the CPL for storage everytime I use the system. It's internally part of the system.
- If I do need to remove it, it's VERY easy.
- Prevents light leak and vignetting
I found in a lot of my research other systems that have the CPL on the outside can cause weird reflections in an image and made the vignetting much worse, usually showing up around 22-24mm. That isn't the case for this system. I tested it on my 16-35 and don't notice any added vignette throughout that range except very lightly at 16mm only.
Once again this all goes back to wanting a system that doesn't get in my way and these factors play an important roll in that.
Push-Button Adjustable GND
This would likely be far more important to me if I had been using a lot of GNDs in another system before buying this one. However, this is my first system so I think I'm probably spoiled. That said, using GNDs looked like a royal pain in the butt with other systems. You either have to hold your camera steady while trying to force a GND into a perfect position or you have to remove the entire system and guess where it should go. Neither of those options sound enjoyable to use.
In combination with the vault filter holders, the WCC uses push buttons to adjust the center and outer channel GND slots. This means that you can have the entire system attached to your lens, gently slide in a GND and adjust it to the perfect spot while holding down the button. This in itself might be a game changer for many of you out there using other systems. It's very smooth to adjust, held securely in place when you let go, and once again won't fall out of the bottom accidentally!
By now you should be able to tell that this thing is larger than other systems out there and a tad heavier but the whole system is only around 15 ounces. On top of the system being a bit larger, using the vaults also adds a bit of space.
One thing that could be improved in the design is how the holder tightens onto the adapter ring. Currently it sits flush around the adapter ring and you tighten a knob to fasten it in. Once the knob is tight, this thing isn't coming off. The issue is sometimes it might be difficult to tell if you attached the system flush with the adapter ring, just something you have to be cautious of when doing so. To my understanding it was designed this way so that you can put the system on without disturbing the camera to prevent movement in your composition. I do think there is room for improvement here though in the future.
I feel like I barely need to write anything here as the pictures, even before I purchased mine, screamed quality to me. I mean, just look at this thing!
You'll notice a few spots of wood. These not only look incredible, but actually do serve a purpose. The wood handles don't get as cold so if your handling the system in a chilly climate, your fingers won't get stuck to the cold metal! But seriously, even if it was just for looks, I'm not complaining. The dial for the CPL is large to allow operation while using gloves. Everything in this system is designed with the use of gloves in mind.
Overall the build quality is exactly what you'd expect. Even down to the clip that holds the filters in place, the attention to detail is superb.
Filters - I don't want to dive too deep into the quality of the filters WCC sells, as you could be using your own filters. Also I didn't do any extensive tests/comparisons regarding their quality. I can say the shots I have taken with them have been flawless. Heres the description used on the website
Blackstone ND filters are a technological leap-frog advancement over competing ND filters. Legacy dye-based ND filters suffer from serious color cast. The first generation of Vapor Deposition Coated (VDC) ND filters have largely corrected the color cast problem, but lack the ability to resolve high-megapixel camera without diffusing the image. Wine Country Camera’s exclusive Blackstone ND features the next generation of vapor deposition coating that is both perfectly neutral across all spectrums of light (including UV and IR) and resolves the image with zero diffusion effect.
You can read more about the ND and GNDs here. Once again I haven't done any scientific tests but from my own use, the filters haven't caused any color cast on my images like others I have used.
Polarizer - Having owned multiple high quality CPLs, this is hands down the best one I've ever used. It's fire polished Schott glass with anti reflective multi-coating on both sides that resolves 100megapixel images. The biggest downside to this internal polarizer is you are limited to using the one made by WCC but from my experience it's been great.
So obviously this is where the brakes get hit when buying new gear. No, this filter system isn't cheap. This system without a polarizer is $300. With the CPL it's $450. Before closing your window, keep a few things in mind, or at least listen to what was in my mind when doing research.
I looked at the LEE system, which seems to be the go to affordable system. Without any CPL but with an adapter ring you can get one for around $135. The system was certainly less expensive, but also remember you're going to be putting multiple pieces of expensive glass into this system. Each ND can get to over $200 each and you want to throw it in an $80 piece of plastic? No thanks, that's like putting your Nikon D850 on a $40 tripod.
So let's compare it to the NiSi system which is regarded and used by many professionals. Their latest V5 Pro kit is $173 with a polarizer. There is a catch though. The polarizer that comes with the system is not the same as the polarizers they sell individually. They make an "enchanced" version that cost roughly the same price as the WCC polarizer at $150. That said, I went back and forth between these two systems and ultimately decided that the extra cost was completely worth it for the features on the WCC.
This system won't be for everyone. But for me spending a bit extra for piece of mind, ease of use, and overall quality was enough. This system should last you years, even decades.
Well if it's not obvious already, clearly I like this thing. I mean, I wrote this review just to speak it's praise simply because I have a great appreciation for innovation and attention to detail. I absolutely love this filter system and it truly has been a pleasure to use.
- Innovative "Vault" filter system
- Internal High Quality CPL
- Easily adjustable GNDs
- Ease of use
- Attention to Quality
- Sex appeal - Seriously people ask me about this thing anywhere I take it out!
- Attachment to lens adapter
I won't use this everywhere. I still use my normal B+W CPL that screws directly on to my lens in many cases. I absolutely love having the option when I've got the time for a little extra setup and knowing this system won't get in my way of the shots I am trying to capture. I'd love to hear what you think and feel free to ask any questions!
* I was not sponsored, incentived, or persuaded in any way to write this review*