Filtering ultra-wide-angle lenses, which are generally defined as lenses with diagonal angles of view of 90° or greater, can be challenging. And the greater the AoV, the more challenging filtering can become. The big problem has to do with vignetting, which in the case of filtering ultra-wide-angle lenses means seeing the edges of the filter in the corners of the frame.
In the case of full-frame cameras, this is seldom an issue with lenses in the 18mm to 21mm range (approximately 90° to 100° AoV) assuming you are using threaded, thin-mount filters. But using lenses with wider AoVs requires wider-girthed filter holders designed specifically for use with ultrawide lenses.
Even though the target audience for this post is primarily users of consumer DSLR and mirrorless cameras, the filter holders, filters, and related accessories discussed here are equally relevant to and compatible with medium and large-format camera lenses.
No Filter Threads? No Problem
There are about a dozen manufacturers who produce filter systems that enable you to filter wide-angle lenses. Depending on the model, these filter systems either screw into the lens threads, or clamp onto or slip over the front of the lens barrel. Most of these filter systems use square and/or rectangular filters with widths measuring from 3" (75mm) through 7.9" (200mm). Filter holders for ultra-wide-angle lenses are manufactured by a number of manufacturers including Cokin, Formatt Hitech, FotodioX, LEE, and Kase.
Glass, Resin, or Gelatin?
Filters for these adapters are made of optical glass, resin, or in the case of gel filters, gelatin. Gelatin filters, which are the thinnest filters (approx. 0.1mm), are typically the purest in terms of optical quality, but they must be handled with extra care. Unlike glass filters, which can be (carefully) cleaned when needed, gels crease easily and must be handled as little as possible. When handling is necessary, gels should be handled by the edges and preferably with cotton gloves. The surfaces of resin filters are notably more durable compared to gels, but they should still be handled with care as they scratch easily.
Glass, resin, and gelatin filters are available in the form of polarizers, color balance and black-and-white contrast filters, neutral density (ND) filters, and graduated filters for both neutral density and color. Depending on the make and model, large-format filter holders can accommodate one, two, or three filters concurrently, but do keep in mind stacking filters can adversely affect resolution, so stack filters only as needed.
Acetate filters should not be confused with gelatin filters. Acetate filters are not as optically pure as glass, resin, or gelatin, and are best used for polarizing and color-gelling studio lights.
Select filter holders are available with filter frames, which as the name implies, are thin plastic or aluminum frames that hug the edges of the filter, giving you safe points of contact with the filters. Filter holders are strongly recommended for maintaining fingerprint and smudge-free filter surfaces.
Lens Holders for Just about Every Ultra-Wide-Angle Lens
For lenses with thread sizes no wider than 67mm, we can start our tour with any of the 75mm (3") filter holder kits we offer from NiSi, Benro, or Vu. Depending on the make and model, most of these kits include single- and double-slot holders with 67mm threaded adapters, which can be stepped down to smaller thread sizes as needed.
Nikon’s AF-3 Gel Filter Holder is compatible with lens diameters ranging from 52mm to 77mm and is one of the thinnest, most compact, and least expensive 3 x 3" filter holders. Despite its name, Nikon’s AF-3 works equally well with gel, resin, and glass filters up to 2mm thick. Nikon also produces the Nikon AF-4 Gel Filter Holder, which is designed for use with larger 4 x 4" filters and thread sizes ranging from 52mm to 95mm. With the exception of gelatin filters, which are thin enough to multi-stack, Nikon’s AF-3 and AF-4 are designed for single filters only.
In addition to the filter holders, many of these kits contain one or more 3 x 3" (and/or 3 x 4") polarizing, neutral density, and/or color filters. Filter wrenches, microfiber cleaning cloths, and storage cases are also included with select filter kits.
The next size up are 100mm (4") filter holder kits, which are available via adapters for lenses with filter threads ranging 40.5mm through 105mm. There are also filter holders for lenses without filter threads. Most 4" filter holders accept square (100 x 100mm) filters and the longer (100 x 150mm-plus) graduated filters, which require additional surface area to accommodate precise positioning of the gradated portion of the filter. Depending on the make and model, many filter holders allow you to rotate the position of the filter mount up to 360°.
Cokin might be the most recognized name among camera filter systems, and it currently produces four filter holder systems and frames (A-series, P-series, X-Pro and Z-Pro-series) that address the needs—and budgets—of photographers across the spectrum. Cokin also produces an extensive line of neutral density (ND), graduated ND, solid color, and graduated color filters to complement these holders.
Cokin P-Series filter holders and filter frames (84mm) are available with adapter plates for filter thread sizes ranging from 49mm to 82mm. The holders can also be purchased separately without threaded adapters. For wider-angle lenses, Cokin offers the Cokin BPW400 Wide Angle Filter Holder for P-Series, which accommodates lenses as wide as 20mm (approximately 90° AoV).
For 100mm filters, Cokin offers its Cokin Z-Pro filter holders and filters, which can hold up to two 100 x 100mm or 100 x 150mm Cokin filters up to 1.6mm thick along with a single circular screw-in filter such as a polarizer when needed.
Cokin X-Pro Series filter holders, which are designed for Cokin X-Pro 100 x 130mm filters up to 3mm thick, are the largest in the Cokin system.
Plain, Utilitarian, and Fancy Filter Holders
Most filter holder systems are utilitarian in nature and are made of varying ratios of polymer and metal alloy, commonly aluminum. The exception to this rule is the Wine Country Camera Filter Holder System, which sports polished rosewood side grips on either side of their black, heavy-duty aluminum alloy frames. Designed to accommodate 100 x 100mm, 100 x 150mm, 150 x 170mm, 150 x 150mm, and 150 x 170mm filter sizes, Wine Country filter holders not only look and feel right, but they perform as advertised. The fact they look so snappy cool is a bonus!
One of the most diverse filter holder manufacturers is NiSi, which manufactures an extensive line of universal 100mm filter holder kits ranging in size from 75 x 75mm to 150 x 170mm. NiSi also produces two flavors of camera-specific filter holder kits for the Sony RX100-VI and VII, FUJIFILM X100, and Ricoh GR III, as well as dedicated filter holders for ultrawide full-frame and cropped-format zooms from Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Venus Optics, and Laowa.
FotodioX offers the widest selection of filter holders dedicated for use with specific full-frame and cropped-sensor ultrawide prime and zoom lenses. In addition to FotodioX’s own WonderPana FreeArc filter holders for ultrawide lenses that lack traditional filter threads, FotodioX also produces filter holders for dedicated use with a truly wide range of ultrawide lenses, including the following (among others):
- Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM
- TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift
- EF 11-24mm f/4L USM
- Fujifilm XF 8-16mm f/2.8 R LM WR
- Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmaret 8-18mm f/2.8-4 ASPH.
- Samyang/Rokinon AF 14mm f/2.8
- Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for mirrorless and full-frame cameras
- Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM
- Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art
- Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG DN Art for mirrorless and full-frame cameras
- Tokina 10-17mm f/3.4-4.5 AT-X 107 AF DX Fisheye
- Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon
Have you ever been stymied by not having a filter system that was compatible with your favorite super-wide lens? If so, I hope this post opens new avenues for you. Feel free to ask questions and let us know how you make out in the Comments section, below!