You want to shoot the stellar Nikon 14-24 mm f/2.8 for serious landscape work with filters? You want to use graduated neutral density filters, neutral density filters up to 10 stops and polarizing filters at the same time? And you want to shoot all these 3 filters without any lens flare issues? This is the complete guide how it works!
I’ve been shooting the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 for quite a long time as it has a front thread that allows easy use of any filters such as the Lee Foundation Kit 100mm system. But I was never happy about it’s sharpness in the far corners and it’s limited aperture of f/4. For Milky Way or Aurory images I needed to carry my faster 14-24mm f/2.8 as a second wide angle lens in my bag. I was always afraid to invest in a filter system for that lens due to many limitations caused by the fixed lens hood and the massive front element though it’s the best lens you can buy for serious and high image quality landscape work. After doing a lot of research on the web I was sure that there must be a way to fully replace my 16-35mm f/4 with the 14-24mm f/2.8 without any compromise on filter usage. It took me a lot of effort and time for testing but finally I can show you the best possible solution.
Fotodiox Wonder Pana FreeArc System
On first sight a very solid but heavy and quite expensive system. There is a 145mm round polarizer available as well as 145mm round ND filters in different strength. Graduated neutral density filters are available in the size of 6,6″ x 8,5″. Biggest drawback of this system is the limitation of not allowing polarizer, ND filter and graduated ND filter at the same time. Additionaly the 6,6″ size of the holder does not allow to use Lee filters which are known to be the most neutral and best quality ND graduated filters available. This system was not an option for me.
LucrOit Filter Holder
The spanish company designed a plastic holder that allows the use of two 165mm filters. Again there are many limitations with that holder. You can only use 2 filters at a time and 165mm filters are available only from Formatt Hitech. There is no polarizer available at all. I have very bad experience with Formatt Hitech filters as they produce false colors so the LucrOit system was neither an option for me.
Lee Filters SW-150 Holder
Lee Filters introduced this holder years ago but you won’t find it very often in the field as it is quite expensive and it’s availability was more than limited in the past. The holder is made from solid metal and takes 150mm filters. It ships with two guides that allow to work with two filters at the same time. The guides have the same size as the Foundation Kit Holder what makes it possible to expanded to 3 filter slots. As Lee even offers special 4mm guides (the standard ones are 2mm) and there is a square 150x150mm and 4mm thick Polarizer available from Cavision it was clear to me that the Lee SW-150 is the best and most versatile holder for the 14-24mm f/2.8. With the Lee holder I was able to use the high quality Lee neutral density graduated filters, neutral density filters in 150x150mm from Haida and the Cavision Polarizer at the same time.
A general problem when shooting the 14-24 f/2.8 with any kind of filters is lens flares. Quite easy to deal with when you only use graduated neutral density filters but as soon as you want to shoot long exposures with neutral density filters up to 10 stops (ND 3.0) you will definitely run into problems. Especially when you shoot at the widest focal length of 14mm. Lee ships the SW-150 holder with two thin plastic baffles that should reduce flares by blocking light falling from the rear side on the filters. I have never used these original baffles as they don’t work properly. The main problem of the Lee Holder is the big gap between the holder and the filter in the first position. As long as you shoot in landscape orientation, the fixed lens hood covers the light entering the gap from top and bottom. The Filter guides cover quite well from the side. However as soon as you change the camera into portrait orientation the front element will be fully exposed to light from the top and the bottom.
The first and most important thing you need to do: cover the entire holder which minimizes any light entering from the sides and the gaps between the filters. I bought a black cotton tube scarf containing elastane (spandex) material and folded it 3 times to make it light-tight. On one end I sew a rubber strap that seals it around the adaptor collar of the holder. With some simple sewing you can make it look very nice and not flattering around. It’s a good idea to stick a layer of self adhesive velcro tape around the adaptor collar. This will fix the fiber cloth to the adaptor collar and minimizes the risk that the cloth moves the focus ring of the lens by mistake. The cloth also minimizes the risk that heavy glass filters fall out of the holder and in rainy conditions you won’t have any drops of water between the filters. On first sight it might look a bit strange standing on location with such a setup but you have to decide if you want the best possible image quality or continue to shoot with lens flares…
Probem solved? Not yet… With only the cloth you can shoot two graduated neutral density filters and a polarizer without any flare issues. As soon as you slide in a neutral density filter and shoot long exposures, lens flare might show up again, especially in portrait orientation. Reason for this is the tiny lens hood on top in portrait orientation. You need to install an additional “FlareBlocker” to your holder that closes the gap between the holder itself and the first filter. I have measured the exact size of the holder and made a 3D drawing of such a “FlareBlocker”. Then I’ve sent the file to a company that printed it in 3D on a Plastic Sintering (SLS) printer. I received a black super light but very stable Polyamide ring that slides into the holder and can stay there all the time. There is no need to use any glue or duct tape to fix the FlareBlocker in the Lee SW-150 holder. It holds tight and won’t fall out but you can easily remove it when the holder is not on the lens.
The FlareBlocker will not scratch your filters as there is a gap of 1,5mm between the FlareBlocker and the first filter. The gap is not critical in terms of light leakage as the whole holder is covered with the black cloth anyway. The FlareBlocker just eliminates successfully internal reflections. It’s not enough to use just the FlareBlocker or just the black cloth. If you want to be sure not to have any flares from reflections or sidelight in your shot you have to use both at the same time. I strongly recommend that!
I’ve tested the system with long exposures up to 6 minutes with the following 3 filters on the holder and could not find any flare when shooting into the light as well as with sidelight:
– Haida 150x150mm ND 3.0 glass filter
– Lee Graduated neutral density filter 150x170mm
– Cavision 6″x6″ Circ. Polarizer
There are only very little limitations compared to the classic Lee Foundation Kit 100mm Filter system on a standard lens. Many people will complain that it’s not possible to rotate the polarizer when using graduated neutral density filters at the same time. Yes that’s true. But in fact it’s not a problem as the polarizer is always most effective either straight in the holder or turned by 90° – which is again straight in the holder as it is a square polarizer. You simply rotate the polarizer before you slide it in the holder and you’ll always have the full effect. Of course you lose some polarization if you need to rotate the holder when the horizon is not straight.
Can I shoot full 14mm focal length without vignetting?
Yes! Even with 3 filters on the holder there is no vignetting at 14mm as long as the holder is straight and not rotated. If you need to rotate the holder you will see the filter guides popping up in the frame. But around 10° rotation is still possible.
Can I shoot with ND-Grad, ND-Filter and Polarizer without Vignetting at 14mm focal length?
Yes! But you will see light falloff when using very dense ND filters such as an ND 3.0. This is a typical thing of very dense ND Filters and not related to the holder itself. The light falloff is stronger at 14mm than at 24mm focal length. You simply have to correct the vignetting in your RAW converter manually.
Are there any other drawbacks of the system?
Well – if you’re on a budget this system might be not the right choice for you. The full set of the holder and various filters will cost as much as the lens itself. But if you aim for the best possible image quality at very wide focal length along with the flexibility of using 3 filters at the same time, this is the system for you. Shooting the 14-24mm f/2.8 with the huge filters will slow down your photography a bit and you won’t be as fast as with the smaller 100mm filters. I don’t see a problem. A friend of mine has reported that the white Lee Filters name tag inside of the holder can sometimes reflect light and makes it visible in your image. Simply cover it with some tape or paint it black.
Where can I buy the FlareBlocker?
I am just an amateur photographer and not running any photography accessories business. I am not selling the FlareBlocker. But hey – you can print this thing at your local 3D printer for a few bucks. Just draw the FlareBlocker in SketchUp by yourself and send it to an online 3D printer. If you don’t know how to draw the 3D model you can download the printable file here.
I have never considered using filters on my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 but want to try it. What do I need to buy?
Get your credit card ready. Here’s what I recommend you to buy:
– Lee SW-150 Starter-Kit, (Holder, adaptor collar, neoprene lens cap, 0.6 ND Grad hard and cleaning cloth)
– Lee graduated neutral density filters in 150x170mm size as much as you need. I recommend to buy additional 0.6 and 0.9 soft.
– Haida 150x150mm ND Filters. These filters are made of glass and have outstanding optical quality. Extremely color neutral! They are available in ND 0.9 (8x), ND 1.8 (64x) and ND 3.0 (1000x)
– Cavision 6″x6″ Circ. Polarizer. You can also buy the linear polarizer but then you can only focus in live view as your phase autofocus system won’t work anymore.
– Lee Filter System 4mm guides The polarizer is 4mm thick and you need special filter guides from Lee!
– 4 Screws in M2 thread and 2cm length. These are only needed if you want to mount the 4mm guides on top of two 2mm guides
– Black tube scarf. I bought the Myrtle Beach – X-Tube scarf / hair band
– And of course the FlareBlocker.
– There are not many options for filter pouches. Check out the Arri Media 6×6″ Filter Pouch or the Terrascape ONESIXFIVE
There is a new 150mm square polarizer available from Nisi. Check out more details here.