Kase Armour Magnetic Filter System Review
Author: Mike Prince Date Posted:16 November 2021
I’ve been fortunate to be able to try out a brand new Kase Armour Filter system over the past couple of weeks and it’s been an immensely positive experience. One of the reasons I moved to Kase from another well known filter manufacturer ( apart from the unequalled quality of the filters) was that Kase were clearly responsive to feedback from users. For a more complete explanation of why I changed The Armour system is yet another example of that iterative process where suggestions are listened to, considered and used to fuel the development process. The result is an enhancement on an already exceptional system. The Armour system combines much of the simplicity of the increasingly popular round magnetic systems with the ability to integrate 100 x 150mm graduated ND filters. It leads, for my specific uses, to the very best of both worlds.
What are the similarities and differences between the Armour and the existing K9 system?
Both use the same Wolverine 100x150mm glass filters giving the highest optical quality and most neutral colour that I’ve ever found. Both systems use a holder and an adapter ring. At this point the systems diverge.
The Armour holder is a completely new design and before going any further, I think it is a thing of engineering beauty. Very well designed and exquisitely put together. It works and it feels just right. It retains the familiar small red wheel on the left to rotate a polariser. The heritage is as clear as the progression.
The knurled knob on the right now only serves to lock the filters from sliding up, down or adding an extra layer of security to keep them in place when moving around. The magnets are sufficiently strong as to render this as real ' belt and braces' stuff however.
This entire holder attaches to the adapter ring by magnets and does so very strongly indeed. Somehow it seems to grab it and drag it exactly into the precise location every time. There is no longer a need to carefully align to two parts and then tighten the screw. Get it close and it’s on, securely. The magnetic lock is so strong that it would be hard to imagine ever accidentally catching it and pulling it off but to prevent this there is a double safety lock seen at the top left hand corner marked ‘PULL’. This needs to be moved in the direction of the arrow to remove the holder from the adapter ring.
The first magnetic magic trick is to attach the holder to the ring. The second magnetic magic trick is to attach the filters to the holder by use of magnetic frames. Each filter is set into a thin magnetic frame. These frames add very little to the size of the filters and are small enough to also just fit in the existing slots in your filter case. There is however a redesigned case to accompany the new holders.
The magnetic frames of course fit all your existing Kase 100 x150mm filters and simply require two screws to be loosened with the supplied screwdriver to convert for the new Armour holder. Although the Kase glass filters are very robust, the magnetic frames add yet another layer or protection for a tiny weight gain.
This frame then simply attaches magnetically to the holder and can be slid up and down as required. The frame can also be locked into position by the knurled wheel although the magnet is sufficiently strong to render this all but unnecessary. Up to two frames can be added in this way. They can of course slide independently of one another.
However, the magnetic goodness doesn't end here. Firstly, as with the K9 system, the CPL can be attached magnetically but this time to the holder rather than to the adapter ring. (In my view this makes the whole process of switching filters from lens to lens much simpler.)
Here we have a CPL attached to the rear of an Armour holder. As with the K9, the red wheel on the left rotates the Polariser. This means that all the filters in use can be quickly transferred from one lens to another in a single operation. For me this is a usability advantage over the K9.
However an added bonus is that a second circular magnetic filter such as an ND can be added to the front of the holder. This removes the need to fit a 100x150mm ND on the front of the holder and gives some of the benefits of compactness of the circular magnetic system. It also means that while once I might have used an ND grad and a ND on the front, I now only need one full 100x150mm filter on the front of the holder. Kase innovations such as the newest double graduated filters (more on these below) further reduce the total number and weight of filters that may need to be carried.
Having familiarised myself with the new filter system for two days at home, I took an exceptional step and committed to using the new system on a trip to NW Scotland the following week. Normally I’d not think of using new kit on a significant trip without extensive local testing but I was so impressed with this equipment that I broke the rule of a lifetime and swapped filters over to the new system. This involved a quick process of opening up the magnetic frames and inserting my existing filters before thoroughly re-tightening. The new holder uses a new adapter ring so those also needed to be changed over. At this point I did not have a full set of adapter rings so some use of stepping rings was also involved.
There are a few immediate propositions to establish. This is premium kit with a good value but not budget price tag. At every point we are dealing with a ‘best in class’ item. This applies to the optical characteristics of the filters, their robustness, the engineering of the holder, its ease of use and the security and simplicity of the attachment of the filters to the holder.
At every turn, this filter system excels. Standing on a hillside in Assynt and drawing the holder from the case, one only has to offer it up to the magnetic ring for fast accurate contact to be made. It is all but snatched from the user's hand. In difficult conditions, when wearing gloves, this really is quite exceptional. The same process is repeated with the filters in their magnetic frames. No more checking that they are in their intended slots. Straight in, first time, every time.
Five days of heavy rain and high winds made for challenging conditions and compressed photography into brief windows of opportunity. Much of my time was spent in woodland with rain covers and lens hoods the order of the day. However whenever the need for filters was there, the speed, reliability and simplicity of the new system was unmatched. When the rain did break through my defences, the hydrophobic coating made wiping much quicker and more effective.
The final day in the Northwest was up at Sandwood Bay. I’ve had this beautiful, remote bay on my wish list for many years but with a number of caveats. I didn’t want to see it on a blue sky / topaz sea day nor did I want to be there with crowds. The sustained growth of visitor numbers over the last few years have effectively dictated a winter visit and preferably on a poor forecast. We were treated to high winds and fierce showers beating at us sufficiently strongly to render the use of a tripod as fruitless. High ISO and VR would be the order of the day. The showers were pulsing allowing tiny gaps in which images could be made. The gaps did allow the use of a graduated filter to add weight to the already brooding sky. I made some images from the first point on the beach at which the stack, Am Buachaille, became visible as I was not convinced that the conditions would last long enough to investigate alternative viewpoints. Using a 70-300mm with a 0.6 ND grad not so much to control a wide dynamic range as to make a creative decision about the look I wanted. Multiple exposures were made to try to guarantee a sharp one. As it happened pretty much all were acceptable. There are times when a calm measure approach to photography is ideal and times when speed and efficiency are paramount. In those moments, equipment choices are critical. Poor choices are found wanting very quickly indeed. I was delighted at how quickly the holder and filters could be attached and changed. I’ve never used anything as quick.
I arrived in Assynt hopeful about the new Kase Armour System but lacking hands-on evidence. I left utterly convinced.
I’d planned a final day in the Lakes to plug any gaps and check my initial thoughts. It would also give an opportunity to test out a newly delivered Kase Double Graduated Neutral Density Filter. This is another Kase innovation and consists of a 100 x 150mm with a 0.9 soft Grad at one end and a 0.9 Hard Grad at the other. Rotating the holder quickly switches between the two options and allows the photographer to easily compare the two alternatives. The premise is that in most circumstances we use the upper ⅔ of a 150mm grad and lower ⅓ is out of frame. Such a combination effectively means carrying a single filter instead of two, so saving weight, space and cost. In use, time is saved switching over too.
Almost inevitably the weather intervened and brought yet more challenging conditions to my chosen location of Great Langdale.
As soon as I arrived, in deteriorating conditions, the speed of use of the magnetic filters made life easier as did the ability to quickly rotate the Double Grad to check I’d selected the correct softness. A temperature of 4 degrees tempted me to also shift into a much heavier weight of glove as an additional test of how easy the holder and filters were to manipulate. A test the Armour holder passed without a hesitation.
While checking the placement of the filter at 24mm a tree on the skyline caught my eye so I moved out to 70mm to frame the image below. Also using the Double Grad to just help to hold what little detail there was to be found.
I’ve only had half a morning out in the field with the Kase Double Grad filter and initial feelings are very positive from a personal perspective. It certainly saves weight and is also a time saver. The optical quality can now be taken for granted as it bears the name Kase. I very much enjoyed using it and found it a strong addition to the bag. It may not suit everyone of course (like most things). If you are predisposed to making a lot of images with superwides in portrait orientation and using the full 3:2 frame, it may offer some challenges in terms of positioning. If your use of grads is with more regular focal lengths or you more often make photographs in landscape orientation or if like me you are accustomed to cropping portrait format images to 5:4, these double grads may be an answer to your wishes. They offer the opportunity of convenience, weight saving and cost saving. I’m looking forward to much more experimentation with this demo one and I’ll not be surprised if I end up adding one to my bag eventually. I’ll write more about this one when I’ve had the opportunity to use it more thoroughly. I’m not surprised these have had such strong reviews and won awards, I’m only surprised no one has thought of it before.
It is worth a few words about weight. The new Armour holder is noticeably more substantial than the original K9 and weighs in at about 40g more. However as soon as you take account of the circular magnetic ND filter replacing a 150 x100mm ND filter that difference is removed. One glass ND filter weighs in at about 77g while the new circular magnetic ND is a mere 26 g being both thinner and of smaller surface area saving around 50g. If you typically carry 2 or 3 ND filters, that weight saving mounts up very quickly.
There's not much here. I’d like a full range of adapter rings to avoid using stepping rings; for my purposes at least down to 67mm. I'd be keen to see a magnetic lens hood of some description, partly to keep stray light off but also to use with a cloth to keep rain off. This might possibly be tricky to engineer but Kase seem to manage the impossible…. I think the strength of the product is that this list is all about future development, not corrections or revisions. Given the history of Kase, I'm hopeful that all manner of new developments are already underway.
I’m always a little hesitant when any product gains weight, bulk and apparent complexity. What we know of the whole design process is that by and large, the slimmest, simplest designs are the best. However, as always, the real proof of the pudding is in the eating and in this specific instance I have no hesitation in recommending this in two ways. Firstly I’m going to give it an unreservedly positive review - for my specific purposes of landscape photography, I cannot fault this new system. It is a superb piece of kit that achieves all of the objectives and manages to improve on an already superb product. Secondly over the coming months, I’ll be spending my own money to completely transition over to a fully magnetic Kase Armour kit which I’ll extend further as they almost inevitably announce additional products. I can’t recommend more highly than to invest my own money.
In my view this is, by some margin, the best 150 x 100mm filter system on the market today.
Once I’d finshed writing the main body of this blog, the weather finally cleared so I’ve included a few additional images made under much less challenging conditions.