The LEE100 filter system
Let’s take a trip back to 1992… Gladiators and Noel’s House Party were on TV, Home Alone 2 and Lethal Weapon 3 at the cinemas and I will always Love you by Whitney Houston was topping the charts. In the news, the Maastricht treaty, which saw the founding of the European Union, was signed and Euro Disney opened in Paris.
Meanwhile, in the world of technology, Photoshop version 2.5 was released, computers still came with floppy disk drives (ask your parents) and the latest Apple Mac was installed with a whopping 8MB of RAM as standard. For £750 you could buy the worlds first ‘hand portable’ mobile phone from Motorola, a device about the size of a baguette, weighing a sprightly 620g.
Photographers could sample the wonders of digital imaging with the Kodak DCS 200 digital camera back. It didn't have a screen but it did come with a built-in 80 megabyte hard disk cable of storing 50 pictures and could take a picture every 2.5 seconds.
1992 was also the year that LEE filters first launched it’s 100mm filter holder.
Fast forward 27 years and that filter holder has had an upgrade. It’s a testament to the design of the original LEE holder that it has stood the test of time for this long but it’s perhaps unsurprising that it’s starting to look its age compared to some of the innovations of the latest products out there.
I have used the LEE system for several years, I have tried other 100mm systems along the way but have always preferred the simple design of the LEE system for its ease of use and durability, so I was hoping that the new version wouldn’t lose those qualities. The original wasn’t perfect though, the brass catch seemed to release the holder from the lens rather easily if knocked, which could prove expensive if the whole lot landed on rocks. There were also issues with the 105mm polariser which screwed on to an adaptor on the front of the holder and could be difficult to remove particularly if using the slim polariser, needed to avoid vignetting at wide angles, which, being slim, has little to get a good grip of. The slim polariser could also be difficult to turn for the same reason.
So what, if anything does the LEE100 do to address these issues?
The LEE100 holder
In the box is the filter holder, a drawstring pouch to put it in, a selection of different sized filter guide blocks (more on those later) and a tool for changing them.
First impressions are that, while it has a sleeker, more modern look, the holder feels reassuringly familiar, same basic design and same method of hooking the holder onto the lens adaptor (those haven’t changed) but on closer inspection pretty much everything has been re-designed.
Aside from the snazzy new carbon fibre look styling, the most noticeable difference is the release knob. Firstly the new version is much chunkier with a knurled finish which is nice and easy to grip, but while the basic operation is the same (i.e. pull to release the filter holder) there is also now a blue locking collar around the base of the knob. The locking collar has three positions… unlocked, locked but with the ability to still rotate the filter holder and totally locked (see video below) and it works very well, not only preventing the holder from being accidentally dislodged but when the holder is locked in place it’s much easier to turn the polariser without moving any graduated filters.
It’s worth noting that the business end of the release knob, the bit that hooks into the lens adaptor and the stem that connects it to the knob appear to be plastic, it seems pretty sturdy but only time will tell how durable it is.
The slots that hold the filters in place have also been re-designed, moving from a system of individual blades, stacked together and held in place by two screws, to a new system of one piece filter guide blocks which clip in place. The holder comes with a set of 1 slot, 2 slot or 3 slot guide blocks which can be changed in seconds and could even be swapped in the field. In fact it would probably take longer to explain how to do it, than actually do it so here’s a video doing just that…
The LEE100 polariser
Along with the new holder, LEE have launched a new polariser and just as with the holder, while seeming very similar to the old one (it’s still a 105mm polariser which goes at the front of the filter holder) the new polariser has been totally re-designed. The original polariser was screwed on to an adaptor on the front of the holder, easy enough to fit but as mentioned earlier, often difficult to remove, so difficult in fact that many photographers, myself included had two filter holders one with a polariser permanent fitted, the other without. The new version simply clips in place and can be fitted and removed in seconds (see video below).
The polariser itself has also been improved with chunkier castellations around the edge making the polariser easy to turn, especially combined with the holder’s locking feature. The polariser still sits the same distance from the lens as the LEE landscape polariser did on the original holder so that, with two filter slots fitted, there is no vignetting even at 16mm on a full frame camera (I haven’t actually tried it, but I would imagine there would be vignetting with three slots). The polariser also has a similar warm tint as the landscape polariser but is actually made from a new high transmission glass which cuts out less light.
The good news for those who already own a 105mm polariser is that they can still take advantage of the clip-on system, by screwing their existing filter to an adaptor which then clips in place.
The new system has kept all the strengths of the original’s simple, sturdy design but everything has been improved to make it quicker, easier and more secure in use and having worked with it for a few weeks, I can’t fault it, it’s that good.
The price is perhaps the one weakness. The holder itself is reasonably priced but if you include the polariser, the system is more expensive than the competition, not in my opinion, given the quality of the product, enough to make it a deal breaker but worth mentioning. I should also mention that LEE Filters supplied me with this holder and polariser to test, so the obvious question is would I buy it if they hadn’t? Absolutely. Well, I would definitely buy the new holder but as I already have the excellent LEE landscape polariser, rather than replace it, I would be tempted to just buy the polariser adaptor so I could continue using it on the new holder.
Find out more at www.lee100holder.com