Real World Review Of Breakthrough Photography's X100 Holder & X4 GND
If you’re a photographer it’s likely you fall into two relatively polarized categories when it comes to how you approach making your images. There are those who believe in getting everything done “in camera” and then there are those who rely heavily on post processing in order to achieve the final result and shoot accordingly.
If you’re the first type then it’s highly likely you’ve probably already got a stack of filters in your bag that you use fairly regularly to get things just right before the shutter button is even pressed. For landscapers, the King of these filters is the graduated neutral density filter.
GND filters allow us to balance out two otherwise highly contrasted portions of our photographs; namely when we encounter a bright sky with a relatively dark foreground. GND filters darken the brighter sky so that a longer exposure can be used to balance out the luminance of the foreground resulting in a more balanced final image. Being more of an “in camera” guy (but also a processing addict) I got really excited when I was asked to review Breakthrough Photography’s new X100 Holder System and X4 GND filters.
I had heard a lot of about the X100 system and the schism has been somewhat split with some raving and about the utilitarian design while others presenting their opinions with a collective “meh”. So, I put the X100 to the test for a few days to see just how good… or bad of a GND system it truly is. Keep reading to find out how the X100 stacks up (filter humor).
Out of the Box
Both the X100 holder and the GND filters themselves arrived in an extremely well packaged box with each filter and the holder being housed securely in their own individual containers. The X4 GND filters I received from Breakthrough were the 3-stop soft and 2-stop soft gradients and both in the 100x150mm flavor. The X4 GND is also available in 150x170mm and in hard gradients (even a hard reverse) as well. Both the X100 holder and the X4 filters are cozily hugged within felt-lined soft neoprene storage cases. The cases for the X4 GND filters are color coded for quick selection.
It’s worth noting that the X100 holder case sport two auxiliary pockets for carrying lens cloths and wipes as well as the extra plate holders which are included.
The body of the X100 holder is manufactured from aluminum with the filter clamps being a type of what appears to be ballistic plastic. Weighing in a approximately 3.1oz (90g) with the configuration shown here.
You’ll notice the entire holder looks incredibly Spartan and doesn’t have much in the way of bells and whistles. At the same time, I love the simplistic design and color scheme of the X100 holder and this straightforward design concept lends itself to its own unique aesthetic.
The holder attaches to the lenses using a variety of adapter rings which mate to the majority of barrel diameters ranging from 49mm to 82mm. For my tests I used Breakthrough’s brand new magnetic adapter ring system* but there are standard brass and aluminum rings available for attaching the X100 to your lens. The holder is features a quick release clip and two other retainer tabs to keep the X100 secured to the lens. More on this a little later in the review.
*As a side note, the magnetic filter system is outstanding in its own right.
X4 GND Filters
As with all of the X4 filter series I’ve evaluated from Breakthrough Photography the X4 GND is made from SCHOTT B270® optical glass and is claimed by the manufacturer as the world’s first tempered glass GND filter. Breakthrough Photography also advertises the X4 GND as being able to withstand being dropped on a hard floor… I decided to just take them at their word on that.
Here are the X4 GND filters in 2 and 3-stop darkness. Note the soft gradient which I chose due to the more varied horizons I encounter.
Each filter is treated on both sides with the MRC16 protective coatings. The edges of the filters are very nicely beveled and feel comfortable in holding. It’s worth noting that the edges of the filter have also been treated with the MRC16 coatings to aid in insertion and removal from your holder.
Performance and Image Quality
In the field, the X100 holder performed beautifully but with just a couple quirks. Actually, only one quirk but we’ll get to that in just a moment. First, let’s talk about how the X100 actually performed.
Attaching the holder to my lens was a breeze. This was the easiest “on/off” application of any GND holder I’ve ever used. To attach the holder to the adapter ring simply slide the lip of the ring into the two mounting feet and then press down into the quick release. Boom. The holder literally snaps into place.
I was quite happy to see the added security of a screw placed on one of the mounting cleats. During all my testing the filter holder never shifted or loosened from the adapter ring.
This brings me to the only issue I have with the X100 holder. The retention screw on the adapter cleat can be fully removed if you over loosen it from its socket. The same is true for the four holder clamp screws on the body of the X100 holder. This can lead to lost screws if you go a little too far. Luckily, there is quite a bit of threads which means completely removing the screws accidentally is unlikely. All the same, I would have liked to see the inclusion of self retaining screws on the X100.
The GND filters were easily inserted into the holder and clamped down securely within the X100. The entire holder system was quite nimble and I was able to easily angle the filters to fit my composition. Everything about the holder just feels “right”.
The X4 GND filters performed beautifully and did their job. Shooting virtually all the images in the harsh midday sun was not a problem. I found the 3-stop version came in handy most often for my particular images. The gradient was absolutely silky smooth and offered a beautiful darkening effect without being overly obvious in it’s transition.
Here are a few images demonstrating the balancing power of the X4 GND. Both were shot using the 3-stop version.
First, without the filter…
…and now with the X4 3-stop GND.
Again, without the filter…
…and now with.
The sharpness of the X4 GND filters were superb. I’ll also claim responsibility for the overly warm color temperature of these images (hey, it happens) but I wanted to leave them as close to out of the camera RAW files as possible. I observed no color cast whatsoever being caused by the filter themselves.
I have to say I was not disappointed by the performance of the X100 holder or X4 GND filters. The X100 holder worked beautifully and commanded itself exactly as the folks over at Breakthrough Photography claimed it to be; an economical GND holder that is sturdy enough to handle constant photography work in the often less than hospitable environments encountered by serious landscape shooters.
The build quality is top notch and extremely solid. Just be careful that you don’t loosen any of the retention screws to the point of removal or you’ll be on your hands and knees searching for wayward screws.
The X4 GND filters themselves matched the performance of the X100 holder. Wonderful sharpness and seemingly heavy duty manufacturing make these filters a great option for those needed a high-grade GND filter that falls in the middle of the road in terms of price point. Overall, the X4 GND performed exactly as quality filter should.
In conclusion, the X100 holder and X4 GND filters from Breakthrough Photography fit my own style of shooting extremely well. If you are serious about your landscape photography and are in the market for a filter holder, the X100 is a bargain at just under $50 USD and works with virtually all other brands of GND filters. Likewise, the X4 GND filters, though maybe a little pricey for some, definitely will not disappoint with not a “meh” in sight.