2021 Cokin vs Lee vs Nisi vs Formatt Hitech Firecrest filter holder test
2021 Cokin vs Lee vs Nisi vs Formatt Hitech Firecrest photography ND filters and which is the best filter holder system?
Over several years I purchased and tested numerous photography Neutral Density (ND) filters and their holders from a variety of companies. I currently own 6 different makes of filter holders on my shelf, so which one is the best filter holder system and which one is in my bag?
Before I go any further I would just like to add I personally bought all these products with my own money and did not receive any free products for reviewing or testing them, so trust me when I say this review was completely impartial when I wrote it.
Yes, all photographers claim the filter system they use is the best one and you will always get someone saying this one is the best as they bought it or it’s a paid promotion. My question to them is incredibly simple, did you actually buy all of the others systems and give them some serious time and truly try them out?
I am not taking about just 20 minutes or maybe borrowing one off a friend for an hour or two I mean really using one for weeks and months and getting to know it inside out. Bashing it about for a bit and living with it as part of your workflow and seeing how it blends in or if you would like nothing more than to drop it off a cliff!!!!
For example I read a review not too long ago about one of the filter holders in this group test and the person testing the filter holder had actually put the filter holder together completely incorrectly, obviously not taking the 2 minutes it took to learn how to assemble the product, that is not what I would personally call an in depth review and tbh it’s a bit scary someone reviewing a product could get it so wrong in the first place.
I regularly see questions on social media about filters and which one is best, everyone has an opinion and usually the one they own is the best one… Which is entirely natural but it’s a bit like saying your car is the best car even though you have never driven any other car. It might be a nice car but others could also be a lot better in a number of different ways…
Now in saying all that is there a huge difference nowadays in filter holders?
Well no, there is not, the gap has narrowed, thankfully, but then again why shouldn’t you buy the best out there and push competition among filter holder manufacturers that is the key to us getting equipment in the long term. If we continue to reward companies that produce mundane or inferior products then they will never change, then we are part of the problem and not the solution.
Which brings me to my next question, how could you know which one is the best one for you until you actually try them all?
Importantly and I hope you noticed I said the “the best one for you” I am not saying my suggestion is definitely going to be the best filter holder system for you but maybe I can help shine a light on what it is like working with and owning the other holders for a while.
I firmly believe nobody is going to automatically know how a new filter holder is going to work for them by looking at it or even playing with it for 10 minutes (unless it’s a generic filter holder). If that was the case I would have only bought one and saved myself a lot of time and money.
Before you make up your mind please also check out the actual filter system costs at the bottom of the page. There are a good few surprises in there and beware of the cheaper holders as they are the most expensive systems by the time you buy what you actually need.
The most common filter holder question I hear on workshops is “which is the best filter holder system on the market?” now everyone has a debate over which one is better Cokin vs Lee, Lee vs Nisi, Nisi vs Formatt Hitech, Firecrest vs Cokin, Cokin vs Lee and I think you get the idea that the list keeps going on and on…
So this blog post was written to address all these questions and to save my voice while trying to talk over the sound of the ocean. So this is going to be me giving my honest opinion on the topic so I won’t have to keep re hashing it.
Again this is just my opinion.
Welcome to my Cokin filters review.
A long time ago I started with the cheaper Cokin P series filters, incidentally these are not 100mm filters but I have my review of their 100mm Z series further down also.
So I would have normally used a 3 stop nd filter with a 3 stop nd grad. This combination was sufficient after sunset or on overcast days to capture some motion blur but just not strong enough to create exposures for longer than half a second. In daylight conditions they were just too weak.
The holder and filters are ok for the price but the end results are nowhere near a proper set of filters. In fact if you go on Amazon you will find Ranger have nearly identical looking kits for about €30.- for several filters, adaptor rings and the holder also which is far better value if you are starting out with filters until you can get a proper set that is.
The holder is plastic which slides over the metal adaptor rings that screw on to the camera lens. It’s very clumsy to take on and off your lens, thankfully though as the nd strength is quite weak your camera can focus with the filters attached. So the holder feels cheap and clumsy to use so it’s not at all recommended.
The filters are made of resin and apart from their magenta cast are usable just be careful as they are very easily scratched and rendered useless then.
Cokin filter holder review verdict… Not that cheap for what you get, not colour neutral and using these near sand they get destroyed in no time. I would buy the cheaper filters on Amazon first.
Cokin Z-Pro 100mm
I will say jumping to Cokins defense they also have a 100mm filter holder and filters in the Z-pro 100mm filter holder, I have used these filters and filter holder a load of times now and they are reasonably ok. The holder seems to be sort of ok also.
Now have I tried it for long enough to have a really solid review of it?
The bare holder is £75.- at the time of writing this and each adaptor ring is £30.- as I have a vast array of lenses this was going to expensive immediately. Now pop into the equation that there is still no Polarizing filter and it was just a non runner for me.
Now if Cokin want to send me out a different filter holder to use for a month or so I will certainly give it a go and let you know what I think.
My Lee filter holder review
Next, I ventured down the road of using Lee filters and yes they are a very big step forward in a direct comparison between Cokin vs Lee filters and they worked reasonably well for me. Well at the time anyway and in most situations with only a few issues.
The bulk of this review is on the foundation kit but I also have my review of the new Lee 100mm holder at the end of this review.
So, the first thing you will notice about the Lee product range is they are not cheap, they used to have a long standing reputation of being the best filter manufacturer on the market. Most photographers bought them automatically because of their strong brand name, to be honest with you that’s exactly what happened to me, advertising works I guess.
Are they still the best or have times moved on and have they stayed as is?
Now that’s the sort of question that could easily start a fight so lets just talk about my experience with the Foundation kit and the big stopper ND filter and little stopper ND filter. The filter holder itself is simple enough and reasonably solid, now that may seem like a bad thing but sometimes simple is best, less to go wrong then.
Again no polarizing filter in the kit but you can buy one as an optional extra for about £160.- so that’s a huge negative for me straight away.
What I loved about it was how easy it was to pop it on and off the lens but this was partly due to the very clumsy nature of cokin p series filter holder I had just moved from. That may have flattered it slightly but even now as I just write this I tried it again and yes it still clips on snuggly and easily. That’s a real positive but this now brings me to the part that drove me nuts and led me to email Lee complaining about a crazy design flaw.
The edge of the brass gripper (the lever that holds the holder to your lens) for some strange reason is sloped in such a way that you can pull the holder off the adaptor ring and it can easily unclip itself. So let me just explain… you pull the brass plunger so you can clip the holder onto the adaptor ring but if you jolt the camera or catch the holder by accident with a filter cloth or jacket pocket etc it will just unclip itself and fall to the ground. Now you may say ah sure that will never happen… but it does trust me I have been there and done that.
One day while taking shots during a gorgeous sunset and as the light was fading I was moving to a different composition and while moving I hit the tripod leg off a rock the jolt knocked the filter holder off the camera. Luckily I only had a little stopper in the holder and it just chipped a bit off the corner of the filter as it had a fairly soft landing.
Now will that ever happen to you? Hopefully not but my next issue with the holder was the slots got very loose after a while and again filters were nearly sliding clean through so I patched it by putting a small screw through the bottom of the holder so they couldn’t fall out. Just be careful to put the screw in far enough so that it wont catch the graduated filter as it slides in and out, if the screw is out too far you could destroy the Graduated filter.
The next issue I had was the strong blue colour cast, on their filters. Yes, it can be more or less corrected in editing but it throws off the colours in the sky still and I have struggled to correct this a number of times afterwards. I honestly can’t figure out how they are still managing to sell these filters in this day and age when colour neutrality in filters is more or less taken as normal.
Lee have a new range of filters that are more colour neutral but why are these filters still on the market and still so expensive also is completely beyond me. Every time someone buys one of these filters they are rewarding a company for selling out dated technology it’s a bit like buying a Noika 3310 mobile phone today, its time has passed… Sorry rant over but I just don’t get why a company like Lee wouldn’t be at the forefront of technology and help us all by producing something epic.
Lee graduated filters are actually pretty good quality I honestly couldn’t fault their results but they are made of resin, now anyone that is serious about seascape or landscape photography will tell you how easy it is to scratch resin filters. All it takes is a grain of sand in your cleaning cloth and serious damage can be done in a split second.
So I am guessing by now you can see why I moved on from the Lee system and yes I know people still swear by them and that is entirely their own choice and I respect that. I just can’t respect Lee for their products. Would I recommend you buy the Lee foundation kit and Big stopper or Little Stopper? Well, no I personally wouldn’t for a few reasons, firstly the colour cast, secondly the holder was a bit of a disaster for me (new version out now so please read the addition below on that) and lastly when you add a polarizing filter it gets incredibly expensive. In a direct comparison between Cokin vs Lee filters then yes they are better than the Cokin system.
Verdict… Colour cast was just wrong straight out of the box. Holder design needs to be improved on, yes even the new holder needs to be improved. Nd grads in Resin considering their price is just wrong, lastly the price of the ring adaptors are expensive for what they are. If you want a polarizer they are incredibly expensive and have a design flaw in that light can get in between the polariser and lens, this can be a problem at times. So while it was a step up from Cokin it wasn’t up to the mark for me.
New LEE 100mm filter holder
Time has moved on and most companies have improved their range incidentally as have Lee but with that in mind, it took an incredibly long time for them to move forward and for that reason you tend to see fewer of them in use today. The new holder is not much of an upgrade and I am not the only one saying this, most photographers out there are saying exactly the same thing.
Is the new holder worth the upgrade?
Well for me it’s a no, my old one is still on the shelf and will be staying there I think. Most photographers will tell you it’s barely worthy of an upgrade if your old Lee holder is still working. The one thing I will add is the two previous problems with the foundation holder I had of it falling off and the filters sliding straight through appear to be solved although I have heard of a few accidents with the new holder.
Verdict… For an update it was honestly a bit disappointing, I think Lee could have done a lot more here and changed the whole system rather than just cosmetic changes.The additional clumsy cpl purchase for me is what is going to completely kill this system. I never mind spending more money for a better product but spending more and just getting the norm which is fiddly to use is not justified in my eyes.
Cokin vs LEE Filters and their filter Holders
So at this stage I think it is safe to say I can give an opinion on the whole LEE vs Cokin filter holder debate and for me I think the Lee system just about wins out over the Cokin filter holder. Now both of these filter holders don’t have a built-in CPL which I think is near criminal in this day and age. The following two Filter holders have a CPL in the filter kit as standard which is definitely the way to go in my mind.
Just go to the end of the blog post and see the cost of each system including the CPL.
Both of these systems are falling behind and by a good bit now at this stage.
Nisi filter holder review.
Next on my filter journey was Nisi, Yes it might seem crazy buying another filter holder but I wanted a cpl and this system came with one and it was a good bit cheaper at the time than the lee cpl on its own, so I had nothing to loose. I have to say I like the filters themselves they are fairly colour neutral and their filter holder is nice enough too.
With an inbuilt polariser it was clearly ahead of the Lee system in most departments. It’s a beautiful little touch and with the external wheels for rotating it make it simple to use. So from the start this was already the best system I had to date.
The kit included 82mm, 77mm, 72mm & 67mm adaptor rings in the kit.
It was weeks later that I found myself thinking back to the Lee holder again and how easy it was to put it in place with those two large clips that attached so easily to the lens adaptor and now I using these two tiny little pimples if you could call them that and concentrating to line them up everytime I put the holder on and off.
When you look at a new holder you think oh this is slightly different as you stand there looking at it and concentrating to put it on the adaptor, you say to yourself this will be second nature after awhile… for me that moment never came even after months of use.
When you are moving at pace trying to capture an image it’s a bit of a pain, every time I used it I grew to dislike it a little more and much preferred the Lee holder that way.
In factI went back to the Lee system for 2 weeks as I just couldn’t stick messing with the Nisi filter holder. I found myself only using it when I wanted to use a cpl.
Now that may seem a bit stupid to most people but I don’t mind paying money for a product once it works, if something annoys me it distracts me from what I am doing and hence it gets in my way.
The filters are nice though and very colour neutral, sheer light years ahead of the Lee versions. Again a word of caution here like the Lee resin grads these are easy to scratch as they are only coated filters.
Ok, so what are coated filters you may ask?
Well coated filters are filters made of a clear sheet of glass with an ND coating applied to the outside of them, so optically they work well but if you scratch that coating they are ruined. As a seascape photographersand is going to be a big problem there then, again one of the reasons I wasn’t completely in love with them as I was constantly having to be so cautious with them.
Verdict.. A nice product but not cheap, the filter holder is good but I constantly worried about the seating on the adaptor ring, it was a bit hit and miss when you’re in a hurry. The filters could be scratched easily enough even though I never scratched one in my time using them as I took seriously good care of them and was extremely cautious all the time.
Lee vs Nisi Filter Holders
So we have our first contender with a cpl in the kit. For this reason alone I say the Nisi filter system destroys the Lee filter kit. You can buy a complete Nisi filter holder cheaper than the price of just a LEE CPL… just think about that for a minute, a whole filter kit cheaper.
So in thehead to head battle of Nisi vs Lee the Chinese manufacturer Nisi wins this one, although I found the Lee system easier to clip onto the lens. But wait there is more another contender The Welsh companyFormatt Hitech. Could the Welsh over throw the Chinese in a head to head battle between Nisi vs formatt Hitech ?
Formatt Hitech Firecrest MKI & MKII Filter Holder
Skip down along to read the new MKII updated review.
Formatt Hitech ND MKi filter holder review…
This was my ultimate filter holder of choice so bear with me as I completely give out about it first:-) or skip down further to the MKii filter holder review.
So let me just start with my very first experience using their new filter holder and filters. Again I stress that we need time to see every products advantages in real life conditions and an hour or two simply wont do that.
When I initially used the Firecrest MKI 100mm filter holder after buying it I wasn’t sure about it. Even after playing around with it in the studio for an hour.
So I took it to the beach and to be honest with you it drove me nuts for the first 20 minutes as it was just so different to everything else I had ever used.
I found myself sitting on the beach sending a rather nasty private message to a friend who is a well known photographer that had recommended the very same product to me… In his words “omg you just have to try this system it kills the rest” knowing him well and how serious he is about his gear I immediately took the plunge and bought one. So my current predicament was his faulty as far as I was concerned.
His response to my message was “Kieran just use it ya muppet, pretend you never used a filter holder before“.
So I did, I sat there and played with it for twenty minutes and after adjusting it and playing around with it I found myself loving it more with every passing second, was this the missing link in my photography?
It was only when I stopped and treated it like any other part of my camera equipment I realised it just needed to be customized.
The reality was the others just weren’t working for me and this was so different for all the right reasons.
Initially the Hitech nd filter was stiff going into the slots, the unusual aspect of having the gasket fitted to the filter holder and not to the Hitech nd filter itself seemed alien to me also. It was only when I slightly loosened the tension on the screws for the filter slots I realised this could actually really grow on me.
Now just think about that, isn’t it great that you can have the filters slide in at exactly the tension or resistance you want and not have it fixed for you at the factory?
It’s so simple and yet so important why the hell didn’t the other companies do this?
Next you will realise you can put the filter holder on one-handed and when you easily push it into place it has a loud audible click to say it’s locked on… again I was left asking why didn’t other companies do this? It’s so easy to pop on and off one handed and really saves time when shooting in fading light conditions.
I could actually put it on without even looking after two days of using it!!! Now that is a game changer for me but this was where my love for this filter holder really started to grow
Having an inbuilt polarizing filter is also again a major plus. The polarizing filter screws into the lens adaptor (rotating ring) section, something you then don’t have to worry about falling out of place. Also a lovely little wheel on the side of the holder to turn the polarizer.
Another nice bonus to this system is you can use the polarizing filter without the holder fitted in place.
So let me just say it took me more than a few hours of use before I really began to fall in love with this filter holder and I haven’t looked back since. The crazy thing is I haven’t even gotten to my favourite part yet of the Firecrest holder yet. Yes there is more and these are the game changing parts for me…
So what is the best part of the holder for me I hear you ask?
It has to be the extra removable light shield caps for the filter holder as they are fantastic for three really cool reasons…
- They give you the option to perfectly stack two nd filters… yes you heard that right, if you have a six stop and ten stop nd filter you can combine them to make a 16 stop nd filter how cool is that? I will say it again… Why the hell don’t the others companies give you this option?
- They work perfectly at stopping any stray light getting in behind the graduated filter and nd filter and can be used with ND filters up to 24 stops inserted. Yes a 24 stop nd filter can be used in this holder the light shielding is that good.
- The holders secret weapon and my favourite feature is this… now wait for it the extra light shield adaptors also stop any seaspray from getting in between the graduated filter and the Neutral density filter. So you are not constantly having to take out the graduated filter to clean the back of it and the front of the nd filter. That feature alone is worthy of making this the best filter holder on the market. The photo below shows how the gap is closed off when the graduated filter is inserted.
Can I find a fault with the filter holder?
Well not yet, it’s easy to position on the camera and feels solid, has an inbuilt polarizer, and external wheel to rotate the filter, seems to be easy to customise, if I were being petty I would have requested the option for a third filter slot (I will never use it though) and brass filter adaptor rings as Aluminium or alloys never wears well and have a tendency to lock on the camera threads but when you look at all the other systems mentioned above none of them provide brass rings either.
The winning points for the Firecrest filter holder over any of the others are…..
- Easy to clip on one handed.
- Polarizer can be used without the holder fitted.
- Turning or twisting the holder on the camera won’t also turn the polarizer.
- Extra Light shield caps are the true winner for preventing sea spray and light rain from getting in between the Graduated and Neutral density filter.
- It’s cheaper…. yes with the 10% off its actually cheaper than the rest. I have the current pricing of all the holders a bit further down the page.
Now even take away all the slightly negative points I have raised about the other holders they still don’t stack up to the Firecrest 100mm filter holder in my opinion even when you fix those negatives.
The fact that it is also cheaper than the rest is just crazy.
Nisi vs Formatt Hitech
Now this one is easy and yes if you read the whole blog post then I am just wasting your time and mine even typing this out.
The Firecrest filter holder is by far the best 100mm filter holder I have ever used. Now let me just be clear about this… it’s not just a small bit better it’s a lot better.
Please don’t forget to look at the filter system costs which I have explained at the bottom of the blog. Spoiler alert the Firecrest holder is the cheapest out of them all also.
Again I am basing this on my own honest opinion on the products I have tried.
Funnily I read a review where the firecrest filter holder didn’t rate so well but when you look at the way the reviewer used the filter system he had the light shields on upside down, it’s a bit like driving a Porsche in second gear and saying it wasn’t as fast as you thought it would be. It really is important to give each product the time it deserves and to get to know it before you can form an opinion on it. This holder may take a few hours to get used too but when you do there is no going back then.
Before I say anymore don’t forget Formatt Hitech also have a really nice 85mm filter holder also, I have a full Firecrest 85mm filter holder review here if your interested…
I should add for full disclosure: I am now a Featured Artist, Photography Educator and Brand Ambassador for the Formatt Hitech range of products incl the Onyx, Firecrest Pro and Ultra range of filters but I would also like to say I initially purchased all of these systems with my own hard earned money. I originally wrote this article before I had any affiliation with Formatt Hitech. In fact it was due to my vocal support and praise of their products that I was asked to join the team.
The good news in all of this is I am delighted to be able to offer you 10% off all their products, just apply the discount code HAYES10 at checkout in the promo code box on the Formatt Hitech USA or international website and get 10% off all their products. I get a slight commission from any sales made with my discount code but you get 10% off so it’s a win-win for everyone.
Formatt Hitech MKII 100mm filter holder is the new king of 100mm filter holders.
I have a complete review of the NEW Firecrest MKII filter holder here and I have to say I was slow to change from my much loved MkI holder but even after a few hours of playing with it I was already sold on the new holder.
A few of the plus points are a larger 86mm CPL which solves vignetting issues for a lot of lenses, a new thumbscrew locking system and also two sets of the extra light shields. It improves on the existing 100mm MKI holder and pushes Formatt Hitech further ahead again of LEE and Nisi. I will be updating this blog post again after another week or two, for now please just click on the MKII review to read more about it.
The Firecrest Pro filters are my default Hitech nd filter of choice they are made of bonded glass so the actual ND part of the filter is protected by hardened schot super white glass on both sides making them incredibly scratch resistant. They are completely colour neutral and are the sharpest filters I have ever used.
Now the Pro range of filters are very well priced also when you consider anything up to the ten stop ND filters is only £98.99 and after you apply HAYES10 it’s just £89.09 for a world class filter that’s built to last. Click here for the 85mm filter holder group test. I have a full review of the Firecrest Pro filters here or the, Firecrest Ultra filters here and the Firecrest 100mm MKii filter holder here if you want to jump into a little more detail on their ground breaking sharpness and colour clarity.
Verdict… I love the filter holder now, it’s so easy to use and the neutrality of the filters is second to none. All in all a really nice system and great value for money definitely by far my favourite filter holder. In short, I always carried both the Nisi and Lee systems in my bag but now I only carry the Formatt Hitech Firecrest system with me and the Hitech nd filter kits of course.
Filter system costs
Now let us have a look at the pricing today the 20th of April 2020 of all the 100mm filter holders. Also a second price including the 3 adaptor rings of 77mm, 72mm and 67mm that I use and a third price with a cpl included also.
Cokin 100mm Z-PRO system (holder only) £77.-
The price with 3 adaptors (£26.95 each) is an extra £80.85 making a total of £157.80
The price of the cpl is £149.95 and 3 adaptor rings and the holder is a total of £307.80
Lee filter holder (new version holder only) £79.95
The price with 3 adaptors is an extra £56.85 making a total of £136.80
The price of the cpl is £209.95 and 3 adaptor rings and the holder is a total of £346.75
Nisi filter holder kit is priced at £155.-
This price includes the 3 adaptor rings
Firecrest filter holder kit (this price includes the 3 adaptor rings and a cpl) £156.91
You can get an additional 10% off with discount code HAYES10 making the price just £141.22
So the Firecrest filter holder is the cheapest option and in my opinion clearly the best, for me it just makes no sense that other companies can still sell products when you have a company that clearly has a superior product at a cheaper price.
If you are think Formatt Hitech are just this small unknown company then let me add they are owned by Kenko-Tokina and their filters are used in blockbuster movies like Star wars and in leading television series like Peaky Blinders and are widely used in the cine industry and photography industry leading experts.
They have a huge range of filters and filter holders for all prices making it the ideal one stop shop. As an ambassador for their products I can also offer a 10% discount with the Formatt Hitech discount code HAYES10 at checkout via their websites… either the International Website or the USA website.
Thank you for stopping by and don’t forget to checkout out my other discount code pages below from some amazing companies.
I have a video below on how to use a tripod and why you should always be using one, including some of my top tips for tripod use.
I have a page dedicated to ND filters, how to use them, which ones to buy and circular or square ND filters and which one is right for you all on my ND filter tips page here….
Have a look at my photography tips and tricks section in the menu where I cover everything from…
My best Cinematic diffusion filter blog post is also an interesting read.
Any questions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
See you out there,