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Editor's Note: Revised and updated 5/3/2012
Of all the square and rectangular filter systems available these days, probably the best known is the Cokin Creative System. Launched in France by photographer Jean Coquin in 1972, Cokin’s reputation stretches around the world. Cokin images can be found on the pages of every magazine known to man and have enhanced wedding albums, corporate annual reports, travel brochures and amateur bookshelf vacation shots.
Cokin holders, adapter rings and filters are found in endless camera bags worldwide and its range of filter selection covers every conceivable shooting scenario. From simple black-and-white contrast filters to advanced graduated special effect filters, Cokin makes something for everyone. And, as a very reasonably priced system, the appeal of Cokin is unique in the world of square and rectangular filter systems.
Unlike other filter systems which are geared to more advanced shooters, Cokin touches base with photographers and videographers on all levels. With an arsenal of different sized filter holders to choose from, the image maker can enter the system at whatever level is both financially and professionally comfortable. From an entry level “A” system to the more sophisticated, larger and finer X-Pro system, Cokin offers a holder and more than 200 filters to accommodate even the most demanding photographer. Whether you are a digital shooter or a traditional-film addict, Cokin has an answer for your filtration needs.
As with other square-filter manufacturers, Cokin operates using a three-component system: a basic holder attached to the lens with an adapter ring and, of course, the filter(s). Cokin has even expanded into the world of quality circular filters that fit cameras ranging from point and shoots to pro video broadcast systems. In addition, a wide range of accessories is available to support whichever system you choose. Hoods, different kinds of adapters, storage systems, bellows, cleaning products all march in the Cokin parade.
In addition, Cokin launched a range of revolutionary universal conversion lenses that will boost the capacities of personal digital imaging equipment. The Cokin Magne-Fix lenses feature a magnetic attachment instead of a thread. C’est magnifique! They can be used with many unthreaded camera lenses, thanks to a unique metallic ring that sticks around the camera lens. This magnetic ring can remain permanently on the camera, or can be easily removed when desired.
Even though most people think of Cokin as a “square and rectangular” filter company, they now also produce a series of fine, round screw-in filters. Ranging in size from 25-86mm, these signature filters cover a broad spectrum of uses—from basic UVs and skylights to stars, diffusers, polarizers, close-up and neutral densities.
The Cokin system is, basically, broken down in to four filter-holder systems—each one getting progressively larger in its size and serving a different set of needs and, often, a different type of camera. The systems are: “A”, “P”, “X- Pro” and “Z-Pro.” Keep in mind that the Cokin system, all down the line, is “backwards compatible.” You can use a larger system on a smaller camera for added flexibility. However, choosing which holder in the Cokin system to purchase can be confusing. Therefore, how do you decide which one to select?
First, you must look at your equipment and decide which Cokin holder will serve your needs best. What size lenses do you have? What filter sizes do you require? Are you a rank amateur who doesn’t need to jump off the deep end with the most advanced and expensive holder? Are you using small-diameter lenses that can get away with the smaller “A” sized filters? Or are you, in fact, a working pro who uses super wide-angle lenses and needs the larger “Z" or "X-Pro” holder? Finally, how much do you want to spend? As mentioned, the simple “A” system is the least expensive way in, but if you are a high-end videographer, these filters will probably be too small.
So, let’s take a closer look at what Cokin offers by examining each product range in more detail.
Designed to accommodate lenses with a maximum diameter of 62mm, the “A” system is, so to speak, the baby of the Cokin system. These are the smallest of the square filters Cokin manufactures and are, generally, used in conjunction with 35mm cameras using normal to minimally long lenses (35mm and equivalent lenses on up). Many students and amateurs, not requiring the use of super-wide lenses, start off with an “A” series filter.
The filters are 67mm square and are made, as all Cokin filters are, from CR39, a quality organic resin. The “A” holder can hold up to three filters at a time, giving you ample freedom to create many eye-catching special effects. Therefore, were you to purchase this system, you would need an “A” series holder, the appropriate adapter ring to fit the front of your lens and an “A” series filter(s). This system is lightweight, inexpensive and offers an incredibly wide variety of filters. Once you have the three components of the “A” system, when you buy a new lens all you’ll need do is purchase the appropriately sized adapter ring and you’re in business.
It should be noted that “A” filters are not recommended for wide-angle lenses.
The “P” series is the next step up the Cokin ladder and is designed for larger-sized lenses with a maximum diameter of 82mm. One benefit of this series is that it allows you to use Cokin filters with heavier duty, medium-format cameras. For the Hasselblad system, adapter rings are available in B50, B60 and B70 sizes while for Rollei, B6 rings can be purchased. ”P” series holders will hold up to three filters, again allowing you to create an endless array of special effects.
It should be noted that whereas the “A” system is essentially limited to the smaller 35mm market, “P” filters can also be used with 35mm as well because they allow you to use wider lenses (28mm).
The “P” series also offers a wide-angle holder. This holder holds only one filter but will permit use of lenses wider than 20mm in the 35mm format. Like the “A” series, “P”-series filters are also square and made of CR39, but are larger, measuring 84mm in width.
Realizing that photographers and videographers require more “bang” from their filter systems, Cokin came out with their “Z-Pro” series—a more sophisticated and fine-tuned system. The “Z” series was produced to meet the needs of both film and digital audiences with particular interest in the digital SLR, medium format and both the amateur and professional video markets, including the HD format.
As opposed to the simpler “A” and “P” series, the “Z-Pro” series offers expanded flexibility. The “wow factor” of the “Z” holder is that it can be dismantled and re-formatted to suit filter sizes and thickness. One of the great advantages of this holder is its ability to assist the photographer in eliminating vignetting—the cutting off of the corners of an image, producing “black” curves where the corners should be.
“Z-Pro” series filters hold 4" (100mm) filters either in 4 x 4" or 4 x 6" size and are also made from organic resin. Lenses with 96mm filter sizes can be used with the “Z-Pro” series in addition to Hasselblad and Rollei. Wide-angle shooters will especially appreciate the flexibility of the “Z” series because 20mm and wider lenses can be used (in the 35mm format).
However, the biggest advantage that “Z-Pro” filters offer is their availability to be purchased in 4 x 6" (100 x 150mm) size. This gives you the opportunity to adjust the filter within the holder, sliding it up and down until the desired horizon line is achieved. The 90 or so filters in this series cover filter types such as contrast, color correction and conversion, soft focus and neutral density, making it very attractive to the pro market whose members, normally, require finer adjustments to their images.
The “Z-Pro” holder can accommodate filters with a thickness of 1.6mm, 2mm or 4mm. This means that filters from other manufacturers such as Lee, Tiffen, Schneider and Hitech can be used in this system. A spacer system integrated in to the holder allows these other filters to fit. In addition, more than one filter, including a polarizer, can be inserted in to the holder to create additional special effects.
At the top of the Cokin pyramid you will find the “X-Pro” series. Designed for the pro photographer, these filters will serve you well if you are a medium- or large-format photographer. Moreover, both prosumer and pro video mavens will get good use from this series. Wide-angle lenses can be used from 15mm onwards (in the 35mm format). Lenses up to 188mm in size and 130mm wide can be used. As with the “Z-Pro” series, both Hasselblad and Rollei adapter rings are available.
“X-Pro filters measure 5.3 x 6.6” (170 x 130mm) and possess excellent optical quality. These lightweight and unbreakable filters represent the largest filters on the photo market. An “X-Pro” holder can even hold two filters at once. This larger holder reduces the possibility of vignetting even more when using super-wide lenses.
The “X-Pro” system also offers something called the Ring Locker System, which ensures that the holder can be secured in a certain position and that the filter is kept parallel to the lens. It also controls the rotation of the holder and allows it to rotate freely. Some of the adapter rings available for this holder are available in 0.75- and 1.00-pitch threads.
On top of all the other advantages of the “X-Pro” system, it also features a modular bellows attachment which integrates the holder into the bellows. This self-supporting bellows is made from a “no-memory” material and, as any hood will do, eliminates unwanted reflections and flare.
The “X-Pro” holder is totally reversible, meaning that a filter that fits in the adapter ring's slot and the adapter ring can be placed in the first filter slot. Therefore, the filter can be positioned very close to the lens where the edges of the holder are no longer an obstacle in the field of use.
Regardless of which system you choose, Cokin has a plethora of add-ons that you should consider. The “A” and “P” systems offer lens hoods, caps and storage boxes. The “P” system offers an additional accessory called an “A/P” Adapter that allows you to use “A” system filters in your “P” system holder. The “Z-Pro” system also has a great filter wallet that will hold up to five filters. The “X-Pro” system, as previously mentioned, has a fabulous modular bellows. All systems offer a complete line of adapter rings. The “P” filter to “Z” holder adapter saves you the expense of buying an entire new set of filters.
The availability of Photoshop and other image-manipulation programs gives you the luxury of doing post-production work. As good as these programs are, there is something rewarding about being able to design your image at the time it is being captured. This kind of pre-visualization starts the process, while Photoshop allows you to make further adjustments.
As with any filter system, the Cokin spread of filters covers the gamut from A to Z (so to speak). Whether it is a simple black-and-white contrast filter or a more complicated three-filter arrangement for an “X-Pro” holder, Cokin gives the creative freedom to create the image you have in your mind’s eye.
If you enjoy nature photography, Cokin provides a wide variety of filters, graduated and non-graduated, that allow you to add color or accent what you already see. Graduated filters run from a 153 Graduated Neutral Density to all makes of colored grads such as 129 Graduated Pink, 131 Graduated Emerald, 133 Graduated Yellow or 125 Graduated Tobacco. Or, take it to a “departure from reality” stage with a Cokin 185 Radial Zoom filter.
Cokin specializes in special-effects filters. Things you can’t “see” in nature can be created through Cokin. A 092 Dream filter takes you to the world of Morpheus, and yes, you can get stars (057 and 058) and prism effects (201 and 203) from Cokin. Can’t get a real sunset out of that sky? Try a 197 or 198 Sunset filter and suddenly things change! They even make a 081 Color Vaseline set which comes with a set of four tubes of color to be smeared on a filter to let you create your own abstract filter.
For those of you who enjoy making portraits, Cokin offers the Center Spot series (060 and 061), which sets the clear center of the image apart from the rest of the diffused image. Needless to say, there is a wide variety of diffusers (083, 084, 086, 087, 088 and 089) to enhance portraits. There are fluorescent filters, color conversion filters and many others to meet the need of any shooting scenario. Cokin even makes filters to imitate or enhance the wonders of nature: a 186 Rainspot filter creates an image similar to rain on your lens.
Neutral density filters and polarizers are invaluable assets to the outdoor shooter. Need a special effect? A Center Spot filter gives you a clear central portion of the image while the outer edges can be either soft or colored, depending on which variety of this filter you choose.
For the portrait photographer, there are any number of soft effects available which can help cover unwanted blemishes and imperfections: multiple-image filters for “departure from reality” shots, split-field filters for accentuating the foreground from the background and close-up filters for capturing the delicate petals of a flower.
Cokin also provides many of its filters in different grades. For example, there is a Diffuser 1, 2 and 3; Sunset 197 and 198. Graduated filters are available in different stops just as traditional screw-on filters are. Many of these filters are also available in hard or soft format, meaning that the graduation between one area and the other is subtle.
Cokin saves you the trouble of trying to select your filters by offering any one of a number of kits. Portraits, Landscapes, Weddings, Soft and Graduated Neutral Density kits are all pre-packaged for your convenience. These kits will include three filters and a holder. Please note that, generally speaking, no adapter rings are included in these kits since Cokin does not know which lens you are using.
At a reasonable cost, Cokin offers you a selection of filters that few other companies do. Cokin does not tailor its systems to a specific level of photographer. Pro or amateur, it makes no difference—there is a Cokin system to meet your needs. But it does not stop there. Cokin is constantly trying to develop new ideas to answer the demands of the growing photo/video market. With its simplicity and ease of use, Cokin simplifies the photographers’ tasks by allowing them to create the image before it hits the computer—thereby saving time and money.