For some time I have been looking into getting hold of some graduated Neutral Density (ND) filters to use with my NEX system. The market leader is “Lee Filters” and is one of the few UK industries left.
I first came across Lee Filters them whilst watching one of the Luminous Landscape Video Journals; Michael Reichmann was showing how to overcome situations where the overall dynamic range (from light to dark) was greater than the dynamic range of the camera. He showed two methods, one involved taking two exposures – one exposure for the highlights and one exposure for the shadows; Photoshop would then be used to “blend” the two exposures together; this is in the days before HDR and involved using masks.
The second method used a graduated ND filter so that the ND part of the filter would be positioned to cover the brightest part of the scene being captured (usually the sky) and then exposing for the remainder of the scene so that the overall exposure range would be within the limits of the cameras sensor (or film).
The beauty of the LEE system is that you purchase one set of filters (and this includes one polariser) and you only have to buy different adapter rings for each different filter size you have.
Lee make 3 different filter systems depending on the size of lens you use. The most common one is the 100mm sized version and is suitable for most lenses on the market form medium format to 35mm and had been around for many years. The most recent introduction is based on 150mm size filters and with the right adapter allows these to be fitted to lenses such as the excellent Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens; a lens which due to its convex nature and permanent lens hood cannot normally be used with filters.
The final size that Lee make (exclusive to Robert White as they helped develop the system) is based on 75mm, called the RF75 range; the RF stands for Range-Finder as this was the predominant market that this was aimed at. The range is also suitable for many of the mirror-less or compact system cameras now on the market too.
I visited Robert White to look at and ultimately purchase my Lee system and John (who was extremely helpful) explained that not only do the different systems use different sized filters, the graduation from clear to ND had to be changed to as the size of the resulting image on the sensor was different. I was pretty sure that I wanted the RF75 Lee Filter System (for my Sony NEX-7) but I had a few questions and John was able to provide the answers in a clear manner. I needed to make sure that all of my lenses would work with the system, all of my lenses (with the exception of the Sigma and Samyang) mostly use the 49mm filter size. The 18-200 and the forthcoming 10-18mm f/4.0 use the 62mm size. I don’t see the Sigma staying in my range once the new Sony and Zeiss lenses are available and this uses 46mm filters; annoyingly the new PZ 16-50mm uses 40.5mm filters. I decided that I needed to use the filters on the 49mm and 62mm filter sized lenses in my system and both sizes of adapters are available.
Finally I asked John about what grad filter pack I should start with, there are two types hard and soft, these describe how the graduation from clear to ND is accomplished. The hard goes from clear to ND over a very short range in the middle of the filter and the soft goes through a much longer graduation range. John suggested that I start with the hard ND filters as these are easier to use for beginners of the system. John did say that if he was a true salesman he would try and sell both :).
The place is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave with a lot of good glass and some nice Leica gear on show. I really recommend popping in if you are in the area (please let them know you are going though); the guys at Robert White are very knowledgeable and helpful and I really enjoyed the visit.
After the discussion I purchased the Lee RF Deluxe kit which comprises: the RF filter holder (this can hold up to two 75mm filters), the clip-on Polariser (this attaches to the front of the filter holder and can be used in addition to the 2x 75mm filters if needed), the final part of the kit are the three hard ND filters (0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 which equate to 1, 2 and 3 stops of ND). To the kit I added the two aforementioned adapter rings (49mm and 62mm). The beauty of the system is that if I obtain any more lenses with different filter sizes, I only have to purchase new adapter rings.
Full details on the Lee Filter system at Robert White can be found by clicking here.
49mm and 62mm adapter rings (£18.30 each – all sizes same price)
Note on prices: purchasing the deluxe kit saves £26.80 on the individual parts, the adapter rings do not come as part of any kit and should purchased on an as needed basis.