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Back in the 80s Cokin revolutionised the special effects world of photography with their unique square filter system. At a time when filters were generally round, fitted one lens filter thread size and only came in practical, but boring types, Cokin introduced over 100 filters with a system that used a holder that required an adaptor to fit your lens and the filters slot into the holder. Buying a holder and a few adaptor rings meant that whatever filters you bought would be available for all the lenses you owned. This versatile and comprehensive system has, over the years, been very popular, but with the advent of digital imaging many of the effects have been made redundant and I would imaging sales in filters have fallen dramatically.
No surprise then that Cokin have introduced this kit, for digital camera users! One of the problems with digital cameras is that they dont often have filter threads, so attaching an accessory is, in most cases, not possible. The new Cokin Shoe Digi-holder has a base plate with five horizontal grooves about 1cm apart and 9cm length. Within the baseplate is a sliding tripod screw that can, following a path, be set in any of the grooves at any position. This means you can align the area where the filter slots in front of your lens, regardless of where the cameras tripod mount is or how far the lens pokes out when extended. There have been several attempts at making products like this before, but this seems like the most logically and widely compatible. Lets see if thats the case in practice.
|When connecting to the camera (we tried the unusual shaped Nikon Coolpix 950, the rather bulky Olympus C-300Z and the tiny Pentax Optio 330 the plastic feels flimsy, but a filter can be positioned perfectly with all three cameras, so the holder certainly does its job. The downside to the holder having universal appeal is that it dwarfs the Pentax Optio and makes the camera clumsy to hold, whereas on the Coolpix 950 it isnt cumbersome. It's something you'll have to get used to for the benefit of using filters.|
The kit comes with a holder, an A507 4 point star filter, an A198 Sunset Graduate and a 48 page brochure showing examples of other filters you can buy. It costs 28.95 and it's the only way existing Cokin A series users can get hold of the extremely useful A300 Shoe Digi-holder as at present it isn't sold separately.
The choice of filters suggest this kit is aimed at landscape photographers - the star burst for night scenes where light can be made to twinkle and the sunset grad to turn a dull landscape into a lively sunset. One of the reasons filter sales have fallen is that digitally most effects can be recreated with ease and one of those is a graduated effect. And the difference between using a filter or creating digitally is that digital offers unlimited control of colour and position. You can also start off with an unfiltered shot and save as many varieties of colour from this. With a filtered shot you've committed the photograph to be recorded with that effect. The downside to the digital route is you have to use a computer and some photographers may prefer to be out taking pictures rather than being tied to a computer trying to recreate a sunset graduated filter effect. And that's where Cokin will benefit.
The Star filter is less easy to recreate using a digital technique, but could be done if the user has patience or are prepared to buy a plug-in program which may cost about 60-80. Andromeda have a plug in for Photoshop that also creates diffraction stars and other special effects too.
The other thing to consider is control. With most point and shoot digital compacts you have very little control over the aperture or focusing - two of the main things that control how the filter reacts. Also the colour of the filters where designed original for film-based photography and, as we found, don't always work the same on a CCD. Look at the sky in the statue shot below - while the top strip is coloured well, the lighter area has an odd yellow posterised appearance.
Here I've added a graduated filter using software and selected three colours. It took less than a minute to add these and on the left and right I've removed the effect from the statue to show a further benefit of using a digital enhancement rather than in-camera filter-effect.
The orange was also often recorded as a dull hue that needed enhancement in Photoshop to make it look more pleasing. Here is an unaltered version which certainly wouldn't pass off as a sunset!
When used without sky you can get some decent colour effects, but these are so easy to create, even with the most basic image editing software programs.
The star filter will make a four point burst off any light source. The more precise this is the more defined the burst will be as you can see from these two examples. The lightbulb on the left produces a soft star while the catchlight in the ring produces a hard defined star. This filter will work well on candles, glistening chandeliers, sparkling reflections of the sun in water, illuminated night scenes etc.
If you don't have a computer and want to recreate those effects you've seen on traditional cameras this kit's worth considering. It's also a useful item for some 35mm or APS compact cameras. If, on the other hand, you have a digital camera the chances are you will have access to a computer and you could load on a basic image editing program. If so, you do not need the sunset graduate which makes up a fair part of the price of this kit, making it a waste of money. The holder is a superb idea and it's a real shame it isn't sold separately. If, for example, the holder was sold with a polarising filter (one of the most useful filters you can own which cannot be replicated using digital techniques...yet!) we would heartily recommend you buying a kit.
For information on pricing and alternative versions, check out the news item on the Cokin filters here.
Test by Peter Bargh