So, it's been a wee while since I last blogged (blog inspiration has been somewhat thin), although hopefully with Autumn just around the corner that will change - but for now you'll have to be content with something mundane - filter testing!
"Wow, tell me more" ..........................said no-one about filters, ever.
I kid of course, but in all seriousness, filters for many Landscape Photographer's are an integral part of their set up. For the past few weeks I've been using some filters from Progrey USA, trying them out in varying different conditions from nuclear sunsets to the rain pelting down sideways. First off I've absolutely no bias one way or another towards filter systems, I'm not a big filter user to start with anyway, preferring to use a mix of filter use and exposure blending in post depending on the conditions in front of me. What my blog will do is simply give you my impressions/results from the use I've given them, under a mixed set of conditions which I felt was the only fair and thorough way to test them.
Well, first impressions from the packaging was that these products are of high quality. I own both Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Filters and LEE Filters, when I received both of those it was a bit underwhelming, especially the Hitech ones which come in rather clunky and impractical white plastic boxes, rather than the padded velcro pouches these Progrey ones came in. The holder setup comes in a handy zipped pouch which was good for me as I'm forever dropping things or bits falling out of places they shouldn't.
First off, these filters are big, much bigger than what I'm used to. The system I was using previously was the NISI V5 holder system, which hold my LEE grads at 120mm x 100mm, and my Firecrest ND's 100mm x 100mm - these Progrey grads are 120mm x 155mm and the ND's 120mm x 120mm. Of course to accommodate this, the holder needs to be bigger. While relatively straightforward to attach to my 16-35mm F4 using the lens adaptor (same setup as the NISI system, adaptor screws into the lens), it looks pretty large once it's on - this may not seem so big to users who are used to the ultra WA adaptors seen on the LEE system. To be clear, the 120mm size system is designed to easily accommodate my wide lens, and with the 120mm system it give photographers an option when using ultra-wide lenses instead of forcing them to go up to the bigger 150mm system (G-150Z), I should mention however that Progrey do sell a smaller 100mm size system should you require this. The main things for me which I look for in a filter holder is how practical it is to get on and off in the field (key), and also it's build quality/sturdiness. I'll talk more about this further on. The grads are resin, and feel very similar to the LEE's, whilst the ND's are glass, similar to my Firecrest's. One thing to note which pleased me was not having to attach the foam gasket to the ND's (this is to ensure it prevents light leak) where as with the Firecrest's the gasket comes separate (or it did on mine anyway) and needed to be applied by the user after purchase. Take note Formatt-Hitech, this is a pain and surely could be sorted at manufacture? Overall impressions initially for both holder and filter are that they feel on a par with their more established counterparts.
So far so good.
In the field
The first test I decided to head to my local jetty on a rough, grey day - I'm lucky this jetty is some 300yds from my house as it makes a great subject, especially in choppy weather.
The image has been shot using the 7 stop Aurora ND Filter + 0.6 Soft Grad during midday conditions - obviously it's a wee bit underexposed and I've played with the colours a bit in post, but straight out of the can I couldn't really see any colour cast at all, impressive given i'd stacked two filters. The colours on the RAW file are pretty representative of a typical grey day.
Ok, so far so good - in comparison with my Firecrest ND filters, these are at least on a par with them in terms of colour neutrality. They feel almost identical in the hand other than their size difference owing to the larger holder. They slide in and out of the holder nicely, not jamming in any way. The holder basically slides on to the adaptor and then has a metal clamp at the top which you twist to tighten when the holder is in place. Very straightforward, it feels a little tricky initially which could have been a failing on my part, however once you get the hang of it, it's really no bother at all.
The second test I carried out was again at the beach, this time in totally different conditions, the classic nuclear sunset. Now we all love looking at one of these, it's ok to admit! I don't really shoot this sort of scene that much anymore although in fairness lately I've hardly seen one so it wouldn't matter anyway! This shot used the 10 stop Genesis ND + the 0.9 Aurora Hard Grad, again, a rather impressive colour neutral RAW file even with filters stacked, which allowed me to produce a vibrant, yet natural looking finished image.
The third and final test I carried out was at Wastwater a few days ago - the morning produced some rather spectacular stormy weather, however I carried out the test of the ND filters before this arrived as it would have been a bit of a faff carrying it out with rain constantly coming in.
This was done under the same conditions (auto WB, no grads) with the first shot on the left using a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest 6 stop, compared with the Genesis 7 stop ND filter on the right. As you can see from the image, there's been no adjustments made on the right hand panel, just a straight comparison using the 'as shot' white balance. The light in the scene had changed slightly between frames but at first glance I could tell little difference in colour, the Firecrest perhaps was a hair bluer than the Progrey although that could be the light playing tricks. I was expecting more of a difference given one is a 6 stop and the other a 7 but really, the Progrey was equal to the Firecrest in my test.
Following this the rain really came in, squall after squall - however this was punctuated by some cracking bits of light, which enabled me to capture one of my favourite images of the year so far (below):
Now to be clear, I've absolutely no qualms about the quality of the Firecrest filters or the LEE grads I've been using to this point, all I can say is that from the evidence shown in these RAW files, the Progrey filters are clearly on a par with them (in my opinion).
What I will say is that my only slight (if you can call it that) issue was that initially the filter holder proved tricky to attach to the adaptor. However after a few weeks of use I've found this to be no problem at all.
One thing I didn't mention earlier is that the adaptor can also house an integrated Polariser, much like the NISI and Hitech systems, enabling you to move the Polariser independently while attached. I didn't test this however I'll be looking to acquire one of these very soon as it's a vital bit of kit which I use alot, especially around water and rocks which really reflect light.
The system also comes with extra clips which can easily be attached using a supplied allen key should you wish to stack up to 3 filters at a time (I tend only ever use 2 max).
So, in conclusion, I'd have to say all in all the Progrey System is very impressive - the grads and ND filters produce impressive, colour neutral results which equal the Firecrest and LEE filters I currently own. I've in no way done any sort of scientific, forensic analysis into the neutrality of the filters, only by eye - but to me on-screen they look as good as what I had previously, which is good enough for me. The holder can appear somewhat bulky but this is to accommodate the increased size of filter which I've no experience with, however out in the field I had no problems swapping the filters about despite it being very wet and windy at times. What does this mean for you? Well, I'd certainly have no qualms about recommending them if you're on the look out for a new filter system which is probably better value for money than say, the LEE system. I didn't get a chance to try the polariser which is obviously something I'd like to get hold of down the line given it's a vital piece of kit in a Landscape Photographer's armoury, however based one what I've used so far the Progrey Kit is well worth a look.