What is it?
The Lee100 Filter Holder is a completely redesigned version of the popular and versatile 100mm filter holder for square (and rectangular filters). The holder attaches to the lens using a specific adapter ring, so you need only buy a ring for each different size diameter thread, instead of multiple filters of the same type for each lens.
Although you can use image editing software to achieve many of the same effects as filters, it’s still an advantage for some types of photography. For example, cutting down glare form reflective surfaces can only be achieved using a Polariser and where the brightness range is too extreme to captured in a single exposure, graduated neutral density (NDG) filters must be employed. Solid NDs are also useful for blurring elements in a scene, such as people and cars in front of a monument or building, and for the unrealistic yet aesthetically attractive smoothing of seas, rivers and waterfalls.
The savings from a filter system like this can be considerable, especially when you have multiple lenses and camera formats. For example, the 100mm filter range will accomomdate 35mm full-frame and APS-C format cameras and it will also fit some medium format camera lenses, as well as some large format lenses. Bear in mind though the size of the sensor affects the softness of the NDG type filters.
Lee make two different types of lens adpaters, though, with rings designed for wide-angles with the prefix w/a .
These are a little more complex in their design in that the filter threads are offset slightly setting the filter attachment ring a few mm’s rearward in an attempt to reduce vignetting. Lee have a page on their website to find the optimum ring for your lens. However while the w/a types are more expensive it makes sense to consider these first, especially in the 72-82mm filter range where you might swap between wide and short tele lenses.
The new holder retains the customizable filter holder blocks concept of the original, which allows you to alter the number of filters that can be held at one time with the idea that you reduce the number of filter slots if the block starts to mechanically vignette. In the past this was achieved by removing thin plates that made up the blocks which are held in place by tiny brass screws. Although effective, it wasn’t a job to be done in the field. With the new filter holder, the blocks aren’t user adjustable but are instead swapped out for others which are supplied as part of the kit.
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Why do you need it?
Besides the difficulty of adjusting the filter blocks in the field, one of the shortcomings of the original was that the holder was prone to detaching from the ring when snagged (on clothing typically), as it was held in place with a fairly weak spring-loaded catch. Apparently, it was designed like this to prevent the camera and lens (typically when on a tripod) being pulled over. I have the original holder and never experienced this though when moving the camera I tend to remove the holder and filters anyway. Still to counter this the new filter holder has a completely re-designed three-way locking mechanism.
All of the original 100mm filters and lens adapter rings fit still, so if you have those already then the cost is limited to just the new filter holder, which is curently £80 inc VAT at WEX Photo (UK),or $96 USD at B&H Photo (US).
With the new detachable blocks comes a new method to attach the polarizer filter. First, you’ll need the new polarizer which has an integrated ring. This now clips directly onto the blocks of the new holder, instead of having to secure a seperate polarizer ring with tiny brass screws and then screw the filter to that.
The 105mm polariser for the original, including the Landscape polariser, can still be used but requires the purchase of a dedicated ring to clip onto the new filter holder.
How does it perform?
Made from modern composites that look like carbon-fibre, the new filter holder is is nicely made and importantly, light in weight – some 18% lighter than the original. The holder’s rounded shoulders provide a good grip when changing filters. My advice would be to always change filter away from the camera, as it’s not only far easier but more importantly, doesn’t stress an extending lens barrel.
The standard two-slot filter blocks are interchangeable with one and three slot blocks, which both are supplied in the kit. A plastic tool is also included to release the blocks. The first time I used it I stripped the skin off my thumb, so I advise you to grasp the block to be removed between finger and thumb, rather than the body of the holder as you would typically when handling it. That way you can insert the tool as described in the manual and then push the block inwards with your thumb while using your finger to control the block’s rearward movement. Once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s easy to repeat, even when on location.
Filters slide easily into the guide blocks and are held quite firmly. I tried Lee ND soft and hard grads which are perhaps the most likely used and still relevant for digital unless you’re into exposure blending. As a C1 user I also have a genuine Phase One LCC plate which I use for certain lenses mainly TSE lenses for 35mm. The plate is too thick for the slots except the nearest to the holder (used for the slightly thicker NDs with their foam light seal). It will fit but it’s tight when inserted and difficult to remove so there’s a chance you might scratch it on the holder’s face.
I also tried the new Lee100 circular type polariser, designed specifically for the new holder. At £230 GBP inc VAT at WEX Photo (UK) and $267 USD at B&H Photo (US), it’s not cheap exactly but the whole point is that you’ll likely only buy it once. If you have the older 105mm polariser there’s a new ring you can use to attach it to the new holder.
The new 100mm polariser is quite large and from the marketing material it’s noticeably slimmer than the older 105mm polariser. Like the older version it fits in front of the filters and Lee have made it as slim as possible to prevent vignetting. It has anti-reflection coatings on both sides and is pretty neutral in colour.
With the filters stacked and a Big Stopper (10 stop) ND in place (Wex Photo UK / B&H Photo US) it is practically impossible to induce any flare or ghosting. The only time there was some, a small ghosting patch on a 24mm TSE, was when the lens was deliberately pointed towards the sun (albeit behind thick foliage) for a stress test.
The Big Stopper barely lets any light through and is useful for ‘removing’ any moving people from your shot, either completely or with some blur if the shutter speed is high enough. For more general use, blurring water or clouds, the 6-stop Little Stopper is likely the more useful, and can be easily combined with the Lee ND set with 1-, 2- and 3-stop polyester filters that are very reasonably priced (WEX Photo UK / B&H Photo US).
Although the “Stopper” range is well known, Lee also have a range of colour critical ProGlass IRND filters available from 2-15 stops that block IR and UV and are said not to have any any colour casts. At around £180 / $237 each (WEX Photo UK / B&H Photo US), these are twice the price of the Stopper range.
The polarsier comes preassembled with its own ring to clip-on to the holder; you simply push one of the two tabs into a dedicated slot on the front face of the guide blocks and then using a little pressure, push the second into the slot on the opposing block.
Although deeply knurled, the polariser is thin as already mentioned and therefore a bit tricky to turn when on the camera, so my advice would be to adjust it off-camera while on the holder, then fix it to the lens, after adding any NDs. Sadly there’s no indicator for polarisation on the ring which, although perhaps a minor oversight, it is easy enough to add a small amount of modelling paint to the ring if you really find the need to.
Removing the polariser is definitely more fiddly, requiring the pressure on one side of the polarizer to open the holder’s blocks. It’s best to do this off-camera and to practice this a few times before using the filter holder in earnest.
But what of the new locking mechanism? Like the original it’s easy to use one-handed when attaching or detaching, and the new locking collar is a vast improvement over the original design. When fully locked the holder can’t be moved at all. Lee say older lens rings some rotation may still be possible but not with the latest designs which are made to greater tolerances.
When partially locked, the idea is that some movement around the ring is possible allowing you to rotate NDGs into position, but it can’t be dislodged from the lens accidentally.
Due the shape of the blue coloured locking collar, it is easy to keep track of the setting if you regularly set the holder back in the same position.
Unlocked it works in just the same way as the original, which is how I use it. I would prefer to lose the holder and filters rather than the lens and camera. However if you are hand-holding the camera or it’s fixed to a tripod and you’re moving from one position to the another then I would lock it.
The Lee 100 filter system is one of the most popular systems available and with it’s modular design and range of quality filters it’s not difficult to understand why.
Anyway with the new filter holder, the shortcomings of the original holder have all been addressed, including the fitting and removal of the polarizer which was perhaps the most troublesome aspect. Lee Filters have since announced a new collapsible hood which is light in weight at 320g according to my contact at Lee Filters, as an adapter to take a second holder to use offset NDGs which makes the new filter holder even more attractive. It’s the benchmark to which all others must be compared.
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I’ve not seen any of the following, so I can’t comment on how well they perform but they look highly promising (and likely part of reason behind Lee updating their own system).
Haida M10 filter system with holder, circular polariser and choice of adaptor ring (up to 82mm), currently $165.75 (-25%, normally $199)
Breakthrough Photography X100 Holder, currently $49