The price tag on our 82mm review sample will make your eyes water. However, this is LEE Filters, and you’re paying for unmatched quality.
Arriving in an all-new plastic protective case, the filter sits comfortably protected inside.
On removing the filter, you can instantly see and feel the quality of the work that has gone into the design and manufacture. Knurled edges, graphics and an ultra-smooth rotation with stops confirm this VND has been thoroughly thought through.
Screwing into the front of a Sony 24-70mm the 82mm version, it instantly feels like your doing an injustice to the quality of this filter by using it on zoom. Still, it’s all about checking out the filter’s versatility in this test.
Sure enough, from long exposure landscapes to being used to control video exposure, the quality and class of this filter make it a joy to use.
Image quality remains excellent with good contrast, tone and little sign of any heavy colour influence caused by the filter.
As VNDs go, and at this density, the LEE ELEMENTS VND does the job without the need for large amounts of post-processing, this alone will save you more in time than you outlay in cash.
Sturdy protective case
Market leading optical quality
What is the LEE ELEMENTS VND (6-9 stops)?
The LEE Element VND (6-9 stops) is a variable neutral density filter that reduces the amount of light passing through the lens by six to nine stops.
Like almost all VND filters as the front element is rotated the light that can pass through the optic is reduced enabling an extension in exposure times.
Unlike the rectangular filter systems that LEE are known for, the ELEMENT Series utilises screw-in threads with the range available in 67, 72, 77, and 82mm diameters.
While the ELEMENTS name might have connotations of an entry-level model, as used by Manfrotto, the LEE ELEMENTS range is far from, and aimed at professionals, and that’s why they cost quite a bit.
However, there’s a reason that good filters set you back as much as they do. They help you maintain the optical quality of the lens they front whilst applying the effect that you purchased the filter for.
LEE Filters have a long history of supplying imaging pros with the filters they need to capture great images. The ELEMENTS range is a departure from the square and rectangular filters we have seen in the past but does show how the company is adapting to the new hybrid photography trends by creating a filter that is equally at home being used for video as it is for stills.
Diameters: 67, 72, 77 and 82mm
Stops of exposure reduction: 6 to 9
End stops : yes
Exterior markings : yes
One of the issues with filters that cost as much as the LEE ELEMENT VND (6 to 9 Stop) is that expectations are high, and that expectation starts from the moment the box is opened.
LEE has created an all-new plastic protective case design for the ELEMENT Range. This might not have the same impact as the old metal cases, but the material and design are better suited to being carted around in a kit bag.
In this test, I’ve looked at the 82mm version of the filter, which screws directly into the front of the lens. This is a bit of a departure from the system filters that we’re used to from LEE.
The quality of the outer surround is excellent, and the fit to the front of the lens is precise. Being a VND, the filter consists of two polariser elements that rotate to adjust the amount of light passing through the camera.
What’s nice about the design of these rings is that when you’re out taking pictures, the rear ring that interfaces with the lens has a distinct straight knurl texture, this gives excellent purchase when attaching and removing. The front polariser element features a far smoother spiral knurl that gives grip but helps differentiate the two rings. This means that adjustment can be made completely through touch and texture, which is useful when looking through the lens.
An essential feature that is now more common across all variable NDs are the end stops; these essentially stop the polarisers from being rotated too far and prevent cross-polarisation.
In use, the quality of the optics is instantly apparent, especially for a filter of this density. The rotation of the rings is beautifully smooth, making it easy to position the amount of light reduction you need.
Using the filter, and the effects on exposure times are dramatic. Setting the aperture to f/11 on a bright day and the shutter speed to 1/60 gets a standard exposure; pop the filter on the front, and the exposure time at 6-stops jumps to a second, 7-stops 2 seconds, 8-stops 4 seconds and 9-stops 8 seconds.
There’s little complexity to the use of the filter; rotate to get the exposure time you want and expose. To avoid any camera shake, a remote release or using the self-timer for such shots is advised.
Once you’ve captured the images you want, the knurled outer enables the easy removal of the filter, which can then be popped back into the case.
Once back home and a cup of tea at the ready, it’s time to look through the images, and this is when the quality of the filter really starts to stand out. I’ve looked at a few filters recently, and while the quality of the optics has generally improved across the board, compared with the past, there are usually still obvious signs of colour casts. When it comes to VND at this level of light reduction, I’m also used to a bit of vignette, chromatic aberration and quite often the faintest signs of cross-polarisation.
When looking at images captured using the LEE ELEMENTS VND (6-9 stop) there isn’t any of that; the colours are excellent, a touch on the warm side but the clarity of the actual images is exceptional. There is a slight warmth to the colours but the tonal range and detail within the image is maintained. The contrast across the image looks good and focusing on signs of colour cast influences the images show that the filter has very little destructive impact.
A 6-9 stop variable ND offers drastic light reduction at the upper end of exposure reduction. Usually if I’m wanting to reduce the exposure above 6 stops then I’ll usually look at a dedicated neutral density filter, such as the Big Stopper for quality reasons. A single filter will inevitably give a more balanced look and enable the capture of a higher quality image. However, the LEE ELEMENT VND (6-9 stops) provides excellent optics that have very little effect on image quality.
Having a VND of this quality rather than a BIG Stopper also offers greater flexibility when out capturing the images. You have the ability to control the exposure by rotating the VND rather than swapping filters or changing the exposure settings.
In use on the front of your camera when shooting landscapes or any scene where you need a long exposure, then this filter provides the ability to stop down while keeping quality.
LEE FILTERS ELEMENT VND (6-9 Stops) No Filter
LEE FILTERS ELEMENT VND (6-9 Stops) at 6 Stops
LEE FILTERS ELEMENT VND (6-9 Stops) at 7 Stops
LEE FILTERS ELEMENT VND (6-9 Stops) at 8 Stops
LEE FILTERS ELEMENT VND (6-9 Stops) at 9 Stops
Starting with the new plastic style cases the filter arrived in, I must admit that I initially felt a little disappointed. Where was the usual metal or zipped casing that I expected from LEE? But then, on-site and removing the case, flipping open the lid, the new design started to make sense.
The case is a perfect fit. The rounded edges enable it to easily slip into a pocket, bag or jacket; it’s extremely well designed for something that we usually only give a passing thought.
By the end of the test, I’ve appreciated the case; it’s tough, weather-resistant and drop-proof, whereas the old metal cases were not!
In use, the filter performs well; it’s easy to fit, and the front element rotation is silky smooth. Out in the field, the filter performs as well as any. You can always get a feel for how good a filter is from the preview, but it’s not until you open the images that you can see how good they are.
Opening the images and the optical quality of the filter is instantly apparent. The colour, tone and quality are superb, and there is very little to criticise. There is a slight cast, but so slight that it’s difficult to pick out. Ultimately this is the best Variable ND out on the market; the only issue is the price.
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