An Experience in Wine Country

An Experience in Wine Country

NOTE #1: If you’d like to see a video I did comparing four different filter systems (and why I chose one), click here.

Note #2: I receive no support from any of these companies.

I am an unabashed filter user. Yes, I know that many photographers today swear by post-processing to cure some of the ills that light poses. But there are some things that post-processing cannot achieve, even today. And the things it can do well, I believe, can be done better using filters.

The Need for Filters

I’m going to address the only three filter types that I use; polarizing, neutral density (ND) and graduated neutral density (GND). I’ll state at the outset that my need for GND filters has been cut literally in half over the past two years due to my use of the FujiFilm GFX medium format system, where I have a very reliable 14-15 stops of dynamic range. That means I can expose for the highlights and still recover shadows very nicely. But there are situations where I still need my GND filters.

GND filters are designed to balance exposure, such as toning down a very bright sky enough to allow the dynamic range of your sensor to record a properly exposed image.

ND filters allow you to do three things; slow down water to get that silky effect, show movement in clouds, and remove crowds of people from architectural images (I once did this in New York City’s Grand Central Station!). By reducing all light hitting the sensor it gives you longer exposures which achieve these results.

Finally, a polarizer allows you to get clouds to pop, removes (or adds) reflections to water scenes, and improves forest images after a rainfall, especially in autumn where it makes fall colors come alive.

Problems With Filters

For the past several decades I have been using Lee and Singh-Ray filters virtually every day when I’m on assignment. They have given me good results until the advent of high megapixel sensors and ultra-sharp lenses. In recent years I have had a real issue with these filters causing irreversible colorcast, especially magenta, in my images. This is due to the fact that today’s sensors pick up Infrared and Ultraviolet rays, which legacy filters cannot fully compensate for. Some filter makers are beginning to produce filters that deal with this, but results vary.

Another major issue is that these polycarbonate filters (also glass ones) scratch and scuff so easily. I literally go through at least six of them every year, at a cost of $200-250 each. The glass filters can not only scratch, but can smash to smitherenes. I had two crumble in my filter bag to the tune of $250 each. I had a specialty one produced by Singh-Ray smash to the tune of $400.

So, due to Covid 19 I had time to finally research solutions to my filter system issues. I was not optimistic going into the search, but I came out with a real winner: Wine Country Camera filters.

A Rare Find: Wine Country Camera Filters

Okay, I’m in love! This is the filter system that I’ve wanted for ages, a complete, thoughtful, precisely engineered system that meets ALL my filter needs. I’ve been using it almost daily since I purchased it and it works perfectly for me. I know I sound like an advertisement, but trust me when I say I have no financial connection with any filter company. I’m just trying to help my viewers and clients benefit from my research and experience.

First of all, let’s talk construction. If the Singh-Ray or Cokin filter systems are the Chevrolet of systems, and the Lee system the Cadillac, then Wine Country Camera’s is the Rolls Royce (okay, maybe Mercedes). The all-metal construction is enhanced by rosewood handles that are gorgeous to look at, easy to hold, and a blessing in cold weather.

Setup couldn’t be simpler. Just attach the adapter ring that’s the right size for your lens, mount the holder with a slight turn of the brass screw, and you’re ready to dominate those pesky, rebellious, protesting light rays (oops, I’m off on a tangent…)!

Next, are you ready for this?, the holder has a built-in polarizer!! That’s right, built in and you can pop it out in less than two seconds if you don’t need it.

Even better, the polarizer is controlled by that little rosewood geared wheel (see image), so you don’t have to put your hand in front of the filter to adjust. In probably 50 uses so far I have yet to get a fingerprint on the polarizer.

Wait, there’s even more. Let’s say you have determined the proper exposure without any filters and now you want to add a 10-stop ND filter. You can add or remove the ND filters without changing composition or endangering focus. The filters slide up out of the way while still in the slide ready to use. Plus, each filter is made of the highest quality Polished Schott Ultra White glass which is 100% neutral and tested on a 150MP Phase One camera system so we are assured of no color cast.

All filters are encased in a lightweight metal frame, which protects against fingerprints and scratches. What a money saver, at least for me.

The filters are independently adjustable. I love the fact that there are two easily accessible red buttons on the front, each controlling one of the filter slides. You press in the button to adjust and when you let go that filter stays rock solid in place. No more filter creep. No more scratches along the rails. No more fingerprints, because you grab the filters by the frame, which has been so perfectly engineered that they all have a small tabs that you grab them by.

The slides are completely light tight due to the frames, which Wine Country calls “vaults”. I’ve done some 8-minute exposures using the Wine Country system and not a speck of light leaks anywhere. By the way, I love the term vaults. It’s sorta like, “You aren’t spending money on this system, you’re making an investment. And, you can place your investment in vaults!” From now on I’m going to call the frames that I sell my prints in vaults. “Invest in a Les Picker fine art print and it comes in a vault.”

The Cost… er, investment

Anyway, speaking of investments, what does this system cost? Surprisingly, I think the cost is quite reasonable, especially when compared to other systems out there. While filters and the vaults can be purchased separately as needed, the best way to go, in my opinion, is to purchase one of the several packages they offer, with prices ranging from $300USD to $1,100. Individual filters run about $225 to $275 and that includes the metal vault. BTW, the higher filter cost is for their mammoth filters designed for extreme wide-angle lenses, like the Nikon 14-24.

I’m a serious convert to Wine Country Camera. This system rocks and I look forward to many years of use, because I want my investment to be profitable and pay dividends and appreciate in my vault… okay, enough. I’m outa here!