We’ve seen matte boxes with various (rotatable) stages before, we have seen screw-on filters before, and we’ve even seen magnetic filter systems before. And yet, the new Velium MagRota filter system still manages to surprise us, in a good way. Interested in finding out why? Keep reading.
I have to admit, when the MagRota Filter System first showed up on our studio/office doorstep, I felt a bit overwhelmed: quite a large package containing a lot of smaller packages, each containing a pouch, with each pouch containing an individual filter. Then more pouches containing filter holders in various sizes. (Thankfully, Velium sent us also a separate multi-filter holder pouch later on, which can replace many of the individual pouches.)
When you start reviewing something that you have little to no prior idea about, it can be a daunting task. But once I was able to wrap my head around the concept of the MagRota filter system, I knew: This makes total sense, and I wondered why no one had done it before. 

The problem with matte boxes

efore diving into the problem with matte boxes, let’s first discuss their advantages: First popping up on movie sets, they are certainly the best-quality way of applying filters to your lens. You are able to use the same filters on all kinds of lenses with them, you can even combine them (with normal multi-stage matte boxes and/or rotatable ones), and you are able to control the light hitting your lens through flags. And here’s the “but”: they tend to be heavy, bulky, and impractical to use for a one-man band shooter or small crew shoots when a lot of lens changes are involved. Or when you want to put your camera on a gimbal when balancing a rig quickly is crucial. Yes, there are light clamp-on matte boxes now that address these challenges, but they still suffer from the fact that 4×5.6 or 4×4 filters are quite heavy on their own. And usually, two is the maximum of filters to put behind each other on amatte box.


The alternative: screw-on filters

So when matte boxes are not feasible for a lot of shoots, what’s the alternative? Correct: Screw-on filters. Let’s take a quick look at their advantages and disadvantages.

The great thing about screw-on filters is that they are small, light, and can quickly be moved between lenses. One downside is a limited selection of filter kinds (I usually use them mostly as variable ND filters, because it’s convenient when you are shooting alone on a mirrorless camera that lacks built-in NDs). Another challenge is the fact that you need different sizes of screw-on filters to use with all your lenses (or, better: Use step-down rings so you can use the same ones on all lens diameters!) and the fact that you can’t easily combine them with other filters like you can on matte boxes. 

Velium MagRota Filter System: combining two worlds

The MagRota approach: shrink the matte box, make it much lighter, but also make “screw-on” filters stackable. The people at Velium, the makers of the MagRota filter system, clearly tackled the problems described above and tried to come up with a product that avoids the downsides of both matte boxes and screw-on filters. Let’s take a closer look if they succeeded. 

Velium MagRota Filter System. Image credit: CineD

MagRota Filter Base

First, let’s establish what the MagRota filter system is comprised of: the heart of the system is the MagRota Base, an aluminum filter holder that screws on the inner front thread of your lens. (Unfortunately, the system currently doesn’t work with lenses that don’t have an inner front thread, which is of course a downside.)

Velium MagRota Filter System. Image credit: CineD

The MagRota Base comes in 82mm, 86mm and 92mm versions, though the 82mm version ships with 67-82, 72-82, and 77-82 step-up-rings, so you can attach the Base onto most common lenses. I like the fact that they started with large diameters and don’t trick you into buying smaller diameter versions (as some screw-on filter makers do), because, in fact, you can use step-up rings to make larger filters fit slimmer lenses in any case anyway. 

Velium MagRota Filter System. Image credit: CineD

The Base simply screws onto your lens like a screw-on filter, with or without a step-up ring if needed, and then you are ready to attach up to 4 stacked magnetic filters on top of each other (more on that below). There’s a golden turntable aluminum ring that allows you to rotate the entire filter system without moving the Base itself (which is neat, but more on that later), and there is also a locking lever that lets you lock the filters in place. 

Velium MagRota Filter System. Image credit: CineD

The MagRota Filter Base is of course larger in diameter than your average screw-on filter, and that can make your lens/camera system look a bit bulky, which takes some getting used to. I honestly don’t mind it because the advantages outweigh the bulkier look: the Base allows you to add up to 4 stacked filters and still get no vignetting at up to 16mm lenses, which is remarkable. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any screw-on variable ND filter that lets you get a clear image without vignetting at 16mm, and that doesn’t even add any additional filters. Even worse so usually with matte boxes.

Velium MagRota Filters

Velium shipped us 11 different filters with the system, all in their various individual pouch, which is why – as mentioned in the beginning – it took some time to get an overview. Basically, these 11 filters offer 6 types of filters, including variable ND (VND), graduated ND (GND), circular polarizer (CPL), infrared ND (IRND), and Streak and Mist filters. (They are working on a lot of additional effect filters which are supposed to be released in the “near future”.) Because this is a magnetic system, you cannot use third-party filters with this system, just one thing to keep in mind. 

Velium MagRota Filter System. Image credit: CineD

How does it work?

You can’t use any random order with the filters, you have to follow a certain “stacking order”, which is easy to follow since the filters are marked “Cine I” all the way through to “Cine IV”. (There’s a separate stacking order for photographers which is also marked.) 

Velium MagRota Filter System. Image credit: CineD

Of course, you don’t have to use 4 filters, you can also just use one or two on top of each other. But that marking system makes it easy to get started: The first filter is a CineStreak filter – included were Gold and Blue, next are the Dual CPL and VND filters (in VND strengths of either 2-5 or 5-9 stops), and lastly, the CineMist filter (in 1/2 or 1/4 strengths).

Velium MagRota Filter System. Image credit: CineD

I realized how smartly designed the system is when stacking three or four filters: Let’s say you start with a golden CineStreak filter, which really gives very nice golden “anamorphic style” streaks from any pointed light sources, and then you want to add a CPL and variable ND filter on top: you would think that the streak filter is turning with the VND filter (which would be bad because we don’t want the streaks to change the angle once we set them), but that’s not the case. Because the streak filter is the first that goes on, it sits in the “locking stage” which you fix with the lever on the base, so you can exactly dial in the “streak angle” you want. 

Velium MagRota Filter System. Image credit: CineD

The VND filter that goes on top has its own separate little lever that allows you to turn it and is not turned on the base itself. The magnets on the filters allow filters to be turned on top of each other easily. And due to the super slim design of the filter frames and filters themselves, it’s a very seamless way of getting the desired results.

Velium MagRota Filter System. Image credit: CineD

Being able to combine all kinds of effect filters with VND on such a small filter system is revolutionary to me – usually using a VND on a lens prevents you from adding other filters, which so far always had me come back to a matte box, that often comes with the disadvantages mentioned above. The most practical use for me would be to combine a GND filter with a VND filter whilst shooting outside in changing lighting conditions. 

Velium MagRota Filter System. Image credit: CineD

How good are the magnets?

Naturally, this question comes up with any magnetic system: Can you trust the magnets? There is always a fear of filters dropping and shattering into a thousand pieces when hitting the floor while working with them in general, so a magnet “has to be trusted”. I have to say that Velium seemed to have found a good compromise of a very tight and secure fit of the filters and the ability to still take them off without the fear of dropping them. The most critical filter for me is the first one because it’s a bit tougher to take out of the base, but I would recommend turning your camera and lens pointing up, so you can grab the filter from above. I do not recommend taking all the filters in the Base off at once, this can feel a bit risky, but rather do it one by one. It still is a much faster way of changing filters than the other methods of screwing them on and off or changing a filter in a matte box. 

Velium MagRota Filter System. Image credit: CineD

Quality of the glass and coatings – what about reflections and light leaks?

Combining several filters always comes with the worry of increased reflections and refractions as soon as light hits your lens. The MagRota system really impresses in this regard, because in general, reflections are absolutely minimal. They added various nano-coatings to reduce them, and you can tell that the quality of the glass is superb in general – after checking I found it’s by Schott, the most premium glassmaker that also supplies glass to the likes of ZEISS and ARRI (and many, many others). On Velium’s product pages for the MagRota system, you can see that they went to great lengths to develop coatings to minimize reflections, and it definitely shows. What also helps is how thin the filters are and how closely they stack together, which is a much tighter fit than comparable stackable filter systems I’ve seen so far.

MagRota GoldStreak filter without additional filters. Image credit: CineD.

Sharpness and color shift

While I was getting started to do scientific sharpness and color shift tests with the filters, I realized it’s not really possible to do this in all the combinations the filters offer – and they are made to be used in combination. Yet I can share my general impression: While it’s impossible to have absolutely no color shift when applying VND and CPL filters, I found the color shift to be minimal, and more to the warmer side, generally between 100 and 300 Kelvin. Nothing major and easily correctable with a custom white balance (which you always should perform anyway as soon as you attach a filter!)

MagRota BlueStreak filter – Image credit: CineD

In terms of sharpness, the quality of the glass shows here, there was no discernable loss in sharpness while using the filters. We have come a long way from the times when almost every VND actually came with the big compromise of losing sharpness!

CineMist strengths

Two filters that are – by design! – indeed losing sharpness, are the CineMist 1/2 and 1/4 filters. While I like the effect – also in combination with the CineStreak filters, which gives a dreamy look – I think that the included CineMist 1/2 filter is giving too strong of an effect to be used in everyday work. I had to chuckle when I went to their Indiegogo page to check because apparently, I am not the only one who was taken aback by that, and now they list that they ship a CineMist 1/4 and 1/8 with the system instead. A good decision!

MagRota GoldStreak combined with CineMist 1/2. Image credit: CineD.

Magnetic Filter Cap

A small, yet nice accessory is the magnetic filter cap they include: It just goes on top of the filter stack (no matter how many you use) and really easily protects your filters. 

Velium MagRota Filter System with magnetic lens cap attached. Image credit: CineD

Conclusion of the MagRota Filter System Review

Before really dealing with the Velium MagRota Filter System, I never realized what I had been missing from screw-on filter systems. It solves a lot of problems at once without compromising in any kind of way: the filters are superb, the images they produce are top-notch, and the system gives you a lot of flexibility once you learn how it works – which is a lot less hard than I thought because the numbering of the filters guides you through it. 

Velium MagRota Filter System in the new pouch that holds various filters. Image credit: CineD

The MagRota Filter System deserves more attention from the filmmaking community than it has gotten so far as I find the pricing to be quite fair as well. A high-quality VND filter set of two screw-on VNDs will set you back a similar $300 as MagRota’s VND Standard VND Kit, for example, but not give you all the flexibility and extendability of their system. 


Content source: CineD