LEE100 Filter System review

LEE100 Filter System review
Review

Snap Verdict

Seeing a new holder from LEE Filters was a surprise, what was wrong with the old one?

I’m blind to the design as I’ve been using it for years, I’m past the point of questioning anything about it, I use it that’s it, in the same way, I have a pair of shoes that I refuse to throw out or renew.

So, what of the new improved LEE100 Filter System? Thankfully it’s a leisurely step forward rather than leap, it’s not app-enabled and despite being modular doesn’t have any other function other than being a filter holder.

It is in essence like the old one, with the same adapters, the same filters, to a point, it’s just refined. It does have a few quirks that you can use to amuse yourself with other photographers as you wait for the light, but I’ll come on to those later.

The design is overhauled, more modern and sleek; it looks like a real product rather than something devised in a shed.

It features a similar spring-loaded release mechanism, like the old, but now with a security locking dial, so no more accidental dropping of filters.

It remains modular with filter guide blocks that can be arranged as you need, but these are vastly improved in design over their predecessors, requiring no screws or tools.

On the front there’s a quick release for fitting the new Circular polariser, it can be a little fiddly, but once you have the technique, it’s all easy enough.

The new Filter holder is an evolution in design; it’s an improvement over the old. But, do you need to replace your older design holder? Probably not, unless you’re prone to knocking off the filter holder or just about to buy more filters and it’s on offer.

The LEE100 is a nice upgrade, it’s more ergonomic and looks modern and sleek yet essentially has much the same function as the old with two additions; the locking ring and clip-on filter option.

If you need either of these features, such as you’ve just bought the Circular Polariser, then it’s a worthwhile upgrade, if not, wait until the old holder wears out, which it will never do.

If your new to the system then the choice is easy the new LEE100 Filter Holder is best in class and a worthwhile purchase.

Introduction

LEE Filter is a staple of the photographic world, their filters are a kit bag essential, and it’s rare to see a landscape photographer out and about in the UK without a set.

While the technology behind the optics has steadily improved and filters like the Big and Little stopper have revolutionized certain styles of photography, the trusty filter holder has remained the same.

LEE100 Filter System review

I dug through some old kit going back years to take a look at some old holders that I have, sure enough, the LEE holders have gone unchanged.

I’m not sure there has ever been a change in the design, ultimately it works, and most of us have been using them for so long we don’t even question any of the issues we have with it.

Thinking about it, if I did ever have any issues, then those issues have long since been forgotten. So to see the new LEE100 Filter system that did start to make me think about the product that had for so long gone unquestioned.

Why release an update to something that works perfectly fine? I think the answer to that is we’ve just become blind to it; the holder has been around for so long that no one has questioned its ability.

Ever watched the holder fly off the front of your lens as your jacket catches, failed to clip the holder onto the adapter fully, or realised that you’ve forgotten to bolt on the cl-pl adapter?

The new adapter refines the filter experience and being LEE they’ve been able to call on the expertise and recommendations from their extensive range of professional photographers and ultimately it shows.

Lee100 Filter Holder: Features

It’s a filter holder, so the feature list is going to be short right? Clip on to the front of the lens, slot in a filter and off you go.

That’s just about it with a few additions. Firstly if you’re familiar with the LEE Filter system, then you’ll know about the lens adapters that you need to clip the filter to the lens.

With the new system, these remain the same, so if you have the old system 77mm, 67mm or whatever, you can use those and they work in the same way.

The 100mm filters, these are also the same, so if over the years you have gathered a nice selection of glass there’s no need to renew, this is a 100mm holder after all.

There is one slight addition and that’s seen with the new Circular Polariser that clips on, but we’ll come to that.

Where the new system differs is in three distinct areas: Design, security and convenience.

Firstly the design remains modular so you can adapt it with one, two or three guided filter slots. These slots have a far more robust design and are easier to swap and change as needed.

Remove the grey insert on the side and push the filter guides towards the centre of the holder and they pop out. The new filter guide can then be slotted in.

The materials used have also been updated along with the design. Precision engineered from injection-moulded composite gives the holder a sleek modern look, aesthetically far nicer than the old.

Next is security. The spring-loaded catch enables you to connect and release the holder with one hand just like the old, but now features a blue ring.

This locking ring offers three settings; Neutral, Half Lock and Full Lock. These adjust how the holder is locked to the lens.

The final significant feature is the clip on filter which is demonstrated by the new Circular Polariser mentioned before, rather than needing to bolt on an additional adapter the filter clips directly on to the front. This helps to keep the profile slim and offers a far neater solution than the old style.

Build quality and handling

Materials wise the LEE Filter system feels very nice, the holder has a slight carbon fibre esc texture, and it’s all finished very well.

The fact that the existing system components are all compatible is a nice feature and shows courtesy to existing users.

In the test, I used a selection of old LEE Filters and adapters, all fitted with the usual ease and security I’m used too.

Attaching the holder to the adapter is as easy as the old system, place the bottom over the adapter, pull up the release, push the holder back and clip in place.

Now the first of the new features kicks in the lock.

The first option is Neutral, and this is much like the old system enabling the holder to be rotated, quickly removed, or if you catch it, it will release from the lens. Probably destroying the filter as it hits the ground but saving your camera and lens in the process.

The second option is selected by rotating the ring to the half lock position. Now the holder is firmly attached to the adapter and won’t come off whatever you try to do. The holder is attached but can still be rotated.

The final position known as Full Lock locks the holder tight. You can remove the holder, and it won’t rotate.

In use this system works well, Neutral does what it does, and anyone familiar with the old system will know exactly what that’s like.

Rotate the lock anti-clockwise and the whole things locks in place, no rotation of the filters and the holder itself is locked to the adapter. This all makes sense and certainly adds a level of confidence.

Rotate the lock clockwise back through neutral and then as far as it goes and again the release is locked, and you can rotate the holder. The rotation isn’t the same lose rotation as you get with the Neutral position but instead offers resistance as the holder is rotated.

At first, when checking this out I felt that the friction was a little too high, this worry was instantly dismissed as soon as I was out in the field. The amount of friction enables you to rotate the holder, but there’s no chance of it accidentally rotating.

The lock works well, at first, having used the old style of adapter for so many years it seems a little unnecessary, but soon enough it makes senses. Just thinking back to filters I’ve lost in the past and how with this new locking system could have prevented smash and scratched filters.

The next significant new feature is the quick release clip at the front. Essentially with the new Circular Polariser in hand, push to clip it in place.

The filter itself is large and easy to use and adjust.

Then to release squeeze the levers on the sides as you would with a lens cap and it’s removed.

The quick release system works well, but there is a technique that takes a few goes to master. This is where you can have some photo geek fun while waiting for the sun to set / raise / appear from behind a cloud.

Hand the filter to someone unfamiliar with the system and demonstrate with ease how you can remove and replace the filter. Then, hand it to them to try, 90% of the time they struggle, firstly not wanting to destroy an expensive LEE Filter system but secondly because it won’t budge.

Essentially if you push from one side rather than both together, the filter pops off easily.

Once in place, the filter is held firm and adjusting the polarizer in place there’s no movement or play between the two components.

Performance

There’s no doubt that the new holder is an improvement on a device which for all intense and purposed already worked well.

The enhancements are a refinement taken from the feedback of users, and those changes are only fully evident when you get out into the field and start to use it.

LEE100 Filter System review

From the outset, the fact that the new holder utilises the same filters and adapter rings like the old means that it’s a straight upgrade over its predecessor.

When it comes to slotting in filters it works in precisely the same way, but now once the filter is in the position you can lock the rotation, a small feature, but surprisingly useful.

The lock feature is a nice addition. A few weeks back in Portland I met one chap who’s Big Stopper had unfortunately met an untimely end as a cord caught on the release, the lock would have prevented this from happening.

The modular guided slots system still exists, but gone are the brass screws and screwdriver set and in its place is a rugged push fit and clip system.

It takes a bit of effort, but in seconds you can swap around the one, two or three slotted filter guides. There are no screws to drop, spacers to match, it’s all pre-measured moulded and ready to go.

The ability to quickly pop on and off a polariser is another excellent feature which helps to set this apart from other filter systems.

Simplicity is key, but this is refined simplicity.

Verdict

Let’s be honest the LEE100 Filter System holder is not something that every photographer is going to get excited about. The design is simply more refined and does much the same job as the previous one, just better.

To improve on a design that has existed for so long, and so many people use without issue is difficult, but LEE has succeeded.

The LEE100 Holder is an improvement, you use it, and that’s it, it just works. Should you go out and replace the old version with the all-new shiny one?

That’s where the big question lays, yes it’s more refined, but then the old version has happily done its job for years, so much so I’ve hardly noticed it.

If you’re buying a new LEE100 filter system and you have a choice then absolutely go for the new, it is better.

If you’re an existing LEE Filter Holder user and there are small things that niggle you then around £80 it’s a piece of kit that will last a lifetime, your choice. If you’re happy with the old style, then wait until it’s worn out, which is likely to be never.

For my part, I’ll be using the new refined holder from now on. If placed in the position of having to make the choice to upgrade it’s not a difficult one, I’ve used the new version now and there’s no going back.

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LEE100 Filter System review
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