Category Archives: South Australia

Updated NiSi V6 filter holder impressions

This post is somewhat delayed but I’ve finally had some time to try out different aspects of the V6 holder including some unintentional ones.

My initial impressions make up the normal text, while further updates from my week in Tasmania have been added in italics.

1. The holder is more compact and lighter than the V5. Time will tell if it’s more durable but thus far, not a single NiSi filter holder I’ve tested dating back to 2015 has broken. Update: While shooting Horseshoe Falls in Tasmania, I slipped over and banged the filter holder on solid rock. despite the edge suffering a slight dent, the holder continues to work well including the CPL gear. Naturally, I haven’t gone smashing other filter holders around, but I was relieved and impressed that I could still use the holder after this accident.

The V6 ring remained functional after a bang on the rocks while shooting this scene. V6 filter holder and CPL.

 

V6 filter holder + 3 stop medium GND. The holder as come through a couple of seascape sessions with CPL gear still running smoothly after washing.

2. The filter slots glide much easier and with guide tracts, you are far less likely to encounter the problem (as I have) of having the filter get stuck halfway while inserting due to the alignment of the lower tract (see video). There does not appear to be any vignetting up to 16mm at any angle (as advertised). Update: The filter slotting continues to be smooth and vignetting is non existent on 16mm shots. Incidentally, I forgot to bring my 2 slot Laowa filter holder and despite using the 3-slotted V6 holder, the vignetting was manageable.

Stacking filters is easier with the V6 than with previous iterations of NiSi filter holders. V6 filter holder + 6 stop ND + 3 stop hard GND

 

Wineglass Bay from Mount Amos : V6 filter holder + 3 stop medium GND

3. The beveled edge and matte black design would seem to allow for less light leak and reflections (light leak has been problematic right up to the V5 pro with the V5 galaxy much less affected by this problem). On my one shoot side on to light, I did not experience light leak. Update: No issues whatsoever with light leak in any situation that I’ve encountered. The beveled edge also allows for easier removal of ND filters from the first slot which suits my shooting style well (changing filters frequently).

Intense side light from this scene without any light leak. Sleepy Bay, Tasmania. V6 holder + 6 stop ND + 3 stop hard GND upside down

Behind the scenes : The V6 holder being used in conjunction with the Laowa 12mm adapter at Sleepy Bay : I had left some filters at home hence I was using a 3 stop hard edged GND stacked with a 6 stop ND filter for this shot! During this shoot, I dispensed with the gasket entirely.

4. The ‘lock’ mechanism is a good thought but unlikely to change my workflow or increase my ‘hit rate’ in the field. I simply haven’t had issues with older holders sliding out of position since most of my shots have the filters in a vertical orientation, not angled. Update: One aspect of this lock I haven’t mentioned is that it also gives extra stability and assurance that the filter holder will stay attached to the ring, particularly when shooting in blustery conditions with the wind behind you. In these scenarios, I’ve always been scared that the wind may blow off the filter holder. Indeed, for the shot below a raincover incidentally was blown off around the filter holder itself. Another bonus I have noted is that the V6 filter holder sits nicely on the Laowa 12mm adapter ring.

The winds were gusting from behind me. The lock mechanism gave extra assurance that the filter holder wouldn’t fly off. V6 filter holder + CPL + 3 stop medium GND on Laowa 12mm adapter

5. The filter cap is a huge bonus! I’ve always had to dismount the filter holder kit and place a normal lens cap on my setup but now with the filter cap, I can leave the ring and CPL attached to the lens in between shoots. (5b , the bag for the slot is fine, I just wouldn’t put it on the tripod as I’m constantly shooting in or around water and have no need to access it while in the field). Update: Despite its theoretical benefits, I actually didn’t use it as much as I thought. I guess after years of packing the entire kit away , I’ve become accustomed to the old routine!

V6 adapter with CPL at Mount Wellington

6. My main concern (and only one) is that the first slot of the V6 appears a very tight fit for an ND filter with gasket. I cannot easily remove the filter while another GND is stacked in front of it. While this might not be an issue if you like to shoot long exposures for the whole shoot, I constantly change up between long and short exposures so this affects my specific workflow. I’ll play around with the screw tension to see if I can get a good balance between the tightness of the first slot vs 2nd and 3rd. Update: Two things have resolved this issue for me. a) I did loosen the screws slightly which have allowed easier slotting in without the thread of filters falling out. b) I removed the gasket from the 6 stop ND filter and have been shooting without any light leak occurring and the ability to take the filter in and out at will without difficulty! This tweaked setup has been tested down to about -1 degrees at Cradle Mountain.

Once I took the gasket off the 6 stop filter, I was able to alternate between short and long exposures with the same composition. V6 holder + 6 stop ND filter  + 3 stop medium GND placed at 45 degrees.

Overall, if you already have an earlier iteration of a NiSi filter holder, you’d need to decide how much importance to place on each of the 6 issues I’ve listed in terms of how the V6 would improve your shooting. On its own, it is an excellent product but it may or may not necessitate an upgrade from a previous holder as they are already of high quality! Update: My initial impressions still stand. A great piece of gear that improves on the V5 systems but isn’t necessarily a must-have for those with the V5 pro as that system is already rock solid and very capable.

V6 holder + Natural Night Filter – 5 images stacked for noise reduction

 

Quaille Falls, Laowa 12mm adapter ring + landscape PRO CPL.

Advertisements

It’s OK to not take a picture

Have you had one of those frustrating mornings when the conditions weren’t what you expected? Maybe it was raining or maybe what you wanted to photograph just wasn’t presenting itself? At the scene you may have tried your best but nothing really came out the way you wanted it to. Or perhaps you came away with an image that eventually came to life with post processing but because of how you felt at the scene, you lack a certain emotional connection with it?

Mount Rundle on a grey morning. Many photographers have liked this image of ours and it was my best performing image in a recent competition. I admit though that my emotional connection with it is almost absent. I took the shots on a cold raining morning having just landed in Banff while the family was sleeping and I was wide awake from jetlag. I may have produced something others like, but for me , my link to an image is one of the main reasons I produce images, not necessarily the result nor the admiration from peers.

Stop! Time out! Seriously , why were you out there taking photos? I’ve definitely had many of those mornings locally but not so much when I’m overseas.  One of the trendy things to talk about these days is how one develops as a photographer. I’m not someone who likes to buck the trend. I’m a white collar professional with an average number of kids living in suburbia who basically lives a life that many would say is part of the gravy train of society. So I’m going to say something ‘untrendy’. Just don’t take a photo. I’m serious. Do something you enjoy and don’t waste the morning feeling angry and frustrated when you’re supposed to be having fun. Let me explain further.

I find I still enjoy taking pictures of jetties and cannot subscribe to the thinking of ‘I don’t do X’ type of landscape. It works for others but I like to keep a completely open mind. This was my first visit to Wool Bay on Yorke Peninsula

I recall a specific morning a couple of years ago when I drove down to Victor Harbor (a local seaside spot one hour’s drive from home). The forecast was for high cloud but when I got there, it was pretty much a grey out with constant rain. I was tired from the work week and I was struggling to keep awake during the drive. I tried to take a couple of shots. I tried long lens photography to focus on details but couldn’t find anything meaningful. I tried long exposures which ended up getting ruined with droplets. I tried intentional camera movement by panning during a long exposure. I even switched lenses and tried to make reference images for Marianne’s art by taking pictures of seagulls in flight but they just weren’t doing the right things ! At the end of the shoot I literally spat the dummy and stormed away , pissed off that MY morning of solitude and relaxation had been WASTED.

This wasn’t the most vibrant or mornings but instead of being disappointed. I thought I’d use a new remote my KK from Christmas had given me . Also thought I’d have some fun trying to climb that rock!

More recently, I’ve kept some spare sneakers and shorts in the back of the car. If things are not looking promising, I’ll go for a jog instead. I know that’s going to do me good and I know I’m going to get the endorphin rush. I even love running in the rain. This back up plan basically means that no matter the conditions, I’ll come away with something from the morning out ; just not necessarily in the form of treasured RAW files to make a masterpiece from. The drive is never wasted.

I’ve learned over the years that my local trips out have really been about destressing from the week of work, especially since I’ve photographed many of the locations locally. And when I’m not visiting a ‘usual’  spot to shoot, then part of the journey becomes one of exploration and images from a new spot are taken really as part of a scouting mission. I feel that perhaps that’s why when I’m overseas, these types of mornings don’t tend to affect me as much. Many of the spots I’m visiting are new, many of them requiring a long hike in the dark to arrive at dawn which in itself is an endorphin rush. Because of my situation in life , photography is a bonus to me, not a necessity. I’m sure many of you who don’t do it for a living are in the same boat.

On this morning, I knew that there was going to be volumes of water flowing at Mannum Falls. My usual spot was a foam bath! So instead of being disappointed, I explored upstream and what do you know, a rainbow put some icing on my exploration cake!

So my final message is this. Explore what it is that drives you leave home at 4am when you could be sleeping in. If there are non photographic elements partially fuelling that seemingly masochistic drive, be prepared to fulfil them if the photographic mission turns out to be a failure. If it is purely photographic, then by all means, try all those things I tried on that grey morning down at Victor Harbor. Find ways to feel you’ve accomplished something and don’t stress about having no golden images from the morning ; that’s only part of the picture.

For this local shoot at Brown Hill, I came prepared to fulfil my secondary agenda : sleep! While a time lapse was shooting, I brought a sleeping mat and snuck in an hour of sleep 😉

A Wow for Laowa?

In the last month or so, I’ve had the opportunity to use Laowa’s 12mm F2.8 zero distortion lens along with its own filter holder and Nisi’s custom made filter holder. The version I have is for a canon mount. Overall, it’s a great piece of equipment for a reasonable price and takes up very little real estate in an already fully stuffed camera bag. Like most gear however, it’s not without its issues. I’ve only taken it out for three shoots and used it around the house, so there may be aspects that I haven’t had the chance to test entirely but I’m more than happy to test any aspect requested (if I get the chance to shoot!)

Unfortunately I’m not really tech-savvy when it comes to lens reviews, I just want to know how it serves my specific purposes. With that in mind, this is a rough index of what I’m going to comment upon.

  1. The lens itself
  2. How wide is 12mm ? Is it too wide?
  3. Night photography
  4. Sharpness stopped down
  5. Flare and sunstars
  6. Filter holders (native and Nisi)

The lens:

I’m not going to bother with discussing things like packaging. It’s sufficient and professional . What surprised me out of the box was how compact this unit is. It weight (610g) would allow me to bring it on hikes though perhaps only those where astro photography is a priority. It feels solid in the hand and appears to be built like a tank. Its size also allows a huge bonus for a lens of this focal length ; the ability to use 100mm filter kits! As a prime lens with manual focus, it would be difficult to achieve quick ‘on the fly’ shots without risking focus issues. Having said that, because it’s a prime lens, it has a nice feature of charting hyperfocal length on the lens itself .  You can hence position focus at infinity at one end , and make sure there are no objects closer than the focal length marked at the other end of the scale for your given aperture (see diagram below). I have yet to shoot panoramas with this lens but there is a marked ‘entrance pupil’ on the lens that assists with finding a nodal point .

The lens with its bulbous front element.

The rightmost number indicates the current aperture. The middle row of numbers indicates that focus at F5.6 will be between approximately 0.45 to 0.7m. If you wanted to use this as a walkabout lens without thinking, you could adjust the leftmost marker to infinity and not shoot anything closer to the focal length indicated on the right marker

How wide is 12mm?

The answer is VERY wide. This is probably best shown with some images which I took at Lake Bonney. The first image was taken with my Canon 16-35mm F4 lens. The second image was taken with the Laowa albeit, standing a few metres further back. You can see the inclusion of the tree on the left. This makes for a lot of possibilities with sweeping foregrounds but could lead to minimising of anything that’s not very imposing in the background.

16mm shot taken at Lake Bonney

12mm showing the inclusion of the additional tree on the left but minimising of the furthermost trees as seen in the 16mm version

Swirling foregrounds for waterscapes become very interesting with the 12mm. Unfortunately, given I was standing in the water, I did not take a comparison shot with the 16-35mm

Night photography:

As an owner of the 16-35mm F4 lens , I was making do with F4 for night images so once again, the prospect of a wide angle F2.8 lens was extremely appealing. The other lens I was considering was the 16-35mm F2.8 III. My version II has taken a fair battering and I had always had issues with coma and softness in the corners which meant that I was willing to sacrifice one stop of light to use the 16-35mm F4. Finding focus in the dark has always been a little finicky but achievable. With this lens, as in the example illustrated above, I set the far focus for my aperture at infinity meaning that I could have everything in focus from approximately 1.5m and beyond. During this shoot, I did not check to see whether the infinity focus itself is true infinity. This technique worked quite well for me. The main issues I wanted to explore were a) how sharp is this lens at F2.8 at the centre and in the corners? b) how does this compare with the canon 16-35mm F4? c) Did the focusing method above result in ‘missed’ focus. The images below demonstrate the results. The Laowa is a little soft at the corners but still better than the 16-35mm F2.8 II. Centre sharpness was just fine . One interesting phenomenon not related to the lens itself was the ‘ole 500/focal length rule for still stars. At 12mm , I though I could therefore get away with 40 second exposures and have no trailing. For some reason, exposures of 30 seconds or more still showed significant trailing which means that rule doesn’t seem to apply for very wide focal lengths??

100% crops from the same image taken at F2.8 30 seconds. You can see some softness in the bottom image but not a great deal of coma.

Corners of the Laowa vs Canon 16-35mm F4. The Laowa was a 30 second exposure, the Canon 25 seconds.

Final edited image of the scene demonstrated in the first image. A second foreground exposure was taken at lower iso for cleaner noise in the dark water.

Sharpness at F11 and beyond 

Most of the time in the field, I’m shooting between F11 to F16 since I tend to shoot with foreground elements present. The images below show the centre vs corner sharpness at 100% viewing in LR of the RAW file (with shadows lifted so you can see the detail). They were taken within a minute of each other with the same lighting conditions.  I think there is very little between the Laowa and the Canon lens at the centre while there is some softness of the Laowa in the corner comparison. Note there wasn’t a lot of chromatic aberration even with this kind of dramatic lighting going on.

Not much difference in centre sharpness between the two lenses

Both are a little fuzzy in the extreme corners but canon seems a reasonably clear winner here?

Sunstars and Flare:

Stopped down to F22, I’ve had a couple of opportunities to shoot sunstars. The 7 aperture blades do seem to provide a good star but perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing as the Canon 16-35mm F4 ( and F2.8II). Shooting directly into light does give a circular flare which I’ll have to experiment with when there’s more direct sun.

Different types of flare evident between the Laowa and Canon lenses.

Laowa’s sunstar is quite appealing

Filter Holders:

 I received my lens with Laowa’s own filter holder. I had heard some horrendous stories about it so I was prepared for the worst. In actual fact, the current version I received was nowhere near as terrible as was made out to be. It clips directly on to the front of the lens and has slots for two 100mm filter and a 95mm polariser. I don’t own a 95mm CPL so this was an aspect of their filter holder that I could not test. It did cause vignetting but once again, not that troublesome as you can see from the images below. It’s main limitation (other than the 95mm CPL ) is the fact that ND filters with foam gaskets to prevent light leak just do not fit into the slots in the correct orientation. In an attempt to slot them in with the foam facing outward, you can see the somewhat amusing result below.

Nisi filters however do provide a custom adapter ring which also easily slots on to the front ring of the lens. It allows their standard CPL to be used as well as slots for 2 ND filters. I wanted to see how the three slot filter would perform and unfortunately , with three filter slots in place, even the Nisi holder does result equivalent vignetting as Laowa’s holder. Since I have two filter holders, I will have to remove one slot from one but I can see that for many shooters, having to remove one slot might limit options stacking when using other lenses and wanting to stack three filters. I will be using the Nisi version of the holder simply because this allows me to use a CPL and ND filters.

Vignetting of the Laowa holder with 2 slots vs Nisi holder with 3 slots

Attempted (and unsuccessful)  long exposure with the Laowa and a successful one with the Nisi holder

A) Laowa filter holder B) Nisi adapter ring attached C) Nisi holder with 3 slots attached D) Nisi with standard CPL

Conclusions

Overall, I think the Laowa 12mm F2.8 is a good quality lens but not quite at the standard of the better Canon L lenses. It’s good for photographers whose style leans toward expansive foregrounds and grand scenes. It’s also a very good lens for milkyway photography. It’s a solidly built lens that so far seems durable (I’ll have to comment on this a year down the line) and there are options for using 100mm filters which is pretty unique for a lens of this focal length. The Nisi filter holder is definitely the more practical of the two filter holders that are available. I don’t think I would bring this as a sole lens for a backpacking trip since it would be too wide for many documentary or detail scenes. For those used to shooting not quite so wide , it may take some time to get used to finding different styles of compositions.  For $1400 AUD, it’s less than half the RRP of the Canon 16-35mm F2.8 III and about the same price as the 16-35mm F4.

I’ll be honest in saying that before I received this lens,  I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to buy it.  But now that I have it, I do realise that it has opened up doors. I’ll pretty much use it exclusively for my milky way shoots and will definitely bring it for most other landscape shoots excluding the multiday backpacking trips. I hope that the images and information was helpful to you and for those of you who own it, I’d be interested to hear of your experiences! It’s a ‘wow’ to Laowa from me 🙂

Beautiful skies over Encounter Bay. Shot with a Nisi filter holder and 4 stop soft GND.