Two years ago I wrote an article about my problems with Nikon's premium wide-angle lens, namely the inability to attach filters to it. Since then, things have changed.
At the time of writing the only options available were to buy into the Lee SW150 Mark 1 system (if you could find one for sale anywhere), to shoot without any filters using bracketing and Photoshop or to cut ones loses and purchase another lens with filter thread for attaching the Lee 100mm filter system (or another brand). In my original blog post, I described my thoughts, options and the solution I resorted to. You can read the original post here.
Some two years down the line, Lee Filters has released the Mark 2 SW150 system which not only seems a great improvement over its predecessor but is actually ‘in stock’ at many photographic stores.
'Wideangleness' should be a word
I’ve loved my Nikon 14-24mm lens since the first day I purchased it and I admit that replacing it with the 16-35mm f/4 for the vast majority of my landscape work left me a little heartbroken. I couldn’t bring myself to sell it and on the occasions that I did get to use it, I noticed the extra ‘wideangleness’ during post-processing. It seems that insignificant sounding 2mm does make a big difference.
Over the past couple of years, I've acquired a good selection of Lee 100mm filters including solid NDs, graduated NDs and a circular polariser... none of which would be compatible. The SW150 system would mean buying the same filters again in the larger format, not a cheap exercise and would effectively make my 100mm filters obsolete, possibly even my 16-35mm lens. Sure, I could sell them ...but can I be sure I'll never want to put a filter on my 24-70mm lens?
Let’s face it… who can resist beautiful anodised red aluminium. I took the plunge... purchased the filter holder, the corresponding adapter ring (you can now fit the SW150 to many more lens makes) and also purchased a 150mm 0.6 soft grad, a 0.9 hard grad, the new 150mm Little Stopper and of course the Lee 150mm carrying pouch. The filter holder itself is big, meaning it won't fit into the carrying pouch... which was a gripe I've always had with the 100mm system. The large filter pouch is also way too big to fit into my camera bag, meaning carrying it separately to my rucksack, that's a pain ...but that red ...is beautiful.
Using the SW150
As you can imagine, the larger system is more cumbersome to work with. Handling the 150mm filters feels a little like juggling wet fish, you know you're going to drop one sometime, you just don't know when. They do however slide nicely into the filter holder, which is a gem to look at but a bit of a faff to fit the lens. After fumbling on a few occasions I now keep the adapter fitted to the lens all the time. This does make the 14-24mm plastic lens cap obsolete, but Lee has thoughtfully included a neoprene pull over the cover to replace the cap...nice work, Lee.
I love wide-angle portrait landscapes ...and here I discovered my only gripe with the square 150mm filters, especially with the hard grad range. Many of my photos are low to the ground with the landscape horizon high up in the frame... sometimes much higher than the upper third rule. When aligning the hard grads transition to the landscape horizon the 150mm filters bottom edge is clearly in the frame. An unpleasant blurry line across the bottom of the photo is the result. I can usually edit this out in Photoshop...but it would be nice to avoid this issue 'in-camera' maybe a 150mm x 170mm filter would do the trick?
Field comparison - 14-24mm f/2.8 vs 16-35mm f/4
To see just how much difference there is between the two systems I took some comparison shots, setting up my tripod and taking a shot with the 14-24mm at it's widest plus the SW150 Mark II system. Without moving the camera I replaced the lens with the 16-35mm and took another shot at its widest using the Lee 100mm system. Here are the results.
This comparison isn't intended to show differences between the 150mm and 100mm filters but rather to demonstrate the difference in lens focal length and why it might be worth considering coughing up the cash to use filters on the 14-24mm lens.
It's great to be able to use my 14-24mm again for my landscape work and I feel my photography has improved because of it. The SW150 system is considerably more cumbersome to carry, to work with and has the small issue of the filters being a little too short. Is it worth the investment? If you're looking for your first filter system, I'd say yes it is. If you already have the 100mm system and a 14-24mm lens, you'll need to weigh up if those extra wide-angle pixels are worth the investment. Does anybody want to buy a used 16-35mm lens?
Let me know your thoughts below in the comments section.
About Robert Rhead
Robert Rhead is a English landscape photographer, UX/UI designer, web developer and graphic designer. He currently holds the LRPS certificate from the Royal Photographic Society, has won English and international photography awards and has featured in various high-profile photography and lifestyle magazines.