Great Glass Isn't Just About Lenses

My Experiences w/ the NiSi Filter System

*Disclaimer ;)

Before we get into the heart of this article I need to inform you that I am a NiSi Filters brand ambassador. So the filters and system I am about to discuss are provided to me as part of my ambassadorship with them. This does NOT however mean that I am giving you anything other than my honest opinion and real world experiences with them. My whole career as a photographer is based upon my sincerity and honesty when sharing information with those who follow my work. If I don’t believe in the product, I simply don’t review it. So with that said, let’s have a look at this system!

In the beginning

When I first started shooting something I read in a group on Flickr really stuck with me and has stayed with me all throughout my time as a photographer. That message was something along the lines of, “You can put a crappy lens on a great camera and get crappy photos, and you can put a great lens on a crappy camera and get great photos.” The common denominator there is the lens, in that great glass goes hand in hand with great photos. Now before you get out those pitch forks and start yelling at me about composition, and the art of photography, I agree with you. BUT, when you start talking about things like resolution, image detail, sharpness and even contrast and color detail, ALL those things can be impacted by the quality of glass on the end of your camera. So from early on I made sure that I saved my money and put it into the best lenses I could afford.

Now as I shot more and more like many photographers I learned about the use of filters in photography. I was also learning just how powerful editing software was and I often questioned why something that was developed for use on cameras back in the film days would even be relevant today. I mean, why use a graduated ND filter when I can make a fake one in Lightroom? Or why use a circular polarizer to get blue skies when I can fake it in post? And why put a cheap piece of glass in front of the expensive lenses I worked so hard to aqquire? These were/are all valid questions aren’t they? Sure they are! They are the questions someone who doesn’t have years of experience under their belt would ask. They are also the kinds of questions someone who hasn’t used high quality filters would ask as well.

NiSi Reverse Graduated ND Filter  on the E-M1 MkII and mZuiko 7-14mm PRO lens. 

NiSi Reverse Graduated ND Filter  on the E-M1 MkII and mZuiko 7-14mm PRO lens. 

Learning the Ropes

Moving ahead to about two years ago which would be about my 7th year of photography, I found myself getting curious about what filters could do that software couldn’t. I started to realize that all those people who so early on had been preaching, “get it right in camera” were on to something. While I don’t think “get it right in camera” is exactly what I was after, I DO believe that “get it close in camera” is what I was after.  What the heck does that even mean?! What I mean by “get it close in camera” is that I prefer to get as much of the image right as I can before editing in Lightroom, Photoshop, or any other piece of software. I am rarely one to just give the world an image straight off my camera…It just isn’t how I work.  I started experimenting with cheap off brand filters from Amazon at first. You know the ones, they are resin (not glass), come in a crazy assortment of colors and gradients, and have a flimsy holder to mount them to your lenses. After my first day I realized a couple of things. The first being that filter are incredible! All those years spent thinking that “I can do it in post” were kind of wasted. I also VERY quickly realized when it comes to filters, you get what you pay for….And then some!
These had been my gateway into the world of high quality filters.

Stretching out time w/ the NiSi 10 stop ND filter PLUS a NiSi 6 stop filter!!! 

Stretching out time w/ the NiSi 10 stop ND filter PLUS a NiSi 6 stop filter!!! 

Enter the NiSi Filter System

After this realization that filters could be a big benefit to my photography by getting my image close to what I wanted in camera, and allowing my post processing to be done on a nearly completed image, I KNEW I needed a good set of filters.  
I started looking at round filters from very good companies, and started buying into the B+W filters. I got as far as the 6 stop ND filter and circular polarizer before I decided I couldn't continue down that road. 
Why?
One lens....The mZuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO

mZuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO w/ NiSi Reverse Grad ND mounted.

mZuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO w/ NiSi Reverse Grad ND mounted.

The 7-14mm was, or rather, IS my go to landscape lens. But this lens has a protruding front element (like you'd see on a fisheye lens) thanks to its ultra wide field of view. And because of this design it doesn't allow for screw on filters. I knew I needed a square filter system, and one that had an optical quality to match that of my beloved 7-14mm. I researched several brands, but none had an option for attaching to the 7-14....Until a gentleman named Phil Norton designed and MADE and MARKETED an adapter that allowed this "new to me" filter brand, NiSi to be mounted to the lens. So I watched Phil, and his work is ASTOUNDING. And after chatting him up a while I learned that a lot of what he is able to create, is thanks in part to the NiSi filters he was using. They do for him, what I was hoping they could do for me. Get me that much closer to my finished product, in camera.  So after speaking with Phil he sent me one of his holder and a NiSi filter to attach to it...... I WAS HOOKED!!!! My first shot with the camera gave me this photo striaght out of the camera....I knew this was how I would be working from now on.

This shot sealed the deal....It was time to really get working with NiSi.

This shot sealed the deal....It was time to really get working with NiSi.

I worked with the filter for about 4 months before reaching out to them to inquire about some sort of a working relationship. When I find a product I LOVE...The first thing I want to do is establish a relationship with them. As luck would have it they enjoyed my work and that I share with everyone what gear I am using and that I love to teach at workshops and conferences so they offered me an ambassadorship with them. This meant that I was able to use all the filters so I could share the experience with you. 

How It Changed My Photography

Since I have started using the NiSi System (I use the V5 Kit here) I have realized my photography, and how I approach it has changed. To begin with, my initial thought that "getting it close in camera" would benefit me was true. When you get the image close in camera (for those of us who like to play in post) it offers a LOT of leeway in your post processing in that you haven't already "muddied the waters" as it were by doing what the filters can do for you. So for example, when I put on the Reverse Graduated ND filter for a sunset shot I get a well exposed horizon, tapering off to a well exposed sky, and a foreground untouched by the filter.  If I "tried" to simulate this in post, I would be dragging the highlights slider all the way down, applying a "graduated filter", and maybe raising shadow exposure. Those three things alone will be pushing your file to a state where you may run out of wiggle room. Now if you use the aforementioned Reverse Grad ND filter, all those "effects" are done IN CAMERA...Which means you now have ALL THAT LEEWAY to push your image even further than you could have otherwise! This opens up the door for all kinds of processing magic!

When you take a beautiful sunrise to the next level.

When you take a beautiful sunrise to the next level.

The reason filters matter to me now.

The reason filters matter to me now.

And not ALL of my photos are run through a post processing regimen....Some of them, thanks to the NiSi filters, are just great right off the camera for my style.

The scene................

The scene................

And the end result.............

You don't ALWAYS need to edit...When it is good it's good!

You don't ALWAYS need to edit...When it is good it's good!

I won't go on and on any more about how great they are as I think you probably know I am a HUGE fan of my NiSi filters. But what I WILL do is extend the offer to anyone who wants to come check them out here in Michigan to get ahold of me. I will be glad to arrange some hands on time for you to try them!!!

What the scene looked like...............

What the scene looked like...............

What it looked like through my NiSi filters!!!

What it looked like through my NiSi filters!!!

And with that, I say good day to you all, and feel free to comment below!!