Haida Filter System: In-Depth Review

In Gear by Frank Gallagher

The Haida filter system gives photographers one more choice in the competitive photography filter market.  The company makes the standard screw-on filters as well as square and rectangular drop in filters.  However, Haida is one of the few that make the large 150mm square and rectangular filters and a filter holder that will work with bulbous lenses like the Tamron and Pentax 15- 30 f2.8 and Nikon 14-24 f2.8.  But are Haida filters and holders any good?  Are they a viable choice for photographers on a budget?

In this article, I’ll attempt to answer those questions.  I’ll evaluate Haida filters on three criteria:  cost, performance and on the system (do they have the right sizes and types of filters and a good build quality in the filters and filter holders).

Haida is a Chinese company started in 2007 that specializes in optical glass filters for photography and other uses.  They make UV, polarizer and ND and graduated ND photographic filters that cover most popular screw-on sizes, from 46 mm to 127 mm.  Haida’s square and rectangular filters are available in 83 mm, 100 mm and 150 mm sizes, along with the matching filter holders.

If you’re not familiar with ND filters and the roles they play in photography, check out this ND filter 101 article.

COST

For photographers suffering from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), equipment that delivers great performance for a reasonable price is a real winner.  Haida filters are relatively inexpensive—not the most expensive, nor the cheapest.

For example, in a recent price check on Amazon, I found a wide variety of screw-on 67mm 10 stop ND filters at widely varying price points.  At the higher end, a Breakthrough Photography filter was $169, and a B+W was $120. Haida’s version came in at $59, while you could score an Ice filter at $28 or a ZOMEi filter at $35.

Like several other Improve Photography’s writers and hosts, I have and love the Tamron 15-30 mm f2.8 lens.  However, the front element is a big, convex piece of glass, making screw-on filters impossible to use.  The same is true of the Nikon 14-24 mm f2.8 and the new Pentax 15-30 mm f2.8, and a few other lenses.  As many photographers regularly use polarizers or neutral density (ND) filters in the field, the limited choice of filters and filter holders for this lens has been a frustration.

Haida is one of a small number of companies making rectangular filters and holders in the 150 mm size that fit these lenses in addition to the more common 100 mm filters.  Here they’re mainly competing for your dollars against Lee, NiSi, Cokin and Formatt Hitech filters.  Breakthrough Photography, a favorite of Improve Photography writers, is about to enter the square and rectangular ND filter market with 100 mm and 150 mm filters and a 100 mm (but not a 150 mm) filter holder.

Looking at prices for 150 mm 10 stop ND filters and filter holders, my recent price check on Amazon showed that Haida was, again, competitive.

Formatt Hitech Firecrest 10 stop ND$255Lee Mark II 150 mm filter holder$200
VuSion 10 stop ND$255NiSi 150 mm filter holder
$170
Haida Nano Pro 10 stop ND$179Haida 150 mm filter holder
$125
Lee Big Stopper 10 stop ND$175SIDTI 150 mm filter holder
$30
Haida 10 stop ND$129
Ice 10 stop ND$89

FILTER PERFORMANCE

So, the price is reasonable but how does Haida perform?

It seems like everyone has an opinion on the best ND or polarizer filters.  Many in the Improve Photography community love Breakthrough Photography’s filters.  They are thoughtfully designed, well crafted, high quality, color neutral gems.  Lee filters have a well-deserved reputation for quality, but have a slightly blue color cast.  And there are other good filter choices.  If you want a better idea of the range of clarity and color casts of ND filters, Mark Morris posted a detailed review of 30 of the leading types.

I set out to get a sense of Haida’s comparative value by testing their polarizer and 10 stop ND filter for image quality (does it degrade the sharpness of the image) and color cast.  For this test, I set up to photograph a building that had lots of architectural details and some signage.  The building was roughly 1,000 feet away on a sunny day.  I set my camera (Nikon D750) up on a stable tripod.  I shot all the test images with my Tamron 24-70 mm f2.8 lens, so I could include screw-on Breakthrough Photography filters.  All settings were the same for all polarizer shots and for all ND filter shots and no post processing was applied.

Because Breakthrough Photography filters came out highest in Mark Morris’ testing and in my own experience, I wanted to use their filters as a reference against which I could measure the Haidas.  I first tested Breakthrough Photography’s circular polarizer against Haida’s 150 mm square polarizer.  Then I tested Breakthrough Photography’s 10-stop ND filter against Haida’s 10-stop ND and against Formatt Hitech’s Firecrest 10-stop ND, which I’ve also used and liked.

The first thing you notice is that the Haida polarizer (on the right) has a warm color cast, which is quite noticeable compared to the Breakthrough filter.  Hmmm, good polarizers don’t usually have a color cast.  This warm cast can be removed in post processing but, in some cases, the warm tones might be welcome, for example at sunrise or sunset or to warm up a shadowy scene.  Some photographers buy expensive warming polarizers as they like that warm look so much.  So, the color cast isn’t a deal breaker.

Next compare the clarity of the two filters.  Looking at the upper corner of the building, where a banner hangs, examine carefully the lettering, the balcony railings and details on the building.  The image from the Breakthrough Photography polarizer is slightly sharper.  The lettering is a bit crisper and the details of the balconies and bricks are a touch more defined.  However, the Haida yields very good image quality.

Now let’s look at the 10 stop ND filters.  In the first image, the Breakthrough Photography filter is on the left, the Haida in the center and the Formatt Hitech on the right.

None of the filters has a pronounced color cast, though there are very slight differences between them.  The Haida is very slightly on the warm side and the Formatt Hitech leans slightly toward the cool.  Any one of these is quite acceptable.

When we zoom in and evaluate sharpness and check for crisp, clear details, the Breakthrough Photography filter has a slight advantage, but the Haida and Formatt Hitech are very close and deliver a high-quality image.

In the image below, I compared an unfiltered shot of a creek (left) with a shot using the Haida filter (center) and a Lee Big Stopper (right).  Absent the warm cast to the Haida and the cool cast to the Lee, the sharpness of the details on each was very, very close.

My testing leads me to the conclusion that the Haida ND filters deliver a high-quality image with minimal loss of sharpness and a very manageable color shift.  I have not used their graduated ND filters as I typically blend exposures instead, but everything I’ve read leads me to expect them to be of equal quality.

My experience with the Haida polarizer and its warm color cast keeps me from giving it a high recommendation.  It is certainly good enough if you’re on a budget and don’t mind spending a little time correcting the color in post processing.  For circular polarizers, there are many choices of quality brands.  If you want a 150 mm polarizer for removing reflections in a very wide angle shot of a creek, for example, this one is quite acceptable.

You can get the best of both worlds if you are using the 100 mm filter holder.  Haida cleverly included threads on the front of the filter holder adapter that will accommodate an 86 mm circular polarizer.  So, you can use your favorite brand of polarizer with this set up.

GLASS, RINGS AND FILTER HOLDERS

Haida uses high-quality optical glass in its filters and does not offer any resin filters.  The screw on filters are encased in an aluminum ring that seems reasonably sturdy but is a step below that of Breakthrough Photography or B + W.  Haida’s newer filters have a nano coating that protects against scratches.  I’ve seen little to no vignetting and they handle flare quite well.  If you start stacking filters, the vignetting will rapidly become apparent at wide angles.

Haida’s 100 and 150 mm filter holders are similar to those of Lee, Formatt Hitech and work the same way.  They are compatible with the filters of these and other brands, so you can mix and match.  Each brand has their own way of securing the filter holder to the adaptor ring that connects the lens to the holder.  Haida’s 100 mm holder uses a clamping pin that’s located in the top corner of the holder and is easy to operate.  The 150 mm holders have a clever way of attaching to the lens.  A collar goes on the lens barrel under the hood.  It screws on to a ring that connects within the petals of the hood and that attaches to the holder.  The one down side is that you have to have the lens off the camera to slide to ring up the lens barrel.  The 100 mm ND filters come with a foam gasket to prevent light leak.  The 150 mm ND filters do not have a gasket, but seat quite firmly in the filter holder and don’t seem to need it.

These filter holders are also made of aluminum but appear sturdy and durable.  They come with three filter slots installedand the parts to add two more.  Using the 100 mm holder and shooting wide angle compositions, you will encounter some vignetting.  The Haida filter holder had less than my Formatt Hitech filter holder, but it was still noticeable.  With the 150 mm holder, I’ve seen almost no vignetting at all, even shooting at 15 mm.  However, using the extra filter holder parts will begin to introduce vignetting.

Haida offers a nice pouch that holds the filter holder assembly as well as six 100 or 150 mm filters.  IF you haven’t used 100 or 150 mm filter holders before, beware:  these are big and bulky!  While you might be able to get the 100 mm in a photo backpack with your other gear, it takes up a fair amount of room (roughly 4 by 4 ¼ by ¾ inches).  The 150 mm is a beast at 6 by 6 ½ by 1 ½ and, absent a very large backpack, really does require a separate padded storage system.  Here are the two sizes, side by side.

THE VERDICT

I am impressed!  Haida has a lineup of reasonably priced, quality filters and holders that are a good by for the budget-conscious photographer.  They are well made and perform just fine.  While a pro may not be tempted to ditch his Singh Ray or her B + W filters, Haida offers a fine option to many of the rest of us.

 


About the Author

Frank Gallagher

Frank Gallagher is a full-time photographer who lives in the Washington, DC area, specializing in working with nonprofit organizations. In addition to writing about photography, he is one of the leaders of the DC-area NANPA Nature Photography Meetup group and manages the NANPA blog, as well as edits their annual Expressions magazine. He enjoys landscape and wildlife photography, travel and spending time with his wife exploring new places and rediscovering old ones.