A STAPLE FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHERS
Welcome to my Lee Filters Graduated Neutral Density review. 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 traveling. 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.
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.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
WHAT IS NEUTRAL DENSITY?
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.
A1) WHAT DOES IT DO?
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 voila, the clouds appear like magic (without disturbing the exposure of the ground portion too much).
A2) THE MANY FORMS
ND filters don’t just come in one solid piece. There are those that come in half dark, half clear, and we call those Graduated Neutral Density (GND).
Also, there are many “grades” to GND as well – 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.
THE COMPETITION & ALTERNATIVES
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.
BUILD & QUALITY
So the Lee GND filters are freaking expensive, and are the Ferrari of ND filters. But are they really that good? Do they really live up to their reputation?
C1) BUILD QUALITY & IMPRESSIONS
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 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 with 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.
C2) PLASTIC FANTASTIC
The Lee filters are made of plastic, and are plastic filters inferior? No. They don’t just block out extra light, but optically, it also brings out the clouds and 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 Gold-N-Blue Polarizer.
I started out with a humble set of cheap colored plastic, to the “mmainstream 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 lenses
- Boosts the contrast
- No vignetting
- It’s expensive!
- Have to buy separate adapter rings
- Not really bad, but negligible color cast