As a landscape photographer I have always believed in the importance of using photographic filters. I know that nowadays we can do a lot of exposure control and blending in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, however I try to get it right in the camera as best as I can. It means I can spend less time in front of the computer screen and more time out doing what I really love. I am a little bit old fashioned like that. It goes back to many years ago, when digital photography was just a fantasy. My first filter system was from Cokin. Though to start with the colour cast they caused put me off using any filters at all. Until Lee filters came out. I loved and used them for many happy years.
I would still be using them now if it weren’t for the Kase filter system. When I was offered to try the demo kit, it was still a fairly new company. I had never heard of them before, but after reading the reviews and product specifications, I was happy to give them a go. I only needed to try them once to realise what a big improvement to my existing filters they were. I purchased my own kit and the Lee filters have been gathering dust since. That was four years ago. The rest is just a history.
Which filters do I use and why?
There are three main reasons why I use photographic filters in landscape photography. These reasons determine the filters that I choose the most.
First of all, it is to control the exposure in the scene, specifically when there is a significant difference in the exposure between the sky and the foreground. This is when I use ND (Neutral Density) Graduated filters. I use either an ND Soft Graduated, or Reverse Graduated filter. The ND Reverse Graduated filter is particularly helpful at sunrise or sunset when the sun is low on the horizon. The ND Graduated filters darken the top of the image; therefore they wouldn’t help compensate for the strong light near the horizon.
One of my favourite subjects to photograph is the sea, and water in general. I use ND filters to reduce the shutter speed which helps me achieve the desired effect. I mostly use the 3, 6 and 10 stop ND filters. The 3 stop filter allows me to smooth out the water, but at the same time capture the movement and retain some detail.
The 10 stop filter manages to remove any detail and can help create simple and peaceful minimalist images.
Sometimes though the 3 stop filter is too little, and the 10 stop one is too much. In low light the 10 stop filter reduces the light too much, which leads to unnecessarily long exposure times. In bright daylight the 3 stop filter is not enough to smooth just the right amount of water movement. That’s when the 6 stop filter comes handy. It really depends on the combination of the available light and the final result that I would like to achieve.
The 10 and 6 stop ND filters are also useful for capturing cloud movement. They can help create very striking effects.
Last but not least, there is a polariser. Polarising is one effect that cannot be simulated in any software. This filter deserves more attention than I give to it. It removes glare and reflections, deepens contrast, enhances blues in the sky, and makes white clouds really stand out. It also cuts out between 1 or 2 stops of light, and lengthens the shutter speed just long enough to capture a little bit of dynamic movement.
Why do I love Kase filters so much?
For me there are three essential key components when considering any filter system. Kase ticks all the boxes on my list.
Quality and Durability
Kase filters are made of highest quality toughened glass, which makes them virtually indestructible. You really have to make a lot of effort to abuse them before they get damaged. They don’t scratch easily like resin filters, which saves potentially £100s on replacing them. They are shatterproof. This doesn’t mean you can just throw them around, but there is enough evidence online to prove they withstand being dropped on a hard surface. This is something I can honestly vouch for after accidentally dropping one on a concrete pavement. It survived without a single crack or scratch.
At the same time, the Kase filters maintain the image clarity and sharpness. No more worries about putting another piece of glass in front of my lenses, as I know that they won’t affect the image quality in any way.
The special hydrophobic coating makes them repel water. Any water that does persist wipes off very easily without leaving any smear marks. This proved to be priceless for me because my favourite locations are by the sea, and I love taking photographs in the rain.
One of the great features of ND filters is their neutrality. Unfortunately it doesn’t automatically come with all of the brands. The Kase filters though provide much purer neutrality than any other filters I have used. There is no significant colour cast when using any of the ND filters even when stacking multiple filters together. On the contrary, they actually correct the auto white balance that my camera is usually set to.
Ease of Use
In landscape photography time is of the essence. One minute can make or spoil the image. If it is too complicated then by the time you have installed the filter holder and slotted in the right filters, the light has changed. Fortunately, the Kase filter system is very simple to use. I have owned three different filter holder versions so far.
The K100-X was my first one and I was very happy with it. It is compact, lightweight and durable. It has an integrated magnetic circular polariser that is very easy to place on the adapter ring and operate using a built-in dial on the side of the holder; allowing the use of as much or as little polarising effect as needed. All filters slot easily in and they fit perfectly. The light seal is extremely good, with no leaks when using the 6 and 10 stop ND filters. Though I must admit I encountered difficulties in the cold weather. I have Raynaud’s disease, which means my hands get cold very easily and my fingers get numb and painful. When this happens, operating the camera and tripod, as a matter of fact any equipment, becomes extremely difficult. I got used to it over the years, so it didn’t surprise me that I found it quite tricky to install or take off the filter holder.
When the K9 version came out, I was delighted. It has a much more ergonomic design. Apart from being ultra-slim and even more lightweight, it is much easier to put on or remove. The holder is slightly larger, therefore even when using three filters in all the available slots, there is no vignetting when combined with wide-angle lenses. The same applies to the polariser which is also over-sized. The dial for turning the polariser is bigger and easier to use. There two new grooves on the opposite sides of the holder, which make it quick and easy to remove the polariser when not needed. But the main improvement for me was the size and shape of the release screw on the side for installing and removing the whole holder. It’s much easier even when wearing gloves, which is essential for me.
Kase Armour System
The brand new Kase Armour System though is a real game changer. It is all magnetic, which makes it exceptionally fast and simple to set up. It is made of solid metal and is incredibly tough, which adds an extra protection. As its name suggests, it provides a strong armour to protect the filters.
The magnetic holder snaps on the magnetic adapter ring. The magnet is extremely strong and the holder can only be pulled off when a safety clasp at the back is released. The filters simply snap on the holder and can be moved up and down or removed only when a tension screw on the side is loosened. Everything is perfectly designed to hold together and stay in place safely.
The holder comes with a new magnetic circular polariser. There is a dial on the side that has been taken from the older systems. This allows you to easily turn the polariser and change the polarisation strength as required. Also a part of the ingenious design is the positioning of the polariser. It goes to the back of the filter holder, which allows for an extra magnetic circular filter to be placed in the front part. It works with my old filters after putting them into a special magnetic frame, however I found it useful to invest in two new magnetic circular filters, the 6 stop and 10 stop ND. This allows me to utilise the new holder’s feature, and free up space for two of my original filters in front of one of the circular ones when needed.
As you can see, within the four years I have been using the filters, I have already seen many significant improvements, when I thought there wasn’t that much to improve. Kase provide excellent service. They listen and respond to customer feedback, which leads to producing an even better system that, in my opinion doesn’t have a serious competitor in today’s market.
Overall, I have been impressed with Kase filters since the first time I used them, and they haven’t disappointed me so far. They allow me to spend less time thinking about the equipment I use and more time concentrating on what I really love. Chasing the fleeting moments of light.