Long exposure photography using ‘extreme’ ND filters is definitely more than a passing fad. Seven years after the introduction of the original LEE ‘Big Stopper’ – one of the first of its kind – sales of extreme NDs are showing no signs of slowing and more and more manufacturers are adding them to their product range.
Highly accurate, but also very punchy colour is possible. These comparison images have been processed with the same white balance and demonstrate almost identical colours
All of the Stopper range and similar products from other companies have proved extremely popular with landscape photographers. If you look at the images posted on the popular photography sites, on any given day there will be a number of long exposure images, featuring misty water and streaking clouds. So, the obvious question is: with long exposure photography as popular as ever and Stopper sales continuing to be strong, why introduce another range of ND filters?
One of the characteristics of the LEE Stoppers is the cool blue colour cast. Over the years of production, this has lessened, but it is still noticeable. Many photographers won’t be bothered by this – it is of little consequence if you are planning a mono conversion, which is the destiny of many long exposures – and many photographers actually like the look. However, there are a number of photographers who require absolute colour accuracy and the new filters are aimed at this group; while the LEE Stopper range can be colour corrected to a large degree, it’s difficult to get absolutely neutral colour.
So, how do these new filters perform? When assessing filters, there are basically three criteria: optical quality or ‘clarity’, colour neutrality and accuracy of density. I’ve had the chance to assess the new filters over the last few months and, to cut a long story short, they score very highly in all 3 categories. LEE Filters have an excellent reputation for optical quality and the new Pro Glass NDs maintain this, providing superb clarity. Anyone with experience of LEE Filters would expect this, however, the important question is the one of colour accuracy.
It is in this category that the Pro Glass Filters really deliver – and they do so across the range. It is worth noting that these filters were originally developed for the film industry, for use by cinematographers, who have very exacting standards when it comes to colour. Having proved a success there, the decision was then made to produce them for use by stills photographers. I have tested the 4, 6, 10 and 15-stop extensively and have been really impressed. Doing side-by-side comparisons with and without the filters and applying exactly the same processing parameters, there is little, if any, difference in colour. As the filters absorb infrared light (hence the ‘IR’ part of their name) there is no infrared pollution; the result of this is colours that are not only neutral, but also punchy and vivid.
As for stop values, once again, they are bang on. So, providing the light doesn’t change between your test exposure and your filtered shot, your exposure calculations should be accurate.
So, LEE’s new NDs have accurate and punchy colour, excellent clarity and very precise stop-values, but there must be some downsides surely? There are, though I believe these are more than offset by the positives. Firstly, the price. The manufacturing process and tolerances involved mean that prices are higher than the Stopper range – a 100mm filter will set you back about £180 and the SW150 version is over £400. And unlike the Stoppers, the dye is applied to the surface of the glass. I haven’t noticed any problems when using them, but I do wonder if this might make them a little more prone to scratching. In any case, I would advise treating them with as much care as possible – though this is good practice anyway.
Overall then, this is an excellent range of filters, which I would have no hesitation in recommending. They are not for everyone, but if your work demands a high degree of colour accuracy and / or you want to know that your 10-stop filter really does have a value of precisely 10 stops, then there is no better choice.