In the past, I have extolled the virtues of the remarkable Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G lens, which is so good I use it on my Canon camera with an adapter. As I have previously noted, however, the Nikon’s bulbous front element makes filter use extremely difficult. Of course, the Nikon 14-24mm isn’t the only “popeye” lens out there these days: now we have plenty of ultra-wide lenses with bulbous front elements, including the Canon 17mm tilt-shift, the Sigma 12-24mm, and a few others. All of them share the same filter problem as the Nikon 14-24mm. In the past, us ultra-wide junkies had to get creative in order to use filters. Now, several filter solutions exist for the Nikon 14-24mm and many (if not most) of its ultra-wide brethren.
Currently, there are three filter options available for ultra-wide angle lenses: the LEE Filters SW150 filter holder, the Fotodiox WonderPana system, and the newest entrant into the fray, the Lucroit system. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages, which I discuss in detail below. All of them suffer, to varying degrees, from what I call the Big Filter Problem—the filters that fit these holders are HUGE (up to 6″ x 8″), making transport and field use a challenge. For much of the field work I do, the Big Filter Problem is insurmountable—I simply can’t bring along giant filters and holders when backpacking or otherwise traveling light. When space and weight are not a concern, however, I love setting up some giant filters on my Nikon 14-24mm—I always get plenty of people gawking at me, wondering what the hell I am doing!
LEE Filters SW150 Filter Holder Kit: This adapter is specifically made for the Nikon 14-24 lens. The kit comes with a SW150 filter holder, adapter ring for the Nikon 14-24, and a 2-stop graduated neutral density filter. This was the first filter system made for the Nikon 14-24mm, and the first one I owned. I am not aware of Lee making adapter rings for lenses other than the Nikon 14-24mm.
System pros: Well, it does allow you to use filters on the Nikon 14-24mm lens. Unfortunately, the pros sort of stop there . . .
System cons: Lee only has a limited number of filters available for this holder: a few graduated neutral density and neutral density filters. Lee has publicly stated they don’t intend to make a polarizer filter for this system. I’ve used off-brand polarizer filters with this holder, but they don’t quite fit and require some clever alterations to make them work—and by “clever” I mean copious amounts of duct tape. Not a perfect solution. Also, this system is big and bulky, and assembling the adapter involves combining several different screw-on rings, one coming over the top of the lens and the other coming over the bottom (which means you have to set up the adapter before putting the lens on the camera). It’s complicated, meaning more often than not you will simply leave the adapter on the lens rather than assembling and disassembling the adapter every time you need to use filters. This makes the lens bigger and bulkier than it already is, and you can’t use the lens cap with the adapter in place. Lee makes a neoprene sock to cover the lens with the adapter in place; needless to say, neoprene doesn’t offer optimal protection for the front element of the lens. Also, the adapter rings tend to loosen with normal use. To add insult to injury, Lee claims the holder has two filter slots, but I only count one usable slot on my SW150 (the picture below seems to show two slots, but only the outer slot is usable as the inner slot is blocked by the Nikon 14-24mm’s petal lens hood). For these reasons, I stopped using the Lee system a long time ago.
So here’s my rating for the Lee 150SW system (I’m using a three-star rating system):System Adaptability: ★ Ease of Use: ★ Filter Selection: ★ Lens Protection: ★
Fotodiox WonderPana: This is an excellent ultra-wide lens filter adapter system made by Fotodiox. The Fotodiox system uses a combination of round screw-on filters and rectangular filter adapter “wings” which allow you to use graduated neutral density filters. Although I haven’t had any experience with the WonderPana system, I do own an earlier version made by Fotodiox (the earlier adapter just consisted of the base screw-on filter system and did not include the optional ”wings” for use of grads).
System pros: I prefer the Fotodiox system to the Lee system for several reasons: (1) the adapter rings stay put, unlike the Lee adapter which tends to come loose—and they are also a bit easier to put together; (2) the Fotodiox system comes with a metal lens cap that clips onto the front of the adapter, offering more protection for your lens than the neoprene sock which comes with the Lee filter; (3) the Fotodiox system is somewhat less bulky than the Lee system; and (4) Fotodiox makes a number of filters for this system, including an assortment of grads, several strengths of neutral density, and even a polarizer! Also, Fotodiox makes adapters for a number of ultra-wide lenses, making it an exceptionally versatile system. Overall, the quality of the Fotodiox filters seems very high.
System cons: I’ve experienced some problems with unscrewing the Fotodiox filters and lens cap after putting them on the adapter, but this was with the older version of the system which had a screw-on lens cap. Fotodiox has come out with a new clip-on lens cap, and I think the new WonderPana system solves the older version’s “sticky thread” problems, but I don’t have any direct experience so I can’t say for sure. I’d love to hear some feedback from someone who has tried the new system. Despite the problems I had with the original Fotodiox system, I think it is fair to say that the WonderPana is the most comprehensive system available at the moment. Not unlike the Lee system, this adapter is a little tricky to get on and off (and has to be assembled on the lens before the lens is mounted on the camera), although it is somewhat lens tricky than the Lee adapter.
So here’s my final rating for the Fotodiox system:System Adaptability: ★★★ Ease of Use: ★★ Filter Selection: ★★★ Lens Protection: ★★★
Hitech 165mm Lucroit Wide Angle 2-Slot Filter Holder: I guess I’d have to say of the three systems out there at the moment, this wonderful system made by Lucroit is my favorite in terms of design and ease of use. In terms of actual filter selection, at this point I have to give the nod to the WonderPana system, although I hear more filters for the Lucroit are on the way.
System pros: It’s two-slot design is simple and elegant. No messy screwing of adapter rings together for this gem of a system—instead, it has an adapter ring that securely slips on the front of the lens, held in place by tension, which is easy to get on and off the lens but that won’t slip off by accident. The filter holder simply snaps onto the adapter ring and you’re good to go. This is a huge advantage over the other systems because you don’t have to leave the bulky adapter on the lens all the time, making transport of the lens and the filter holder system easier—this also means the lens is well protected, because you can just use the lens cap that comes with your lens. And not unlike the Fotodiox system, the Lucroit readily adapts to most ultra-wide lenses out there.
System cons: Although Hitech makes a number of neutral density and grad filters which fit the Lucroit, there isn’t a polarizer currently available—but I am told one is coming. A note regarding Hitech filters: I’ve used some Hitech filters in the past with poor results, but my understanding is that Hitech has upped their game recently, and their newer filters actually seem quite good—but my experience is still somewhat limited.
So here’s my final rating for the Lucroit system:System Adaptability: ★★★ Ease of Use: ★★★ Filter Selection: ★★ (provisional ranking; more filters coming!) Lens Protection: ★★★
So there you have it! With three viable systems out there, you should have no problem finding a solution to fit your ultra-wide needs. I’m interested in hearing from others who have used these systems.