Early on in my career, I was quite reluctant to use any kind of filter system. I was under the impression that any filter effects could be achieved by utilizing a few techniques such as mean stacking. I've changed my mind since then and I now regularly use filters for my work. The issue is they can be a hassle, however, a company called Alter may have a solution.
The Alter Rapid Filter System is a device that seems simple enough. It's essentially a circular filter holder that allows you to quickly apply or remove any filters from the front of your lens. As far as I'm aware, currently all circular filters attach to the front of the lens by using the threads. This threaded system works well enough for most photographers and videographers and has served many for decades. The issue is that it prevents you from being able to quickly change or remove filters from the front of the lens. If you're shooting with ambient light and you're finding that the conditions are changing frequently, it can be a little bit of a pain to have to constantly remove and apply filters to your lens. This is especially true if you're filming because it's not always practical to change your shutter speed to accommodate any changes in the ambient light. For video, you probably want to keep your shutter speed and aperture consistent to achieve a certain look.
Build and Design
The build quality is pretty good for the most part. It has a very similar feel to most step-up rings that I've used which is not a bad thing but I feel like it could have been better. I'm probably being unfair for expecting it to have better build quality than what you'd expect from most step-up rings but I can't seem to shake the feeling. I feel like they should have made this holder a little denser possibly from brass and I say this for a couple of reasons. Firstly it allows you better purchase in the hand which would have made it easier to attach to the front of the lens. Presently it's a little finicky when you try to apply to your lens. Secondly, had it has been a little denser then the thinner sections of the holder would be less at risk of warping or bending over time.
The reason I think I'm being unfair in this criticism is because of the price point; I believe it's great value for money if it's something you want. I think if they offered a standard version for the current $79.00 asking price and a more premium brass option for slightly more then that would have been ideal. Even still, the current model is really well made and although I've focussed quite heavily on this point so far, it's a minor issue at best.
The holder seals really well when closed on the front of the lens and the magnets ensure that the holder doesn't slip out of place or open accidentally. The hinge also feels really strong and well made and again helps to prevent any openings when attached to the front. This is extremely useful because this can prevent any unwanted light leaks. Overall I'd say this is a really well-made product that's been designed properly and really does work.
Why This is Great
For many run and gun video shooters, speed is extremely important. A lot of the times you may be shooting in situations where the light might change quite drastically. I've had occasions where we will be shooting indoors for certain segments and then have to quickly rush out for a few clips. The difference in the ambient light means that I'd be bumping up the ISO indoors whereas I'd need an ND filter when I'm shooting outdoors. The RFS is great because you can quickly engage and disengage any ND filters attached to the front of your lens without having to mess about with attaching and removing it. I personally prefer to use a variable ND filter like the 1.5-5x ND filter from NiSi. this allows me to combat the changing light really effectively along with the RFS. Disengaging the filter is also super easy and barely an inconvenience. there are no clips or anything that fixes it in place so you literally just have to lift it out of the way using the lever. I've also not had any instances where the lever slipped or causes the filter move. In essence, the design and the way it works is actually really good. For the price, I think it's a brilliant little device to help speed things up for you when you're shooting in demanding scenarios.
Why This isn't Great
Although I really like this product there are some who describe this as a solution looking for a problem. I don't completely agree with that sentiment but it does have some semblance of truth to it. The question is, how much time will this actually save and how pressed are you for time. Honestly, I've never been in a situation where spending less than a minute to change ND filters has caused me to miss anything. Filter threads don't take that much time to handle and based on that I'd ask whether it's worth spending that bit of money regardless of how well priced I think it is. Don't get me wrong, I do like the fact that you can quickly engage a filter when required because it keeps you in the flow of things and you're not stopping in the middle of a shoot. The issue is that most of the videos I'm shooting now are with a camera on a gimbal.
Having this on the front of the lens really can really throw the balance out of wack when you move it in different positions. When you have the filter engaged then you have to balance the gimbal a certain way and when you have it disengaged then the gimbal can be a little off when it comes to balance. If you're shooting regularly on a gimbal then this is probably not the best thing to use if you're looking to save some time. Also, this product has very little to no appeal for photographers. As a photographer, I wouldn't use circular ND filters; I'd much rather use a proper full square filter system like the one from Wine Country. Also, I'm not really concerned about saving a couple of minutes when shooting architecture of any landscape. I'm normally on a tripod and I prefer to take my time with the shots anyway. Ultimately, I'd say this is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to how useful it actually is.
What I Liked
- The price point is very reasonable.
- Build and design is very effective.
- Does save time while filming.
- Keeps you in the flow of things when working in situations where the light is changing quickly.
What I Didn't Like
- I would have preferred a more premium option along with the current standard version but this is a minor point.
- Not really ideal if you're shooting with a gimbal.
- Almost impractical for photographers.
- The initial setup is quite finicky.
I actually really like this product and I think it will probably come in handy for many videographers who are shooting with relatively smaller setups. The few minor things that I dislike about the RFS don't really take away from the overall product. It does however heavily depend on how you shoot and for that reason, I think the RFS is an extremely niche product.