Lee100 Filter Holder – 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). Like its predecessor, the Foundation holder which I have, the Lee100 Filter Holder also stands out for being one of the few that accepts a polariser – it fits to the front of the holder to allow the use of older, more affordable polyester filters, or ‘gels’ which would otherwise interfere optically.
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.
Lee makes two different types of lens adapters, 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 rearwards in an attempt to reduce vignetting. Lee has a page on their website to find the optimum system and 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.
Popular adapter ring sizes
Lee100 Filter Holder – Why do you need it?
Although you can use image editing software to achieve many of the same effects (such as reducing exposure in bright areas like the sky, if your sensor has enough dynamic range), using specific filters remains an advantage for some types of photography. For example, cutting down glare from reflective surfaces can only be achieved using a Polariser, and where the exposure (or dynamic) range is too extreme to capture in a single shot, Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filters are a must. Neutral Density (ND) filters, sometimes referred to as solid NDs to differentiate from the graduated type are also hugely popular. They’re essential for reducing the overall exposure of a scene, blurring elements 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 accommodate 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 (though for these you might want to look at the 150 series instead).
Lee100 Filter Holder – Check prices (affiliate links)
Lee100 Filter Holder – How is it different?
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.
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) from being pulled over. I have the original holder and never experienced this, though when moving the camera over any distance 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 (up to 86mm plus some specials for the 17mm TS-E and 19mm PC Nikkor) fit still, so if you have those already then the cost is limited to just the new filter holder, which is currently £79 inc VAT at WEX Photo (UK), or $109 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 separate 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.
Lee100 Filter Holder – How does it perform?
Made from modern composites that look like carbon fibre, the new filter holder 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 change the filter away from the camera, as it’s not only far easier but more importantly, doesn’t stress an extending lens barrel. You can compensate with equal upwards pressure on the holder when inserting a filter but if the lens you’re using doesn’t extend then, it’s not an issue.
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 do 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 for control over bright skies. Hard and soft grads are both tricky to use independently with scenes that have some elements on the horizon, which is often quite typical. A soft grad is usually the way to go and if you have both types, you can stack them. However, the new Medium grads look as if they might be the answer to that. I say ‘look’ as I’ve not tried them personally, but I’m going to order one or two, to try out.
Lee Filters have a dedicated page on their website about the densities and gradations of the different filters.
As a Capture One Pro user, I also have a genuine Phase One LCC plate which I use to remove corner shading/vignetting for certain lenses, mainly TSE lenses for 35mm. In use, I found 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.
Lee100 circular-type polariser
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 has 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 10-stop Big Stopper 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 has 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 colour casts. At around £180 / $237 each (WEX Photo UK / B&H Photo US), these are around £70 over the Stopper range.
I’m in two minds about them; on the one hand, the colour cast of the stoppers can be removed quite easily with a white balance adjustment in your editor of choice, when working with RAW anyway; while on the other it’s always preferable to use the most neutral filters you can. At least that’s true when working with film, and slide in particular, but even then you can still correct it when digitising so the question remains.
The polariser comes preassembled with its own ring to clip onto 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 says 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 to 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 another then I would lock it.
Lee100 Filter Holder – Final thoughts
The Lee 100 filter system is one of the most popular systems available and with its modular design and range of quality filters, it is not difficult to understand why. With the new filter holder, the few shortcomings of the original holder have all been addressed, including the fitting and removal of the polariser 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 and an adapter to take a second holder to use offset NDGs (pictured below), which makes the new filter holder even more attractive. It’s the benchmark to which all others must be compared.
Lee100 Filter Holder – Check prices (affiliate links)
Consider buying in kits which can save upwards of 10% over buying individually:
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 the reason behind Lee updating their own system).
Haida M10 filter system with holder, drop-in circular polariser and choice of adaptor ring (up to 82mm), currently $165.75 (-25%, normally $199).
Breakthrough Photography X100 Holder, currently $49. Takes adaptor rings up to 86mm, but seemingly there’s no provision for a clip-in polariser (screw-in polarisers are available instead). However, X4 polariser and ND filters promise highly neutral results.
Another tempting 100mm filter system by H+Y. Four bundled adapter rings (67/72/77 and 82mm) plus a CPL polariser at just £199 (WEX Photo), looks highly attractive. I would like to see Lee Filters bundling adapter rings; it’s a pricey proposition otherwise.