This review was kindly offered to our magazine by Robert Strachan.
Lee Filters have recently released the ‘Big Stopper’ 10 stop ND filter. This Proglass filter is Lee’s answer to Hitech’s 10 stop ND filter. The ‘Big Stopper’ will retail for around £94 which is in line with other ND filters in Lee’s Proglass range. In comparison the Hitech 10 stop ND retails for around £48, although this is a resin filter and not glass.
The Big Stopper comes in Lee’s normal padded material pouch. Along with the filter is a small booklet and a handy, business card sized, exposure guide. This is very handy as once the filter is on the camera, metering is very difficult.
The Hitech 10 stop ND filter comes in a plastic sleeve. In use I find the sleeve very tight to remove and replace the filter. In fact I got so fed up with trying to force the filter in and out of the sleeve that I ended up using a spare Lee pouch to keep the filter in.
The Big Stopper is part of Lee’s ProGlass ND range of filters. This is what Lee have to say about them…
"The ProGlass ND is an extremely high quality glass ND filter optimised for use with digital cameras, but equally useful for film. This brand new filter uses a surface coating made from evaporated metal, and therefore provides very even absorption across the visible spectrum and through the UV and Infra Red regions. Using an ND filter can prolong exposure times to blur water and capture movement in clouds and the sky, but the excess UV and IR can cause colour problems in some lighting situations. The ProGlass filter reduces any chance of false colour casts, and also provides a result described as punchier on digital and film because the light forming the image is more specific to the requirements of the film or sensor. The filter also features a foam gasket all around the inside of the perimeter of the filter, which when the filter is placed in the Lee holder in the slot closest to the lens creates a lightweight seal to cut down the chance of light leaking around the side of the filter."
This is a picture of the Big Stopper fitted in the Lee filter holder. As you can see the foam gasket does not fill in the whole of the gap between the top and bottom of the filter holder. Even so, my tests showed no evidence of light leakage due to this.
The Hitech 10 stop ND is made from CR39 dyed substrate. This is a resin filter which is slightly thinner than a Lee resin filter. This makes it slightly more flimsy but in use there isn’t much of a difference.
I tested both filters on a few different days in different conditions. The first tests were taken early evening/ sunset. This was good for testing as the low sun made conditions difficult. All these test shots were taken on a Nikon D300 with a Tokina 11-16 Ultra-wideangle zoom. i chose the Tokina specifically because it is a lens which can have problems with flare. Also another reason I decided to use this lens was because it is a lens I use a lot for landscapes and I wanted a worse case scenario for these filters in conjunction with this lens. In all these images, the top and back of the camera was covered by a piece of black cloth to eliminate the chance of any light leakage coming in through the viewfinder. I also used a Lee 3 stop soft ND grad along with the 10 stop filters as this is another combination I use a lot.
As you can see the hitech suffers badly from circular flare spots. Also the semi circular flare ring in the centre which seems to be a particular trait of using the Tokina 11-16 with the hitech filter. Also note the colour of the seaweed in the bottom left. This looks like IR build up causing a magenta cast on the seaweed.
As usual both images are straight out of the camera, no processing or white balance adjustment, only what the camera has chosen.
Another image to show how good the Big Stopper can perform. This is a composite of the reference image and the Big Stopper image. The reference images white balance is ‘as shot’ and the Lee has been corrected using the ‘auto’ setting in camera raw. Notice how close the two images are for white balance. There is hardly a difference. In fact, I might have got it closer if I sampled somewhere in the image to get a white balance. A big plus for anyone who has tried to remove the huge casts that can sometime occur with the Hitech.
Another couple of images to show what happens when you shoot direct towards the sun. As you know this is a hard test for any filter. The Lee has really shown up the quality of the glass filter. There is only 1 flare spot in the image. This is a really good result considering that the Tokina 11-16 bare on it’s own would probably show the same thing if it was pointed towards the sun like this shot. The Hitech has not fared so well. There are multiple instances of flare with a magenta cast. In fact this is the difference between an image from the Big Stopper that could easily be fixed in post processing and an image from the Hitech that is just unusable due to the massive flare and cast.
The next test was to compare the filters side by side straight from the camera to show the different colour casts and how easily they were removed. The first image clearly shows the much cooler White Balance of the Big Stopper compared to the Hitech. Another point to note with this is that the Hitech is nearly 3/4 of a stop less than the Big Stopper. Getting filters to be exactly 10 stops is difficult, so it’s hard to say which one is correct. This isn’t that much of an issue as you would get a feel for exposure times using your own filter.
As you can see the results are very close. Both images are accurate and no flare or light leakage was visible using both filters.
Both filters can give great results. Unfortunately the Hitech 10 stop is a bit unpredictable. Depending on the conditions, you can get a magenta cast on some plants, seaweed etc.
There is also the issue with flare spots and light leakage. One way that I have found to try and minimise this is by making a fabric ‘sleeve’ which fits over the lens barrel, the filter Holder and filter to try and stop light leaking in around the edges of the filter. This can be successful but a bit finicky.
The Big Stopper on the other hand gives reliable results time after time. With Lee’s inclusion of the foam gasket, there is no problem with light leakage and due to the glass used on the filter, flare is not an issue either. The Big Stopper does have a blue cast to it but this is very easily corrected in post processing as I have already shown.
The Lee Big Stopper may be nearly twice the price of the Hitech 10 Stop ND filter but it is money well spent. The old adage ‘buy cheap, buy twice‘ comes into mind here. If you bought the Hitech and liked the effect that you got from the long exposures then you would probably end up deciding to buy the Big Stopper in the end. My recommendation is to buy the Big Stopper straight away and save the bother and hassle of inferior results.