Website : Lee Filters Graduated Neutral Density
Price : USD 275 (Set of 3 filters, you can buy them separately, but that will cost more)
Excellent optical quality.
Must have for landscape photographers.
On the expensive side.
Expensive, but excellent filters.
A STAPLE FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHERS
Every landscape photographer will probably have a set of Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filters and a Circular Polarizer (CPL) in their bag. I have a set of 3 Lee Filters GND in my bag for like, years now. It has almost never left my bag, and I bring it with me even when I go travelling.
That goes to show how much I cannot survive without the set of Lee GND Filters, and in this review, I shall share my experience with the Lee Filters.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
Before we proceed, I shall dedicate a few short paragraphs of “what does neutral density do” to the people who are slightly new to landscape photography. In the most basic terms, ND filters are just pieces of dark glass (or plastic) that allows less light to pass through.
What are the uses of such pieces of dark glass? Magic. Usually when we take a landscape photo during a bright day, you might notice the sky to be a lot brighter than the ground. This results in a boring photo with “nothingness white sky”. We slap a GND filter to cover the sky portion, and viola, the clouds appear like magic (without disturbing the exposure of the ground portion too much).
The ND filters sphere has a lot of competition, to name a few – Hoya, Marumi, Tiffen, Singh-Ray, B+W, Vivitar, Bower, etc… I have past experiences with Hoya and Marumi ND filters, and I find them to be mediocre. Being round filters, they caused vignetting on my full frame wide angle, and also added a color cast. They are not that bad, but also not the best.
Now Lee Filters, is something like the Ferrari of photographic filters. Expensive, but comes with quality assurance. I have heard a lot of good things about Lee Filters, and that is the main reason why I chose Lee Filters among so many brands.
The Lee GNDs are not your “traditional” screw-on circular glass filters. They are made of high quality plastic and are rectangular in shape, measuring 100 mm X 150 mm. I have broken glass filters in a bad drop before, so I have no beef with it being plastic. The large rectangular profile also means that it will “fit” onto almost any lens with diameter from 72mm to 77mm to 82mm. They don’t introduce any vignetting too.
The Lee Soft GNDs came in a set of 3 : 1 stop GND, 2 stops GND, and 3 stops GND. It also came in a nice cloth carrying case. Even though these are plastic filters, I have a phobia breaking things in my bag, so get your own hard cases. These are not small filters either, any bad pressure on the filters can potentially snap them.
Sadly, the set did not come with the adapter ring nor holder. Lee’s adapter ring is made of solid metal and the holder is hard plastic. You can configure the holder to hold up to 3 pieces of filters, which I find too much. Alternatively, you can find cheaper 3rd party holders for similar 100 mm filters… or just ignore the holder and hand hold.
THE MANY GRADES
Just in case you are wondering about the “soft” part, the Lee GND Filters come in many “grades” – soft, medium, hard and very hard. Nope, that is not how soft or hard the physical material is. That is how soft or hard the fade line is between the dark and light parts of the filter.
I went with a soft GND, which should make the fade between the sky and ground smooth and nearly invisible. The rest of the medium, hard and very hard have their uses, but you will need to be more precise in aligning the filter with the horizon; the soft fade is more forgiving.
Are plastic filters inferior? No. The Lee filters don’t just block out extra light, notice how it brings out the clouds and also enhances the contrast of the image (sample images below). This is something that cheap pieces of plastic cannot do.
That said, the Lee filter is not perfect. It still has a slight color cast, which I have lived with for years. You can get rid of the color cast quite easily in post production either way. One last honorable mention, I have not experienced ghosting nor flaring with the plastic filters.
Well, nearly all my landscape photos have “Lee Filters” in it. See the sky and clouds? That is the beauty of Lee Filters. A small note that these are taken with a Nikon D800E and either 24-70 mm f/2.8 or 16-35 mm f/4… plus an occasional stacking with the Singh-Ray Blue-N-Gold polarizer.
I started out with a humble set of cheap colored plastic, to the “main stream” Hoya ND filters, tried the Marumi ND filters and finally moved on to Lee. Pricey it was, but that was the best purchase I have ever made as a landscape photographer.
The fact that I have not changed a set of ND filter for years, and it being stuck with me everywhere I go, goes to show how satisfied I am. Is it perfect? Of course not, but it is definitely one of the best that I have used till date.
Will I change a new set of ND filters? Probably not. Not until someone sponsors me a new set of filters, and of better quality. So if you are into landscape photography, I shall highly recommend the Lee Filters. It has served me very well for years, and I am sure it will do the same for you too.
- Amazing optics
- Buy once, fits many lens
- Boosts the contrast
- No vignetting
- The price!
- Have to buy separate adapter rings
- Not really bad, but negligible color cast