Another year, and another professional grade filter company enters the demanding eye of photographers around the globe. 2018 sees the emergence of Kase Filters as a major competitor to the likes of NiSi, Lee, Haida, and Hitech-Formatt.
But can Kase live up to the extremely high standards set by those that have come before them?
The first of our Kase Filters reviews takes a look at their entry into one of the most popular and competitive marketplaces - The 10-Stop Neutral Density Filter.
This comes in the form of their professional grade Kase Wolverine ND1000 Filter, and as all companies do they claim to have excellent colour neutrality and sharpness. Not only that, but they also bring a few exciting new features to the table. Having already reviewed the optically excellent Haida NanoPro 10-Stop I have very high standards to meet, but can Kase surpass my expectations?
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Kase Wolverine 10 Stop ND Filter Review
Kase Filters entered the filter race back in 2011 when they passed the litmus test of all high quality filters, being rated as a high-quality manufacturer by the China National Camera Quality Supervision and Inspection Centre. They followed that by passing the European equivalents, but it's only in the past year or so that Kase have truly entered the public eye.
This was largely thanks to the emergence of Kase UK, who brought the high quality of Kase Filters to the UK market. Andi Campbell, Andrew Yu, and Stephen Elliott set up this branch of Kase Filters, and in the past year their market share has skyrocketed.
The Kase Wolverine series don't just market their excellent optical performance though. They bring a number of other innovative features to the table such as shatterproof glass and a new rectangular design. We'll get into those aspects later in the review, but on paper the Kase Wolverine 10 Stop ND Filter certainly looks like it's one of the best ND filters on the market.
However, only a true test will tell.
Price, Packaging, and Protection
The three Ps that offer you your first impressions of the filter. As I've mentioned in previous reviews, the quality of the packaging is often a good indicator of the quality of the product. Sometimes it is good to judge a book by it's cover.
The Kase Wolverine ships in a well designed, appealing box with a gorgeous seascape adorning the front, presumably a seascape taken with a Kase filter. Inside the box is a hard backed holder for the filter with a magnetic flap to open, with that sheathe containing the filter itself.
I appreciate filters that come with their own protective cases, and this one in particular feels rigid enough to withstand the usual landscape photography bumps. Whether it's as durable as Haida's metal case is another question, but it's definitely a more portable option thanks to it's slimmer stature.
Now, let's talk about price. It retails on Kase's website for £140.
This isn't the cheapest filter on the market, but you must remember that it is aimed at those photographers looking for the very best quality. That being said, it's by no means the most expensive filter available either. In fact, it comes in at a lower cost than both Formatt-Hitech's Firecrest Ultra range and Lee's IRND range. NiSi's IRND filter is currently going for around £20 cheaper than the Kase Wolverine, whilst Haida's NanoPro offering is the cheapest of the bunch at a hair over £100.
So, the Kase Wolverine is very much in the middle of the road when it comes to price. However, with the extra features they are including you wouldn't expect them to be at the lower end of the price bracket.
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Kase Wolverine Optical Quality
You can come up with all the most innovative features you want, but if the filter doesn't stand up to the mark when it comes to optical neutrality then it's worse than useless.
The problem that has been the bane of filter manufacturers for years is the troublesome colour cast that is often introduced in strong neutral density filters. It's very difficult to produce a completely colour neutral piece of darkened glass, and that's precisely why they seem so expensive. The Kase Wolverine comes in at the premium end of the price bracket, so we're expecting premium results.
You'll be pleased to hear that the Kase Wolverine very much stands up to that mark though, and in some ways actually surpasses it. Now, Tim Parkin of On Landscape has done a ton of the hard work for us here, and I won't try and better such an extensive test. You can see that the Kase Wolverine is up there alongside the Haida NanoPro in terms of colour cast, so we can be sure it's top quality.
Nothing beats a visual test though. Here is the exact same composition taken within seconds of each other. The left side of the slider is the Kase Wolverine and the right side is the Haida NanoPro, with the above image completely unfiltered for reference. Both were taken with exactly the same settings and had the exact same post processing applied, with no corrective action on colours taking place. I've also included an unfiltered image for reference.
As you can see, there's very little difference when compared to the unfiltered one. I noted in the Haida NanoPro review about it displaying a slight purple cast in certain conditions, and interestingly it seems like the Kase Wolverine goes in the opposite direction and adds a very slight green cast. This is very easily correct in post processing by simply sliding the Tint slider to +5.
Additionally, my sample of the Kase Wolverine seems to be very marginally less than 10 stops, coming in at around 9.5 stops of light reduction. This is small enough as to make very little difference in everyday use, and it's entirely possible that other user's samples are 10 stops.
Optically the Haida and the Kase are almost identical in terms of quality, albeit both showing slightly different characteristics. I'm happy to recommend these over any others that I've tried, and On Landscape concur after their extensive testing.
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Kase Wolverine's Extra Features
So the Kase Wolverine 10-Stop has passed the most important test, but here is where Kase really separate themselves from the competition.
They are bringing true innovation to the filter market, and are the first company to do so for years. It is these features that could push you to spend the extra £40 or so for the Wolverine, instead of the still optically excellent Haida.
How nobody has thought of this before is beyond me. ND filters are used outdoors about 99% of the time, and the great outdoors is full of hazards when you're a fragile square of glass.
I myself have shattered two neutral density filters before now thanks to clumsy fumbles, and I have to tell you that picking up the shards of a £100 piece of glass isn't a nice feeling.
Enter Kase with their game changing shatterproof glass. Apparently these will drastically increase your ND filter's chances of survival if it were clumsily dropped. Obviously they don't claim that it's unbreakable, but it's a definite improvement on it's predecessors.
How do I test this though? Funnily enough I wasn't too keen on the idea of dropping a very expensive filter on the ground and hoping it didn't break, so Kase kindly provided me with a clear piece of the same glass used for making the filter. Here's how it fared:
Okay, so it easily survived the drop on grass, although I wouldn't really expect any filter to smash there. The wooden floor of my living room was also dealt with easily, something which I imagine would break most other filters.
I decided to push it to breaking point (literally) and took it outside. It didn't fare so well on concrete. In fact, it shattered into about a thousand pieces. I'm not surprised to be fair, the Kase UK team informed me that it's not unbreakable, just much more durable than normal filters. They also said that repeated drops would weaken the glass and make it more susceptible to breaking on subsequent drops.
This all depends on how it lands though, and you can see from this video that it can survive much harder falls than this is fortune favours you!
I have no gripes with this, apart from one: Kase Filter's product description for the Kase Wolverine describes it as 'virtually unbreakable'. Is it more durable than the usual? Yes. Is it virtually unbreakable? Nope.
That's my only problem with it. If I bought a filter that was shatter resistant I wouldn't expect it to survive a drop on concrete. If the description said virtually unbreakable and it shattered when dropped from a reasonable tripod height onto concrete then I wouldn't be too happy.
Update: Upon reading this review KaseUK acted immediately to clarify the product description, changing it to accurately reflect the durability of the Kase Wolverine.
The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that the Kase Wolverine is rectangular rather than square. To be precise, it's a 150mm x 100mm ND filter, which happens to be the same size as the standard graduated filters you can buy.
This makes using the ND filter in conjunction with grads noticeable easier. Trying to either slot your square ND filter in behind a Grad filter or guessing where the grad should lie is an incredibly frustrating process, and by making them the same size it completely eliminates this problem.
Additionally, it makes them easier to use on their own. No longer do you have to perfectly align your filter to make sure there are no gaps that light could leak through.
Once again, it's an incredibly simple solution to a problem that none of us realised we had. Kase have actually thought about what problems photographers face in the field, and then taken steps to improve the experience.
Overall, I'm very impressed with the Kase Wolverine. Not only is it optically fantastic, pretty much equalling the class-leading Haida NanoPro, but it brings a ton of new features to the table.
The nano coating provides excellent protection from dust and water, and the rectangular design makes it a lot easier to actually use in the field. As far as the shatter proofing goes, I'm happy about the added layer of protection from breakage, although I do feel they should be more clear on their website about it's limitations.
Would I recommend this to a friend? Most definitely. In my opinion it's worth spending a bit extra on this over the Haida NanoPro just for the added features, and it's optically better than every other neutral density filter on the market. For me, this is the best neutral density filter I've ever used - Bar none.
Kase have continued this innovation in their filter holder as well, so keep a keen eye out for our upcoming review of that.