For many landscape and architectural photographers, a good filter system can be an absolute godsend. The kind of results you can produce are very difficult if not at all possible without them and it's for this reason they are ever more popular. Wine Country Camera is a company that specializes in making filters and their system looks pretty special.
Design and Usability
When it comes to design, Wine Country definitely have the best-looking filter system on the market. The red wooden handles on black metal look great and the gold pin really adds to the aesthetics. Even the filters look fantastic, the vault system with the gold coin looks stunning. There isn't another filter system on the market that looks as good as Wine Country. What's even more amazing is the fact that they're priced well within the average when it comes to high-end filter systems. In-fact Wine Country are actually cheaper than some of their competitors.
Now to many photographers, the aesthetics of a product may not be as important as the practicalities. Personally, I would have to agree, I believe that usability always wins over looks when it comes to photography equipment. I'm happy to say Wine Country does not disappoint in this regard. Everything about the holder system has been developed with the photographer in mind. The large wooden handles and the vault system make handling both the filters and the holder extremely easy. The vault system truly is an exceptional bit of design, the risk of dropping your filters is minimized dramatically because you're not holding the glass from the edges. The polarizing filter connects directly into the holder and the large wooden cog allows you to control where the effect is applied. This is a fantastic feature because it allows you to adjust the polarizer without having to remove any of the ND filters you have in the holder. The downside of this method is that the polarizer can't be used independently without the holder, although, this isn't a major issue.
The holder itself will connect to your lens via an adapter ring. This adapter ring is really well made and has a reassuring weight to that feels like quality. The gold pin is used to lock the holder onto the adapter ring and it does feel very secure. The only issue with this method is that over time you may notice marks appear on the adapter rings from the gold pin. The holder itself can accommodate three filters plus the polarizing filter which is probably going to be more than enough for most photographers. The most I've ever used so far are two filters together with a polarizer. The buttons on the front of the holder offer a kind of locking mechanism which means filters can't drop out from the bottom without making it difficult to remove filters from the top.
One of my favorite features with this holder system is the ability to quickly lift the ND filter so you can see through the viewfinder. This is very useful for checking your composition and focus and it limits the amount of movement caused by your camera.
The other thing I really like about these filters is the vault system they use. This creates a very tight seal on the holder preventing any light leaks. Even when shooting in harsh sunlight I haven't been able to find a single image that has light leaks.
The only issue I've found so far with the holder is that will slide out very quickly from the top if you tip them or place them down at an angle. On occasions when packing my equipment back into my bag after a shoot I tend to place my filters on my bag whilst I'm taking down my camera and lens. It's in these types of situations where there's a risk that you might accidentally tip the holder and the filters will fall out. Fortunately, this hasn't happened to me yet and a little extra care can prevent that.
The Master Kit filter set also comes with a case for the holder and a pouch for the filters. I really like the fact that both the pouch and case are relatively small and very easy to carry. The hard case does protect the holder very well however the soft pouch for the glass filters does leave me feeling a little nervous at times. Also, both cases don't have much space left for adapter rings, therefore they need to be transported separately.
For many photographers, the two things that matter the most when it comes to filters are sharpness and colors. Most if not all filters on the market today will suffer from some loss of detail and some color shifts, some are better than others and Wine Country definitely one of the better ones. The two images below have been shot with the Canon 5DSR, and TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II. The 24mm tilt shift from Canon is known for its exceptional performance and the 5DSR is incredible when it comes to detail. Even with this level of resolution, the Wine Country filters do not demonstrate any loss in detail. The images remain super sharp throughout the frame. What's more surprising to me is that even with multiple filters on the holder I cannot see any loss in detail. The filters used in the images are the Wine Country Camera 100 x 100mm 10 stop filter and the Drop-in Circular Polarizer Filter.
When it comes to colors there is a slight warm shift, although the majority of this seems to be coming from the polarizing effect on the image. The reason I say this is because in more controlled tests the actual shifts in color from the ND filters were minimal and required a very close look to see it. All of the images were shot with the same white balance to prevent any issues.
The images above were also shot in harsh sunlight, this was intentional as I wanted to test if any light leaks could be produced. Even with the sun at a sharp angle to the right of the camera, there are no visible light leaks or loss in contrast.
In direct sunlight, however, you may see a little flaring and also a slight loss in contrast. The image below was shot with the polarizer, the 10 stop filter and also 100 x 150mm Blackstone Soft-Edge Graduated filter. It seems the gaps between the filters may be causing some internal reflections and that's why we're seeing the slight loss in contrast.
It's important to note that when using a single ND filter with a polarizer these issues are pretty much non-existent.
As a bonus, I conducted some controlled tests on these filters to see how well they perform. Using controlled lighting I photographed the X-Rite Digital ColorChecker SG with the Canon 5DSR and the ZEISS 135mm f/2 Apo. This is an exaggeration because there aren't many lenses that perform as well as the Zeiss 135mm and also, as you have already seen in the images above, real-world use demonstrates zero loss in detail.
In the first comparison above only include the 10 stop filter without a polarizer. You may be able to notice a very slight magenta shift in the colors but even then it's very minor. Once you correct the white balance using one of the grey patches on the color checker you'll notice that the difference is only 135K and +1.4 on the tint.
When it comes to sharpness, the loss in detail is minor at best. It's important to note that these tests are not perfect and other variables may be affecting the outcome too. In any case, the Wine Country Filters perform at a very high level.
What I Liked
- Usability, these are hands down the best when it comes to usability.
- Minimal to zero loss in detail.
- A beautifully crafted filter system.
- The most color neutral filters I've used.
- Fantastic value for money.
What I Didn't Like
- The holder system is a little bulky.
- No space to carry adapter rings in the case or pouch.
- Noticeably heavier than some of the other filter systems I've used.
As someone who now has a number of filter systems from various manufacturers, I have to say Wine Country is definitely the best I've ever used. The detail and sharpness are incredible and the colors are the most neutral I've seen. It's clear how focused this system is towards the photographer's needs and there aren't any compromises. The few minor issues really don't detract much from the overall performance and user experience. I'm properly impressed with how well these filters perform, if you're looking for the absolute best filter then I would strongly recommend Wine Country.
Finally, if you're interested, you're welcome to download the raw files, they include more images from the controlled tests that were conducted.