Please Note: During the six (6) months between being asked to review these filters and the publication of this review, Kase appointed me one of their official Brand Ambassadors in the UK. This was due in part to the initial feedback I provided directly prior to completion of the review. However, this review remains as unbiased as I can possibly make it and although the filters were provided to me for on a loan basis, I do have the option to buy back.
So, who is everyone’s favourite X-Man then? Professor Xavier? Magneto? Mystique? No, it’s Wolverine. It is always Wolverine. Why? Because he’s got metal claws and he kicks ass, that’s why. Oh, and he has a cool haircut and awesome sideburns.
It’s no surprise then that when naming their premium master series of filters, Kase chose to call them, the Wolverine series. The fact that there is a picture of an actual Wolverine moniker (or “Skunk Bear” to some folks), is neither here nor there, we all know that what they were really thinking of was Logan, aka ‘Wolverine’, the X-man from the comic books. And rightly so…
Now, before I start, I don’t normally review kit. I’m not set-up to do it nor does it really interest me, the technical jargon that is. When it comes to photography I really don’t care what camera you used. I either like the photo or I don’t, whether you shot it with a Nikon, a Canon, a Sony or a Polaroid. I couldn’t even tell you what it was shot with, or how many megapixels I’m looking at. Who cares? I certainly don’t. And, if I ever get into a discussion about such things, on Social Media, you can bet your bottom dollar/pound/euro my tongue is firmly in my cheek. So, how and why am I reviewing something so dull as filters? Because Kase asked me to? Well, yes. Because they just sent me a whole kit for free? Well, yes (they are on loan ONLY though). Because filters actually make one of the largest impacts to my practical workflow? Pretty much, YES.
Without changing my whole camera system, the next best way to change/develop/affect my photography is by using filters. And, like so many, I was seduced at a young age by the glitz and razzmatazz of the British company, Lee Filters. You see, a few years ago, as I was really starting to take this photography lark seriously, I looked at Cokin and Hitech, who were the only real competition to Lee in the UK, at least from the viewpoint of a beginner, and decided that as Lee were the ones with the premium price-tag, they were clearly the ones to get (yes, it was that easy to decide). What is more, they were also struggling to keep up with demand. People were waiting 6 months to get their hands on a 3 stop soft grad. People were trading kidneys for them on the black market. At one point they were worth more than Gold, pound for pound, ounce for ounce. Ever see someone shifty in a service station handing over something in a brown paper bag to someone who looked nervous and sweaty? Those weren’t full of drugs or laundered money. Those were Lee Filters. And, so the myth, the legend, grew and grew. Lee Filters were the balls. They made you look like a Pro. People stopped you in the street to ask about them. I’m pretty sure, had I not been just married, having those filters stuck to my lens would have been the photographic equivalent of Tinder. I invested.
As my interest in photography expanded, I came to learn about other filter options, such a Singh-Ray, B&W, Progrey and most recently, newer companies such as NiSi from China. There are a whole world of filter options out there, from cheap as chips to almost needing to remortgage for a full set. Kase occupy a mid-range to premium position, it has to be said. These filters are not cheap. The Kit I received, The Master Filter Holder Kit (contents list below) retails in the UK for £775 on their website. They are also not British, being a Chinese company. It would be fair to say, I agreed to review them with some scepticism, though of course I didn’t relay that scepticism to Andrew and Stephen who had established themselves as the distributers for the brand in the UK, I didn’t want them to try to ‘influence’ me. On a cold wet day back in October 2017, there was a knock on the door and a courier dropped off a sizeable and surprisingly weighty package. The filters had arrived for this test.
Here is what you get in the Wolverine Master Filter Holder Kit:
- A nice box (The main box)
- Inside the nice box is another smaller nice box containing the K100-X K6 Filter Holder itself
- A pair of 67-82mm and 72-82mm adapter rings
- A pair of 77-86mm and 82-86mm geared rings
- An 86mm screw in Slim Circular Polariser
- The filters you get are:
- A 100mm 10-Stop ND Filter
- A 100mm 6-Stop ND Filter
- A 100x150mm 4-Stop Soft Grad Filter
- A 100x150mm 3-Stop Soft Grad Filter
- A 100x150mm 3-Stop Reverse Grad Filter
- A cleaning cloth, stick on filter gaskets (more on those later)
And finally, a Tan Leather hard shell carry case.
Essentially everything the average landscape photographer will ever need.
If the adapter rings do not fit your particular lenses, then you can order your required sizes for a nominal sum.
Ok, so on first impressions you get a lot of kit for your money. But, what of the filters themselves, read on…
– SHATTER RESISTANT –
The filters themselves are made from “Professional High Definition” toughened glass and are claimed to be “Virtually Indestructible” [compared to other filters of the same type by other manufacturers] meaning you can drop these a few times and they are very unlikely to break. They won’t mark or scratch easily either.
They claim to have no issues with colour casting, something other filters, such as the Lee 10-Stopper are notorious for.
They also have a nano coating which it is claimed repels oil and water and also help to control reflections. Essentially, if you get rain droplets on them, they wipe clear, smudge free, without the need to polish.
So, what of these claims? Well, I’ve been testing them for over 6 months now and they still look as good as they did the first day I got them. I’ve also been fortunate to test the strength of the glass too. I’ve dropped my filter holder twice onto bare rock in that time and there isn’t so much as a scratch on the filters that were in the holder. Additionally, I was also fortunate to be handed a piece of ‘test glass’ for drop tests. This was exactly the same material, size and shape as one of the 100mm ND Filters. I dropped it from head height on concrete, onto bare (sharp) rock on a mountain, and in fact dropped it a few other times. Each time, no marks, nothing. However, they are only described as shatter resistant and virtually indestructible…they will eventually break (well, what do you expect?). During some filming I dropped the same piece of test glass down a rocky outcrop. This must have been the 6th or 7th time this particular piece of glass had been dropped onto a hard surface from height. It got lodged in a rock crack about halfway down. After retrieving it, there was a small chip on one corner. The video hadn’t worked so we had to do it again…and on the 2nd attempt, the 7th or 8th time this piece of glass had been dropped, it smashed, probably due to the chip causing a weakness. Although it happened at an unfortunate moment, I have to say I’ve been extremely impressed with the resilience of the glass and fully believe in the claim made by Kase. If any other brand had been dropped that much, well, you’d have had to buy multiple filters. Rest assured, for the accident prone folks out there, these will save you a ton of heartbreak and cash in the long run.
– OPTICAL PERFORMANCE –
For this review I have decided not to perform a test on the optical quality or the neutrality of these filters. Why? Because I’m not really set up to do it, others have already done it and I have not noted any issues when using them myself. Neither the 6-stop nor the 10-stop appear to create any colour cast. I’ve also seen RAW files test shots of the new 16-Stop filter and again, there did not appear to be any noticeable colour cast, which is quite remarkable. That is all I can really say on the matter. Compared to my experience of working with the Lee Filters, which produce a very noticeable cool colour cast, I’ve not experienced anything of the sort with the Kase filters.
– WORKFLOW –
Beyond the resilience of the filters and their optical performance which is high on everybody’s list of requirements, for me the biggest issue with filters has always been workflow.
I am a creature of habit and as I started using the Lee System quite early on in my own development, so that workflow has become part of me. I don’t use standard lens caps, preferring instead to have Lee adapters on all of my lenses (I only have 4 lenses) with their ‘Haagen Daz’ style plastic lens caps attached. This means I can switch lenses and the filter holder holder to the new lens fairly rapidly. These days I almost always use a polariser in various configurations and so the 105mm Heliopan CPL is almost permanently welded to my Lee Holder. This isn’t so great if I do want to shoot without polarisation though.
When I received the Kase system I just knew that my workflow would have to change…ARRRGH! Being a creature of habit as I’ve already explained, meant that I wasn’t happy. Each lens would need to have a step-up ring attached, then the geared ring, into which the CPL would need to be screwed. You then attach the Kase K-6 Holder to the geared ring with a screw fastening to complete the assembly. The geared ring allows you to turn the polariser with a small wheel on the outside of the unit, whilst you have your filters in the holder. You don’t physically turn the CPL yourself. This means you can set and reset polarisation easily when you are all set up for the shot and have your filters in place…much like the NiSi and the Formatt Hitech systems. In order to put your lens cap back on after use, you have to disassemble the whole thing. If you want to remove the polariser, you have to unscrew it from the assembly, if you want to change lens, you have to disassemble and reassemble, and so on. This was a big issue for me and I could see myself missing shots. I fed this back to Kase immediately…as had other testers.
The Lee Adapter with ‘Haagen-Daz’ cap
Normal Lens Cap doesn’t fit on the Kase assembly
Turn the wheel to turn the CPL
The result is that Kase have rapidly moved to make the workflow more efficient. So, what have they done?
Well, they have quickly developed a similar plastic cap to the Haagen-Daz lid type that fits over the step-up ring and geared ring (with or without CPL attached). This should be hitting the market imminently. I believe they will be a fetching red colour, so will be difficult to lose, even in snow. Good start. This means that should I so wish, I can buy additional step-up rings and geared rings to fit permanently to each lens and use the red Kase plastic caps to protect my lenses. This means I can quickly swap lenses and transfer the Kase Holder between each.
The prototype ‘Haagen-Daz’ style lens cap
Given that the polariser is attached to those same Geared Rings, I now have two options. I can screw the CPL on and off each one as I need it…which is a workflow headache, or I can buy three (3) more CPL’s at about £58 each and have them permanently on each lens. That may seem a bit OTT, but when you consider that a 105mm CPL is generally about £180-£220, the cost is much the same. Plus, if you drop the 105mm CPL and damage it, then it can be game over shooting that day. At least with Kase you’d have a CPL on another lens you could use. You still need to unscrew it if you don’t want to use it though, which brings me onto…
They have now addressed the CPL issue of having to unscrew the CPL! A rather innovative solution that is now standard if you buy the kits online. The CPL is now MAGNETIC! This means you can remove it and set it without unscrewing anything! So, have multiples of them if you want (like I said above), or just easily install it on each lens with a simple push as you swap your lenses! Perfect.
Another issue that has been addressed is with the K-6 Holder. When you have a square ND fitted (100mmx100mm) AND an ND Grad (150mmx100mm) in front, which is not an untypical set-up for any landscaper, it was almost impossible to remove the ND without first removing the ND Grad. This has been solved with a redesign and the newly launched K-8 Holder with new ergonomics to enable easier removal of the ND when an ND Grad is also attached. For those who have the K-6 Holder the ND’s are now available in 150mmx100mm size so they can be easily removed.
So, the good thing here is that Kase are very interested to listen to you and your experiences, and where you encounter difficulty or are able to suggest an improvement, they will carefully consider it and, more importantly, act on it. This is very refreshing from a consumer point of view.
– OTHER –
Anyone got any more issues???
BUT, I DON’T WANT TO CHANGE MY WORKFLOW AT ALL!
Ok, some of us are stubborn. Some won’t be convinced by the Kase Holder or having the CPL behind the ND’s rather than in front, etc. I get that…and so do Kase. If you’ve already got a Lee Filter Holder system, and just want to try the Kase Filters themselves…or you don’t want to invest in everything all in one go, because the Filters are 100mm, they fit the Lee Filter Holder and other 100mm systems. They are ever so slightly slimmer than Lee’s filters, and so you’ll need new adapter rails so the filters don’t just slip through the Lee Holder. Kase can supply you some. I have some myself, and it’s the perfect stop-gap.
THOSE KASE ND’s HAVE NO GASKET!
The Kase Filter System uses an inbuilt gasket in the Holder, so the ND filters do not have a gasket of their own fitted (unlike the Lee system). However, Kase do supply stick on gaskets with each ND Filter in the event you wish to use the Filter with another system, such as Lee.
THE CPL IS MUCH SMALLER THAN MY 105MM LEE, SURELY IT VIGNETTE’S MORE WITH A UWA LENS?
Yes, the Kase CPL is 86mm which is much smaller than a 105mm CPL. However, the 105mm CPL sits further away from the lens. With the Kase CPL, it rests almost flush with the front element of the lens. On my Lee setup (with two filter rails rather than three, which would be worse), using my widest lens, the Sony G 16-35 f/4, my images begin to vignette at 18mm. At 16mm the effect makes the full frame unusable, you have to crop in significantly. With the Kase, there is no hint of vignette at 16mm. End of discussion.
Of all the pieces of photography gear you can own, filters are perhaps the least sexy. You can shoot without filters, sure. In fact for a long time I completely stopped using filters, relying on bracketing and post-production. Indeed, there are situations when that method of shooting is preferable. However, forcing myself to use the filters for the purposes of this review has actually changed my attitude towards them a little. Sure, there will still be times when the filters will stay in the bag, but more often than not I find myself reaching for them these days. It’s just a bit more fulfilling getting the shot as right as you possibly can in camera before tweaking in post-production. I’ve been really impressed with the quality of the Kase filters, from their strength to their ease of use (once I got the workflow issue sorted). Kase’ support has also been exemplary.
There are other brands out there doing good things, so if you are in the market for a new filter or a new system entirely…then do shop around and try to work out what will work for you in the field, on a cold, blustery, miserable day. Have a think about your workflow. Is it the most efficient it can be? Make life easy for yourself, not harder. You make it harder, chances are you will miss the shot. Maybe the Kase system isn’t for you, that is for you to work out. In my ‘Kase’, they most certainly are.
No Colour Cast
Screw lock mechanism prevents the holder from accidentally ‘popping off’ like on a spring lock (like the Lee Holder)
Can be used with other 100mm systems
A little more expensive compared to some rivals
Not a fan of the screw lock mechanism from a workflow perspective, c’est la vie…
100mm ND’s are hard to remove from the K-6 Holder (solved with the K-8 Holder or 150mm x 100mm version of the ND)
Some images shot with Kase Filters over the last 6 months