Before Lee Filters came up with their SW150 I was already using ND Grad filters on the Nikon 14-24 f2.8 with a Cokin X-Pro filter holder with the X499 Universal Adapter Ring. The results were not so good, it was difficult to position and align the filter holder with the lens and the all set-up suffered from light reflections with light leaking from the sides and from behind. I actually gave up on the all thing, until recently i.e…
As far as I know there are 3 filter systems that can be used with the 14-24 f2.8: the Lee Filters SW150 [which I had my hands on]; the Hitech Lucroit [which I never seen] and the my ‘improved’ Cokin X-Pro. The SW150 uses Lee’s 150x170mm [2mm thick] filters while the Lucroit which uses Hitech’s own 165x200mm filters. Cokin’s X-Pro System on the other hand uses 130x170mm [3mm thick] filters from either Cokin or Lee. While the Lee SW150 system is designed specifically for the Nikon 14-24 the Hitech Lucroit is more versatile and can be used in a number of lenses with built-in scalloped hoods and on normal lenses with filter threads. The Cokin X-pro system is close to the Hitech in terms of versatility if used with the X499 Universal Adapter. All 3 systems can be used with lenses with filter threaded lenses through adapters available from the manufacturers. How solid is the attachment to the 14-24? Well, the Lee SW150 is pretty solid, my ‘improved’ Cokin X-Pro is ok and the Hitech Lucroit I can not comment since I never had my hands on it.
Cost wise, in the US the Lee SW150 seems better value [$367US], especially if one deducts the cost of the 0.6ND Grad Hard [a $120US value] that comes with the SW150 kit. The Cokin X499 Universal Adapter is ridiculously overpriced at $212 bucks! while the Hitech Lucroit [with 14-24 adapter] is $350US. In Europe the situation is a bit different, the SW150 is £324 [£231.60 if one deducts the 0.6ND Grad H that comes with, i.e. $385US or 296EUR], the Hitech Lucroit is £249 with adapter [app. $414US or 318EUR] while the Cokin X-Pro holder with X499 adapter is £111 [i.e. $184US or 141EUR]. Yes, the X499 adapter costs here £64.95 [app. $108US or 83EUR] basically half than in the US. I got the prices and exchange rates from: US: BHPhotovideo [Lee, Hitech, Cokin]; Europe: RobertWhite [Lee], Amazon UK [Cokin], Formatt [Hitech]; Oanda [Exc. Rates 7-Oct-2012]. All in all the Cokin X-Pro option is quite an attractive alternative, if it would work properly with the 14-24 i.e.
This is how my ‘improved’ version looks like:
Looks nice, no? The changes are few and easily done with a Dremel tool and a sewing machine [Kudos to Iris for the excellent job done]:
1-The positioning marks on the lens barrel are only necessary when you want to use both filter slots [the Cokin X-Pro has 2 filter slots], it is not needed if you use only 1 filter [which I recommend, more on this later].
2-Cut the screws that come with the x499 adapter so that when the screws are fully tighten the filter holder is centered and properly secured on the lens hood. After shortening the screws I added a drop of epoxy to the end so that it does not scratch the lens barrel. I adjusted the length of the screws so that without the epoxy drop [just in case the epoxy drops get detached] the filter holder can still be attached securely to the lens hood with the screws fully tighten.
3-Made a light baffle from an old ultralight goretex jacket. It attaches to the x499 adapter ring through button holes where the screws are and has a bungee on the other end. The button holes location is such that it they do not hinder the rotation of the filter holder. It reduces reflections by blocking light coming from behind to reach the filter through the gap between the adapter ring and hood and also reflections from incident light on metal or plastic parts close to the front element of the lens. The length was adjusted so that with the bungee tighten you can still use the manual focus ring. The bungee serves a dual purpose, prevents stray light from coming in and is long enough to crisscross in front and keep the lens slip-on cap in place when moving around.
4-The shallow grooves on the lens slip-on cap are used to position the filter holder quickly and accurately in the field for 1 filter use. The position of the 4 grooves match the 4 screws of the X499 adapter, i.e. 90 degrees apart so that when they are at the end of the groove, the filter holder will be correctly positioned on the lens barrel. You can then remove the cap and slide a filter on the top slot without fear of it touching or scratching on the lens hood. I also placed some electrical tape on the sides of the filter slots to prevent stray light coming in from the sides.
The lens with the filter holder and cap installed and without any filters should look like this:
Does it work? Yes and quite well, there is no vignetting at all at 14mm with 1 filter on the top slot and problems with reflections are less. Still, when using the lens at the widest focal lengths one should do a check. The reflections issue gets much worse when using 2 filters. Also, with 2 filters there is a slight vignetting at the widest focal lengths. I opted not to cut the grooves for 2 filters on the slip-on cap [it is though plastic and the cuts would be longer], instead I used red tape marks on the lens barrel for positioning reference but it is still cumbersome to set up the holder at the correct position in the field.
Does it hold? Yes it does. It is not as solid as the Lee SW150 but I had no problems so far, just tighten those screws properly and check them from time to time.
How does it compare with the Lee SW150? Well, if you can afford it go for the Lee system, it was designed specifically for the 14-24mm and it is a better and more robust option overall than this homemade improvement of the Cokin X-Pro holder. If on the other hand you are on a tight budget and have already invested some money on X-Pro sized filters and the filter holder then maybe you will find this post useful. I have no experience with the Hitech Lucroit holder so I can’t comment, but if you do post your experiences. Also, if you came up with better and/or alternative ways of making this homemade X-Pro+ more robust and functional post and/or send me images of your setup, I will add them to the post.