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Lee Filters Explained

LEE is a British lens filter designer, that for years has been an outstanding manufacturer of digital camera filters. Ever since being founded in 1967, they have been consistent with exceptional colour science and enable everyone, from beginner photographers to professional visual arts studios, to supplement their creativity in both photography and videography.

Lee Filters Explained

Not only this, but their range of filters is designed for pros to get the job done – with filters like the appropriately named Big Stopper, it’s evident that LEE is a no-nonsense manufacturer that provides the best for any photographer.

If you’re looking for LEE filters explained precisely and simply, keep reading, as we explore all the latest filters from the ‘Masters of Light’.

Lee Delux kit

Why use lens filters?

Ever since post-production software like Capture One and Lightroom entered every photographer’s arsenal, there’s been a common misconception that lens filters are less useful now – this isn’t the case. Filters help you achieve things straight out of camera, in your unedited shot, that are difficult to replicate, no matter what edits you apply to the photo.

For instance, lens filters are a mainstay in any landscape photography kit – in the field that requires dealing with some of the most challenging light possible. An ND filter for example can help you take control of any light situation to get the precise exposure needed (especially when taking those classic long-exposure shots). Polarisers are equally helpful in reducing glare, which can be a nightmare to handle in post-production.

VND for slowing down the shutter with screw-in filter

Why choose a LEE filter?

LEE filters have a major reputation in the world of professional photography and filmmaking – LEE initially produced filters for the growing film industry and has blossomed into a true innovator in camera filters. Their filters are completely designed and produced in the UK and held to strict and precise standards by their team of manufacturers for unparalleled colour consistency.

They each come with a strong outer ring that makes way for easy operation, especially on location. They’re also all engineered against vignetting, giving you that edge-to-edge control over your shot.

What types of filters are there?

LEE offers all of the primary lens filter types used by photographers around the world, which are truly essential in any modern photographer or videographer’s camera bag. These can usually be sorted into three categories:

  1. ND filters are used to reduce the amount of light that passes through the lens each shot. One of the best applications for these is in long-exposure photography – in situations where you want a much lower shutter speed, it can be difficult to balance for exposure as you’d end up having an over-exposed image. So, to achieve that long-exposure look in brighter conditions, deploying a solid or variable ND filter can go a long way in helping you do that. Graduated ND filters are a favourite of landscape photographers as it helps them to only darken certain areas of their composition like the sky, while the rest of the shot remains the same. The gradient between the dark and clear areas of the lens can vary, providing different levels of control.
  2. Circular polarisers (CPLs) are brilliant for lots of uses for two main reasons. Firstly, a properly adjusted polariser will saturate the colours in your shot, making your unedited photos vibrant and full of colour. Perhaps the most important technical feature of a CPL, however, is that it removes glare from reflective surfaces. This helps you preserve the highlights of your shot which may be unrecoverable, even with editing, and reduce the visual distraction caused by glare.
  3. Coloured, B&W, and special effects filters include pretty much everything in between. These are for the most creative of photographers and usually help to enhance the colour or light patterns of a scene.

Lee Elements screw-in filters

What is the LEE Elements range?

The LEE Elements range was introduced in 2021, and is designed for photographers looking to combine performance with peace of mind. Whilst being ruggedly designed to withstand the challenges of all weather conditions, all five different Elements screw-in filters bring industry-leading optics to the table.

Their nano-coatings make these filters easy to clean and resistant to scratches and fingerprints, and each choice comes with a handy protective hard case and cleaning cloth. Beyond their robust build, their coating further facilitates control over unwanted reflection and contrast. All the filters in LEE’s all-star Elements lineup are listed below.

  1. Both its variable ND (VND) filters are extremely versatile. Each of LEE Elements’ VNDs comes with precision-engineered fluid-smooth adjustment rings, with clearly defined stop markers to balance your exposure with mathematical accuracy. You can work with a dependable 7 stops of light reduction by including the Elements 2-5 stop and 6-9 stop VND filters in your camera bag, which will work wonders for landscapes, events, street photography, and more.
  2. Central to LEE’s Elements lineup is their circular polariser. With the same fluid adjustment ring for the perfect feel, adjusting your amount of polarisation without taking your eye away from your viewfinder is a breeze. Differing from their clip-on CPLs, this tough filter screws right onto the front of your lens for maximum efficiency when on location.
  3. Two solid ND filters are the final pairing in the Elements range, starting with the Big Stopper – this LEE classic has been reinvented for the new range, with a whopping 10 stops of light reduction. This makes the Big Stopper an absolute beast when approaching long-exposure photography. Its partner, the Little Stopper, provides 6 stops of light reduction. One brilliant innovation with these NDs is that they’re stackable – by combining more threaded filters you can push the boundaries of what your filter set is capable of.

Lee 100 system with guides

What is the LEE 100 filter system?

LEE describes its LEE100 filter system as ‘designed by photographers, for photographers’. It’s their primary line of square filters and revolves around the LEE100 holder, which brings innovations that make handling and using your filters so much easier.

The filter holder itself is adaptive, intuitive, and modular – being completely backwards-compatible with all LEE 100mm filters produced before its release. It fits quickly and easily onto the majority of DSLR and mirrorless camera lenses with the use of an adapter ring, and square filters slide smoothly and easily into place. It also comes with a locking mechanism that prevents all accidental movement of filters, which goes a long way especially when using a graduated ND after perfecting the transition in your composition.

While you can choose from a wide variety of 100mm filters, LEE has carefully put together a set of three kits that are perfectly tailored to specific uses to help you begin building a larger collection of filters.

  1. The LEE100 Filter System Landscape Kit is a high-quality entry point for any budding landscape photographer. The kit contains a Graduated ND filter, which can go a long way for anyone looking to get started due to its versatility. The filter itself is a 2-stop medium grad that can be tastefully applied to any scene. Adding a LEE100 circular polariser would work like a charm to create a fully professional landscape filter kit.
  2. The Long Exposure Kit is a brilliant first step into the world of long-exposure photography. Not only does it include a 2-stop hard graduated ND, but it also throws in both the Little Stopper and the Big Stopper to draw out those exposure times.
  3. The LEE100 Filter System Deluxe Kit is LEE’s superior choice, with everything a professional could need for any application of photography. It differs from the rest as it’s the only set to include a circular polariser; which is an especially useful introduction as it clips right into the filter holder. It comprises three graduated NDs, enough to shoot in a variety of situations, and showing up again is the legendary Big Stopper. If that isn’t enough, LEE even includes their full set of ClearLEE cleaning tools. How could you go wrong with a kit like this?

All you’ll need to dive into this extensive collection is the corresponding adaptor ring for each of your lenses – once that’s sorted, you’re ready to use these great filters anywhere and everywhere.

Before and after polariser image

LEE Creative Filters

While choices like polarisers and ND filters will greatly impact the technical prowess of your photography, there’s nothing better than using a comprehensive range of creative filters to create a vast range of effects. LEE is no stranger to these – as a champion of colour science for both camera and lighting filters, it’s an expert in enabling creativity.

LEE stocks a wide range of different filters for enhancing the colours of your scene, which are perfect for any creative landscape photographer. A good place to start is the LEE Filters 100mm Sky Set – this has a coral stripe to make your horizon glow as the sun sets, a sky blue grad that brings colour into even the flattest of skies, and a sunset filter that can bolster the deep reds and oranges of your evening shots. They also offer the more specific Sunset, Sunrise, Sky Blue, and Twilight filter sets – tailored to enhance your skies at any time of day.

LEE 85 system for smaller cameras and lenses

LEE85 and SW150 systems

While LEE’s range of LEE100 filters is growing stronger by the day, they also offer two more niche ranges for smaller, compact lenses and much larger medium-format or ultra wide-angle lenses – catered to by the LEE85 and SW150 systems respectively.

The LEE85 range has a great selection of kits for any photographer shooting on a compact camera – they’re designed for travelling light. The filter holder can hold a range of different filters, which have been adapted from the LEE100 range. With an increasing number of filters in each one, the Discover, Develop, Aspire and Deluxe kits cover everything needed for a smaller-bodied camera.

The SW150 system, on the other hand, is exclusive to medium format and extreme wide-angle lenses. The filter holder is designed to reduce vignetting as much as possible, is oversized to accommodate the design of much larger lenses, and has all the filters that LEE is known for, like the Big Stopper.

Lee100 polariser

LEE filter accessories

The adaptor ring is incredibly important when using the LEE100 filter system. To ensure that the filter holder works between lenses, it requires a specific adaptor ring that matches your lens. Luckily, this is easy to find by checking the front of your lens and reading the millimetre value next to the diameter symbol Ø. There are also filter rings for almost every lens size available. An example is the LEE Filters 100mm System 77mm Wide Angle Adaptor Ring, which is required to mount the square system to a wide angle lens with 77mm thread.

LEE also offers a LEE100 Hood, which works in tandem with the usual filter holder and is perfect for videographers and photographers alike who need to shade the lens from direct light and glare.

LEE’s filter care accessories are also very popular – they offer a range of different pouches and wraps, a LEE100 System Tri-Pouch and SW150 pouch; great for safely transporting and organising filters on the go. Their ClearLEE cleaning kit is also brilliantly effective for anyone who takes pride in their filter collection.

LEE has been one of the most proficient producers of filters for decades now, and it’s showing no sign of slowing down. With neutral density filters, circular polarisers, and lots of filter accessories, it could just be exactly where to look for all of your filter needs.

As lovers of all things photography, we stock all of LEE’s latest products and more – feel free to explore our market-leading range of lens filters today!

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By Thom Pyle on 04/12/2023

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