I am fully conversant with the benefits of using filters, particularly neutral density graduated filters, standard and extreme neutral density filters and polarisers, having used them extensively over the years for landscape photography. However, I watched a short video recently from Lee extolling the benefits of using filters in an urban setting that got me thinking. Given how much I like the JPEG files that come from my two Fuji cameras wouldn’t it be useful to utilise the power of filters to reduce the need to compensate for over-exposed skies; making the out-of-camera JPEGs truly one-stop solutions.
Fuji X-T10 and Samyang 12mm lens
As a result of this train of thought I recently bought into the Lee Seven5 filter system specifically designed for compact camera systems such as the Fuji-X range. My initial impressions are very positive but it has to be said that in some instances, such as when using the 12mm Samyang lens with three filters stacked together (above), it is better to use the full-sized Lee system. However, for less extreme lenses and for portability the Seven5 system is proving hard to beat.
I recently spent part of the day at Scammonden Water (post to follow) putting the Fuji X-T10 and Samyang 12mm lens through their paces using the full-sized Lee filters with neutral density graduated filters and both the Big Stopper and its sibling the Little Stopper. The Seven5 system is so light and small however I popped that in the bag to use with the Fuji 18-55 that I also planned to use on the X-T10 that day.
First, a simple comparison shot taken using the Fuji X100T both without and then with the Lee Seven5 0.9 hard neutral density filter. It says everything that needs to be said about the benefits of using graduated neutral density filters for landscape work.
In this example I think a third of a stop additional exposure might have been appropriate but I still refer the overall look of the second image. Whilst mentioning the X100T I should point out that I use a third-party hand grip which makes the camera a lot steadier in my experience. However, because of the very flat profile of the built-in 23mm lens I found that with the filter holder attached I could no longer grip the camera properly and indeed removed the grip for these shots. Not a deal breaker but something to be aware of when using the filter system on the X100T.
The image above was taken with the Fuji X-T10 and 18-55 lens at 18mm. This was handheld and utilises two Lee Seven5 filters. Across the top is the three-stop neutral density filter to hold back the bright sky. I also reversed a very subtle warm-up graduated filter in the holder just to give the foreground a little bit more warmth. Looking at both the with and without versions in Lightroom I was pleased with the choice; the effect is only subtle but has been effective.
At present I have just three of the Seven5 filters – the three-stop hard graduated filter, the 81b graduated warm-up filter and a Little Stopper. With a full set of the 100mm Lee filters I wasn’t keen on spending too much on the more compact system until I’d had a chance to test it properly. The image above utilises the graduated neutral density filter with the addition of the Little stopper which enable an exposure time of 2 seconds. The X-T10 was able to judge the exposure time through the filter although I did check that it agreed with my calculation before pressing the shutter. The effect of the Little Stopper is subtle and with hindsight I should have popped the full sized set on and used the Big Stopper but the purpose of the exercise was to test the Seven5 system.
All of the images here are out-of-camera JPEGs, it would miss the point of this test to have processed the RAW files and added additional tweaks. Whilst the Little Stopper image was shot from a tripod the image above was hand held. If the system is to work for me in an urban setting then nine times out of ten it will need to be used hand held rather than on a tripod. I found positioning the filters very easy using the Fuji X-T10’s EVF and looking at the files back at home was pleased to see that everything lined up exactly as I saw it in the viewfinder.
The image above was taken “on the run” as I moved to get under shelter from the pending rain. It was a useful test however as it reassured me that positioning the filter through the EVF was very quick to achieve. Likewise, the image below uses both the neutral density graduated filter and a reversed warm-up graduated filter and was taken whilst walking back to the car. In terms of being quick to set up whilst hand holding I am very pleased with how the Lee Seven5 works.
So, the acid test. Will I be investing further in the Lee Seven5 system?
Whilst they are less useful for the Samyang 12mm lens they are perfect for the X100T (without hand grip!) and for using on the fly with the Fuji X-T10 and 18-55 lens. For urban or street photography these are likely to be my go-to options as the extremely wide-angle and the manual control of the 12mm lens are less useful in these situations. I found the small size of the system a positive advantage – the 100mm system which I’d been using takes up a third of the small camera bag I use for the Fuji system! In practical terms the EVF of both cameras is perfectly good enough to enable accurate positioning of the filters which is particularly import given their small size. Looking back at the files in Lightroom there are no examples of poorly aligned filters both amongst the handheld and tripod-mounted images.
My only gripe with the system is the cost but Lee are able to charge what they do because the system is so good and therefore photographers are willing to pay the premium.
My Lee Seven5 wish list comprises a Big Stopper, a two-stop soft graduated filter and the phenomenally expensive polariser. Thinking about how I use the larger Lee system on my Nikon DSLRs this would give me the most-used combinations certainly for landscape photography. I often stack a three-stop hard with a two-stop soft graduated neutral density filter, use the polariser a lot and the Big Stopper more than I should I suspect.
All images © Dave Whenham