What benefits does the new LEE 100 holder bring to those who regularly use filters? Michael Topham finds out
Over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of research and development go into the way photographers work with filters. Several filter manufacturers have come up with some clever ideas, with the main emphasis behind most of them being to make the use of filters easier and more convenient.
Filter manufacturers such as Benro and H&Y have taken the direction of manufacturing frames for filters, which surround the edge of the filter and slot or attach by magnetic force to their respective holders. This design offers good protection should a filter be accidentally dropped. In the case of the two manufacturers mentioned above, it’s also possible to fit a polariser between the lens and holder, with geared mechanisms offering precise adjustment and control.
One of the interesting new products to be showcased at this year’s Photography Show at the NEC in Birmingham was the LEE 100 filter holder for the company’s popular 100mm system. Photographers queued up to get hands on and watch live demonstrations of how the new holder works.
The new filter holder replaces the classic LEE filters holder that’s been in production for twenty-five years and has been bundled with many filter kits such as the LEE Filters Foundation kit. It advances in various different ways, but is it as refined and as easy to use in the field as some of the alternative filter systems on the market?
The LEE filter holder of old wasn’t heavy, but this new holder is 16% lighter and weighs 52g on the scales. As for the finish, it could be mistaken for being made of carbon fibre with an attractive weave pattern, however it’s actually precision engineered from injection-moulded composite materials and feels strong, rigid and sturdy enough for the most demanding of outdoor photographers.
At the side of the holder the spring release that’s used to secure and remove the holder via an adaptor ring fitted to the lens (the new holder being fully compatible with all existing LEE Filters 100mm adaptor rings) has been completely redesigned. For starters it’s larger, making it that bit easier to find when you eye is up against the viewfinder.
During use I discovered the holder can be removed and attached to the adaptor ring single handedly, but if you’re working on a tripod I’d recommend keeping one hand braced on a tripod leg to avoid it moving, or worse, toppling over.
The interesting and clever part about the spring release is the bright blue locking ring, which can be rotated. It features three settings – neutral, half lock and full lock. When it’s set to its neutral position, the holder can be rotated freely and removed from the adaptor ring. Change the locking ring to its half lock setting and you’ll find the holder can still be rotated, albeit with slightly more friction, but can’t be removed from the adaptor ring. As its name suggests, the full lock setting prevents the filter holder rotating and stops it being removed from the adaptor ring. This is more control than was previously offered with the original LEE filter holder, which attached to an adaptor ring in a similar fashion but couldn’t be locked or half locked.
One of the fiddly jobs on the old filter holder was changing the filter-guides. This required users to first locate a suitably sized screwdriver, unscrew four small brass metal screws, add or remove the relevant filter guides and then secure with the screws again. Attempt this in a gale, rain or freezing cold conditions with gloves on and you’d find yourself cursing the design.
Thankfully, LEE Filters has addressed this issue by equipping the new holder with new modular filter-guide blocks, which come in one, two and three-slot configurations. There’s a bit of a knack to removing them, but you get a tool to help you and the light grey inserts that locate at the side of the guide blocks ensure a light-tight seal when using long exposure ND filters. Compared to the old holder, it makes it much faster and more manageable to change filter guides out in the field. To avoid loosing vital parts the filter guide blocks are also conveniently supplied in a small drawstring bag. A drawstring bag is also provided within the box to keep the filter holder in pristine condition.
Another good thing about the new filter-guide blocks is that they’re designed in such a way that they accept the attachment of a new LEE 100 Polariser. The polariser clips into place in front of any other filters that users may wish to use – a different approach to some other filter manufacturers who position their polariser between the lens and any attached filters. The polariser clips into the guide block with a reassuring click and remained securely attached throughout my testing.
In practical use
Existing LEE Filters users will find it takes a matter of minutes to get familiar with the new holder and its revised design. The new locking ring works very well despite being made of plastic and the three positions that the locking ring can be set to are easy to learn.
Filters slide into the guide blocks smoothly and are held in place securely. Swapping the slot configurations over takes less than 30 seconds and it’s safest to remove the polariser (done so by squeezing the plastic catches together) when the filter holder is removed from the lens than when it’s attached.
I experienced no signs of dark corners with lenses as wide as 15mm on a full-frame camera using three 100mm filters. Adding the LEE 100 Polariser to this combination did introduce dark edges and forced me to zoom in a little (to around 18mm) to remove them. With the single slot filter guide blocks and the polariser attached, users can expect to shoot as wide as 15mm without dark corners causing an issue.
The new LEE 100 filter holder is fully compatible with all of LEE Filters 100mm filters, including the new LEE 100 Polariser filter. For those who already own an existing LEE 105mm polariser, there’s a new 105mm polarising ring (£35), which when attached allows it to be clipped on to the new holder.
An adaptor ring is required to connect the holder to the lens you wish to use and the LEE 100 holder is compatible with all LEE Filters 100mm standard and wide angle rings – good news for those who may already own a few for their various lenses. The only other thing to note is that the LEE Filters 100mm universal hood and wide angle hood are not compatible with the new LEE 100 filter holder.
On its own, the LEE 100 filter holder costs £83 and the LEE 100 Polariser is priced at £235. Three kits that include the LEE 100 filter holder will also be made available.
First of these is the LEE 100 Landscape Kit (£168) that comprises a LEE 100 filter holder and LEE 0.6ND medium grad. There’s also a LEE 100 Long Exposure Kit (£358) that includes a LEE 100 filter holder, Big Stopper, Little Stopper and LEE 0.6 ND hard grad. Finally there’s the LEE 100 Deluxe Kit (£648) with which you get a LEE100 filter holder, LEE 100 Polariser, Big Stopper, LEE 0.6 ND medium grad, LEE 0.9 ND hard grad, LEE 1.2 ND medium grad, 50ml Clear LEE filter wash and Clear LEE filter cloth.
The LEE 100 filter holder works well and is an improvement on the original filter holder that it replaces. If you find yourself regularly changing filter slot configurations in the field, want a polariser that clips on effortlessly at the front and you like the sound of the new locking ring it’ll make a good buy and some users may wish to upgrade.
What the new LEE 100 holder doesn’t do though is reinvent the way in which filters are fundamentally used with it. You still have to slide filters into the holder like before and you don’t get any user aids to move the filters without physically touching them. If you’d like to work faster, have your filters protected within their own frame and take control of a polariser using a geared mechanism, there are some excellent alternatives from the likes of Benro, H&Y and Wine Country Camera. These are certainly worth exploring and you may wish to consider them first.