Choosing the Right Lee SW150 Gear

Filters have always been, and will always be, an essential part of landscape photography. Photoshop enthusiasts may beg to differ, but the soaring demand for these products over the past few years proves otherwise. You can, to a great extent, get away with not using filters. The question is wether you prefer spending time in nature or behind the computer. If your answer is nature then you need to look at getting filters.

Taken without a filter on the left and with a filter on the right

The primary reason for using a filter system is that the sky is usually brighter than the land, especially in dramatic sunset light. Graduated ND filters are dark on the top half and transparent on the bottom half. When the dark part is positioned over the sky of an image, it ‘reduces’ the amount of light allowed through and this results in a darkened exposure of the sky. This concept is displayed as simply as possible in the image above. On the left it shows the effect with no filter while on the right it shows the effect using the filter. Pretty awesome.

ND stands for ‘neutral density’, which describes the secondary purpose of the filter –  it shouldn’t affect the colour of the light passing through it.  The colours captured by the camera should be true to the scene photographed. This is the great challenge for manufacturers of ND filters and some are more successful than others. The colour issue, as well as the overall quality of the product should be your primary consideration when deciding which brand to buy. There isn’t much of a decision though, as Lee stands head and shoulders above the rest.

I’m writing this article based on 7 years of experience with graduated filter systems. I started with one of the cheap brands, which felt and performed like a toy from a lucky packet. I then upgraded to one of the middle-tier brands and those were quickly discarded for a basic Lee kit. I immediately fell in love with it and before long I invested in a full Lee kit, which has assisted me in getting so many of my very best images over the years. The people behind the product are extremely passionate, precise and true to their product. Each graduated filter is handmade to the most exacting standards, using only the very best materials.

Interesting fact – Lee Filters employs only women in parts of the manufacturing process where colour factors are critical, because men are more susceptible to colour inaccuracies and are the only sex that can be colour blind.

THE SYSTEM

Graduated ND filters are the component around which the whole system was designed, but it includes a lot more than just the grads. This article will deal with everything that LANDSCAPEGEAR offers from this manufacturer, as briefly and informatively as possible.

The SW150 System – This plus-size system is Lee’s answer to the recent evolution of ultra-wide lenses like Nikon’s 14-24mm and Canon’s 11-24mm. These extreme wide-angle lenses all have a bulbous front element, which protrudes way past the casing of the lens. This makes it impossible to attach a filter system using the conventional method of screwing an adapter ring into the lens thread. The big difference between the SW150 system and the two smaller systems are the adapter rings. The smaller systems use adapter rings available in various sizes, which can be used on any lens as long as the thread size of the ring and lens match. The SW150 system however, uses a much more complicated adapter ring because these lenses don’t have a filter thread. Each adapter consists of 3 rings that couple around a specific part of the lens barrel like a collar. Due to this, the rings of this system are specific to each lens and they fit only that particular lens. These filters measure 150x170mm in size, which is substantially larger than the original 100mm system. Most of the products available in the 100mm system are also available in the larger size.

Adapter Rings

The filters are flat sheets of resin or glass, so it can’t screw into the lens like a polariser or UV filter. The filter slides into a holder, which clips onto a ring and said ring screws into the lens like a UV filter. This is called the adapter ring and they are available in different types and sizes for each system. Unlike the simple adapter rings of the 75mm and 100mm systems, the SW150 adapters are lens-specific and consist of three different rings. These three components are called the 1) front ring, 2) compression ring and 3) locking ring. Below is an illustrative slide that shows how an SW150 adapter ring is typically attached to a lens.

We stock SW150 adapter rings for the following lenses –

  • Nikon 14-24mm
  • Canon 11-24mm
  • Tamron 15-30mm

The following ones can be ordered from the supplier –

  • Nikon 14mm
  • Canon 14mm
  • Samyang 14mm
  • Sigma 12-24mm
  • Tokina 16-28mm

Tamron 15-30mm – We have a supplier who makes an outstanding adapter ring for this lens. It is machined from the best materials by someone at the UFS engineering department. Please get in touch for more details and a price if you’re interested.

Filter Holder

The filter holder simply clips onto the ring with the use of a tensioned spring mechanism. It sits snugly, yet still loose enough to be easily rotated. Unlike most other holders, which are single pieces of cheaply moulded plastic, the Lee holders are an assembly of high quality plastic and brass pieces. It can be customised for various needs and thanks to this, there is only one model of the holder for each size.Due to the bulbous front element of ultra-wide-angle lenses, there is a big gap between the first filter and the holder on the 150mm system. Stray light can enter this gap and cause unwanted ghosting in images. To fix this problem, the SW150mm mkII holder includes what they call a Light Shield. which is clearly visible in the image below. This item is simply a rubber gasket/hood that seals the unwanted gap and ensures that no stray light can enter the lens. This item is included in the mkII holder or can be purchased individually for the older mk1 holder.The 150mm filter holder can only be purchased individually.

150mm Filter Holder with Light Shield Attached

150mm Filter Holder with Light Shield Attached

150mm Light Shield

150mm Light Shield

 

The Filters

If you browse through a Lee catalogue, you might be shocked at the number of filters available. This is because they offer every single colour of the rainbow as part of a product range that originated in the film days. Twenty years ago you had to use a filter to give the sky a slight colour tint, but nowadays you can just set a colour and drag an opaque gradient in Lightroom. As stated before; you don’t want the filter to change the colour of the scene, so we’re only interested in neutral density filters.

Graduated Neutral Density filters (Grads)

Graduated ND filters are available in soft and hard, which determines the distance of the transition between the dark part and the transparent part. Hard grad filters are typically for scenes with a straight and uniform horizon, like the sea. Soft grad filters are typically for scenes with a less uniform horizon, like landscapes with hills or mountains. Both hard and soft filters are available in different densities, because light is dynamic and different scenes require a different amount of ‘darkening’ of the sky. LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA offers hard and soft grads in densities of 0.3(1 stop), 0.6(2 stops) and 0.9(3 stops) as part of a hard or soft set. We also sell the 0.6 Soft Grad individually as it is the most frequently used of the lot. The sets offers a better per filter price than purchasing them individually.

Hard Grad ND Set

Soft-Set-Web-Res

Soft Grad ND Set

 

Solid Neutral Density Filters (solids)

Solid ND filters are darkened across the entire surface and are also available in various densities. The purpose of these filters is simply to achieve longer shutter speeds. LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA offers 3-, 6-, 10- and 15- stop solid ND filters. The latter three are better known as the Little-, Big- and Super Stoppers. The 0.9 (3-stop) Solid ND filter is indispensible when shooting seascapes. When the sun is still out, there is usually still too much light for a nice slow shutter speed to blur the waves. Add a solid ND to your filter arrangement and you’ll be able to create those beautiful, softly blurred waves. The stoppers are considered super-ND filters as they increase the required exposure time exponentially. These are great for really long exposures to blur clouds, water or to remove traffic or people from bustling cityscape scenes.

The Super ND filters have a special seal on the back to prevent light from leaking in during the exposure.

The Super ND filters have a special seal on the back to prevent unwanted light from leaking in during the exposure.

Waves under a golden sunrise softened into beautiful dragging lines by the 0.9 proglass ND ISO100 | f/16 | 1.3s | 16mm

The 0.9 Solid ND is a critical requirement for capturing softly blurred waves like these during sunsets and sunrises

Ten stops of darkening applied to a stormy winters day at Kogelbay ISO100 | f/16 | 44s | 18mm

Ten stops of darkening applied to a stormy winters day at Kogelbay using the Big Stopper ISO100 | f/16 | 44s | 18mm

 

Circular Polariser

Lenses with a bulbous front element normally can’t use a polariser, because the lens has no filter thread. This is a great shame as a circular polariser is an indispensable tool for landscape photography. The Lee Filters SW150 system enables one to use a slide-in polariser and this in itself is enough to justify buying it. The only minor issue is that a polariser needs to be rotated to a specific angle in order to work optimally and so do graduated filters. Every now and again those two desired angles of the polariser and grad filters conflict, but it happens seldom enough that one can live with it.

150mm Circular Polariser

150mm Circular Polariser

 

Accessories

Field Pouch Lee Filters are an investment and looking after them well is of paramount importance. Your filters will always be safely at your fingertips, thanks to the new Lee Filters field pouch. The inside features 10 concertina style sleeves made out of a super soft polyester, which easily accommodates a hard grad set, soft grad set, 3 solid ND filters and a 105mm polariser. The exterior features three strap options: an over-the-shoulder strap, a belt loop, or a tripod strap, all of which are included. The exterior is constructed from a tough and durable cotton canvas fabric to ensure it can handle the outdoors.

100mm field pouch

100mm + 150mm Field Pouch

 

PURCHASE OPTIONS

Despite being the most mechanically complex of the three different systems, the SW150 system is the most straight forward when it comes to choosing what to purchase. This system is minimalistic and there are very few accessories.

Option 1 – Beginner Kit (R10 830.00 incl. Adapter Ring)

This option includes the absolute minimum that you can get away with. It’s pretty self-explanatory that you need an adapter ring and a filter holder in order to use any of the filters. The 0.6 Soft Grad is the most commonly used of the graduated ND filters as it can be used with any horizon and 2-stops is a very common exposure difference between land and sky. A Little- or Big Stopper offers a lot of creative long-exposure opportunities in landscapes and is one of the most exciting elements of using filter systems. If you’re only buying two filters, then a Field Pouch isn’t required as individual Grads come with a protective pouch and Stoppers come in a protective tin.

  1. Adapter Ring for Nikon or Canon – R2 145
  2. Filter Holder (includes Light Shield) – R3 495
  3. 0.6 Soft Grad – R2 195
  4. Little Stopper or Big Stopper – R2 995

Click on a product to continue to the product page.

Option 2 – Master Kit (R31 605.00 incl. Adapter Ring)

This option includes everything you need to really enjoy landscape photography with an ultra-wide lens. It’s pretty self-explanatory that you need an adapter ring and a filter holder in order to use any of the filters.The soft and hard grad sets provide a solution for almost any sky as you can achieve darkening of 1 to 6 stops (0.3-1.8), by combining various grads. You can also achieve a medium graduation by combining a soft and hard grad e.g. 0.6 soft + 0.3 hard = 0.9 medium. The Big- and Little Stopper offer a creative adventure with long exposures, which is one of the most exciting elements of using a filter system. This combination has a total of nine filters, so getting the 10-sleeve field pouch is an absolute must. The circular polariser is great for removing glare, saturating foliage or increasing clarity in grand scenes, but it can also be used as a 2-stop ND to slow down waves.

  1. Adapter Ring for Nikon or Canon – R2 145
  2. Filter Holder (includes Light Shield) – R3 495
  3. Soft Grad Set – R5 895
  4. Hard Grad Set – R5 895
  5. Little Stopper – R2 995
  6. Big Stopper – R2 995
  7. Super Stopper – R2 995
  8. Circular Polariser – R4 095
  9. Field Pouch – R1 095

Click on a product to continue to the product page.

Option 3 – Mix and Match

If you want more than option 1, but option 3 stretches the budget, then you can pick and choose what you’d like. A good example would be an Adapter Ring, Filter Holder, Soft Grad Set, Little Stopper, Circular Polariser and Field Pouch, all of which comes to a total of R18 570.00

What to Buy?

The ideal with Lee Filters is to have everything, but that will put you back a pretty penny. If you feel that you have the necessary knowledge to decide what you need, head to the Lee product page. If not, keep reading.

LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA has put together four different combinations for the 100mm system and several each for the 75mm and 150mm systems. These combinations range from the very basic to the very comprehensive, in order of price. This will help you choose a combination of products that suit your requirements and budget.

This post is the 7th of a seven-part guide to buying the right Lee Filters. Click below to go to the section you’re interested in.

Part 1 – Choosing the Right Lee Filters Gear 

Part 2 – Lee Filters Option 1 – Beginner

Part 3 – Lee Filters Option 2 – Beginner Plus

Part 4 – Lee Filters Option 3 – Master

Part 5 – Lee Filters Option 4 – Advanced

Part 6 – The Lee Filters Sevenfive System

Part 7 – The Lee Filters SW150 System

3 Responses to Choosing the Right Lee SW150 Gear

  1. Hi Robert

    We have switched to being pro-Nisi, especially on the 150mm systems. They are the first to have made a 150mm holder with an independently rotating polarizer, the S5 system. However, that also only has 2 slots. Their older holder, the Q version comes with 3 slots and doesn’t vignette on the 14-24mm @14mm. It’s also dirt cheap compared to the Lee and functions much simpler and easier – it just goes over the lens and tightens with two screws. Do some research and give them a go. Lee is still great, but their products are prohibitively expensive for most people.

  2. Lee filters are in a class of their own, once I upgraded to them I couldn’t imagine using anything else.

    I regularly use the SW150 system on my Nikon 14-24mm but am curious to know how I can use three filters as there are only places for two and I cannot find extra holders for the 150 system. They are available for the 100mm, can I use those?
    Robert

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