Filter test.....

20th November 2017
I have been meaning to do a blog for a while now, but work and life always seemed to get in the way. I was then approached by a new filter company on the block in the UK, asking if I would like a kit to test out, and give them my feedback. So I lined up the two proverbial birds, grabbed a stone and took aim…… (please note, no birds or stones where harmed in the writing of this blog!!!)

As I am new to this writing malarkey (as in blogs) this might be a little longer than normal. So make a brew, pour a glass of wine or grab some popcorn and stick with me as I think, nay, hope it will be informative and might open your eyes to other options in the world of filters.

The filter company that approached me are called Kase. They are a Chinese filter manufacturer, who has just appointed their UK distributors. I, probably like a lot of you out there, had never heard of them, so I used my old friend Google to find out more. It turns out they know a thing or two about filters, having been in the Asian market for a number of years now. Their flagship filters are the Wolverine range of filters, and on their website they say –

These are the new standard in filter technology.

Virtually Indestructible – Made from toughened glass, that will withstand a drop or two, no more accidentally broken filters when out in the field. They also will not scratch or mark very easily at all.
Professional High Definition Glass – It might be tough, but that does not stop its exceptional clarity.
Great Colour Control – The ND filters offer no issues with colour casting, colours as reproduced perfectly, a great image every time.
Nano Coatings – All Wolverine filters have nanotech coatings that help control reflections, repel oil and water and are mold resistant. They simply wipe clean when covered in sea spray, or water. Minimal Smudging.

Bold claims, but the question is do the filters live up to them, and what are they like in the real world?

A few days later a set of Kase Wolverine 100mm filters (also available in 150mm width) turned up. The kit comprised of –

K100-X holder
Geared adapter rings: 77-86mm & 82-86mm
Step rings: 67-82mm & 72-82mm
86mm Slimline (Polarising filter)
Wolverine 100x150mm soft GND filter GND 0.9 (3 stop Soft Grad)
Wolverine 100x150mm hard GND filter GND 0.6 (2 Stop Hard Grad)
Wolverine 100x150mm R-GND filter R-GND 1.2 (4 Stop Reverse Grad)
Wolverine 100x100mm ND filter ND 64 (6 Stop ND)
Wolverine 100x100mm ND filter ND 1000 (10 Stop ND)
K100 filter bag
(The Wolverine Kits can be tweaked when ordering, e.g on the entry level kit you can swap the 6stop for a 10stop filter and so on.)

Over the years I have owned various filter systems, and used many others owned by clients on the workshops I run, so I have seen or used most systems. My initial thoughts, when un-boxing the Kase filters, was how they oozed quality and felt extremely well made.

I currently use Lee filters, and have done for the past 7+ years. I have always thought they were the best around, and sung their praises to people who asked, but suddenly they felt like a cheap inferior filter, and believe me they aren’t cheap. The Kase Wolverine filters aren’t cheap either, but if their claims are founded, they will be a sound investment.

So what are the main differences from my current Lee set up? Well the Kase filters are all toughened glass, whereas most of the Lee filters I have are resin, excluding the polariser and 3, 6, 10 & 15 stop ND filters (they are all glass but not toughened). The Kase system has a geared mechanism for the polariser, meaning that the polariser sits between the lens and filter holder, and is rotated via a small wheel at the side of the holder. The Lee system has the polariser sitting in front of the filter holder/filters. Recently Lee brought out their slimline polariser, but the Kase version is wafer thin in comparison. The Kase filter holder ring also rotates (part of the geared mechanism) and the filter holder is secured to the ring by a small screw lock pin design, unlike the Lee spring action pin.

Now all I needed to do was get out and test the filters, which is easier said than done when living in a very wet & windy part of Wales, and when you have a pile of other work needing doing. A planned trip to Scotland was earmarked for the test, which has a fickle weather system like Wales, and didn’t let me down.

The first outing was on a grey and blustery day. I set up my shot, and dropped in the Kase 0.6 (2 stop) hard ND grad. The image looked neutral. Swap to the Lee system, and there was a slight tint to the image. I did the same with the 0.9 (3 stop) soft ND grad, and again the Kase was more neutral.

So time to try the 6 & 10 stop ND filters. Now I know the Lee ‘stopper’ ranges (6, 10 & 15 stop) of ND filters have always given off a blue cast on my images. I was interested to see how neutral the Kase filters would be. I stood loch side in Scotland at dawn and compared the results. The Kase 6 & 10 stop filters were neutral and gave off no noticeable colour cast, whereas the Lee had their standard blue cast. These Kase filters were living up to the website promises. Now I know you can remove the colour casts in software, but the idea of filters to me is to cut down on post processing. The difference between the 2 can be seen below -

Kase 10 stop ND & 0.6 hard grad

Lee 10 stop ND & 0.6 hard grad

The polariser filter was next on the test. As I mentioned Kase uses a geared system for the polariser, so all you need is the filter ring adaptor and the polariser, if you aren’t planning on using any graduated filters. This means less on front of your lens, and the polariser is as close as possible to the front lens element. If you want to use other filters with the polariser, then I would suggest getting a spare adapter ring and leave the polariser in one, as it might be fiddly removing the polariser with cold fingers.

The Lee polariser sits on the front of the filter holder, and screws into the front holder ring, which is an additional purchase. Depending on how many slots you have attached on your filter holder dictates how far away from your lens the polariser is. On my Lee system I have 2 slots, and then the polariser sits in front of that. I also have a 3 slot holder to use when I am not using the polariser, as the polariser is also difficult to remove.

A calm day with a clear blue sky was the perfect conditions to compare the 2 systems. With my camera on my tripod, and the sun at about a 90 degree angle to the camera I fired off some shots. Both fared very well, and there was wasn’t much between them, until I started to rotate the polarisers. As the Kase system was right in front of the lens, there weren’t any issues, but as the Lee polariser was in front of the holder light managed to reflect off the back of the filter and caused flare in the top corner of the images.

Also, at 16mm the filter holder wasn't visible in the image using the Kase system, whereas it was with the Lee system, and that is with the slimline polariser. Another plus point for the Kase system is when you use filters alongside the polariser, the geared mechanism is a joy to use. No longer do you have to remove a glove to rotate the polariser and try to keep the ND grads level, you can keep your fingers warm and rotate using the wheel at the side of the holder, and not have to worry about moving your other filters.

Kase polariser

Lee polariser

The last day of the trip was on a very wet and windy beach, on the south coast of Dumfries and Galloway. The Kase filters have a nano coating, which they say helps with keeping the filter easily clean when near the sea. After many many years of struggling with my Lee system, when being sprayed with sea water, I was hopeful this claim would ring true. It did! I always keep a supply of wet lens wipes in my bag for such occasions, and sometimes it’s a losing battle trying to keep the Lee filters streak / smudge free. The Kase filters were so easy to clean and a joy to use in such conditions. If conditions were really bad I would often leave my Lee filters until I got home, before washing them in warm soapy water. There was no need with the Kase filters, a few wipes and they were like new again.

The one filter in my test kit that I didn’t try on my Scottish trip was the 4 stop reverse grad, I had to wait until I got back to Pembrokeshire for that. Standard graduated filters are darker at the top, and slowly decrease in graduation as it nears the middle of the filter. In most cases this fine, but in certain conditions like sunrises or sunsets, when the horizon is the brightest part of the image traditional grads aren’t enough. This is where a reverse grad comes into its own. As the name suggests the graduation is reversed, so the darkest part of the filter is the middle and the graduation decreases towards the top of the filter.

Kase reverse grad

I have wanted to try one for a while, but they weren’t available with Lee until recently. Was the wait worth it? Most certainly. A cold November evening down on Newgale beach at sunset was great for putting this Kase reverse grad to the test. Previously I would have maybe used a 2 stop hard grad, placed on the horizon, along with a soft grad dropping below the horizon to stop blowing the highlights. Not anymore, the reverse grad is perfect for the job.

Kase reverse 1.2 grad & 6 stop ND

One thing I didn’t test during my time with the Kase Wolverine filters was the claims of them being Virtually Indestructible. There’s enough evidence online to show them being put through their paces. Having a filter system that can survive the odd drop or two, and is difficult to scratch is a relief. Having dropped and broken a Lee 6 stop filter in the past, seeing a 3 stop Lee filter shattering on a path and having to replace about 3 resin filters due to scratches, I now don’t have to worry about this with the Kase system.

So after giving the Kase Wolverine filters a test and comparing them to my beloved Lee filters kit, what do I think? Well I put my money where my mouth is and purchased the test kit from Kase. Now my Lee filters are gathering dust on a shelf at home. Everything they said was true, and although the range isn’t currently as wide as some other manufacturers, they have enough to keep me happy for now. I have been reliably informed that other filters and accessories will follow soon as Kase continue to grow their product range. They aren’t cheap, but neither are any of the other top of the range filter systems. I never thought I would be tempted away from Lee, but Kase have managed it. I will now continue to grow my Kase filter collection, and from now on whenever I get asked what filters I would recommend, my answer will be simple - Kase Wolverine.

Kase 0.6 hard & polariser