Filters, Filter holders, and Vignetting...

Filters, Filter holders, and Vignetting…

by Lee Duguid, July 3, 2009
LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY | tips | Filters, Filter holders, and Vignetting…

I’m writing this purely out of frustration. I’ve spent many an hour on the net researching definitive answers trying to build the best filter kit. I haven’t found anything specific to my setup so here it is for anyone else looking.

Neutral Density Graduated Filters

Ok, so I have a Canon 5D, I mostly shoot with the Canon 17-40mm L Series lens and as you may have figured I mostly shoot landscapes. Bracketing exposures is a good option (one for the sky and one for the foreground) but I still prefer the getting it right ‘in camera’ approach so I like to use filters. We are all after dynamic range so they really are a must…I’m still not convinced by HDR software.

What brand of filters should I buy? Are they truly neutral or do they give a colour cast?

Let’s start with filters and colour cast. Cokin P Series filters give a pink colour cast and should be avoided like the plague. I’m sure it’s the same with the other Cokin series filter but after my experience with the P filters I’m not going to bother trying. What about more expensive filters such as Lee or Singh Ray? Being of Scottish blood I opted to purchase mid range filters made by HiTech (aka Formatt). For the most part I’ve had an ok experience with them, they still have a colour cast but are definitely a vast improvement on the Cokins. However, when I use the 3 stop ND filters I get lines across the entire image which are very noticeable in the shadows. The images are unusable as you can see:

HiTech 3 stop ND filter
HiTech 3 stop ND filter

I learned the hard way and had to throw out a handful of images.


As far as Lee or Singh Ray filters I’ll let my fellow photographer Brent explain this one. For the tech heads click here. It would seem that regardless of the cost no filter is truly neutral (does that constitute as false advertising?) and of all the brands Lee are the most neutral. I wonder if there is a difference in the optical quality, Anyone? I will definitely be upgrading to Lee filters in the future and be profiling each combination as Brent has done.

Filter Holder

OK now for filter holders. After dropping my Z164 down a waterfall I decided to buy the correct Z Series holder. Playing with it the other night I noticed a big dirty vignette (arrg!). I decided to investigate further.

I setup the 5D with my Canon 17-40mm L series glass to test both the Cokin Z Series and Lee filter holders. Remember the 5D is full frame, the following is not true for cropped sensor cameras.

17mm F4
F4, 17mm no filter holder

17mm F4 Cokin Z reversed
F4, 17mm Cokin Z Series filter holder reversed, 77mm adaptor ring

17mm F4 Cokin Z 2 slot
F4, 17mm Cokin Z Series filter holder with 2 slots, 77mm adaptor ring

17mm F4 Lee 3 slot
F4, 17mm Lee filter holder with 3 slots, wide angle 77mm adaptor ring

17mm F16
F16, 17mm no filter holder

17mm F16 Cokin Z reversed
F16, 17mm Cokin Z Series filter holder reversed, 77mm adaptor ring

17mm F16 Cokin Z 2 slot
F16, 17mm Cokin Z Series filter holder with 2 slots, 77mm adaptor ring

17mm F16 Lee 3 slot
F16, 17mm Lee filter holder with 3 slots, wide angle 77mm adaptor ring

From the above test you’ll notice little or no difference between the holders. The major difference is between the apertures. What I didn’t realise in my initial tests was that what I was actually seeing was lens drop off. That is the outer corners of the frame receive less light than the centre causing what seems to be a vignette.

Circular Polarizing Filter

Yes I know using a Circular polarizer on a wide angle lens will give you inconsistent polarization across the sky, and no it doesn’t look good…but what if you want to use one and not include the sky? or just cut down reflections in one part of the frame? Will it vignette? Should I splash out on the Lee 105mm CPL ($500AU – $600AU including adaptor ring)? Or what about Cokins Z164? Which filter holder should I go with?

Well I would say go like brand with like brand, whilst the Z164 does slide into the Lee holder, it isn’t a tight enough fit to keep it in place. I think it’s definitely wise to go for the drop-in filter rather than a screw in and then mount the holder on that. The CPL can be used on any size lens with the correct adapter ring and you can spin the grads independently.

Will it vignette? Here is the Cokin setup:

17mm F4 Cokin Z reversed CPL
F4, 17mm Cokin Z Series filter holder reversed with Z164 Circular Polarizing filter, 77mm adapter ring

17mm F16 Cokin Z reversed CPL
F16, 17mm Cokin Z Series filter holder reversed with Z164 Circular Polarizing filter, 77mm adapter ring

Yes it will and it will even encroach on the frame, not quite as easy to fix in post.


As expected the aperture makes a big difference, as I’m shooting landscapes I generally use F16 which makes for a vast improvement. I’m thinking I should have just splashed the cash and got the Lee circular polarizing filter. I’m sure it still vignettes but probably not as bad, I’ll post the results when I find out.

Please feel free to ask questions, post your thoughts, correct me if I’m wrong and maybe together we can put this one to rest! So far my thoughts on the ultimate setup are Lee all the way…that’s right, Lee endorses Lee.

UPDATE: Have Lee got the solution? Click here for more information.

Write a comment

Comment from Mike Duguid
Time: July 4, 2009, 1:50 pm

Other than polarising filters, I reckon almost any other treatment is best done non destructively post production within photoshop etc. No vignetting, no colour cast, less to carry. Manual masking of bracketed exposures will get a better result most times than some auto HD bollocks

Comment from Per Johannessen
Time: July 7, 2009, 8:12 pm

The LEE 105mm polarizer vignettes on a 17mm lens with fullframe unless you only leave one slot for the grad. The Cokin Z-holder system vignettes on a 17mm because you cannot push the holder as close to the lens as you can with the LEE-holder using a Wide Angle adapter.

Comment from Lee Duguid
Time: July 7, 2009, 10:51 pm

Thanks Per, I found more info regarding the Lee filter holder and Lee circular polarizing filter: Yes it does vignette at 17mm F8 but not at 20mm (test with 3 slots + CPL). I'm following up to see if it does the same at 17mm, F16.The Cokin Z164 on the Lee filter holder it doesn't vignette at 17mm (i think) I will test later and post the results. If this is the case I'm going to modify my Lee holder to securely hold the Z164 in place. I found a pic of the Lee polarising filter / holder….I was suprised to see the Lee polarizer attaches to the end of the holder, it doesn't slot in, no wonder it vignettes.

Comment from Oliver Busch
Time: September 8, 2009, 5:47 am

Hi Lee,

I'm trying to figure out what filter system i should purchase. I'm using a 5d with the 17-40mm lens, too. I'm searching the web for on week now and i'm not smarter as before (as we say in germany ;-))

Your article helps me a lot. I'm right before puchasing a lee system – my only concern is the polarising filter. sHave you already found out if the cokin polarising filter will fit into the lee system?

best regrads


PS: One Article which alos were quite usefull for me:

Comment from Lee Duguid
Time: September 8, 2009, 1:48 pm

Hello Oliver,

Yes the Cokin CPL (Z164) does fit in the Lee filter holder although it is not entirely secure. In the image titled ‘Photo 4’ in the article you sent the Cokin holder has three pegs to hold the CPL in place and allow it to rotate independently. The Lee filter doesn't have these pegs as the Lee branded CPL screws to the front of the filter holder instead of sliding in.

Due to the gap between the Lee CPL and lens the CPL protrudes into the frame at wide angles. I opted to use the Lee filter holder with the Z164 but have yet to engineer a solution to securely hold the CPL in place and still be able to use filters in the first slot when not using the CPL. I want something semi permanent that I don’t have to remove all the time. I hope this helps let me know how you get on.



Comment from Oliver
Time: September 10, 2009, 7:23 am

Hi Lee,

thanks for your reply.

I will try the following:

– Screw in polarizer (I already own a slim hoya filter)

– Wide angle lee adapter

– lee filter holder with 2 slots

That would give me the possibility to use a polarizer + nd + nd grad

I will report how that works. Currently my favourite shop dont have the lee parts in stock – so it may take a while..

If this will vignette to much I think I will go for your solution. Information on your customization progress is much appeciated 🙂



Comment from Doris
Time: November 4, 2009, 10:41 pm

Hi Lee

Thank you very much for your article. Your article is brilliant to me. Just want to know, did you try to Lee Push On Filter Holder? I am using Nikon AFS 17-35 F2.8 atm and I am thinking to buy Screw in filter (Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer – Thin ring) and Lee Push On Filter Holder with Lee ND Graduated filter. In your opinion, do you think it can prevent vignetting at 17mm?



Comment from Lee Duguid
Time: November 4, 2009, 11:04 pm

Hello Doris,
thanks for stopping by, is this on a full frame or cropped sensor camera? I've no experience with the Singh Ray polarizer filter but I'm sure if shooting wide open (F2.8) will vignet but you probably won't be doing this anyway. If you are on a cropped sensor camera I wouldn't have thought you would have any issues.

Hope that helps!

Comment from David Hegarty
Time: January 4, 2010, 6:13 am

Hello. I am looking at buying a Cokin Z-Pro Polarizer but i can't find any good reviews for it on the internet. Would you recommend it? I have the Z-Pro cokin graduated filters and they have a magenta colour cast. You have some lovely landscapes. Thanks -David Hegarty

Comment from Lee Duguid
Time: January 4, 2010, 6:17 am

Hello David,
I've had no issues with it, it certainly works well when using it with the Z Pro holder. It is far better than Cokins range of grads but it should be at the price it costs. I don't really use it that much, on wide angle shots as with all polarising filters the sky is unevenly polarised but it works a charm on water reflections.

Comment from David Hegarty
Time: January 4, 2010, 9:14 pm

Thank you for your reply. I do love my filters as they allow me to get shots like this

but the ND (non grad) filter is unusable for images that don't need that magenta cast.


Comment from Rhys L. Bartels-Wall
Time: February 10, 2010, 1:37 pm

Hi Lee

You didn't answer the question Dorris asked about the Lee Push On Filter Holder.

Im in a similar position attempting to put together a system where I can use a polariser, ND (Singh-Ray Vari-ND THIN), and GRAD ND at the same time at around 17-20mm. My idea is to use the Push On holder with the Vari-ND screwed on, and the a lee 4"x4" polariser and 4"x6" ND GRAD. My only issue is the inability to rotate the polariser independently with a GRAD in the same rotating element.

I will either end up hand-holding or making a custom unit. Let me know if you have any advice.


Comment from Lee Duguid
Time: February 10, 2010, 6:49 pm

Hello Rhys,
Thanks for your comment. I believe you are looking at using the Lee linear polarising filter, are you aware that with this filter you will have to meter and focus manually. Here's some more information about linear and circular polarising filters. So you really only have one option, use a drop in Cokin Z164 circular polarising filter. If you stack a Vari-ND and a screw in CPL you won't be able to rotate them independantly. I would go for the screw in Vari-ND with the push on Lee filter holder, a drop in CPL and then your grads. I'm not sure how well you will be able to rotate the vari-ND with a Lee holder on there maybe the Singh Ray forums will tell you (if you find the info please post it here for completeness). This brings you to the same problem I have, how to hold the drop in CPL in place on the Lee filter holder. I don't think it will be too hard to engineer a solution I just haven't got round to doing it. I'll post details here as soon as I've done it.

Hope this helps 🙂

Comment from Rhys L. Bartels-Wall
Time: February 11, 2010, 12:27 am

Hi Lee

Thanks for your reply. I just re-read my post and forgot to mention that I already had the polariser, cokin holder, and one GRAD ND. Even after weeks of research and trying to make sure I was going to have a compatible solution, I royally stuffed up. Not to worry though, as i'm going to reassess and eBay what I don't need. Since the Aussie prices here for the same stuff (thats if you can even get it!) are stupidly higher, and shipping from the states always adds $60-100 to any order, Im confident I can get my money back. Just gives me a chance to review more gear for my site!

re: last post

No its a circ. polariser. I already have it and it works well in the cokin z-pro as long you do not wish to use GRAD ND at the same time! Since I am trying to reduce the vignetting at wider angles the Vari-ND THIN being 10.5 mm thick is a good start for a ND up to 8 stops. This filter bare vignettes at 15mm, but is fine at 16.5mm. With the Lee Push On filter the holder is further back and out of the way, so two filters silpped in will not vignette any more than the Vari-ND anyway (I simulated a test). The issue is now the polariser and the need to have independent rotation to the GRAD ND.

I see a couple of solutions.

1.Stick with the Vari-ND and manually position the polariser filter in the push on holder at the closest 90° angle (allowing for both it and the GRAD ND to be used at the same time, with the Vari-ND screwed onto the lens.)

2. Replace the Vari-ND with a 4×4" square ND set, and replace the 4×4" polariser with a front-threaded screw-on (maybe even this Kaeseman Circular Polarizer). This would be comparable to the Thin Vari-ND, which should mean the cokin z-pro holder can screw on to the front of the polariser and hold two slip in filters without anymore vignetting than now.

I will dig out a standard filter then do some more vignetting tests.

Comment from Lee Duguid
Time: February 12, 2010, 6:43 pm

The second option sounds the best although you will still have issues rotating the polarising filter that's why the droping Cokin CPL is so good. You can rotate it independantly. Solution one isn't practicle. Lee does have the Professional kit which allows you to have the 4×4 polariser in the back part (remove the extra slots) and your grads on the front and rotate the two independantly….nice! If it vignettes which it probably will with the vari ND on there you might want to use some drop in ND's.

Comment from Marco
Time: March 27, 2010, 7:12 pm


Realy usefull review.. (many thanks for them)

i got a question.

Will the CPL Z164 and the Cokin Z-pro holder vignette if i use 18-19mm with my Canon 17-40 and the 5dmk2?

Sorry about my bad english.

thanks for your answer.

Comment from Lee Duguid
Time: March 27, 2010, 9:28 pm

Hello Marco, thanks for the comment. You don't need to worry about the Z164, it's the filter holder that will encroach on the frame. I don't have it to test with anymore but I would imaging with a high aperture at about 20mm you would be fine.

Comment from Marco
Time: March 28, 2010, 2:52 pm
In this Picture with 17mm Z-pro F16 and 2 Slots are a small amount of vignette.

In the Picture with Z-pro F16 and the CPL there are much more vignette
So i think the CPL only will vignette in this Picture? I am wrong?

Thanks for your help.

Comment from Lee Duguid
Time: March 30, 2010, 3:31 am

Sorry you are correct, I was thinking of my Lee holder which has none of these issues but doesn't securely hold the CPL in place. The issue in the second picture is more the CPL rather than the holder.

Comment from Robert
Time: July 23, 2010, 11:00 pm

On the Cokin-Z, try running the adapter ring through the front of the holder. On a 40D, I was able to shoot at 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm) and three slots without vignetting.

Comment from Lee Duguid
Time: July 24, 2010, 10:09 am

Thanks for the comments, I'm interested to see how that would work, do you have a photo?

Comment from Henry Liu
Time: July 27, 2010, 2:07 am

Hi Lee,

Good article!

I've been using a slightly modified Z Pro setup for the past two years with my Canon 5D + 17-40L lens. I use Z-pro holder, Z164 CPL, and Lee/Singh-Ray GNDs. I don't have any vignetting issues at 17mm on my 5D. I posted my set up at FM forum. You may want to have a look if you are interested:


Comment from Lee Duguid
Time: July 27, 2010, 2:27 am

Thanks for the post, and for sharing your setup. Great portfolio, lots of amazing shots, and beautifully processed. Do you shoot much at wide angles with the CPL? How do you get around the uneven polarization across the sky?


Comment from Mark Denley
Time: August 17, 2010, 8:29 pm

Hi Lee,

I use a 5DMk2 with 17-40l, a B+W UV and on top a B+W slim polariser. I get vignetting at 17mm. I guess using the UV is advisable so I shouldn't take the UV off and use the pola on its own?

Secondly, I am considering buying B+Ws combination warm pola KR1.5 which I can use on its own. Obviously it is thicker than the standard slim pola on its own. Do you reckon I will eliminate any vignetting?

I would appreciate your comments.



Comment from Lee Duguid
Time: August 18, 2010, 5:46 am

Hello Mark,
I would remove the UV filter as it's only really usefull in a few situations (cut down haze and UV at high altitude, I think). Of course it protects the front element of the lens but is a pain when trying to put further filters on and any filter holders.

Regarding the B+W CPL I would see if you can go to a shop and take some test shots. I would have thought it would be ok as some use thin CPL filters as well as other filters in a filter holder. Remember to it also depends on the apperture you shoot at, wide open may have some issues.

I hope this helps.

Comment from Mark Denley
Time: August 21, 2010, 8:45 pm


Thanks for getting back to me. I often want to use a polariser higher up and coastal and UV is useful here. I must admit I like the idea of the KR1.5 CPL and have dug around the net quite intensely; whilst there a few good makes out there, they are hard to get as most retailers don't stock them in the UK. If you are aware where I can purchase one quickly then it would be helpful.

Incidentally, I see B+W have some software filters that include pola amonst others. These are CS4 compatible. For £35 I reckon it will be worth a go. I will let you know how I get on. I am not technically knowledgeable enough to understand how software can effectively reduce reflections and see behond them?! However, for saturation, whiter clouds and blue skies without having to be at 90 degrees it will possibly do the business, as does CS4 most of the time.



Comment from Lee Duguid
Time: August 24, 2010, 10:02 am

Hello Mark,
Not sure where to get the filter from, sorry. Regarding the software cpl, I doubt it would be too great. I agree probably only good to darken skies. This can be done in Photoshop without additional plug-ins, try pulling down the luminousity of the blues in your raw editor. Polarisation and the effects of extended exposures from using filters such as neutral desity filters resulting in movement can NOT be done in software. Would be interested how you get on, please let us know.

Pingback from UV Filter, should I use one? | Lee Duguid Photography Blog
Time: June 17, 2011, 9:21 pm

[…] the lens. I really can't afford to put filters behind this lot, at wide focal lengths it will cause vingetting issues. If you are going to use UV filters be sure to invest a bit of cash. The more expensive filters are […]

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