FotodioX WonderPana FreeArc Filter System Review
WonderPana 66 FreeArc Essentials ND Kit
$490 / £320 www.fotodioxpro.com
If you shoot primarily with wide-angle and ultra wide-angle lenses, you know how difficult it is to add filters. A lot of wide-angle lens feature deep petal-style lenshoods and lack normal filter threads, making it impossible to add standard threaded filters. Even if you could, some ultra wide-angle lenses have such a wide field of view that you'd need an enormous filter to cover the image area.
Using a threaded ring and mount system, the WonderPana enables wide-angle lenses to secure 145mm round filters and square ND filters. The WonderPana system is a bonafide solution for wide-angle junkies, but does it live up to its price tag? Let's find out.
Specifications (WonderPana 66 FreeArc Essentials ND Kit)
|Style||WonderPana66 FreeArc Essentials ND Kit (Core, Cap, ND16 Filter & Graduated ND Filter)|
|Material||Premium grade anodized aluminum|
|Thread size||145mm x 1mm Standard Thread|
|Square filter size||6.6 inches (168mm) - up to 4mm thick (i.e., Schneider Optics)|
|Warranty||24 month manufacturer|
The FotodioX WonderPana system is sold in kits or as individual components. For instance, the WonderPana66 FreeArc Essentials ND Kit ($489.95) comes with the WonderPana FreeArc rotating core unit, 145mm 4-stop round ND filter, 6.6" wide square filter holder bracket, FotodioX Pro 6.6 x 8.5" graduated ND 0.6 hard edge filter, and 145mm lens cap. This kit is what I received from Fotodiox, along with an additional 145mm circular polarizing filter, UV filter, a few 145mm ND filters and extra square graduated soft edge square filters.
Each component comes in its own carrying case. The large square ND filters are protected in a neoprene sleeve with zippered enclosure. The round 145mm filters are held in padded nylon pouches with Velcro enclosures. And the 6.6" wide square filter holder brackets are kept in a zippered nylon hard case, similar to a glasses case with foam cutouts inside to fit the brackets. I'm not crazy about the round filter cases because the insides are lined with nylon, rather than the plush non-scratch material I expected. The filters come in very crinkly plastic bags, which personally I'd ditch in favor of wrapping the filter in a large lens wipe before placing it in the nylon pouch. Also, zippers are sometimes hard to close or open due to stray internal threads.
Fotodiox Pro filters are made of glass and are spectrally neutral to within + or – 3 in the a and b channels of the lab color space. They are also guaranteed to be within + or – 2 in regards to total light transmission.The square gradient filters are 4mm thick and all filters are multi-coated.
How It Works
Since every wide-angle lens is unique, the WonderPana FreeArc system is a lens-specific outfit. At the time of writing, thirteen lenses are supported specifically, but according to the manufacturer, various 14mm primes from the likes of Samyang and Rokinon are also compatible. For a full compatibility list, visit the FotodioX website.
The good news is that the filters are universal, and only the adapters are lens-specific. In order to outfit a lens, it must be detached from the camera, and the red anodized aluminum FreeArc ring needs to be fitted over it. Then, the filter adapter slides over the front of the lens. A specific pattern of grooves fit into the petal pattern on the lens, securing it in place while the red FreeArc ring fastens the adapter to the lens.
What sets each model apart from one another are the shapes of the grooves that fit into the lens petal patterns and depth of the adapter. Now, the WonderPana adapter can accept the 145mm round filters, which thread right onto the front. The adapter itself can spin 360 degrees, which makes it a bit tricky when a variable circular filter is added because of the two separate turning axes.
|The WonderPana FreeArc with square filter holder mounted on a Canon 14mm F/2.8 lens with 6.6 in. square gradient filter.|
In order to upgrade the WonderPana to accept square filters, the square filter adapter must be added. The square filter adapter is a set of two brackets that fasten onto the back of the WonderPana adapter. The brackets have two grooves each for adding up to two square filters at once, or spacing one slightly away from the lens. I was even able to attach a round filter and fit a square filter over it using the outermost groove. Fastening is achieved via small hand-turn bolts that vary in length. The short bolts connect the brackets to the back of the WonderPana adapter while the longer bolts clamp down on the grooves to hold the filter in place.
It's very important to hold the square filter from the bottom while tightening the tension bolts, as I learned this the hard way when the filter slipped through the grooves and met the ground.
In the Field
I took the WonderPana kit out for some landscape shoots with my Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens and a Nikon D800 with Nikon AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens. Each lens required its own unique WonderPana adapter, and the fit in both cases was just about flawless. The process of attaching them is a bit involved though, because the lens must be removed, the ring has to be filleted around the base of the lens, and then the adapter has to be fastened onto the front.
Only at this point do you attach the filters. For landscape work out in the elements, I found that fitting the adapter on the lens before heading out of the house was the way to go. That way, I didn't risk dropping a lens on the beach or in a field while trying to fit the adapters.
|Canon EOS 5D Mark III mounted with the WonderPana .6 2-stop hard edge square gradient filter.|
Fitting the 145mm round filters is a bit tricky due to their large diameters. In my case, once I had them attached I was battling with the rotational properties of the circular filters. Since the WonderPana adapter itself rotates 360 degrees, as well as the circular filters, I found that rotating the filter was a bit trickier. In addition, I found it difficult to remove the round filters, which - because they rotate - are a little awkward to unscrew. In use, I found the best approach was to make sure that the round filters were not tightened too much on the adapter, and that I adjusted them clockwise - against the thread - so that they did not loosen during use.
The square filters are easier to mount because they only needed be slid into the grooves and tightened down with tension bolts. If things aren't tight enough you risk the filter slipping and falling downward. When I was out and about, one of the filters I was using met the ground and suffered a few dings and scrapes. Lesson learned.
I shot with the .6 soft edge 2-stop square gradient filter with the 5D Mark III. This combination is ideal for skylines that posed dynamic range challenges with the sky overblown and foreground underexposed. I was able to shift the filter vertically to achieve the best orientation, and I could even tilt it at angles or upside down, thanks to the adapter's rotating design.
Landscape shot without the FotodioX .6 2-stop hard edge square gradient filter.
F22, ISO 100, 1/50s.
Landscape shot with the FotodioX .6 2-stop hard edge square gradient filter.
F22, ISO 100, 1/50s.
WonderPana also offers a 3-stop .9 square gradient filter for an extra stop of dynamic range improvement. I was very impressed with the .6 2-stop hard edge square gradient filter. Colors were more vivid across the skyline, and it gave me a few extra stops of play in order to attempt to achieve a smoother exposure range.
FotodioX also sent me a circular polarizing filter, which I used with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and 14mm F/2.8 lens. Polarizing filters are ideal for enhancing colors, especially in landscape shots, as well as reducing reflections and glare. Shooting a church, it was obvious that the circular polarizing filter deepened the blue sky tones and added a dramatic element to the image.
|Structure without the FotodioX 145mm circular polarizing filter.
F5.6, ISO 100, 1/1600s.
Structure with the FotodioX 145mm circular polarizing filter.
F5.6, ISO 100, 1/640s.
One thing to be aware of when using polarizing filters in combination with any wide-angle lens is that depending on the orientation of the camera, the intensity of the polarizing effect may vary across the scene. Depending on the angle you present the camera to the sun, and the time of day this might not be all too noticeable, or it might ruin the shot.
The only other issue I ran into with the circular polarizing filter was some slight vignetting when using it with the Nikon 14-24mm Nikkor lens. I think this had to do with the fact that the circular polarizing filter is thicker than standard filters, bringing the inner filter closer to the lens. I didn't run into this issue with the Canon lens, so I'm confident that it's model specific.
|Some minor (and easily dealt with) vignetting with the FotodioX circular polarizing filter and Nikon D800 with 14-24mm Nikkor lens.
F8, ISO 640, 1/1000s.
I had no such vignetting issues with the Nikon D800 and 14-24mm lens with the FotodioX 400 ND filter. The 400 ND filter provides up to 10 stops of exposure reduction, and the company even offers a 1000 grade ND filter for really limiting the available light.
|Landscape without the FotodioX 145mm 400 ND filter.
F11, ISO 100, 1/250s.
Landscape with the FotodioX 145mm 400 ND filter.
F11, ISO 100, 2 second exposure
Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the FotodioX filters that went with the WonderPana kit. I had to fiddle with the circular polarizing filter, just as I have to do with my personal Tiffen CPL on nearly every outdoor shoot. The vignetting with the Nikon lens was a bit of a surprise, but I'm pretty confident it is model-specific.
The WonderPana kit by FotodioX gives hope to wide-angle photographers who want to increase their creativity. While the kit may seem pricey, it's backed by a two-year warranty and is a bonafide solution for lenses that are not made for filters. I was highly impressed by the level of craftsmanship that went into the anodized aluminum WonderPana mounting adapter and Freearc ring. Fitment is perfect, and all rotating parts are buttery smooth. My results with the gradient filters were stellar, and the circular polarizing filter and ND filters provided great results.
Like any circular polarizing filter, I had to make sure that the polarizer was dialed in properly, and I experienced some lens-specific vignetting when using it in combination with the 14-24mm Nikkor lens. Aside from that, some of the carrying cases, most notably the round lens pouches, are cheaply made and detract from the high quality of the WonderPana adapter and professional grade FotodioX filters. But aside from those relatively minor gripes, I'm very impressed by the WonderPana kit.
What we like:
- Excellent craftsmanship of WonderPana adapter and components
- Professional-grade filters
- 2-year warranty
- Flawless fit and function
What we don't like:
- Cheaply made carrying cases
- Vignetting issues with one of our test lenses (Nikon 14-24mm F2.8)