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6 – 10 – 20 stops ND / 1.2 Soft Grad ND / V5 filter holder Review

I will talk about the NiSi 6, 10, 20 stops ( named the black hole) and grad ND together with the V5 filter kit.
It is a honest review, after using the filters for a couple of weeks. I was really searching for the things that I’d like and dislike.

I have used quite a few brands by now and can compare them pretty good.
A few years ago I started with some very cheap filter that I got from the U.K. They were crap, but good to experiment with and to see if doing long exposures was something for me. When I got the hang of it I bought a 10 stop filter from Hoya, which performed pretty good.  Later I’ve also used a Kenko 10 stops filter, which was performing very well as well.
But with screw in filters, I feel limited. You can’t insert a grad ND and stacking often means vignetting.

While I progressed in post processing and got a much better understanding of the technique, I wanted more sharpness and clarity.
When I switched to square filters, the first ones I got were from stealth gear. They performed well but were lacking the quality I was looking for.
A lot of fine art photographers were using the filters of Formatt Hightech. High quality filters but they come at a price.

I ended up using the filters of Formatt Hightech but wasn’t completely happy with them. They still have a slight color cast and when stacking them it even gets worse, just like LEE filters. The thing that I loved about them, is that they were resin filters. Light and durable.
My grad ND was a bit damaged (dropped it when I didn’t attached the holder correctly) and I needed to replace it.

Just when I was about to order a new grad ND, my dear friend Albert Dros was just testing the 15 stops filter of NiSi. I’ve heard some good things about the brand but never tested it myself. When Albert was live on facebook when he was shooting in Hong Kong, I asked him if I could edit his shot made with the 15 stops. This would give me an opportunity to see both the quality of the Sony camera and the filter. Albert agreed and send me the raw file.
I was impressed about the sharpness of the image and that it was nearly neutral.

I wanted to see if I could test the filters myself to find out if they could replace my current filter set.
Some time later I was in contact with NiSi and they would send me some filters to test. This included the all new 20 stops filter, the Black Hole.
I couldn’t wait to see how they would perform.

V5 filter kit

When unpacking the filters I was happy to see that the filter were all packed in a leather bag and that the filter holder was also packed properly. No need to buy extra protective gear to keep your filters safe. That’s a good start!

I really like the design of the V5 filter holder. It comes with different step down rings to fit almost any lens. No need to buy extra, as you have to do with other brands.

The CPL (polarizer) is also included and stored with the holder. You can screw the CPL in the adapter ring and the ND filters with the holder will slide in on the other side. Once installed, you can turn the CPL with 2 turning wheels on each side of the holder. Perfect solution! This really works great.
An other clear advantage is that you can still use 3 filters in front of the CPL, which wasn’t the case with many other options from other brands.

When I first wanted to insert the ND filters, I needed to put a lot of pressure on the filter to slide it in. As I was in the field and didn’t had a screwdriver at hand this was a bit of a set back. Tip: check if you need to loosen the screws a bit so the filters will slide in with ease.

The holder clicks onto the adapter ring, which I liked. The (now old) filter holder I got from Formatt Hightech was dropped a few times, because I didn’t screw it tight enough on the adapter ring. Formatt their current holder now also clicks onto the ring, so this is now pretty much the same.

Regarding vignetting, I had no issues with the kit at as wide as 16 mm on my Nikon 16-35 f4 lens.

The clarity of the filters is really good. The colour cast is well handled, even when stacked. The filters are made of glass and are optically very good.
One thing that I missed with my Formatt Hightech filters was a light leak protection on the filter. This was only supplied with the 10 stops ND filter and you had to put it on yourself.
It was nice to see that the NiSi filters all came with a piece of black foam on the filter from the factory. They close the gaps between the filters and the holder very well, minimizing light leakage. The only disadvantage is that it’s really tight to the edges of the holder. You have to be precise when putting the filters in, not to leave a small gap and thus ruining your shot.

The coating on the filters is the best I’ve seen so far.
The filters are super easy to clean and the water runs off smoothly. Even when photographing at the shoreline, getting spray from the ocean on the filters, it was an easy job to clean the filters of the salty water. Normally it takes some time to clean your filters with a cloth, but the NiSi filters are clean again in a single swipe. Great stuff!

Black hole - 20 stops filter

nisi black hole

Now it was time to test the “Black hole”, the 20 stops filter.
When I was calculating at what shutter speeds it would be useful I was thinking what to do with it. How could I make use of such a dark filter?
At a base shutter speed of 1/500 s you get an exposure of 35 minutes. When you have a base exposure of 1/250s, you get an exposure of 1 hour and 5 minutes! That is long…. when do you need such long exposures you ask?

You could make any cityscape an empty one, removing all moving objects. Slow moving clouds will make nice long soft streaks when you expose for 35 minutes. But a sky without enough blue in it, would just become one grey mass.
Since I’m doing a lot of my long exposures during daytime it got me thinking what I could do with the filter.
Well. If you go to f2.8 and you have a base shutter speed of 1/2000s, you get an exposure of around 8 minutes. This is becoming interesting.
Now I can do long exposures with a shallow depth of field.  Luckily for me, my ZEISS 2.8/21mm is still super sharp wide open so this gives me new creative opportunities.

The filter gives a slight warm color cast to my images. Other photographers who were testing the filter did have a clean image without any color cast. So it might that mine got produced a bit different. But the color cast is very light and is easily corrected in Lightroom.
I was impressed with the sharpness and clarity of the image after 25 minutes.

Soft grad ND

I have the 1.2 soft grad ND. It’s clear, has no color cast and the gradient is nice and smooth. In my opinion the soft grad nd filters of NiSi are not very useful. The gradient is too soft and too wide. It fades over a large area, so you cover almost your entire scene with the gradient when you want to darken the sky. I have addressed this at NiSi and they are looking into it.

The problem with this filter is, that if you have a scene where the difference between the sky and the foreground is more than 1 stop you have to slide the filter so far down that you start to darken the foreground as well. Meaning you have to start bracketing again. The purpose of a grad ND is that I can expose the scene correctly in one shot. So this is a bit of a disappointment to me.

Polarizer

The polarizer is attached to the filter holder, which I really like.
The quality of the CPL is good. The new CPL filter is even better as the one I have with my V5 set.
Most of the time I wasn’t using my CPL because it always was a hassle to use with ND filters. Now with this set of NiSi, I use it all the time when needed.

What I like most of the CPL is that you are able to turn it with 2 small wheels on the back of the filter holder.
Because it’s on the back of the holder and the ND filters are in front of it, you have no vignetting! This is a game changer.

Conclusion

After using the filters and the kit for some time, I’m really happy with them.
Are they setting a new standard? Production wise, I think so. The filters have the best coating in the industry and are still very clear.
The filters come with light leak protection from the factory, which makes it all much better to use.
The quality of the product is overall very good.

Sure the box in which you can store the filters is a bit big, but you can put 6 filters in and they are protected well. I also really like the V5 holder. Putting the CPL in is something that needs to be done carefully, so you are sure that it’s in. But from there on it works all like a charm. You might need to loosen the screws a bit of the holder, so the filters slide in with ease.

I think NiSi will be some serious competition to the established big brands. The quality of the products is good and so is the price.
If we ever cross paths in the field, be sure to ask me about the filters. You can then see it for yourself.

Would I recommend buying them? Yes I would.

Positive

  • Low color cast
  • Clear filters
  • Very good filter holder
  • CPL integrated into the holder
  • Packaging (no need to buy extra protective gear)
  • Light leakage protection
  • Very good coating – easy to clean

Negative

  • glass filters (don’t drop them)
  • Soft grad is too soft

You can find out more about prices and the products on their Amazon shop.
If you have any further questions, feel free to ask me in the comments or by email.

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