Square filter kit comparison: H&Y vs NiSi

Introduction

Recently I was introduced to a filter kit by a company called H&Y whose filter holder uses a clever magnetic design to mount their filters. They use materials like Corning Gorilla Glass (lightweight, tough, used in most smartphone screens), and German Schott glass (one of the best optical glass in the world, owned by Zeiss) in their products. I was offered the chance to take it for a test-run so click on the video above for a quick mini-review.

Neutral density filters are a useful tool to produce images with a sense of movement by allowing photographers to take pictures using slow shutter speeds than would be possible in bright lighting conditions. Waterfalls, rivers and the sea can look dramatically different when using a slow shutter speed to smooth out the movement of water. Clouds can look like they are zooming quickly across the sky and the headlights of passing vehicles will appear as trails of red and white in an urban landscape. You can even use a very long shutter speed to remove passing pedestrians from a scene, leaving a busy landscape or urban scene devoid of people.

Square filter kits are a staple of many landscape photographers and there are many companies who make such filters. I have been using NiSi filter kits for several years now and have found the quality of their glass to be excellent. Their square filter holder has an ingenious design that allows you to rotate the circular polariser using a small dial on the side. You can also slide in and stack square filters as well which makes the kit very versatile. I like how their glass filters have minimal colour cast which makes it easier to colour correct in post.

Square filters can be made of plastic or glass, with the latter being superior in quality and costing more. Glass filters are also more fragile and dropping one can result in it being chipped, scratched or totally breaking. I’ve always been very careful with my glass filters and thankfully, I’ve never broken one.

Who are H&Y Filters?

H&Y is a Hong Kong-based optical glass filter manufacturer founded in 2009. Apparently they manufacture filters for some well-known brands but have decided to try their hand at their own brand. They don’t seem to have a significant presence in the market yet, especially here in Australia. However they are now available through the Australian Laowa (Venus Optics) site here.

Testing scenario

Adam Kopf, who distributes for Venus Optics (Laowa), offered me the chance to test out the H&Y filter kit for a few days so I jumped at the chance – thanks Adam! This would be a great opportunity to see how the H&Y filter holder worked on a shoot and how the glass filters compared to NiSi in quality.

The main things I wanted to compare were:

  1. Ease of setup and use
  2. Unique features
  3. Quality of image (colour cast, preserved detail)

I was hoping to get a day with some nice, dramatic clouds for a long exposure, but it turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day here in Melbourne so the skies were clear and blue. Thanks Melbourne. So Rena and I headed down to Princes Pier to take some photos of the Port Melbourne terminal.

I used the Fujifilm X-T3 and XF16-55mm F2.8 lens for this test. All images were shot in RAW with the exposure slightly adjusted in Lightroom to keep things consistent from image to image. No other adjustments were made. White balance was set to ‘Daylight’.

Features

Let’s start with what’s common between the H&Y and NiSi systems:

  • The adapter ring (available in a variety of diameters) screws on to the lens and the filter holder attaches to the adapter ring.
  • The image quality from both systems is comparable. The quality of the glass is excellent in terms of sharpness.
  • Images from both systems exhibit very little colour cast and no vignetting. NiSi filters exhibit a slight magenta cast whereas H&Y filters have a slight turqoise cast.

 

What’s different?

Circular polariser and ND filter

NiSi’s circular polariser is a very thin disc that you have to screw onto the filter holder itself. You then rotate the CPL using dials cleverly built into the filter holder.

H&Y’s circular polariser is a 95mm drop-in circular filter that is an all-in-one circular polarising (CPL) and neutral density (ND) available in various strengths, from ND8 (3 stops) to ND64 (6 stops). It is also available in straight ND form from ND1000 (10-stops) to ND65000 (16 stops). You rotate the CPL using a small dial built into the CPL frame, similar to the NiSi system. The straight ND filter variety doesn’t rotate, of course. It just slides in. The glass used in both is German Schott glass.

h&y cpl drop in
Slides in and out as easily as your credit card from your wallet/purse.

I like how H&Y have designed the CPL/ND to work. Once it slides in, it stays secure in the holder. It’s a little bit chunkier, but less fiddly to attach/detach than the NiSi CPL which is wafer thin.

Graduated ND filters

NiSi’s graduated ND filters are rectangular sheets of glass (100mm x 150mm) that you take carefully out of their storage case/pouch and gently slide into the filter holder until it’s position the way you want. Don’t drop these! They’re made of optical lens glass (not resin) and will chip/break if you drop them. And they’re also around $300 each!

H&Y’s graduated ND filters are made of Corning Gorilla Glass which means they’re tough. Drop them from waist height and they’ll be fine. They also came enclosed in a slim magnetic frame. So you pull them out, slap them onto the filter holder and they magnetically stay in place. The magnets are strong enough that they won’t dislodge accidentally.

h&y filter frames
Tough and magnetic.

This is such a simple, elegant solution to attaching grad filters that I wish more filter brands had adopted this earlier. Thus far, the only other company I know of that attaches filters is Breakthrough.

H&Y also sell the magnetic frames by themselves and you can use them with your own existing glass square filters. However if you drop them, your glass filters will likely still break. The magnetic frame may offer some protection but will likely not be enough to fully protect it.

Should I get one or swap over?

If you don’t currently have a square filter kit and are looking to invest in your first one, then yes, I heartily recommend the H&Y square filter kit. I feel that the filter holder is slightly easier to attach and work with as is the CPL/ND combo drop-in filter. The magnetic frames make attaching filters a snap and the Corning Gorilla Glass graduated filters give you peace-of-mind if you happen to drop them accidentally.

If you’ve already got a square filter kit from NiSi, Formatt Hi-Tech, Haida, or similar where the quality is good with minimal colour cast and no vignetting, then the case to switch comes down to economics. These systems are all really good so if you’re already using them and are happy with them then there probably isn’t a strong enough reason to switch.

If you like the magnetic H&Y filter holder but you’re happy with your square glass, you can purchase the H&Y magnetic frames which will fit most 2mm-thick glass filters so you can use your existing glass with the H&Y system. That means you only need to buy the Starter Kit ($299) and you’re ready to rock.

However, if you can afford to, and you feel the features make it more enjoyable for you to use, then I’d recommend the H&Y system. Particularly if you use graduated filters a lot, the Gorilla Glass versions of H&Y are great. They are a pleasure to use – easy to attach and adjust – and their toughness means that if you have an accident in the field, your filters will most likely survive.

H&Y have also recently announced an adapter ring to fit Fujifilm’s XF8-16mm F2.8 wide angle zoom which will be available soon.

H&Y8-16mm
H&Y’s adapter for the XF8-16mm lens – take a walk on the wide side!

 

Where can I get one?

As mentioned before, you can order H&Y Filter products from the Australian Laowa (Venus Optics) site here.

I hope that you found this mini-review and comparison helpful – thanks for tuning in!

 

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