I have been using filters in my landscape photography for the past 15 years. They are an essential part of my equipment despite all the advances in digital photography. Yes, it’s possible to combine multiple exposures in software but there are significant benefits to using photo filters. It’s usually much better to balance the exposure in camera as it helps with composition; you can see the image more clearly, especially if using the back of the camera. It also better to capture a single image where there are moving objects in the scene than trying to combine multiple exposures. Some filter effects such long exposure or polarisation can’t be simulated in software.
For most of my time using filters I have been an advocate of the Lee filter system. When I was first got started in Landscape Photography, most of the professionals I admired used the Lee filters and recommended them. I reasoned that if they were good enough for them, they would be good enough for me. Whilst I still believe that Lee filter systems are good, I realise there are now better options. Most recently I have discovered Kase Wolverine filters and decided to switch to using them. This has been a costly move but one that I’m certain is a good investment.
My Filter History
To best understand why I made the switch to Kase Wolverine you need a little background about my historic filter use. Initially, probably for around 2 years I didn’t use filters. It was only when I started shooting landscapes using slide film that I realised I had a problem. I would typically find the ground was dark and the sky would turn white. This is when I decided to invest in some Neutral Density Graduated filters (ND Grads).
Initially I baulked at the cost of the Lee system and decided to buy cheaper filters. At the time there wasn’t much choice (unlike now) and I opted for the Cokin P series filters. I quickly discovered these didn’t offer me the range of options that I needed in my photography often being too strong or too weak for the conditions. In fact, Cokin only offered two strengths of filter at the time, strong and mild. I also quickly found they produced a nasty colour cast under some conditions and many of my photographs were ruined.
Cokin then brought out a set of 3 ND Grads in strengths we would recognise now. There was a 1 stop, 2 stop and 3 stop filter. I bought these and found the results were much better. But after a few more months I started to notice strange colours starting to appear in clouds. This became more noticeable when I used them with my first digital camera. I decided it was time to switch.
Despite my experience with colour cast and knowing the professionals were using Lee, I resisted buying them as they were (and still are) very expensive. Instead I search for alternatives and found Hitech filters, also known as Formatt filters. They offered a good range of ND Grads at what I thought was a reasonable price. I started using these filters on a more regular basis and found my results improved. Initially I wasn’t experiencing any colour cast except under some unusual lighting conditions.
Unfortunately, I found that the filters were prone to being scratched as they were made from plastic and I needed to replace them regularly. Sometimes when buying replacements, I would find the new filters had a colour cast and weren’t neutral. It’s very frustrating to find when you get your image home and view them on a computer that the sky is a purple colour. It’s also very difficult to correct.
After persevering with Hitech for a little while I decided to cut my losses and invest in the Lee filter system. This was quite an initial investment, especially as I was buying the 100mm filters. As soon as I started to use them though I recognised they were an improvement on the filters I had been using. The filter holder was well made and easy to fit/remove. Most important of all, the filters appeared neutral under most conditions. Later I supplemented the 100mm system with the newer Lee Seven 5 system. These seemed of an equal quality but were a better size for the small Micro 43 cameras I had begun to use.
Whilst the Lee filters have served me well and I have stuck with them for at least 10 years, they haven’t been without issue. The main problem I’ve experienced with these filters is scratching. Being made of resin seems to make this a particular issue. I have ruined countless filters by dropping them or finding a piece of grit in the filter pouch has scratched the surface. The scratching problem becomes most noticeable when shooting into the sun. The surface of the filter seems to become covered in micro scratches which cause flare, particularly if the sun is in the scene.
I have also noticed that even when the filters haven’t been scratched but are a couple of years old, they have started to discolour. I’m wondering if the dye used for the filter is degrading or if the resin filters are starting to draw in pollutants from the atmosphere. You see a similar effect with glasses today (usually made from optical resin). After a couple of years, the lens will become yellowed from pollution and can be easily seen when placed against white paper.
Time to Switch to Glass Filters
Having experienced problems with all the filter systems I’ve used I wasn’t very happy when I decided I needed to replace a couple of my ND Grads. This looked like it would be a costly exercise and one I didn’t want to repeat every frequently. I needed to decide, do I continue to invest in Lee filters or do I try to switch to a new brand. Ideally, I wanted glass filters as they are more resistant to scratching, but cost more and break easily if dropped.
At the time I was making this decision I tried a friend’s glass filter system which was made by Nisi. The results were noticeably better and very encouraging. What I liked most was the quality of light through this glass filter. But the reservation I had about glass filters is how easily they can be damaged. Just look at the filter below. The holder popped off the front of my lens (I was no where near the camera at the time) and the filter hit a small stone on the floor, smashing it.
This experience made me rather reluctant to buy glass filters even though they looked to be better than resin.
Kase Wolverine Glass Filters
That’s when I heard about Kase Wolverine filters. These were glass filters made from toughened glass that when dropped didn’t shatter. Initially I found this difficult to believe but there seemed to be a few videos on You Tube that proved it. Seeing these clinched it for me and I decided to invest in three Kase Wolverine filters. These were all ND Grads; a soft 3 stop (0.9ND), a hard 2 stop (0.6ND) and a hard 3 stop (0.9ND)
I did consider buying one the Wolverine kits but then decided my investment was better made in individual filters. I already had the 100 mm Lee system holder and adapter rings and the Kase filters were the same size. I also have an excellent 105mm polarising filter for the Lee holder. This would be redundant if I switch to using the Kase filter holder, although the kit does include a nice polarising filter.
Trying the Wolverine filters in the Lee holder, I found that they would gradually slip through the slots. This wasn’t a problem though as the case representative I purchased filters from also supplied replacement slots when I mentioned my plan to use the Lee holder. These slots are a direct replacement for the original slots. You simply remove the screws from the holder and then screw in the new slots. Once in place you can use the holder with either Wolverine glass filters or the Lee resin filters.
On first using the Kase Wolverine filters, a couple of things hit me immediately. The first was how the glass has excellent light transmission qualities. The second was that the filters appeared completely neutral and didn’t change the colour of the image at all. Switching to the Lee filters to make a comparison, the image didn’t seem to have the same quality to it. This is hard to describe as I haven’t noticed this effect before.
I’m finding that there is very little flair produced with these filters. I’m finding I can shoot directly towards the sun without affecting the quality of the image. I can’t recall having been able to do this using resin filters. And after a few outings with the filters they are still spotless. There isn’t a mark on them and I suspect given they are scratch resistant, this will continue to be the case.
Glass is Waterproof
I know it sounds odd, but I’ve noticed there is a waterproof quality to these filters. Where rain falls on them it beads up and rolls off. With my traditional resin filters, I would often be cleaning them constantly in wet conditions. With the Wolverine filters I now find I can shoot for much longer periods without needing to wipe them.
Have I Dropped One
As for the shatterproof qualities of these filters I can report that they seem to be living up to the guarantee. I have dropped one of the filters twice now and there is no damage. I’m hoping not to test this feature any further as my heart stops each time I drop one. Despite this it’s good to know that they are shock resistant.
It’s been a couple of months now since I switched to these filters and I have decided to extend my investment. I will certainly be buying the Reverse ND Grad may pick up a couple of others. I think for the moment I will continue to use my Lee filter holder, but I may consider upgrading this in the future.
As you can probably tell from this review I am extremely impressed by the Kase Wolverine filters. So much so, that I have asked to become a distributor in the UK. You may feel this throws my neutrality into question and you would be right this question. I may not be able to convince you of this, but I will leave you with one thought. I would never recommend something I thought was substandard, let alone seek to sell it. I value my reputation too much.
If you’re interested in purchasing Kase Wolverine filters you can find further information in my Lenscraft shop. If you have questions or would generally just like to discuss the filters please feel free to email me via the contact page.