As a landscape photographer one of the most important things in my camera bag is my filter system. I've used Lee filters for several years during which time they've seen a lot of action and apart from the occasional mis-hap (a glass filter dropped onto rocks is never going to end well) they haven't missed a beat. So it might come as a surprise that when I found myself with the opportunity to try out a similar 100mm system from Nisi I jumped at the chance.
The thing that first caught my attention is that the Nisi graduated filters, unlike most others on the market are made from optical glass rather than resin. I've never had any issues with the image quality of resin filters but they are prone to scratching and compared to glass are harder to clean. As I frequently use my filters in coastal environments where the sand and salt water often threaten the former and regularly require the later, this is a big deal... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The Nisi V3 filter holder system (as it is known) looked at first glance to be somewhat expensive, in fact nearly twice as much as most other brands. However when the eagerly awaited box of shiny new toys arrived and I started unpacking the contents, I realised that unlike those other brands the Nisi kit not only includes the holder but also a circular polariser as well as adaptor rings to fit it to various common sized lenses (67mm, 72mm, 77mm and 82mm to be precise) which, it has to be said, actually makes it something of a bargain.
Aside from the filter holder the box contained a small selection of filters (a 0.9 reverse ND grad, 0.9 soft ND grad and a 0.9 ND). Each of the nano coated filters came wrapped in tissue paper in its own pouch. This was the first time I'd had a look at Nisi filters and so far I was impressed.
The filter holder is a familiar design with three removable slots on the front to hold the filters and clips on the back to fit it to the lens adaptor. Being machined from aluminium the holder is slim, light and tough but, if I were picky (which I am), despite being very well made the clips which hook onto the lens adaptor are small, making it a little difficult to tell whether it is properly located or not and more than once it came undone as a result. Another small gripe over the design is that the little knob for releasing the filter holder is positioned at the top (or bottom depending on which way up you locate it) rather than the side which leaves little room to get hold of it if there is a graduated filter in the holder. In fairness these were minor niggles that I am already becoming accustomed to after using the system a few times.
What makes the Nisi system unique is the design of the lens adaptor which works differently to other systems. Firstly it only comes in one size (82mm) so to use it on other sized lenses you need to first screw on an adaptor for the adaptor! As I mentioned earlier these are supplied in various sizes but it does make it a little fiddly to set up, something which could be especially annoying when in a hurry or in winter when having icicles for fingers can make even the simplest of tasks a challenge. That said the excellent design of the adaptor and the way Nisi have incorporated the circular polariser (CPL), more than make up for it's slight shortcomings. While most brands use an adaptor on the front of the filter holder to attach the CPL, causing vignetting at wide angles unless filter slots are removed, the Nisi CPL screws in to the centre of the adaptor rather than the front of the holder which neatly avoids the vignetting issue. On the back of the adaptor are a couple of small dials which when turned, rotate the CPL, it's a great design which really is a joy to use. Not forgetting of course that as the CPL is included with the filter holder it also saves you around £200.
While it's a bit early in the review for conclusions, I would already be considering switching to the Nisi filter holder system were it not for one thing. To save time and messing around when in the field, I like to keep an adaptor ring covered by a special lens cap permanently on each of my lenses, so when I need to change lenses I don't have to mess around changing adaptors as well. As far as I know this isn't yet possible with this system but hopefully Nisi are listening as I'm sure it's something that could be easily solved.
So that's a quick overview of the Nisi 100mm system, in the second part of the review we'll look at the filters themselves and the resulting images.
Edit: In response to Gareth who raises as good point in the comments below, I can confirm that Nisi filters fit perfectly in the Lee holder and vice versa.