For those that own one, there is no wide angle substitute for the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8. Its edge to edge sharpness, minimal distortion and consistency at all apertures and focal lengths make it a sought after item, even by owners of Canon’s and other makes. Sure the 16-35mm f4 is the practical choice, it’s lighter, cheaper and accepts filters, but its lack of consistent production quality and heinous distortion ruled it out for my needs. The obvious downside of the 14-24 is the bulbous front element that prevents the use of standard filters. By popular demand, Lee filters released the SW-150 filter kit specifically for this lens and now that I’ve had a chance to test it thoroughly, I’d like to share a few thoughts.
First off, my primary use for the filter kit is shooting seascapes and landscapes with the goal of balancing exposure through graduated filters and extending exposure times slightly via solid neutral density filters. It’s important to note that the SW-150 does not have a Big Stopper (10 stop ND filter) available for it, with a 3 stop ND being the highest density currently (and likely ever) available. Given that the shutter can only be slowed by at most 3 stops, the SW-150′s usefulness for architecture shots is rather limited so landscapes are the only real application for it. It’s also important to note that the selection of 150mm filters is far more limited than the standard 100mm ones, with Lee and Hi-Tech being the only manufacturers that sell them at a consumer level. The Lee Filters are offered only in resin with no glass options available.
Having shot a few days worth of seascapes with the filter attached I can say that it’s a mixture of good and bad. While the filters (3 stop ND and 2 stop hard ND grad) themselves resulted in good image quality with minimal color cast, the design is far from ideal. Installation of the filter holder requires that the lens be taken off the camera so it’s highly advisable that you attach it prior to leaving home and cover the lens with the provided soft cover so that you don’t risk getting sand on your sensor or lens. The size of the holder and filters also makes it a pain to lug around as the holders shape makes it awkward to fit into most camera bags. One a positive note, it has to be said that the holder is built like a tank and matches well with the build quality of the lens that it sits on. All inconvenience aside, once the camera is tripod mounted and the filters are on, they operate in the same manner as their 100mm counterparts. You can slide up and down and rotate 360, no surprises.
The biggest problem comes in the form of corner lens flare when the light is coming from an incident angle. The flare can vary from moderate to extreme and is an absolute nightmare to edit out in post. Lee filters provides some plastic panels that mount to the back of the holder to counter the effect but it fails to eliminate it completely. In fact, without the plastic panels the holder is useless under most conditions so expect to always have them on. The problem is further exacerbated when two filters are used (the max is 2 on the SW-150). Two helpful remedies are finding a strategic position for your hand to block some of the light as well as draping a bit of black fabric on the top and sides of the filters. This still does not eliminate the problem entirely, and given the near 110 degree field of view at 14mm, can be difficult to do. Shooting with the light straight on proved to be fine and of course shooting during blue hour or just before sunset caused no problems.
Given the ease with which light can enter the lens, it is clear why no Big Stopper option is available, with 3 stops likely being the maximum that can you can practically extract from it, so don’t expect to use the kit for super long exposure work. Overall the kit does what it does relatively well given the design challenges provided, but do plan your use according to its limitations should you pick one up. When possible I prefer to use bracketing – provided I don’t need the extra 3 stops of light reduction – and merge the various exposures in post to avoid the risk of flare and benefit from the increased ease of use.