An Introduction to the Lee Filter System
Written by Rob Mynard
Following on from our recent post on Neutral Density filters, I’d like to discus the Lee Filters range, regarded by many as the ultimate photographic filter system. At first glance Lee have a lot going on and it can feel daunting; a range of different sized systems, each with multiple components, and hundreds of filter options, but getting started can actually be quite simple.
Lee offer a good range of starter kits (giving you a filter holder and a selection of different filters) but the first step is to select which system will suit you best out of their four differing systems, the Bug, the Seven5, the 100mm, and the SW150. Between these they’ve got most modern, popular, cameras and lenses covered. The Lee Bug system works with the Gopro Hero 3 & 4 and is designed mainly to assist with colour correction underwater so I’m not going to focus on that one today. Luckily Lee’s website have a simple system match guide to help you choose which size would be right for you based on the lenses your using.
The three main systems are essentially the same. Each consists of 3 central parts, the filter, the filter holder, and the adapter ring (the bit that holds your filter holder to your lens). Where they differentiate is in the lenses and cameras they’re designed to fit.
The Seven5 Micro Filter System
Filter width – 75mm
Sized to suit compact system cameras and offering a full range of physically smaller filters to suit lenses with a filter thread size of 72mm and below. The smaller size is perfectly tailored towards the street and travel photographer with specific adapter rings also available to suit the Fuji X100 series of cameras.
The 100mm System
Filter width – 100mm
Built to work with standard DSLR’s, Medium, and Large Format cameras to meet almost any photographic challenge. The 100mm system is the backbone of the Lee filter range. Adapter rings are available to suit lenses with filter threads ranging from 49mm to 105mm with wide-angle adapter rings available to minimise vignetting on lenses with a field of view wider than 35mm. Lee also offer an adapter ring designed specifically to work with the Canon 17mm TS-E as well as the option of custom made adapter rings to suit non-standard sized lenses.
The SW150 mk II System
Filter width – 150mm
The SW150 system has been designed for the ever expanding range of ultra-wideangle lenses that don’t allow for the screw mount system, usually lenses with a bulbous front element, but some screw mount adapters are available to allow your SW150 system to be backwards compatible with some standard lenses. The SW150 adapter rings are built specific for a (currently) small selection of lenses but with more lenses being offered in the future.
Lee currently offers SW150 adapter rings to suit -
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon 14mm f2.8 D AF ED
Canon EF 14mm f2.8 L II USM
Canon EF 11-24mm f4L USM
Samyang 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC
Sigma 12-24mm f4.5-5.6 DG HSM II
Sigma 20mm f1.4 HSM Art
Tamron 15-30mm f2.8 SP Di VC USD
Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 PRO FX
The filter holders are made to be easy to attach and remove from the adapter rings, to hold the filters securely, to allow rotation of the holder so gradient filters can be placed at any angle within your image, and for multiple filters to be stacked in front of each other. This allows for an unparalleled freedom of creativity in adjusting the light levels and colour within your image. The 100mm system even allows for multiple filter holders to be stacked via their Upgrade Kit, each free to rotate independently of the others.
And then we come to the filters, the whole reason we’re here, and Lee offer an enormous and ever expanding range of filters including:
- Neutral Density and Long exposure Filters. Solid neutral density filters designed to allow for control of overall light levels. ND filters usually come in 1, 2, and 3 stops but are also available with extreme effects such as the Little stopper (6 stops of reduction), the Big Stopper (10 stops of reduction), and their new Super Stopper (15 stops of reduction)
- Graduated (grad) Neutral Density filters. Grad filters enable the photographer to selectively adjust the exposure across the image, reducing the difference in light levels between objects like bright sky and darker foregrounds. They are available in a variety of light stopping strengths and various gradations between the lighter and darker areas of the filter.
- Polarising Filters. Polarising filters are designed to reduce glare and reflection from non-metallic surfaces. Most commonly used in landscape photography to give deeper colour to areas of water and sky but can also work well with foliage and to remove reflections on glass.
- Special Effect Filters. Here is where Lee really shine, offering a truely enormous range of different options including coloured filters for B&W photography, different coloured solid and graduated filters to add warmth or colour to specific areas of your image, low contrast, soft focus, mist, and starburst effects as well as a range of technical filters commonly used in larger film productions for very specific colour balancing of different film stocks under different lighting conditions. Filters can also be made to order if Lee don’t already offer the perfect filter for you.
A good selection of filter kits are also available, containing a number of common filters for different shooting situations like their Landscape, Autumn Tint, Sky Blue, Sunrise and Sunset kits. Graduated ND sets, containing three grad filters in 1, 2, and 3 stops, are available in Soft, Medium, Hard, and Very Hard varieties.
That’s all you need to get started, a filter, a filter holder, and some way to attach it to your lens, but Lee also offer a wide selection of accessories to aid in your filter adventure, from light hoods, cleaning solutions, cloths, lens caps, and filter pouches, to books and DVDs to teach and inspire you.
With so many options Lee filters can be as simple or as complex as you need, and the guys at CameraPro are ready to help with any questions you might have.