Choosing The Right Lee 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 withour a filter on the left and with a filter on the right

Taken withour 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 key criteria 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 Filters, a brand from the UK,  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 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 this. This article will deal with everything that LANDSCAPEGEAR offers from this manufacturer, as briefly and informatively as possible. From October 2015, we will be stocking all three of Lee’s major systems. The original 100mm system, which is perfect for standard DSLR cameras and lenses like Nikon’s D810 or Canon’s 5D3. The smaller 75mm system, made for mirrorless and micro 3/4 cameras like the Olympus OMD EM10 and Fuji XT-1. Last but not least, the SW150 system for modern ultra-wide-angle lenses like Nikon’s 14-24mm and Canon’s 11-24mm.

Lee Filters 100mm System

This article deals with the original 100mm system, so if you’re a Nikon or Canon shooter, just keep reading.

Lee Filters 75mm System

Follow this link to read up about Lee’s new Sevenfive system for compact cameras like the Olympus OMD EM10 and Fuji XT-1.

Lee Filters 150mm System

Follow this link to read up about Lee’s new SW150 mkII system for modern ultra-wide lenses like the Nikon 14-24mm, Tamron 15-30mm and Canon 11-24mm.

Adapter Rings

The filters are flat sheets of resin or glass, so it can’t screw into the lens like a conventional 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.

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The Lee Filters 100mm System

The 100mm system offers a choice of a standard or wide angle ring. The only difference between the standard and wide is that the wide-angle ring has a sunken thread. This allows the filter holder to be closer to the camera body, making it less likely to pick up the filter holder in the frame (vignetting) when shooting with a wide lens. The sunken thread is clearly displayed below. In all cases I advise that you purchase a wide ring, but a normal ring is fine for lenses longer than 70mm.

We currently offer standard adapter rings for the 100mm system in  58mm, 62mm, 67mm and 72mm.

We currently offer wide angle adapter rings for the 100mm system in 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm and 82mm.

A normal 58mm ring and wide angle 77mm ring

A standard 58mm ring and wide angle 77mm ring

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. The 100mm holder can be purchased individually in the foundation kit or as part of the DSLR Starter Kit. The articles listed at the bottom of this page elaborate on what to buy.

100mm holder

100mm holder

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). You can either buy the graduated ND filters individually or as a hard or soft set. The sets offers a better per filter price.

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) Proglass 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 piece of equipment for capturing softly blurred waves like these during sunset or sunrise

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

The Lee 105mm 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. This is made possible with a very thin 105mm accessory ring that attaches to the front of the holder with the standard screws. The polariser then simply screws into the ring, offering independent rotation.

 

The 105mm Accessory Ring which screws into the holder using the standard screws.

The 105mm Accessory Ring which screws into the holder using the standard screws.

The new ultra-thin 105mm polariser for the 100mm system

The new ultra-thin 105mm polariser for the 100mm system

 

 

While the holder might not cause vignetting, the polariser unfortunately still can. That was the problem with the older 105mm polariser, which was more than 10mm thick. The new one (released 2015) is much thinner and this allows use with much wider lenses. On a holder with two slots, the new polariser only causes vignetting at 16mm on some lenses and 17mm on some. This means that you can shoot with two normal Lee filters and a polariser as wide as 17/18mm. What I’ve always done is to get a 2nd filter holder with only one slot, so if I need to shoot as wide as possible and I need to use a grad and a polariser, I can.

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.

Accessories

There are plenty of accessories that aid in the use of the filters. Some are simply niceties, while others are a must have. Read below to see what we offer.

Field Pouch

Lee Filters are an investment and taking good care of them 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 Field Pouch

Filter Wallet 

This is the alternative filter holder for keeping your Lee Filters safely stored. While it has no attachment points, it is more compact and better sealed. The Lee filter wallet is an album with 10 velvet sleeves and has a durable outer cover and a zip to keep out dust and dirt.

 

Multi-Filter-Pouch

 

Ring Caps 

When you’re on a shooting trip it can be tiring to attach and detach the adapter ring every time you take out the camera to shoot. These simple plastic caps fit over the adapter ring to protect the lens and allow you to leave the adapter ring attached when you pack away your gear.

Plastic-Caps

Wide Angle Lens Hood 

The lens hood is an accessory that holds great benefit for advanced landscape shooters. The most dramatic shot is usually when composing so that the sun is just outside of the frame. This creates problematic flare because there is sunlight falling directly on the lens, even though the sun isn’t in the frame. This problem can be solved by holding an object at just the right angle so that it casts a shadow over the lens, but isn’t visible in the frame. This solution is however impractical, takes a lot of effort and distracts the photographer from focusing on the things that matter. The wide-angle lens hood is like a modern day bellows, which can be extended and shaped to keep the lens in shade. It also blocks and absorbs stray light, which improves colour and contrast. Simply adjust it to the right angle and you can focus on the composition and settings instead of waving a hand around the lens like an idiot.

The lens hood attaches to the front of a normal holder, so that you can still add a solid ND or grad ND between the lens and the hood. There is a holder included with the hood, which is a great extra. You can remove or add filter slots, depending on the width of your wide-angle lens is. The wider it is, the quicker you will pick up the edges of the hood in the frame, in which case it’s better to remove one slot.

Wide-angle-hood

Brass Spring Clip 

You should never turn, screw or rotate the brass pin on the holder. Simply pull it back, slide the holder over the ring and release it to snap in place. If you screw it, then you are disassembling it. Once unscrewed, the tensioned spring will make the pin jump and if you’re in a field or on a beach, it will probably be gone. If this has happened to you before, you can use this to replace the spring clip assembly.

Lee-Brass-Spring-Clip-Assembly-01

Solid ND filter tin 

These tins are great for keeping your big stopper or little stopper safe and easy to reach. These tins have been included with the Stopper filters since Feb 2014, so if you purchased yours before then you won’t have one. Big-Stopper-tin-open

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 suits your requirements and budget.

This post is the 1st 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

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