Using Filters on the Nikon 14–24mm f/2.8

Lee SW-150 Filter Holder

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.

First a short overview what’s available on the market:

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.

How to deal with flares?

Lens flares Nikon 14-24A 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.Lee SW-150 flare cloth

 

 

 

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…

FlareBlockerProbem 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.

Lee SW-150 FlareBlocker

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

What are the limitations of the system?

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

Update 20.12.2014

There is a new 150mm square polarizer available from Nisi. Check out more details here.

30 Comments on “Using Filters on the Nikon 14–24mm f/2.8

  1. Dear Sir,

    Your photography is really exceptional! It was a great joy and pleasure to go through your site with all the very inspiring pictures.
    The work you’ve done with the filter system itself is also very remarkable and I can feel at the first time that the 14-24 lens can be used on the very best way…
    Would it be possible to get help with the Flare Blocker? You certainly know the place where to manufacture this thing and you certainly have the instructions to the manufacturer too… So, my question is could you give me the address of the manufacturer and could you supply the same information to them as You did it with your Flare Blocker? I would be very thankful if I could order this thing from them with your help.

    Kindest regards, Laszlo

    • Achim,
      I appreciated your blog information on filters compatible with the Nikkor 14 – 24mm, f2.8. Until your writing, I just felt frustrated. I am like Laszio and would appreciate help getting the ‘Flare Blocker’ that makes the system you outlined, functional. Would you direct me to the manufacture with the infromation so I could order one. It would be much appreciated!
      Regards,
      Charli

  2. Hi!

    Thanks for this wonderful explanation of a well thought out system!
    I already found your site a while ago when incvestigating 150 mm square filters from Haida. I already own a 72 mm screw on Haida 10 stopper filter and are happy with that. Haida 3, 6 and 10 stops 77 mm screw on filters are ordered too now. And I’ve bought a Haida 150 mm square 6 stopper. I’m going to use it with the aluminium 150 mm square filter holder made by NiSi:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/261426768044?ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1497.l2649 For that price I thought I’d give it a try. It looks well crafted and robust. Time will tell if it’ll always be satisfying.
    It will give me some flare issues too for sure, and I’ll need similar solutions I guess. We’ll see when I start testing it. A cloth around the lens looks like a solution more people used and your flare stopper looks great! 🙂 I am able to use a 3D printer at work, so I had thought about it, but I need to test first. The gap between the NiSi filter holder and the first Haida filter only seems to be 1 to 2 mm though…
    I’ve been in contact with Haida and they are working on their own 150 mm square filter holder too now. Might be finished soon…

    I’ve heard many negative things about polarizers on this wide angle lens, but you seem satisfied with your solution and using a polarizer?

    Beautiful photography on your site! I especially love the ones from Norway, a country I love so much that I moved here in 2009! This also was a huge motivation for my photography!

    Kind regards,
    Ron Jansen

    • Hello Ron,

      thank you for your comment!
      Would be interesting to know what experience you made with the Nisi holder. Keep me posted!

      Regarding polarizers I would not recommend to use one to darken / pronounce the blue color in the sky.
      This simply doesn’t work well as the polarizer doesn’t effect the whole sky but just a part of it.
      It’s all depending on the angle of the sun.
      http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/polarizing-filters.htm

      However even on a wide angle lens a polarizer can be very important to take away reflections from green foliage or wet stones when you shoot waterfalls.
      It’s effect can’t be achieved in Photoshop what makes a polarizer one of the most important filters in landscape photography.
      You just have to learn when it makes sense to use it.

      Best regards
      Achim

    • Hi Ron,

      I’d like to ask you how the filter holder made by Nisi works? Can you do a little review of this filter holder?
      Thank you in advance for your response.

      Kind regards,
      Jan Ruzicka

      • Hi Jan,

        I’m satisfied with the NiSi filter holder. After placing it on the lens, it sits on friction between the two screws that you tighten and the ‘lenshood’ / ‘flower petal shapes ends’ of the lens. After inserting the 2 mm thick and 150×150 mm filters (or GradND that would be longer…) you can easily rotate the whole set by rotating the filter holder. This works smoothly. This will be great whenever I will start using a Polarizer in this filter holder. But I don’t have one yet; I don’t feel like buying the 4 mm thick Cavision.
        Interesting that Achim writes about NiSi working on a proper 2 mm 150×150 mm polarizer offering full polarization in a 90 degree angle. Please keep us posted Achim, should you find some info about that one! 🙂
        I haven’t used the 14-24 much yet with this filter holder; I really should have more and longer experience before writing a real ‘review’. Thing is I’m collecting new lenses and filters etc etc to go full format… but the D810 is not in my possession yet, and attaching the 14-24 on a crop sensor is a bit silly (I have another wide angle lens that I’m using with my D7000). But I had to buy it when I already intended to and suddenly could use Nikon’s cashback deal for it!
        But the filter holder looks and feels professional! I bought a black tube scarf (see further below for an ebay link… it actually seemed to be the exact same (Myrtle beach) one as on amazon, just much cheaper when having it send abroad! Not that it matters too much, but I wanted it to be black and made from ‘tight’ fibre material to stop light) to get the least reflection / unwanted light even though I haven’t seen any flares yet; but when you’re setting up for an image with this lens and filter holder, then adding the cloth for best quality doesn’t take so much extra time 😉
        Hope this helps a bit, but as mentioned I haven’t tested it enough and am not using it on an FX camera yet.

        Regards,
        Ron

  3. Great post, I have a 14-24 and D800 and it makes for a great combo. It’s a wonderful lens, but I think if I was going to use filters a lot with my wide angle (which I tend not to), I would likely sell the 14-24 and buy the Nikkor 16-35 instead or Zeiss 15mm lens instead.

    • Hello Mike,

      it all depends on personal preferences.
      For me the 14-24mm is much more versatile than the 15mm Zeiss.

      Best regards
      Achim

      • Sure, it’s a zoom and has AF so that makes it more versatile. The 16-35 is also a zoom and has AF and you don’t lose that much on the wide end. Is the setup really worth it over a 16-35?

        • I didn’t like the corner sharpness of the 16-35. In the center of the image the lens performs really good but the corners of the 14-24 are way sharper at any aperture. Additionally the 16-35 is a rather slow lens. Can’t use it for Aurora images where you definitely need to shoot at f/2.8 if you want short shutter speed without bumping up your ISO too much. The 14-24 is tack sharp at f/2.8 even in the far corners.
          As I didn’t want to carry two lenses in my bag the 14-24 was the best choice for me.
          But if you have other preferences you might be fine with the 16-35. As long as you shoot it between f/8 and f/11 it has great image quality except the far corners.

          Best regards
          Achim

  4. Achim – I found this enormously helpful as I’m about to venture into the landscape domain. If you would be so kind as to forward the same info you were going to for Laszlo, I would greatly appreciated it. I’ve had a 14-24 for over a year now and am looking forward to putting it to good use with the advise set forth in the preceding article.

    Thanks!!

    Tony

  5. Hi Achim,

    Thanks a lot for this very useful post! Like Laszlo and the bunch, I’m more than interested to have the details about the manufacture and the way to order properly the flare blocker. Would you be so kind as to email me the relevant info?

    Kind regards,
    Lo.

  6. Hi!

    Should anyone be interested in the purchasing a similar black tube scarf: the link to amazon.de is great, but they ask A LOT for sending it to any other country than Germany…
    I think the following link shows a similar product (what do you think Achim? This is a normal, black colored ‘buff’, since some sewing is best (to make it folded 3x permanently) another thin light stopping layer/fabric can be sewn on the inside should it appear too light…), and similar price, but including shipping already!
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/110699157355?_trksid=p2059210.m2749.l2649&var=410029372985&ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT

    Regards,
    Ron

  7. Hello Ron,

    thank you for the link that may help other photographers outside of Germany!
    Of course any tube scarf may work as long as the dimension fit.
    I simply posted the link to the Amazon Germany page as this is the one that I have tested and I can recommend to others from my personal experience. I did not want to post a product that I haven’t tested myself. So if you select any other tube scarf I am sure that it will do the job but you have to evaluate by yourself.

    Best regards
    Achim

  8. Thank you for sharing these information. Ive been using the Lee SW150 with customized illustrator board to blocked the light leak and I don’t have any problem on it.
    Im searching for a polarizer and it directs me to your site. What is your recommendation with regards to the polarizer? Also, I just want to ask where did you get the “4 screws in M2 thread and 2cm length”.

    Thank you very much.

    Robert

    • Robert,

      the Cavision is currently the only usable 150mm square polarizer (at least as fare as I know). There is a new 150mm square CPL from Nisi in 2mm thickness but I can’t recommend it as you get full polarization only in 45° orientation which is pretty useless in the Lee holder (as long as you aim to use the CPL with ND grad filters). At Photokina the Nisi team told me that they are working on a new version that delivers 100% polarization in 90° angle. Would be a good alternative to the 4mm thick and quite expensive Cavision.

      I bought the screws locally at a workshop and industries supplies store.

      Best regards
      Achim

  9. Hi again Achim,

    Another completely different question: what are your experiences with travelling with the fragile Haida 150 mm square filters made of glass? They come in their protective case, but I’m talking about travelling by plane: have you taken many flights with them and what are your experiences? I guess these are not allowed in the carry-on luggage?? So they need to go in a backpack or suitcase that will be ‘thrown around’. Do you add some stiff lightweight plates or a little box or something?
    Thanks!

    Regards,
    Ron

    • Hello Ron,

      I haven’t taken that many flights with the glass filters but haven’t had any problems on my last flight.
      I use the Terrascape ONESIXFIVE filter pouch. Gives very god protection to the filters.
      The glass filters are stored in the middle of the Terrascape pouch and the resin filters act as the stiff lightweight plates you mentioned in the outer compartments of the pouch.
      When you store 6 or 8 filters in the Terrascape pouch it gets pretty stiff. You cannot bend the pouch and I believe that the glass filters are protected very well in the middle.

      Best regards
      Achim

  10. Achim, thanks for this info…I purchased your FlareStopper file and am looking for a local 3D printer in the US. Any suggestions?

    Thanks!
    Kerry

  11. Any thoughts on why Lee designed the holder to have such a huge gap where the flare stopper is required?

    • Dave,

      I have no idea…
      Maybe Lee never considered selling ND filters in 150mm size and today they are not doing.
      Only companies like Haida and Nisi are selling in 150mm but you won’t find the Lee Little & Big Stopper for the SW-150.

      Cheers
      Achim

  12. Thanks for the article. I’m interested in knowing about Haida polarizer for my Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 lens. Do you have any info on that?

    • Hello Ravindra,

      I am not aware that Haida sells a 150mm square polarizer. Maybe it is brand new but I haven’t seen it in stores yet.
      The Nisi 150mm square CPL is a good choice. Just make sure that you buy Version II with 90° polarization.

      BR
      Achim

  13. Thanks for the article! I went for the Haida 150mm system instead of the Lee and I think is really solid. Haida filters are as well very color neutral (I bought an ND1000 and a 0.9 grad). I’ll adopt the tube scarf trick and we’ll se if it helps!

    Thanks again

  14. I downloaded the falre blocker, but when I uploaded it to the website there was an error. The website automatically fixed the error by “filling 2 holes.” I tried to go on and print the file, but it is asking the unit of measurement used (mm, cm, or inch). I selected mm, as I assume that is what was used. Just wanted to provide you feedback, as it looks like there may be something wrong with the file (or I just dont know what I am doing – lol).

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