This was originally written and published for Digital Photography School. The article is republished here with search engines blocked and canonical set to the original published article. It is here for archival purposes, and so my community can find it too.
Since the late 60’s and early 70’s photographers have been using slide-in filters in front of their lenses.
The holders which accept such products are usually used for neutral density filters, polarizers, color filters and sometimes effect filters.
But there has been a problem with the holders, even since its inception. They’re usually poorly made with cheap plastics or mixed aluminum materials. And that’s just the holder’s materials. Other problems are the placement of the polarizers which can cause vignetting, manufacturing errors and much more.
Although I inherited a Cokin filter kit from my grandfather, my first self-purchased kit was a Lee Filter Foundation Kit. The product is made of plastic, which makes it light weight. But it also makes it vulnerable to bending and breaking.
Eventually, Formatt Hitech released their newer aluminum filter kit, and I made the switch and used it for a couple of years… until now.
Wine Country Camera was born out of the need for quality filter systems and ongoing standards. Every aspect of the filter kit is deeply considered and well thought out from the bottom up, or back forward.
Instead of plastics or aluminum, premium materials are used, with purpose. For example, instead of a standard dial, a wooden dial is used, so your fingers don’t freeze in cold weather. That can also be said for the wooden grips in the front of the holder. Every part of the holder is tactile, so you know when you’re turning, turning and pushing. It’s so tactile that you can maneuver the holder and filters with and without gloves.
How It’s Unique
By now you likely already recognize that the holder system from Wine Country Camera is unique. But to reiterate why I thought I would point up some of the features that are unlike any other holder out there.
Many locations around the system are the Wine Country Camera logo, a wine glass. At first, you might think it’s about branding, and while that might be true. The more important reasoning is, so you know when items are right side up. For example, the filter vaults have this beautiful coin which is turned to lock or unlock the filter. When the wine glass is upside down, the vault is unlocked. When it’s standing on its stem, the vault is locked.
Speaking of the vaults, these are a new concept, already mastered. The vaults are made of a polymer, similar to that found in a Glock. They’re extremely strong. No joke – they can’t be bent. And the moment I filled one of my vaults with a filter, I dropped it. (I got it on video too) And to my surprise, no damage to the glass filter inside. The vault serves multiple purposes.
- Seals the space between filters and the holder, making it, so you do not need those annoying foam gaskets.
- Makes it extremely easy to insert and remove filters from the holder with or without gloves.
- Protects the filters from normal wear and tear and minor dings.
Vaults are available for 100mm square filters as well as graduated filters. Along with the vaults are two red buttons on the holder. The buttons are designed to remove the friction holding the two outer filters in place. That way you can safely move graduated filters up and down with ease, safely.
It’s worth noting that due to the high-quality standard of Wine Country Camera, they have identified a manufacturing flaw at other manufacturers. Although there are so-called standards among filters, they’re not always followed precisely while making the filters. Here is what they said:
Service Advisory: We are noticing that some Lee grads have been produced at a thickness outside of their specification. If you experience difficulty installing your grad, contact us immediately and we will resolve it for you.
As you can see, the company is replacing their filter vaults with new ones, for customers experiencing an issue where their filters don’t fit. It’s not their fault, but they’re correcting the issue for their customers. Lots of thumbs up for that customer service decision!
The holder allows for three filters to be used at any given point in time. The reason for this is they use an internal polarizer Because the holder keeps the polarizer in the back, instead of the front like most filter holders, it opens the doors for that third filter. Typically when a CPL is placed in front of the ND filters, you lose a slot and have a giant 105mm ring to attach a Circular Polarizer (CPL) too. But with the Wine Country Camera system, the CPL is easily removed with two red clips and turned using the beautiful wooden dial.
Last, and not least is that because of the extremely low profile of the filter holder, and the CPL being in the back, there is reduced the risk of vignetting. The system has been tested as wide as 17mm without any vignetting. That’s a huge jump from the 24mm limit I had with the Formatt Hitech and Lee systems (even with the wide angle adapter rings). I photograph at 20mm quite often and have always experienced vignetting, although minor. Until now.
Worth the Price
I’ll be the first to admit, that when initially announced I was shocked by the price of the system. Especially when compared to systems from other manufacturers. But after getting my hands on it, I understand why. The amount of pride thought and effort that went into every millimeter of the product is the highest possible quality. It’s not cheap plastic. It’s not cheap metal. But for the curious minded, I thought I would include a comparison on price for what my kit was before and after. I will leave out my ND filters as right now I’m still using my Formatt Hitech Firecrest ND filters in the Wine Country Camera holder. (I’ll likely switch to WCC once they have their own ND filters)
Wine Country Camera System
- Holder w/ CPL & 2 Vaults & 1 Adapter Ring: $449
- 3 100x100mm Vaults: $105
- 1 150x100mm Vault: $35
- 3 Adapter Rings: $150
- 100mm Aluminum Holder: $47.99
- 4 Wide-Angle Adapter Rings:
- Polarizer Ring: $19.99
- 105mm Firecrest Circular Polarizer SuperSlim: $229.99
As mentioned, the price for the WCC system is more. But keep in mind the advantages of the system, the materials used in the system, and that you have the vault advantage, it’s worth the extra money up front. The $257.08 savings on a different system might save you up front but could cost you in the long term. Maybe on parts falling apart, lower quality materials breaking, light leaks on your photographs, and potentially more.
But I know now everyone can afford the kit, so it’s not for everyone. But if you are like me and want the best of the best when it comes to your photography, then you’ll save and take the plunge when it’s right for you.
Something else to keep in mind, for anyone with a high megapixel camera, like a D810, A7RII or a medium format camera. Many polarizers have an issue with reflections on higher resolution sensors. The CPL from Wine Country Camera does not have this issue. The polarizer fits inside the holder body, eliminating reflections and allowing geared rotation. They worked with a high-end optics manufacturer to develop the highest possibly quality polarizer. Their polarizer uses 2.5mm thick Schott optical glass that is fire polished, and free of surface aberrations. Considering their CPL is less expensive (when purchased alone) than the previous CPL I was using, it’s nice to know my optics are protected.
Keeping it Together
Before the WCC system, I was using the Mindshift Gear Filter Hive to hold everything in one place. The small bag is incredible, can be stored in a backpack, clipped to a belt, or hung from a tripod.
I was happy to find the Wine Country Camera system almost completely fit in the same bag. Everything but the holder itself fits inside. But fortunately, WCC provided a very protective case for the holder and its attached polarizer.
As I mentioned earlier, I was originally a skeptic for the Wine Country Camera system. But I have fallen in love with it. I am so gratefully a company has now taken steps to improve a lens filter system, as the industry has needed change for a long time. To me, the price is worth it, and I hope you recognize the same.