Some people love filters. I personally really like neutral density filters and I know there are those who swear by UV filters. For those of us who love these little glass lens enhancers, we have to separate from that love when we use ultra wide-angle lenses. That is, we used to. Not anymore thanks to Fotodiox’s Wonderpana system which is designed to give us the freedom to use those filters even on convex front elements.
When I first saw this enormous apparatus attached to the front of a camera, I thought it looked rather comical honestly. It just looks absurdly huge. However, after using it for a few weeks I have to say, it’s worth it.
As cool as this device is, I did have a hard time figuring out how to assemble it. Fotodiox doesn’t have any available online videos or instruction manuals showing how to put it together (and I also asked the fine folks at Fotodiox, so I know I covered all the bases). I was really afraid to try and force certain things (even though you are supposed to) because I didn’t want to break it. The cost of the product made me a bit hesitant to try certain things. Between me and some friends at BorrowLenses, we were able to figure it out. Fotodiox makes a few different versions of the Wonderpana for a specific line of lenses from the major players. I used it on the Canon 14mm f/2.8 L II on a Canon 1D X. You have to make sure you buy the Wonderpana for the lens you have, because there is no interchanging the pieces. The Wonderpana main piece fits perfectly onto the lens it was made for. Then there is a red circular tightening screw that fits under the lens and screws on to the bottom of the Wonderpana. Screw that on, and it’s ready to accept filters.
Though you have the option of using a UV or a polarizing filter, my favorites were the neutral density filters. They offer them in three strengths: ND 8, ND 16 and ND 32. Besides being great for regulating natural light and giving you more options for depth of field in brighter light, they are also a lot of fun for longer exposure situations. I stacked the ND 16 on top of the ND 32 for some long exposures during the day for some wicked results. Just keep in mind, when you stack the filters you will get a bit of the filters showing on the edges of the frame; the lenses are so wide, this was bound to happen. I did have to crop some of my images to remove those edges.
Here are some photos I shot with the ND filters attached. The long exposures made the crowded scenes appear deserted, which is ideal for architecture. I want anyone viewing the photos to focus on the buildings, not on any distracting people.
Now, what if you want to balance the brightness of the sky with the nearly-always-darker ground? That’s where the Wonderpana “ears” and gradiated neutral density plate come into play. Figuring out how to attach the “ears” was yet another challenge, but once you get them on you can use the very large plates to darken the skies and keep the ground exposed where you want it. It rocks, and is really helpful for landscapes.
The setup is not something you can easily hide and you're likely to attract some attention, but the results you can achieve are worth it.
Using the Wonderpana is not what I would call easy or portable, but it’s by no means the worst thing I’ve ever carried around with me. I often kept the filter attached to my lens, so if you do the same you will have to remember to pad your camera bag. You can’t put any lens cap on these and therefore the risk of scratching the filters is pretty high. The filters aren’t cheap, so you will want to treat them with care. If you are traveling long distances, I recommend dismantling the whole apparatus and keeping the pieces in the pouches that Fotodiox includes with the Wonderpana. It takes a few minutes to put back together, but it is worth it to keep your investment damage-free. All that aside, I feel like the price point is neither a positive nor a negative. I think Fotodiox did a really good job pricing the Wonderpana and I didn’t cringe away nor think it was a bargain. $250 will get you started, and for just under $500 you can get just about everything.
What I liked:
The product works!
What could use improvement:
Needs instruction manual/online video or tutorial
I love wide-angle lenses, and the Wonderpana allows you to have the options with filters that were previously unavailable. I had a blast shooting with it, and the results I achieved are some of the best landscapes and architectural photos I’ve taken thus far. I will continue to use the Wonderpana often, and in a studio crowded with gear I rarely touch that means something. If you have a wide-angle lens you want to try this out with, see if Fotodiox has one for your favorite wide angle. They have the Wonderpana system for Nikon, Canon, Tokina, Sigma, Panasonic, Olympus, Samyang and others. In all likelihood, you can pick up the Wonderpana for whatever ultra wide lens you might have.
With hundreds and hundreds of products coming out every year, we are unquestionably surrounded by mediocrity. I'm happy to say that the Wonderpana system does not fall into that category. It's a great product that was a joy to use and one that I will continue to have at the ready.