I very rarely write about gear, generally I only look at new kit when I feel something specific is limiting me or making something more difficult, but I thought a few words about my latest purchase may be helpful as I tried both of the filter systems in the title, this won’t be an in depth review of either one as you can find that elsewhere, but more a specific comparison between them and why I swapped.
That in mind I was long overdue a new filter holder, I’d been getting by with a cheap Cokin P series system on my old setup, with a couple of grads and NDs, but it was far too small to use when I upgraded to a full frame camera last year. I was also using separate screw in Hoya circular polariser and 10 stop ND filters, this meant it was a bit of a pain to switch between ICM and straight shots which I do quite often, as well as being quite restrictive in not being able to use the CPL and a grad at the same time.
I’m always trying to find a good deal, and while the Lee filter holder system is the industry standard most people tend to agree it’s a bit pricey, especially once you factor in needing to use a 105mm polariser with it. So I’d seen there were a few newer contenders on the market that were getting good reviews, having asked Twitter for some help the choice was narrowed down to a Formatt Hitech Firecrest holder and the NiSi V5 Pro. The main thing I liked about these was they came with a polariser that sat in the adapter next to the lens, meaning you could use the polariser without the holder attached easily and it could be much smaller, so much more affordable.
There didn’t seem much to choose between them, but there were a couple of concerns about the NiSi polariser and the Formatt Hitech option got a few more recommendations so when there was a good 20% offer on the Firecrest a while back I put my order in.
First impressions were pretty good, although it comes with a few bits and bobs to fully light seal the enclosure which were too fiddly for me, I want to keep things quick and simple when I’m out shooting so the gear doesn’t impose on the experience, so I immediately put these extra snap in covers back in the box. The other slight setback at the start was the set of Format Hitech resin grads I had were a very tight fit in the holder, I’d seen some reports of this but wasn’t expecting them to be quite so stiff. There are some allen key adjustments to loosen things off, but it didn’t seem to make the filters fit much easier, just made the side blocks of the holder a bit wobbly. That aside I really liked the way the holder system had been designed and the polariser was great, so I thought I’d give it the benefit of the doubt and took it out on a couple of mornings, it turned out the tightness of the filters was a real pain, but the main issue was suddenly apparent – a bad case of vignetting.
Using a fairly standard setup of a Canon 6D with Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 there was a small but hard vignette up to just over 30mm. I’d heard people have issues with smaller filter threads as you have to use a step down ring, so had to buy a slimmer step down, but my Tamron has an 82mm thread which the adapter screws directly on to, so I was stuck with it. To be honest alongside the other issues mentioned above it felt like a major let down, so I contacted Formatt Hitech about the vignetting. Credit where it’s due they admitted there is an issue on some lenses and offered a full refund, I had to chase at one stage for a response but in general the customer service was very good, so I returned the holder and got my money back.
While that had been going on I dropped NiSi a message just to explain the situation and see if they had any similar issues with the V5 Pro but got a firm promise there would be no vignetting, so as soon as my Firecrest refund was confirmed I placed an order.
Having now received the NiSi I can confirm that so far it appears there is absolutely no vignette on the same setup at 24mm, which is a huge improvement! This seems largely due to the fact that the thread on the adapter ring is recessed so everything sits a lot closer to the front of the lens.
I’ve got to say I prefer the system overall too, it’s less complicated which suits me perfectly and as there aren’t plastic bits the build quality seems better. I don’t have any real concerns about light leaks compared to the Firecrest as with a 10 stop filter fitted with the gasket it’s still completely sealed around the front of the lens. From what I’ve seen so far the polariser seems absolutely fine which was one of the concerns others had reported, I’ll keep an eye on it as I get to use it more. The pin to release the holder is a bit easier to use too, which means taking the system off in the field is less fiddly, less fiddly means less chance of dropping things. Also, the filters actually fit nicely! Such a simple thing, but it’s much easier to adjust the grads and easier to insert and remove filters, which again means less chance of accidents on location. The leather look case it comes with isn’t exactly my style, but it seems to offer more protection and more convenient access than the Firecrest soft case. The NiSi can hold 3 filters in comparison to the Firecrest’s 2, not sure that’ll be needed for me but some may find it a selling point.
Just to top it off the NiSi system came with a cap that can go over the adapter ring with or without the polariser fitted, meaning you can leave the adapter permanently on while still protecting the lens, and don’t have to remove the polariser when you’re putting the camera away in between shots – life changing!
With the 20% discount I’d paid £130 for the Firecrest system delivered, the NiSi cost £140, so almost nothing in it for me to swap, the NiSi would actually be cheaper than the Firecrest’s regular price. I bought the NiSi from Phil Norton Photography and can’t fault his service, answered a question quickly and I had the holder within 48 hours of placing the order. Here’s the link.
From my experience so far it would be a big recommendation for the NiSi V5 Pro.