LEE100 Review: LEE Filters’ New & Improved System
Like a kid on Christmas morning, I await the courier delivery. “Our unreleased, new filter holder is on its way to you,” LEE Filters tells me. How exciting! I’ve always been a big advocate of using filters for my landscape work, so love to see any new products and releases. In the last few years, I’ve been lucky to work with LEE Filters and it’s a great privilege to test new products. It’s clear from the presentation of the new LEE100 Filter System that this is a big deal for the company. The existing filter holder has long been a firm favourite with professionals and enthusiasts alike, so this new release is like reinventing the wheel for them. If it has caught your eye, hopefully this LEE100 Filter System review will help you to make an informed choice on whether or not it’s something you need in your camera bag.
In the box was also the new Circular Polarising Ring to affix any of the existing range of 105mm polarising filters. This is invaluable as it allows you to rotate the polariser and the holder separately. In my experience, graduated filter transitions are rarely positioned perpendicular to the horizon or match up where you want the Circular Polariser to be at its most effective.
First Impressions of the LEE100 Filter System
Sliding the box open, I get the first look at the new holder; it’s nicely finished and seemingly sculptured. Black and blue seems to be a popular combination of colours these days, and it sure looks the part.
My attention goes to the newly designed locking spring. Gone is the brass of old; now instead is a black, knurled metal finish with a rather oddly-shaped painted blue dial. In practice, though, this is a genius touch…
I must have used the previous model hundreds of thousands of times over the years: putting it on and off lenses, adjusting, rotating it etc. and there’s been the rare occasion that I had knocked the filter holder off the adaptor ring. Since these clumsy incidents, I’ve always taken a bit of extra care when it comes to handling the holder. With this new holder, though, these rare incidents should be a thing of the past!
There are three dial positions which you can set the LEE100 system to:
- Neutral position (logo rotated 90degrees): the spring is released to allow attachment/removal of the holder to the adaptor ring.
- Half-Lock position (logo upside down): the holder is locked to the adaptor ring but allows rotation of the holder.
- Full-Lock position (logo right way up): the holder is not only locked to the adaptor ring but also cannot be rotated. This is very handy when I leave a camera running a time-lapse and do not want the filter holder to spin.
In the half-lock position, it’s a much sturdier feeling versus the rotation of the old system, which always seemed a bit loose but did the job. The new holder gives me a big confidence boost now when out shooting long exposures in windy conditions, knowing that the filters won’t be going anywhere.
What’s in the box?
The same as the previous model, LEE Filters’ holders come with an array of extras. Mainly these are the filter guides where you can swap and change how many filter slots you want available on your holder to suit your shooting. Out of the box, there are two slots pre-installed which work well for me, allowing an ND (such as Little Stopper) in the rear slot and a ND grad in the front slot, plus the Circular Polariser on the front ring.
You may, however, want three slots or just the one. On the previous holder, you had to unscrew the brass screws and adding/reducing the filter guides was a bit of a fiddle – swapping screws and adding spacers, hoping the recently stacked bits of plastic remained in line while you screwed it together. I’m pleased to say the new filter guides are super-quick to swap out using the included removal tool. Plus, the cover plates just clip into place. Also gone are the old black storage pouches with Velcro, and in are new drawstring fabric bags.
105mm Circular Polariser Ring
The newly designed LEE100 Filter System requires a new polarising ring, and this looks like a bit of a party trick. The old polarising ring was held on with screws to the holder, whereas the new one can snap on or off in an instant. For me, as someone who shoots on the coast, I generally have my polarising ring attached to my holder constantly as I always use the filter, so I can see for some photographers who don’t use their polariser all the time and would be attaching/removing this part, which could prove annoying in the field. Probably to the extent where they would carry two filter holders, one with a polarising ring and one without.
Well, if that’s you then your prayers have been answered with this quick and easy way of attaching or removing a circular polariser to the LEE100. The new ring arrives with a lovely padded case too, so you can always keep the 105mm circular polariser attached to it for quick application.
Leaning the circular polariser ring into the holder side on, engaging the clip and then shutting the opposite side with a click locks the adaptor ring into place ready for shooting. Even though it’s only clipped into place, so far it has stayed on with some purposeful shaking and poking. Time will tell if it passes the outdoor test as well as the old screwed on method did. There’s also a new polarising filter available that comes as one unit with the ring attached, if you don’t already have an existing 105mm filter to use.
With the LEE100 side by side with the old version, it’s easy to tell which one the new holder is. Just like modern day cars versus old, it’s gotten bigger, so it’ll appear more obvious on the front of the lens. However, thanks to the materials used such as lightweight composites, it feels lighter in the hand and has a much more moulded shape. In the comparison images below, both holders have their circular polariser ring attached and two filter slots available.
Limited good weather days recently have made heading out to test the new holder few and far between, however here’s a couple of images of it in action.
All in all, I’ve come back happy and positive from my first sessions using it. It does the job as good as the last one, and it’s nicer to look at. But aesthetics aside, the fundamental aspects are always in the functionality improvements of a product like the LEE100. The rotation action feels a lot sturdier than it did on the old system, and I like the flexibility to snap on/snap off the polariser. With the new locking function, I’m very confident now that it can withstand the worst of the coastal weather here and for me that’s what matters most. A tool for the job, and if it passes that test then it’s definitely worth the upgrade.