On Trial Wine Country Camera 100 Mm Filter System
Designed by a working photographer, the Wine Country Camera filter holder system has been designed to more effectively deal with the common handling and usability issues. It works too.
There are now numerous filter holder systems on the market, but all have the same flaws and drawbacks. Wine Country Camera has come up with interesting solutions which greatly enhance both the convenience and the practicality.
When the French company Cokin launched its filter holder system in the late 1970s, I was an enthusiastic early adopter, enticed by the offer of freedom from the trials and tribulations of screwthread filters. One screwthread filter on a lens is fine, but start stacking on others and things can get messy very quickly… I give you the dreaded drama of crossthreaded filter rings!
Over time though, it became evident that the Cokin system had its drawbacks too, chiefly related to the design of the holder. The French decided to keep things simple and affordable – which is commendable – but, frankly, the original Cokin holder was horrible (although it’s been much improved upon since with the company’s higher-end filter lines). I disliked it so much, I didn’t use it at all and simply held the filters up to the lens which wasn’t very satisfactory either. Inevitably the plastic polymer filters became scuffed and scratched – especially as they needed to be held tight against the lens to avoid light leaks – so I started treating them as consumables, chucking away the old damaged ones every few months or so and replacing them with new ones. Yep, that’s how much I hated using the holder.
There have since been numerous attempts to improve on the filter holder concept, some more successfully than others. The key design objectives have to be more secure filter handling, more convenient insertion and positioning of filters in the holder, less problematic accommodation of a polarising filter, minimising vignetting and eliminating light leaks, especially when using multiple filters.
Wine Country Camera’s solutions to all these challenges gets off to a good start by virtue of the company’s name (home is southern California), but it promises to deliver more with “The Holder System Reimagined”.
The WCC holder is indeed an impressive piece of equipment with its large matte-black alloy frame, contoured timber handles and red buttons (all will be revealed shortly).
The big deal is that a circular polarising filter is essentially ‘built into’ the back of the holder which immediately eliminates one potential source of light leaks. It can actually be removed if so desired, but the design integrates the PL filter into the body of the holder so it’s flush-fitting with a much more compact gear assembly for making adjustments. As viewed from behind the camera, the adjustment knob is located at the lower left of the holder and, conveniently, facing you so it’s more comfortable to reach and use. Rotate in whichever direction feels best and it’s quite easy to use when wearing gloves. The knob itself is also timber and apparently this is about more than just aesthetics… it doesn’t get as cold as a metal alloy component when working in low temperature conditions. Likewise, this is the reason for also having wooden handles which are designed to make the holder easier to handle, especially when fitting and detaching from a lens and when wearing gloves. The adaptor rings are also more elaborately machined than is normally the case, with a locating lip around the rim which means that only a single locking screw is needed to keep it securely in place. This also makes the holder much easier to attach or release without accidentally moving the camera as well. WCC calls this the “Do Not Disturb” release, and it’s obviously very beneficial if you’re using very strong ND filters and so need to frame and focus first.
The 100x100 mm ND filters – which carry the Blackstone label – are contained in a frame that’s made from a special, high-density glass epoxy material claimed to be approximately 50 percent lighter than aluminium and also generally more durable. Known as “filter vaults”, these frames make the filter much easier to handle and store, but more importantly create a light-tight fit – on all four sides – in the holder’s dedicated recess at the back of the main frame.
Thus mounted, the filter is also kept completely flat plus there’s no wear and tear on the
A circulAr polArising filter is essentiAlly ‘built into’ the bAck of the holder, which immediAtely eliminAtes one potentiAl source of light leAks.
side edges of the filter glass either. Furthermore, this slot arrangement ensures that the filter can never - ever - just slip out and crash expensively to the ground (and the frames are keyed at the top just in order to make doubly sure). Of course, the vault frames also mean goodbye to finger prints which, in turn, minimises the need for constant cleaning.
The filters themselves are made from optical-quality Schott ultrawhite glass which is extremely flat with a fire-polished surface to eliminate any imperfections which could cause visible distortions. Additionally, a new generation of vapour-deposition coating (VPC) is claimed to be neutral across all spectrums of light (including UV and IR) and also resolves the image with no diffusion effect. WCC says its ND filters are designed to work with “100+ megapixel cameras” without any loss of resolution or sharpness. The Blackstone ND filters are currently available in densities of three, six or ten stops, but you can fit other brands of 100x100 mm glass filters (such as Lee) into the vaults which are available as a separate purchase at $53 locally (the Blackstone filters come with the vault for free). Filter thickness, especially with resin types, is the main issue here. The circular polariser is also made from fire-polished Schott glass.
There are two further slots in the WCC holder which each employs a push-button arrangement that’s designed to lock grads at the desired position. Push the button in to allow the filter to slide freely and then release it to hold the filter in position. The two filters can be positioned independently of each other. Again, the vault frames are keyed at the top so it’s impossible for a grad to simply accidentally slip out of the holder. The Blackstone grad line-up comprises a two-stop ‘Soft Edge’; and twoor three-stop ‘Hard Edge’. These are sized at 100x150 mm and, again, vault holders are available for purchase, at $53 each, to allow other brands of grad filter to be used in the WCC system.
If you’ve been keeping count, you’ll note that the WCC holder can accommodate up to four filters, including the integrated polariser, which should cover most bases for landscape or architectural photographers.
With the ND recessed into frame, even with four filters up, the WCC holder is still quite thin which minimises vignetting and, although it’s still a bit on the bulky side, it actually only weighs 420 grams with the polariser, two filters and adapter ring.
In the field, the first thing that you’ll notice when using the WCC filter holder system is that you’re swearing a lot less. The operational side of things is actually quite enjoyable because it all works comfortably and efficiently… and you don’t have to constantly worry about precious filters getting dirty or, worse, damaged.
It’s not completely perfect – for example, a grad can still move even when supposedly locked in place, but you have to give it a good shove so it’s a lot less likely to happen by accident. And, on our test unit, the adjustment knob for the polarising filter managed to shed two of its three securing screws, becoming very wobbly as a result. One of these screws – and they’re tiny – we managed to recover (the other remains AWOL) which restored some stability. Unrelated, the polariser adjustment is also pretty noisy thanks to the metal-on-metal movement. However, none of this detracts from the otherwise overwhelmingly positive experience which largely effectively addresses all the usual drawbacks and deficiencies of a holder-based filter system.
The ND filters are indeed completely neutral, even the tenstopper and, apart from the visual effects of the longer exposure time, comparisons of the withand-without images show no discernible differences in colour balance. Sharpness and detailing are completely unaffected too, and best of all, there are no issues with light leaks even with strong sunlight flooding across the holder.
Not surprisingly, the Wine Country Camera filter system isn’t cheap, but it isn’t excessively expensive either given the quality of both the holder and the filters plus all the convenience factors. The three- and six-stop ND filters mounted in a vault frame currently cost $249 each and the ten-stopper is another $30. The holder by itself costs $598 which includes the dedicated circular polarising filter. However, a far more cost-effective purchase is the Wine Country Camera filter kit which sells for $1165 and comprises the holder with polariser, a lens adapter ring (available in sizes from 58 mm to 82 mm); the three, six and ten stops ND filters each mounted in a filter vault; a spare 100x100 mm filter vault, a 100x150 mm filter vault, and a custom filter pouch. This represents a good saving overall and makes the system excellent value for money.
While there are plenty of holderbased filter systems on the market, most have all the same design flaws and handling drawbacks. The Wine Country Camera holder is something a bit different, incorporating a number of well-thought-out solutions to the typical problems. These features not only significantly enhance usability in the field, but reduce the risks of damaging or breaking filters which are usually an ever-present danger, especially if you have to work fast in changing light conditions. The much greater ease of use has many other benefits, not the least being that using expensive glass filters becomes a whole lot less stressful and, consequently, the enjoyment factor increases considerably. So, the WCC filter system is not only good for your photography, but for your well-being too!
The Wine Country Camera 100 mm filter system is distributed in Australia by Mainline Photo. www.mainlinephoto.com.au
In the fIeld, the fIrst thIng that you’ll notIce when usIng the wcc fIlter holder system Is that you’re swearIng a lot less.
Handles are actually timber which has been treated to protect against the weather and is also specifically shaped to avoid causing any vignetting. The main advantage of using this material is that it is more comfortable to the hand in very cold conditions than metal.
Good-sized knob for operating the polarising filter is also made from wood. The PL filter sits in its own dedicated recess at the back of the holder which eliminates any light leaks. Red clips secure the polariser in the holder.
Spring-loaded buttons operate stops to hold a graduated filter at a desired position. The two slots can be set independently (central ‘button’ is just for show, but note neat WCC logo).
Filters are mounted in frames called “vaults” which make for much easier handling (no more finger prints) and also prevent light leaks. The gold ‘coin’ at the top swivels to lock the filter into the vault. Other brands of 100 mm glass filters can be fitted to the vaults.
Only this gold-coloured screw lock is need to hold the lens adapter ring in place. The design of these rings enables what WCC calls a “Do Not Disturb” release which avoids accidentally moving the camera as well.