So around four years after I reviewed the original Haida Filter 100mm filters on Clubsnap, Photosphere Singapore, the local distributor for all things Haida, kindly loaned me a set of 150mm filters for use with my 14-24mm. Prior to that I was using the Nikon 17-35mm which was plagued with the notorious squeaky autofocus issue, and finally after a good five years of constant use, it became a manual-focus lens. Since the second-hand price for the 14-24mm is quite attractive these days, I netted myself a minty copy, and approached Photosphere for their Haida Filters solution for the ginormous 14-24.
Although I’m in no way a brand ambassador for Haida (I bought all of my filters, they weren’t gifted to me for review), I can safely say that their performance for the past four years of usage have been no less than stellar, and the ones I had were the original ones without any of the new Nanopro multicoatings. Thus when I approached Photosphere for a filter solution, I was curious to find out how much better the new coated filters were.
Update: As of May 2018, I've been invited by Haida to officially be part of their product ambassador programme. Nevertheless, all product reviews will remain fair and unbiased, and based on real-world applications.
The original 100mm Haida Filters that I purchased from them came in simple plastic packaging wrapped in a microfibre cloth, and were unmarked. Back then, Haida Filters was a fledgling filter company among giants such as Singh-Ray and Lee Filters. However, they promised very neutral results, especially for their strong neutral density filters, in contrast to the Lee Big Stopper’s strong bluish cast (which was still easy to correct, but I prefer a neutral result out of the box).
These days, Haida has become one of the leading brand names for filters, providing affordable and high-quality filters that come packaged in equally fancy cases. Gone are the flimsy plastic cases and the soft padded pouches, current Haida filters are sold in tin cases with thick foam padding, and come bundled with a stick-on foam gasket and a handy exposure reference card in English and Mandarin.
As for the filter holder for the Nikon 14-24mm, it comes in three parts which have to be assembled together with the lens - the front and rear adapter rings which must be unique to the ultrawide lens you own, and the universal holder. There’s a comprehensive list of lenses that are compatible with the system, and even details on the amount of vignetting you will get when you stack filters on their website, so kudos to Haida for the detailed information even for the bulbous Canon 17mm tilt-shift lens!
The entire set-up looks like the below photo once you fit them together. Assembly guide video by Haida available here.
Haida also designed the universal filter holder to rotate around the front adapter ring without falling out, even when left unscrewed. This is because you need to align the filter holder with a notch on the front adapter in order to remove the filter holder. This design minimises the risk of the filter holder falling off should you forget to tighten the holder’s locking screw.
The three parts that make up the filter holder are constructed out of solid aluminium, which feels extremely reassuring. The filter holder comes with light sealing foam gaskets pre-installed, with an additional four sets in the box should the original one wear out. Because of this, I found it unnecessary to install the added foam gasket that comes with the filters, since that will make it even more difficult to slot in the already huge and clunky 150mm filters for the 14-24. I haven’t had the chance to compare Haida’s filter solution to Lee’s SW150 or Fotodiox’s Wonderpana, but with the quality construction coupled with the amount of light seals, I see no reason why Haida’s filter kits would be inferior.
In order to transport and protect these massive filters, I used the filter soft pouches that came with the older Haida filter kits. It’s a shame they switched to the tin cases - each of these soft pouches can store up to three filters! However, Photosphere also sells a filter carrying case for easy transportation, which is far better than lugging the tin cases around. As for me, I prefer using the slim foam pouches since they are pretty space-efficient.
By dividing the pouch with foam sheets, I can store up to three filters in one pouch. The foam sheets also makes it easy to separate and withdraw the filters, and prevents them from scratching one another. However, don’t slot them into the laptop compartment of your camera backpack! They may be able to fit, but I broke one of them this way since your body will be resting on the filters.
The old Haida filters do not come with any surface multicoating but are nevertheless very neutral filters for its time. The new Nanopro multicoated Haida filters promises flare and reflection resistance, scratch resistance, which could be useful in sandy or dirty environments, and water resistance, which means moisture will just bead up and slide off the filter. But what I found most useful about these new coatings is that they make the filters extremely easy to slide in and out of the holder, while retaining enough friction to keep it in place. The old filters without any coatings are much tougher to install, which can be a real hassle in changing light.
These new filters are also coated on both sides of the glass, so you do not need to check if you are mounting them the ‘right’ way. They are also pretty reflective, and give off a distinct shade of magenta-pink in direct light, so it will be interesting to see how these new filters fare in flare control and colour neutrality.
For these sets of comparisons, I chose an urban scene in Toa Payoh with lots of tiny details, to see if the filters will have any adverse impact on image quality. I also shot in an overcast afternoon with slow-moving clouds in order to minimise any exposure variances due to light changes. The camera was secured to the railing via a Manfrotto Superclamp and a Sunwayfoto GH-Pro geared head, and a timed release was used for each exposure. The initial meter read 1/160s at f/8.0 with at my camera’s base ISO of 100, and for each change of neutral density filter, I manually changed the exposure based on the strength of the filter. White Balance was kept at a constant 5500K (daylight) throughout.
The first generation Haida filters fared as much as I would have expected - they were relatively neutral, but still exhibited a distinct colour cast, though nowhere as extreme as the Lee Big Stopper or the B&W 10-stop filter that I remembered. Except for the 3-stop filter which exhibited a slight green tinge, the 6 and 10-stop filters had a minor blue cast. All of the first generation filters caused vignetting in the images, with the 10-stop one being the most severe. This may cause some issues to cameras with limited dynamic range, since you will have to pull the shadows from the sides to correct the vignetting. In my tests, it seems that the 6 and 10-stops are slightly stronger than their rated strength, and I had to overexpose for a stop more than the calculated value in order to get a histogram close to the image taken without any filter. This may be due to the strong vignette effect by both filters.
The Nanopro variants of the Haida neutral density filters definitely lived up to their reputation of being extremely neutral - even more so than their original counterparts. With the exception of the 3-stop Nanopro being the most neutral, the 6 and 10-stop Nanopros only exhibited minor orange casts, which may actually be desirable for scenes taken during the golden hours of the day. They also stayed true to their rated strength for the most part, with the exception of the 6-stop Nanopro being slightly stronger than its rated strength. Most importantly, they do not vignette, if at all. This is indeed a plus point since they will not exacerbate the vignetting that most ultrawides inherently have.
In order to see how the filters respond to colour corrections, I used the white balance colour picker tool in Lightroom to pick out a neutral spot in the sky for all the images. This test would show me any residual colour casts after correction. Ideally, the resulting images after white balance correction should be similar to the image taken without any filters.
The original Haida filters seem to colour correct very well, leaving perhaps trace amounts of magenta hues, which is pretty much negligible. The strong vignette still remains, nonetheless.
The new Nanopro variants are a pleasant surprise - they were hard to distinguish from the image taken without filters after correction, with the exception of the 10-stop Nanopro filter, which still retains a very slight but discernible warm tone after correction. Still, they are without a doubt one of the most neutral ND filters I have used so far. Most importantly, these new filters seem to have better light transmission especially around the sides, vastly reducing the vignette as compared to their first-gen counterparts. Evidently from the samples below, the vignette in all cases is non-existent.
Placing a piece of glass in front of your lens can have negative effects on resolution, and the effect is more so for resin filters. Hence, I did some pixel-peeping with these tight crops of the test images to check if your images will be noticeably softened after using the filters.
A crop of the middle portion of the frame shows that there is indeed no discernible drop in sharpness even with the first generation Haida ND filters. The use of proper optical glass really pays off here.
Similarly, the Nanopro variants do not show any noticeable fuzziness - which is what I would expect from top-of-the-line filters at this price range.
One common issue besides light leaks which plague slot-in filters is the propensity to flare or exhibit internal reflection when using them. Since you are basically shooting through glass, strong light sources in your frame might result in light being bounced from the front element of your lens, to your filter, and back again - thus resulting in flaring and internal reflections.
When I shot into the sun with the original Haida 10-stop filter, I noticed flare rings on the bottom left corner of the image. This may be tricky to correct in post should you choose to shoot into direct light sources with this filter.
As for the 10-stop Nanopro filter, I did not notice similar edge flaring issues when shooting directly into the sun. It seems like the new coatings really did the trick!
*Update to this section*
It seems that the flare rings were produced not because of internal reflections or the filter causing flare as initially thought, but it’s due to the lens design of the Nikon 14-24mm. This lens tends to flare dramatically especially with very strong light sources in the middle of the frame, so the type of filter is inconsequential as the lens will flare anyway.
However, this is still an important test as it shows that despite the heavy flaring of the 14-24, the Haida filters (both original and Nanopro) will not create any additional flaring issues in your pictures, showcasing the flare resistance of not just the new filters but the original ones as well. In fact, this is a testament to the Haida holder’s light seals as well, as there are no noticeable light leaks in any of the pictures taken with filters attached.