The best filter holders can make filter systems so much easier to use. Rather than painstakingly screwing them on one at a time, simply drop a square filter into the holder and you're ready to go. What's more, since filters produce effects that aren't possible to replicate in post-production, it pays to properly invest in your filter system, especially if you're a landscape photographer.
While it may seem more cumbersome at first glance, a square filter holder system can be much easier to use than a collection of screw-in circular filters. One of the main reasons for this is that you can switch between differently sized lenses with ease. Different lenses have different filter threads, meaning if you're using circular filters they won't transfer between lenses; square holders allow you to buy adapters to work around this problem. It's much more cost-efficient.
There's also the fact that some filter types work much better in a square system. We're thinking in particular of Neutral Density Graduated filters (or ND grads for short), as you need the flexibility to be able to move the gradient up and down, depending on the needs of the scene.
• Read more: The best neutral density filters in 2021
Different filter holders come in different sizes. In this guide, we've concentrated on 100mm filter holders, as these are the most popular among photographers. This size is designed for those using a DSLR or a high-end mirrorless system; if your setup is smaller than this, you may want to look at other systems as they may be more cost-effective.
Another thing worth noting is that some filter systems don't work too well with ultra-wide lenses, (i.e. wider than 16mm full-frame equivalent), as they cause pronounced vignetting. If you're going to be using lenses like this, it's worth making sure you get a system that interacts well with them. We've included some newer systems from the likes of Cokin and Irix that are specifically designed for this kind of photography.
But enough preamble. Let's get cracking with our list of the best filter holder systems you can buy right now.
Best filter holders for photography
LEE Filters set the standard for premium filter holders, but 25 years later and some stiff competition has seen LEE Filters develop a completely new filter holder for its 100mm range of filters. The LEE100 Holder has been designed to be backwards compatible with legacy LEE Filters for the LEE100 system (though there’s a new new polarizer adapter ring), but there are many improvements. There’s now a multi-function locking dial that not only securely locks the holder in place, but also locks the angle of the filter holder to protect your composition. You can also easily reconfigure the filter holder to have up to three slots for your filters. A refined system loved by pros, but lacks some of the clever touches on rival brands.
UK-based Formatt-Hitech’s Firecrest holder is the company’s top-of-the-range filter holder and is a nicely designed piece of kit. Constructed from aluminium, it’s not the lightest holder going, but it’s certainly well made and features two plastic filter slots on the front. A couple of nice touches are the inclusion of a 82mm multi-coated polarizing filter that attaches to a rotating ring and is positioned closest to the lens, while there’s also clever set of top and bottom covers that are designed to eliminate light leakage when shooting long exposures. Also bundled in the kit are 67, 72, 77 and 82mm adapter rings (smaller adapter rings are sold separately) and you’ve got a great value, quality system to get you started.
• Read more: Five tips for using macro lenses
NiSi is another relative newcomer to filters, with the company first established in China in 2005. There’s now a range of over 100 filters (though, as well as 100mm filters, it also produces circular filters and smaller filters for the likes of Sony’s RX100 series of compacts). The new V6 Holder sports what NiSi calls aviation-grade aluminum construction, along with three plastic filter slots. This is another filter holder that accommodates a circular polarizer (included), while there are three step-up rings supplied along with the 82mm adapter ring. A great value system that is hard to argue with for the price.
While most filter systems require you to slide the filters into the holder, the FH100M2 from Benro does things a little differently with a geared vertical positioning system. This sees the holder supplied with a 100x100mm square frame and a 100x150mm frame (for ND grads). Once the frame is slotted into the holder, you can wind it up and down in small, precise increments using an adjustment knob which engages with a toothed ridge on the filter frame. There’s also space for a 95mm circular polarizing filter, which along with the first-rate design and materials used, make this an excellent system to buy into.
Smaller than the LEE100 system and replacing the Seven5 system, the LEE85 system is aimed at those looking for a more compact filter solution for mirrorless cameras without compromising on quality. The LEE85 system is available in four different kits, but the Discover Kit is a good starter option containing the filter holder, three adapter rings (58, 67 and 72mm – other sizes are available), a 0.6 Medium ND Grad, as well as a LEE85 system pouch.
LEE Filters has re-imagined both its ND and ND Grad filters for the LEE85 system and they now feature a ‘grip tab’ on the top of the filter, allowing you to quickly see what filters are being used, while also making it that bit easier to remove from the filter mount. As we’ve come to expect with LEE Filters, filters slide smoothly into the filter guides on the holder and are held snugly in place, while changing the filter configuration to accommodate 1, 2 or 3 filters is a hassle-free and quick process.
While Cokin might have established itself at the cheap and cheerful end of the filter market, the new EVO filter holder is designed to appeal to more serious photographers and work seamlessly with the company’s high-end Nuances filter range. Three sizes are available, with the Z Series (L) filter holder accommodating 100mm filters. The aluminum design incorporates a non-abrasive foam that blocks light and keeps physical contact between the filter and the filter holder, while there’s a detachable plate to mount a 105mm screw-on circular polarizing filter. Overall, the EVO Z Series Filter Holder (L) is a very competent holder, but doesn’t stand out from the crowd.
The Kase K9 filter holder kit is a nicely engineered piece of kit. Featuring an aluminum construction, the K9 can accommodate three 100mm-wide filters that are 2mm thick, but the system can easily be reconfigured to support 1.1mm thick filters instead. Either way, there’s also space for a 90mm circular polarizer filter, but the difference here compared to rivals is that it's magnetic, making it a breeze to snap the filter in to place when you need it. The polarizer is also easy to control thanks to the geared filter ring, allowing for easy rotation that’s independent from the rest of the filters.
H&Y has ripped up the filter holder rulebook and done things a little differently: Instead of sliding your filters into the holder, you place your filter in a magnetic filter frame (either 100x100mm or 100x150mm filter frames are available) and then simply offer it up to the filter holder and it’ll snap into place. This snap-on, snap-off approach can really speed things up out in the field, while you can place them on top of each other as well. Don’t worry about ND grads either – these can be easily moved up and down to suit the composition. A really clever idea that works well.
Cokin’s been making filters and filter holders since 1972 and its affordable prices have meant that it’s been a firm favorite with new users and students alike. Cokin offers a range of different filter holder sizes (and supporting filters) for those on a budget, but we’re going to focus our attention on the Z Series that accommodates 100mm width filters. It’s a little less basic than the A and P Series of filter holders, but it’s still a pretty stripped back piece of kit. One nice touch is the filter configuration. On the front are two filter slots and a space for a polarizer on the front, while there’s also a slot on the back as well. You won’t want to be using four filters stacked together, but the filter holder can be mounted in reverse to use a single filter on the front and cut down the risk of vignetting.
US brand PolarPro has built up a bit of a reputation for its high-end drone and action camera accessories, and has now turned its attention to cameras. The new Summit system is based around the Core. It’s a beautifully machined filter holder, but then it should be for the price. There’s space for a circular polarizer and two slots for other filters, but because Summit filters feature their own metal frame, the Core won’t accept other brands. On the plus side, the metal frame does make them more durable and that bit easier to handle. You can if you wish buy a Summit kit that includes the Core, lens hood, polarizer, two thread plates (77 & 82mm), as well as an ND and ND grad for $699 / £729, or build the system up as you wish (though filters are limited for now). An expensive investment, but there’s no denying the quality.
Two things you'll find landscape photographers using a lot are ND filters and extremely wide-angle lenses. However, the two are often not all that compatible, as the thickness of the filter holder and the filter itself can cause pronounced vignetting at the corners of images, cutting into the usable field of view.
Enter the Cokin NX-SERIES filter system, which has been specifically tested with a number of popular camera/wide-angle combinations. Cokin's tests have reported no no visible vignetting when using the filter system with the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 on a Sony A7R II, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM on an EOS 5D Mark III, and the Fujinon XF10-24mm F4 wide-angle on a Fujifilm X-T3. They also found only very slight vignetting with the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 and Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 wide-angle lenses.
The system works slightly differently than other square filter systems, with the filters needing to be slotted into place before the rig is attached to the camera. It's worth noting that the filter isn't universally compatible: it'll take filters that are 2mm thick, not the ultra-thin 1.1mm type. This means it'll take popular models like the Lee Filters Big Stopper, but not everything else, so if you've already got some filters from a different brand, it's worth double-checking.
The NX-SERIES filter system has only just been released, but you can find it at the Cokin site here.
An upgrade on the already popular, ultra-slim Irix IFH-100 holder, the Irix Edge IFH-100-Pro is a 100mm filter holder with an additional slot for a polarizer. This means you get all the benefits of the previous model, including the premium construction and the minimized vignetting, while also being able to take advantage of a filter effect that can't be replicated in post-production.
The filter holder was developed during Irix's "Space Ready" project, and is made from the same materials as the firm's space-ready lenses. So you can take it into space, if you want. It may be unlikely, but never say never.
All kidding aside, this is a really solid filter holder. It can hold two square filters of the 2mm or 1.1mm variety, so you can use whichever kind of premium glass you want, and having that extra polarizer included really opens up your options. That space-ready construction means it's hardy and resistant to inclement weather; wherever you want to take it, the system will be equipped for it.
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