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.
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 below. 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 SEVENFIVE SYSTEM
Graduated ND filters are the component around which the whole system was designed, but it includes a lot more than just this. This article will deal with everything that LANDSCAPEGEAR offers from this manufacturer, as briefly and informatively as possible.
The rapid advance of technology has been putting better image quality in smaller cameras, like the Olympus OMD EM10 and Fuji XT-2. These smaller cameras have become increasingly popular amongst landscape photographers and Lee’s original 100mm system is unnecessarily large for it. To address this issue, Lee unveiled their Seven5 system, which features filters that are 75x90mm in size, instead of the traditional 100x150mm. Most of the products available in the 100mm system are also available in the smaller size.
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. The 75mm adapter rings are the simplest of the bunch as there is only one type, available in various thread sizes. As of October 2015, we will aim to always have 52mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm and 72mm in stock. If there is any other size you require, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
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 metal pieces. It can be customised for various needs and thanks to this, there is only one model of the holder for each system size.
The 75mm holder is just a downscaled version of the 100mm holder. It can be purchased as part of the Deluxe Kit, Starter Kit or just by itself.
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. The sets offers a better per filter price than purchasing them individually.
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 0.6-, 0.9-, 1.8- and 3.0-stop solid ND filters for the Sevenfive system. The latter two are of course better known as the Little Stopper and Big Stopper. The 0.6 and 0.9 Solid ND filters are indispensable 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 Lee Seven5 circular polariser performs a very niche job within the Lee Filter System. There is already a normal square slide-in polariser, so why do they make another type of polariser? And why can’t you just use a normal screw in polariser? The answers are luckily very simple.
1. While you can use a normal screw-in polariser and then just screw the adapter ring into that, it will cost you many precious millimeters at the wide end of your lens. The holder will be sitting much further away from the lens, causing vignetting when shooting wide.
2. The square slide-in polariser solves the above-mentioned problem, but it causes a different one. A polariser needs to be rotated to a specific angle in order to have the desired effect. Graduated filters also need to be at a specific angle to have the desired effect and the two filters usually have a conflicting desired angle. So when the grad/grads are perfectly aligned with the horizon, the polariser won’t be at the right angle…and vice versa.
The best possible solution is to mount a rotatable polariser at the front of the holder. The holder still sits as close to the lens as possible and the polariser can be rotated independently of the grads. The polariser for the 100mm system needs an extra accessory that is attached to the front of the holder, but the Seven5 polariser simply slides over and locks into the standard screws. This keeps things simple and affordable.
This system has another perk; you only need one polariser for all your lenses, as long as you have an adapter ring for each thread size. It also has a slightly warm bias, so it can also enhance the greens, browns and golds in landscapes.
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.
The Seven5 system is pretty simply to select as there aren’t too many accessories.
Option 1 – Beginner Kit (R4 795.00 incl. Adapter Ring)
This option includes the absolute minimum that you can get away with and offers a great introduction to the world of filters. 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 Hard Grad is one of the most commonly used of the graduated ND filters as it can be used with most horizons and 2-stops is a very common exposure difference between land and sky. A Little- or Big Stopper offers a lot of opportunities in landscapes and is one of the most exciting elements of using filter systems. If you’re only buying two filters, then a System Pouch isn’t required as individual Grads come with a protective pouch and Stoppers come in a protective tin.
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Option 2 – Deluxe Kit + Adapter Ring + System Pouch (12 345.00 incl. Adapter Ring)
This option is based around Lee’s Seven5 Deluxe Kit, which includes a Filter Holder, 0.6 Soft Grad, 0.6 Hard Grad, 0.9 Hard Grad, Big Stopper and Lee Sevenfive Circular Polariser. The first thing to note is that this offers excellent value for money as buying all of these items individually would cost just slightly over R12 000.00. We sell the Deluxe kit for R9 895.00, so it offers an off-the-bat saving of almost R2 500.00. The kit includes three of the most commonly used grads, which will be able to balance the exposure between land and sky in most situations. The Big Stopper offers a lot creativity with longer shutterspeeds, which is one of the most exciting elements of using a filter system. 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. The last thing you need is a System Pouch to keep your investment safe and scratch-free while out and about in the landscape.
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Option 3 – Master Kit (R15 2400.00 incl. Adapter Ring)
This option includes everything you need to really enjoy landscape photography with your compact camera. 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. 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. This combination has a total of nine filters, so getting the 10-sleeve System Pouch is an absolute must.
- Adapter Ring – R445
- Filter Holder – R1 595
- Soft Grad Set – R3 795
- Hard Grad Set – R3 795
- Little Stopper – R1 595
- Big Stopper – R1 595
- Super Stopper – R1 595
- System Pouch – R825
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Option 4 – 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, Starter Kit, Soft Grad Set, Big Stopper and System Pouch, all of which comes to a total of R8 725.00.
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 sixth 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 Seven5 System
Part 7 – The Lee Filters SW150 System