While some filters are round and screw directly onto the filter thread, many others are square or oblong and fit into filter systems. In this article we are not looking at the filters at all. In the article Filters - What you need, you will find both a summary of the minimal parts you require but also very many links to other articles on specific types of flirters, there use and how to use them. On the Filters - further information page you can find links to filter manufacturers websites and other articles, as well as information on training.
We also have a separate article on Stepping rings, these allow an alternative way to allow a range of different sized lenses to fit a single filter set/holder.
In the UK we have two principle manufacturers of photographic filters and holder systems, Lee and Cokin, and in this article we are concentrating on the various sizes offered by these. Kood have a number of ranges that are compatible.
The size options:-
Left is the 100mm and right 84mm Grads.
Which to select
On the face of it with 100mm filters costing over three times the 84mm range and the 84mm range being large enough for the majority of lenses, with holders and more far more expensive on the 100mm size you may feel the choice is very clear cut.
However there is another consideration, the maximum width of the images we can take. When we put on a filter holder, we can set it up with a single filter and get a fairly wide lens into use, but when we want to use several and specifically if we want to rotate several holders together to have filters at different angles we find we have built not only a filter holder but a set of obstacles to using this with wider angle lenses. By having the larger size we have a greater chance of being able to use wider angles.
The 84mm P series has a maximum recommended wide angle lens of 28mm (35mm or FX format), which is 23mm in DX format as used by most of the Nikon DSLR cameras. The 100mm format has a maximum recommended wide angle of 20mm (35mm and FX format) which is around 13mm in DX format. As many times its landscape shots that will be the principle use for more complex shots and these tend to be wider angles, you can see the reason why we have to stop and think about which set is right for us.
If however your lenses are smaller rather than larger across, then selecting the 100mm filters would mean that when using grads, only a proportion of the graduation could be included at any time.
The size difference between 84mm and 100mm doesn't sound much, but the larger size is considerably larger. On the down side its more to carry, but on the up side they are easier to handle and perhaps not so difficult to handle keeping fingers off the areas that will be in use.
Quality wise both Cokin and Lee make good filters, but the holder system that Lee produces is far better made but also quite pricey. I haven't seen the Kood products.
The 84mm holders are only available from Cokin, but component parts are low cost, for example a coupling ring and holder allowing you to rotate a filter is £10.50, the Lee filter holder upgrade kit that serves the same function for the 100mm size is £64. This is not a like for like comparison, but gives a good idea of the costs associated with growing the system.
Cokin have starter sets available in both the 84mm and 100mm sizes, complete with holders, but not adaptors, with three neutral grads, ND2, 4 and 8 the 84mm set is £33 and the 100mm set £87, 84mm adaptors are £6.75 and 100mm from £13.90. The adapter is the piece that screws into your lens filter thread and onto which the filter holder fits. You have to have at least one. Beyond this, to fit other lenses, you can have more adaptors or use stepping rings to fit. If you are going to use stepping rings then get the adaptor for your largest lens size, see stepping rings for more details. There are some kits now available that also include an adaptor so you need to watch the specific offering to see what is included, and if the adaptor provided will fit your lens.
What I use
What I decided to do was have both, a 100mm set, which I use both Lee and Cokin filters combined, and generally use the Lee holders but do also have one Cokin P set with two adaptors. In the 100mm size I have a complex holder, more details below, and a variety of coloured as well as neutral density grads. In the 84mm P size I have two matching sets, each with a set of 3 grads and a polarizer that fits into the holder. I needed two sets as I can connect our two D300 cameras together to take live action 3D photos so needed a matching lens and filter set for this.
I feel that for commercial work, limited edition photos and the like, it justifies the additional cost of the 100mm system, but I don't carry this with me now most of the time, but instead carry the far smaller and lighter 84mm P set. The cost however of the 100mm set has worked out quite high and I haven't been completely happy with what I got, mostly because its not defined well. I have been looking at expanding the 84mm set, and while perhaps not doing all I could with the 100mm set I feel its worth experimenting with further. As you will see when we look at holders below the cost difference is very high.
If I was starting again now I would not have bought into the 100mm size, its so expensive to both get working and to expand the filters. Given that most of my lenses are well under the 84mm size, only my 12-24mm comes up to 77mm, its only really this lens at the wider angles that requires the larger set. With the amount I have spent on the 100mm sets, I could have had 4 or 5 times as many filters with the 84mm, allowing for the enormous cost of holders.
I haven't used the Kood products at all, but looking at their lower prices, perhaps I should have looked at these.
What I would suggest
Given that you can start with a Cokin 84mm ND grad kit, that includes a ND2, 4 and 8 and holder for £33, and an adaptor for £6.75, you can get going for just under £40. I would suggest for most this is the best starting point, in that you can then see how you get on, see if the angle is not wide enough on occasions or is completely all right for you. You will also see just how much you use it.
The Kood P range offer a lower cost alternative to individual filters, but a far smaller selection appears to be available. As I haven't used any of these, I can't give an opinion as to how good they are. The prices appear to be cheaper as they are all made in China.
100mm Filter Holders In Detail
Most 100mm multi filter, filter holders can be disassembled. The reason for this is to allow different configurations to be built, and wider lenses to be used.
My Cokin Z-pro holder can hold normally two filters, the third nearest to the adaptor slot cannot be used as the adaptor retaining lugs are in the way. In this mode I can attach the adaptor to the lens and then put on the holder. I can also turn the adaptor round the other way and can then have it with a single filter. If I take it apart and put it together back to front, then the adaptor is permanently attached, so I have to put it on the lens with the adaptor already connected, which is difficult as its free to rotate, but I can then use three filters. There is a later version than this which has some additional spacers, and these may allow more variation plus a larger polarising filter to be added. The cost of getting the newer filter holder would be £36, but as the importers have not answered my emails asking questions about this holder and I was not that happy with the first one I have not bought it. A 77mm adaptor cost £13.90.
Lee filters holder kit, and upgrade kit, bought together they call this the professional kit. This is two filter holders and a tandem adaptor. The hype suggests this holds a lot of filters but it doesn't. The difference is that half of the filters they forget to say are thin polyester ones, so the basic kit will hold two resin filters, and one of these slots is used up putting on the tandem adaptor, which then gives you two more on the second expansion, so you can now use three filters in total, rather than the 8 they suggest in literature and on their website. You can however rotate two in different angles to the first. The cost of the professional kit is £97. In theory you can buy additional parts including extra blades of different sizes to hold different size filters and extra screws of different lengths. The kit comes in bits, and you put it together, they do provide a screwdriver and standard handout, but no parts list, my kit had the wrong parts, which after three emails and a visit to a trade stand at a show I managed to get put right. You end up with a lot of basically useless parts, unless of course you want to use polyester sheeting. You have two bags, with a loose Velcro seal, with the parts in but only a thin plastic bag with screws and bits in, so you still need to find a small plastic box to put in the bits or they will all get lost. You can buy 84mm filter holders that will allow P filters to be used in the Lee 100mm filter holder set. I was disappointed with this, it was expensive and did not hold as many filters as I had expected.
Lee filters collapsible lens hood with 2 slots for filters. This comes assembled, and is a well made item. The cost is £88.60. I bought another tandem adaptor for £18.30 so I can put this onto the front, but of course lost another slot for the tandem adaptor. I can now use 4 filters in total, and rotate at three different angles. The cost to build this would be £97 + £88.60 plus £18.30 a total of £203.90. add to this the 77mm adaptor at £16.70, the next size up was £36.
Click on the smaller images to see a larger version
84mm P Holder
My Cokin P holder came as a part of a kit, but if I had bought it separately it would have cost £6.50. It holds 3 filters, if I get another filter holder and coupling ring then this will cost £10.50, assuming it uses one slot for the coupling ring, I will then be able to hold 5 filters at two angles at a total cost of £17. There are various hood options including an expanding one similar to the Lee hood but for this kit at a cost of £32 (Speedgraphic special) but I can live without this, at least for now. A 77mm adaptor is £6.75.
The difference in price is partly that this is a single moulded holder, you can't pull it apart.
Kood have a holder for the P size for £3.06, and a 77mm adaptor is £4. In illustration it appears very similar to the Cokin, but I haven't seen one.
Click on the above smaller images to see a larger version
See also: Filter Section for more articles.