If you're in the market for a new 100x100mm Filter System and are stuck deciding between the well known Lee Filter System and all the other choices from the likes of Benro, Cokin, HiTech, Kood etc then this review is for you. I was stuck making the same decision and ended up going for the just released (as of September 2014) Benro FH-100/FH-100N Filter Holder and their new 100mm ND1000 Square Neutral Density Filter which is the equivalent to the Lee Big Stopper. Before I picked mine up from the local camera shop here in Wellington I scoured the internet trying to find out if it was any good but couldn't find any reviews or much information in general that wasn't in Chinese. Considering I don't read Chinese and the fact that Google Translate doesn't work that great, I decided to give it a try as I didn't want to wait the nearly two months it was going to take to get a Lee set shipped here.
Comparing the Benro set to the Lee Set they come out similarly priced. The Benro ND1000 retails for $169 and the FH100N for $189 which comes out to $358 NZD. In US Dollars that comes out to about $275 after the exchange which isn't too bad for a complete system.
Before we continue, here are some specs on the Benro FH-100N:
- Made of very sturdy Aircraft Grade Aluminum
- Includes built in 82mm CPL Adjustment slot
- Includes 77mm adapter ring
- Includes three plastic mounts that each hold a 100mm glass or resin filter **they are also removable/customizable
- Does not include any kind of carrying case :(
And here are the specs on the ND1000 Glass Filter
- 'WMC' Coated to protect against scratches **I think this also helps with the lack of unwanted color cast
- Made of 'HD Optical Glass' instead of resin (plastic) **Less prone to scratches, but don't drop it!
- 'Zero Reflection'
- 100x100mm standard filter size
- Includes soft pouch but no hard case
***EDIT: I think I should add just what an ND filter does. It blocks light getting to your camera sensor so that you can lengthen your exposure during the day to show motion. Imagine shooting a waterfall at a typical daytime exposure of f11, ISO100 and 1/125 seconds. The water will be frozen in time, and while you will no doubt have a nice picture of a waterfall the water will look 'sharp'. Not silky smooth and relaxing as you might intend your photo to look. To achieve that smooth look you must lengthen your exposure to blur the movement of the water. This ND1000 is almost the most powerful you can buy and it blocks so much light you are able to lengthen your exposure by 100x. That allows you to take exposures for many minutes during the day, creating lots of blur. Other uses are to remove people or traffic in a city scene, or on the shoreline create a mist effect of the water; and a painterly effect of fast moving clouds. ***
One of the many things I like about the Benro set is that it includes not only the 77mm ring adapter to mount it onto your wide angle lens, but also a genius built in 82mm Circular Polarizer Filter mount located behind the slots where the (up to three) 100mm filters go. Basically right out of the box, the FH-100N is ready for three 100mm filters AND an 82mm CPL. If you went with the Lee System you'd have to buy the 'Professional Upgrade Kit' to be able to fit more than three filters, plus the mounting ring to fit it onto your lens. Those together would be nearly another $200.
Another great thing I've noticed while using the Benro Kit is how there is hardly any noticeable color cast. A perfect Neutral Density filter would remain perfectly neutral and not change color but the many ND filters out there create an ever so not neutral very pink or blue color cast. In my use so far under various lighting conditions and in different environments, the Benro remains not completely neutral but close to it.
Below is a comparison of a regular unprocessed shot straight out of the camera, and then the same with the ND filter attached. The only adjustments I made were to resize, and sharpen for web. I overexposed a bit as the shadow area is where the color cast is more noticeable.
Below: Unprocessed JPEG. ISO100, f16, 1/15th with White Balance set to Daylight. *NO FILTER
Below: Unprocessed JPEG. ISO400, f16, 20 Seconds with White Balance set to Daylight ** Benro ND1000 Attached. The grass in the foreground is blurred due to wind, not imperfections of the filter.
As you can see, its pretty darn good. There is a very slight warm cast but I like it. Its also very easy to adjust in Photoshop using the color balance tool if it bothers you. In real day to day use, I almost always use AWB (auto white balance) and while using this I've never really had to try and 'fix' the color cast as it just wasn't that noticeable if at all.
To give it a final rating, I looked at a few different key points listed below:
Build Quality: 5/5 **The FH-100N is made out of sturdy aluminum and the threads on the rings that screw together are nearly impossible to misalign. Both the filter holder and ND1000 have a 'light seal' along the edges made of glued on foam that line up to prevent slippage as well as light leak. I've tested for light leak pointed straight up at the sun and with a flashlight and there was none.
Color Cast Quality: 5/5 **As I've shown above there is hardly any color cast. If you want to be picky, there is a slight warm tinge but the fact that colors still show true through it makes it not a problem in my book.
Ease of Use: 4/5 ** They only reason I'm not giving this a 5/5 is because the way the filter mount part attaches to the adapter ring could be better designed. Its not a bad design by any means but I feel a bit awkward trying to hold the filter set with one hand, my camera with the other and unscrewing the back two screws (picture below) then rotating/sliding it off. I've stopped dismounting it the way they advise, and instead just put my finger over the two pieces that screw apart and unscrew the whole thing from the end of the lens. Its much easier and quicker and I don't have to worry about dropping one of the small screw pieces when I'm shooting on the shoreline or up on a cliff.
Below left, you can see the filter threads in the left side of the image. This is your adapter ring that screws onto your lens.
Features/Included Parts: 5/5 **I think Benros' choice to include the 77mm adapter ring really sets them apart from some of the others. It's just a small piece and probably costs less than a dollar to make so why do so many other companies not include one? Not only that but they figured out a way to fit in a place for an *Slim 82mm Circular Filter without adding any noticeable bulk to the filter holder.
Price: 5/5 **Comparing this "Pro Series" Benro set to other "Pro" sets they come out at nearly the same price point if not cheaper. Basically you get what you pay for. Did I want to spend $300 for a piece of equipment I'll use maybe 1/4 of the time? No of course not! Do I wish I had picked up a set like this years ago? Absolutely!
As this is my first Benro product I have to say I'm quite happy with it. The price is fair for what you are getting and it seems like it will hold up to lots of use. The stitching on the ND case seems high quality and I don't see it coming apart anytime soon. The aluminum of the filter holder is solid, and looks like it will hold up in all elements. The parts that screw together fit very snugly and don't come loose on their own. I do wish it came with a case but I just duck taped the boxes and have been storing them inside.
I plan to update this review as time goes on, especially if I pick up any graduated filters from Benro. At this point I can definitely see myself trying more of their products in the future.
I hope this review helped you in your search for a good filter set. If you have any questions or comments, please drop them below!
Below is one of the first frames I took with the Benro Kit the day I purchased it.
Waitaha Cove - New Zealand, 65 second exposure at f11
If you'd like to see more of the images I've made with the help of this kit click here.