The photography filter market was once dominated by a small selection of companies who held a huge market share, and those searching for professional grade kit were even further limited in their choices. For them, it was either Lee Filters or nothing.
Until a few years ago that is.
Hitech-Formatt were the first company to start gaining on Lee, but with the meteoric rise of the Asian technology industry this two horse race wasn't to last for long.
NiSi were one of the first major players to enter the fray, bringing innovative new designs to the market at a lower price than their competitors. A variety of other filter manufacturers, for example Haida and Kase Filters, have followed in their footsteps.
Now that they're no longer the new kids on the block with the freshest ideas, can NiSi continue their innovative advancement and fend off the emerging competition? Today, we take a good look at the NiSi V5 Pro Filter Holder with Polariser.
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NiSi V5 Pro Filter Holder Review
Full Disclosure - NiSi have not asked me to write this review. I purchased this filter holder with my own money and have used it consistently for almost a year.
Back in 2005 in Zhuhai, China a new company that was to be known as NiSi started researching optical technologies. The ever decreasing cost of manufacturing finely honed glass meant that it was becoming an accessible market for even small companies, so NiSi set about innovating.
13 years later and NiSi have successfully established themselves as one of the top players in the optical filter realm, and have now branched out into lens development.
They offer a number of different filter holders, ranging from the 70mm compatible system all the way up to the specialist 180mm filter holders. The most commonly used is the 100mm system, and the NiSi V5 Pro is the latest in this line of products.
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Price and Packaging
Most of the high end 100mm filter systems are converging towards a similar price bracket now, and NiSi are no different. Their V5 Pro system comes in at $178 on B&H - A competitive price but not significantly cheaper than it's competitors. As is often the case, you get what you pay for.
For comparison's sake we'll look at some other prices from B&H:
- The Lee Foundation kit with a 77mm adaptor racks up to $135, but doesn't come with a polariser included like the NiSi. Add a polariser to the mix and the cost skyrockets to $370.
- The Formatt Hitech Firecrest system is marginally cheaper at $159, and that comes with a polariser.
They say you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but sometimes the cover is a useful clue. That's exactly what I believe with regards to packaging. A well manufactured and designed bit of packaging instantly imbues a sense of pride and quality, and that's exactly what you get with the NiSi V5 Pro.
It arrives in a rather standard and unspectacular white box. So far, so bland. However, inside the box is their complementary leather case for your holder. This case houses all the components of the filter kit, and offers a much more desirable method of transportation than having everything rattling around in your bag.
Inside the Box
The attractive leather case is split into three compartments, as you can see above, segregating the different parts of your kit for easy access and protection. This is what you can expect:
- Filter Holder - This is the section that actually houses the 100mm x 100mm square filters you'll be using. It has three filter slots and the small knob on the side is used for attaching and detaching the holder from the rest of the system.
- Adaptor Ring - This is what the filter holder actually clamps on to. The adaptor ring screws onto the step-up rings (below) to attach to your lens. It is also where the polarising filter is housed, with a small wheel on the side (more on that later.)
- Polarising Filter - Ultra slim 86mm circular polarising filter that screws into the adaptor ring and sits behind your slot in filters. More on this later.
- Step-Up Rings - Needed to attach the rest of the filter system to your lenses, due to the variety of filter thread sizes on lenses. The holder ships with a 67mm, 72mm, and 77mm step-up rings, although other sizes can be purchased at a reasonable price.
Bearing in mind that most square filter systems are used by landscape photographers, build quality is a very important factor. If it can't stand up to the elements then it's not worth the seawater salt that will eventually cake it.
That being said, the NiSi V5 Pro feels pretty high end straight out of the box. It's machine crafted from aviation grade aluminium and is a drastic improvement on some of the plastic filter holders.
There were complaints about the original V5 holder that the filter slots were actually too tight, and ended up damaging the filters just by putting them in. I'm glad to say that the issue has been resolved, and while still a snug fit after a year of use I'm yet to see any damage on my filters. The snugness of the fit also means I'm never worried about the filters dropping out. So far, so good.
That's not to say the NiSi V5 Pro isn't without it's faults though.
For example, the step-up rings feel rather flimsy, and my suspicions were confirmed when I dropped one on a small pebble and rendered it unusable.
Once the temperature drops, that proud aluminium construction becomes the V5 Pro's downfall. Aluminium and cold weather do not mix, and that becomes a problem when the threads are aluminium too. There have been a number of occasions where I have been simply incapable of writhing the system from the lens due to the threads getting stuck.
Finally, the small wheel on the side of the adaptor ring, which is used to rotate the in built polariser (more on that later) is prone to getting stuck in harsh environments. Add a grain of sand to the mix and it's nigh on impossible to use, but that's a relatively small price to pay considering the time and effort their system saves.
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As far as assembly goes, it's a lot quicker than it looks. With four separate parts and a number of different rings it looks like it could take an age to set up, but shortly before writing this review I found myself doing something I never thought I would. Timing myself assembling a NiSi V5 Pro Filter system.
From completely separate to fully assembled and attached to my lens took just 51 seconds. Of course, if you add in freezing temperatures, high winds, and/or crashing waves things could take a little longer.
The assembly process is relatively simple, and will come like second nature after a few attempts:
- Holding on to the polarising filter wheels, screw the polarising filter into the adaptor ring.
- Screw required step-up ring onto the back of the adaptor ring.
- Screw step-up ring onto the front of your lens.
- Clamp filter holder onto front of the adaptor ring.
NiSi's Polarising Filter
As I've mentioned, the NiSi V5 Pro comes with an included polarising filter, and when they launched this integrated system it was a complete game changer.
With previous systems, if you wanted to use a polarising filter it often meant purchasing an incredibly expensive 105mm filter that attached to the outside of your filter system. Not only is this much more expensive, but it's also much more cumbersome to use.
NiSi's system, which is now widely used in other systems, incorporates an 86mm slim polariser into the system itself. It screws into the adaptor ring, and can then be rotated using the small wheels on the side of the adaptor ring. It can be rotated even when square filters are in place, meaning you don't have to disassemble the entire system just to change your level of polarisation.
The only issue with this, as mentioned above, is that the small rotating wheels can sometimes become difficult to use.
The optical quality of the polariser itself is all down to personal taste really. I've found it to be a lot warmer in it's colour cast than other polarising filters, but you can judge for yourself below. At the top is the unfiltered image, the bottom left shows the NiSi polariser, and the bottom right shows to Hoya Pro1 CPL. All images have been edited exactly the same.
NiSi V5 Pro Filter System Verdict
I've lived with the NiSi V5 Pro as my main filter system for almost a year now, and having purchased it with my own money I can happily say that I don't regret it.
Is it without problems? No.
However, it's definitely one of the better filter systems on the market, and isn't extortionately priced. It offers a number of really creative solutions to common problems, and while there is room for improvement I can honestly say that I'm happy with my purchase.
If you're looking to buy a new 100mm square filter system, you won't go far wrong with the NiSi V5 Pro.