Lee Filters add The Big Stopper to their professional ND range so Peter Bargh decides it's time to slow down his landscape photography and see what all the fuss is about.
ePHOTOzine verdict and ratings
Lee Filters The Big Stopper: Features
The Big Stopper is a 2mm thick optical glass filter with a neutral density value of 10x. Having a 10x ND value means a normal exposure of 1/15sec will be extended to 1 minute. This makes it great for shooting ghost-like blur effects on water and clouds in daylight - the landscape photographer's dream filter.
It fits into Lee Filter's standard 100mm holder so it can be used on wide angles through to extreme telephotos. The filter comes supplied seal wrapped in tissue paper inside a heavy duty material pouch. There's a user guide that covers composition and exposure, along with a smaller credit card sized exposure guide that can be used as a reference until you become used to calculating the 10x exposure reductions.
Lee Filters The Big Stopper: Handling
Being glass you cant help feeling vulnerable, even though the filter comes in a protective pouch. I've already read of people accidentally kneeling on or dropping their filter and cracking it in two. Needless to say I handled mine with kid gloves. The first time you use it you have to remove it from a sealed tissue wrapping. If you're careful you could reuse this, but after a few goes in the field I found it was impossible to keep tidy - a cloth protector would be better.
The upside with glass is you feel as though you have an optically superior filter and, unlike resin, it's less likely to get scratched or produce a colour cast.
The filter has a seal around the inner edge that butts up to the filter holder to provide a light tight seal which will prevent flare on the ensuing long exposures. The seal is just the right thickness to prevent light spills while allowing easy insertion into the holder.
The edges have been rounded to avoid any nasty stabbing accidents.
Lee Filters The Big Stopper: Performance
I used the filter on a variety of coastal photos on my recent vacation up north. I visited the Northumberland coast and used it in the late afternoon when I'd normally only get speeds as slow as 1/4sec even when stopped right down to f/22 with my normal kit. With the big stopper attached I could shoot the same scene at my lens' optimum aperture of f/9.5 and have a super blur inducing exposure of 30 seconds. The milky water looks superb. Normally poor scenes are transformed in a number of ways. Normally frozen tidal water is reduced to a smooth glass like surface. Depending on the motion sometimes this either produces a milky ghost-like appearance and other times it provides a window for the rocks or seaweed underneath the surface that would normally be hidden by ripples or splashes.
Colour accuracy is very good too, although there can be slight hues depending on the time and location. With film photography you will find reciprocity failure kicks in at exposures with durations of minutes. These colour casts can easily be corrected using CC filters or later digitally.
The seal worked well I didn't get any flare and there's no noticeable reduction in optical quality.
Another practical use would be in a tourist spot. If it's busy and someone is always walking in to shot you could add The Big Stopper and set an exposure of one minute or so and the moving person wouldn't show up on the photo.
A graduated filter was also used with the Big Stopper to darken the bright sky. Here a 12-24mm lens was used to ensure a wide view of the rocks and castle ruin. With filter the exposure was 30sec at f/9.5 without filter it was 1/60sec at f/9.5. As you can see it provides a vast difference in mood.
Lee Filters The Big Stopper: Verdict
|Without filter the exposure was 1/45sec at f/9.5. With filter the bubbles, ripples and waves are removed with the 30sec at f/9.5 exposure so more detail appears in the rocks.
||Without filter the exposure was 1/200sec at f/8. With filter the ocean movements are also removed with the 5sec at f/8 exposure so the sea appears like see through glass.
I've always reached for the polarising filter first when doing landscapes. The Big Stopper will now take the mantle as the number one filter to take with me. It does slow you down as a tripod has to be used, you have to pre focus, and you may need to do a few tests shots to determine correct exposure as the camera's automatic metering is fooled, but the results are worth it.
Milky water and ghost-like clouds may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you like that sort of thing The Big Stopper is for you. It may be more expensive than the resin competition, but quality has always been the top of Lee Filter's agenda and this filter is no different.
Lee Filters The Big Stopper: Pros
Brilliant for ghost effects on clouds and water
High Quality minimal colour cast
Seal to prevent light leaks
Lee Filters The Big Stopper: Cons
The Lee Filters The Big Stopper costs around £90 and is available from WarehouseExpress here: Lee Filters The Big Stopper