As a landscape photographer, an integral part of my image making kit is the filtration system. In essence the use of filters gives us the ability to achieve a balanced, well exposed image. If you're new to photography you may have noticed that whilst shooting outdoors in contrasting light, that either the sky, or foreground objects will be well exposed, rarely both, particularly in situations such as sunset and sunrise when the sun is very low in the sky. It's during this time when landscape photographers are most active but it can be difficult to reproduce what the eye is seeing. This is where filters can help, the use of a neutral-density graduated filter for example, will darken the sky, thus helping you expose correctly for the whole scene.
Even with the very impressive dynamic range of modern cameras and the use of applications such as Photoshop, I still personally feel that getting the image right as much as you can 'in camera', produces a more natural look. For some years now I have been using the LEE filters 100mm system, which has served me very well thus far. The 100mm system is very versatile and until now that system has been compatible with all of my various DSLR and Mirrorless camera system lenses.
I have been in collaboration with Sigma UK for a couple of years, just recently I was lucky enough to receive their new 20mm Art lens. This ultra-wide angle lens, like many wide lenses from other manufacturers has a large diameter front element that is also quite bulbous, additionally the 20mm Art also has a fixed petal hood. Being of course very happy to receive this lens, unfortunately it isn't compatible with my current 100mm system, and as I mentioned previously filters are essential to the way I work. Thankfully, LEE have now introduced the SW150 mkII system and I received this solution to the problem to have a little play with.
You're probably wondering what you're looking at in the above image? Well it's actually quite simple, as with the 100mm system you basically have an adaptor ring to suit your particular lens and the filter holder itself.
The adaptor 'ring' for the SW150 mkII system however, is a three piece assembly. This is easy to install and comprises of a front 'lugged' ring which fits over the front of the lens, the lugs aiding placement of the ring against the petal hood. The other two parts of this assembly are the red compression ring and finally the locking ring. Once installed the system feels incredibly robust, all parts being machined from metal. Although easy and fairly quick to install, you might want to leave the adaptor ring attached to your lens, rather than having to go through the fitting process every time you set up for a shot. I've simply left the adaptor ring assembly attached to the 20mm Art lens since I received it a couple of weeks ago. There's no danger of the ring being damaged thanks to robust nature of the system, plus the large red ring on my lens has proved an eye-catching talking point for other passing photographers ;-)
We then have the filter holder, again this feels reassuringly robust and fits easily over the lens adaptor, tightening the knurled locking screw to fix the holder in place, once locked the holder can still be rotated, enabling you to position those ND grad filters at the desired angle. The filter holder comes with two filter slots enabling you to stack the filters, also supplied is a lightshield. This lightshield is essential for use with the Little, Big and Super stoppers and prevents any light getting in behind the filter.
You're now ready to go, below is my first shot taken with the SW150 mkII system on a visit to my local patch, Spurn Point nature reserve in East Yorkshire. Shot with Sigma SD1 Merrill & 20mm Art lens, LEE SW150 mkII system with .6 hard grad & little stopper - f/14 - 5 seconds - ISO100. This particular scene involved a very bright setting sun, just out of shot and almost completely clear sky. I positioned the .6 hard grad filter at the horizon which has nicely balanced the image; additionally I wanted to capture the movement in the grass, to achieve this a little stopper (6 stop filter) has been utilised to give a 5 second exposure. Importantly here, no noticeable vignetting from the SW150mkII & 20mm Art lens combination.
In use, the SW150 mkII works in the same way as the 100mm system, so if you're familiar with this you'll quickly be up to speed. The obvious difference being the size of the filters themselves, with grads at 150mm x 170mm they are quite a handful. I have in the past been known to drop the odd filter on to rocks, whilst being precariously positioned in high winds on slippery, rocky coastal outcrops. There's nothing more disheartening than seeing your Big Stopper slip from your grasp only to be smashed on a wet rock, followed by being washed out to sea with the next incoming wave! Therefore, I advise extreme caution when handling these large filters in strong winds. Below is a shot of the photographer with the SW150 mkII in action, the wind was strong, hang on to those precious filters!
The next day saw a rather flat sunrise. Immediately I'd surmised that this scene was probably going to look a bit more interesting in monochrome; with the hope of evoking some emotion on this relatively sombre morning, or maybe that's just the way I was feeling after a night of no sleep. The below image is the result of my efforts that morning. Shot with Sigma SD1 Merrill & 20mm Art lens, LEE SW150 mkII system with .6 hard grad - f/14 - 1 second - ISO100.
If you're in the UK, you may have noticed the crazy weather we've been enduring for the past week or so.
I'd had a day on the North Yorkshire coast earlier this week and the weather was a tad extreme. I love challenging and moody conditions but the wind was so strong coming in off the North Sea that capturing any images proved incredibly difficult indeed. Sea spray, rain and hail all being blasted at the filters, which proved impossible to keep clean on this particular day. I'd almost given up capturing anything, but on the drive home across the Moors the light was looking promising. I parked the car up and ran out across those wild Moors and managed to grab the below image, shortly afterwards I was rewarded with another hailstorm!
This time shot with Sony A7R + Sigma 20mm Art lens with the new MC11 adaptor - LEE SW150 mkII system with .6 hard grad - f/16 - 1 second - ISO100.
In conclusion, the LEE SW150 mkII system, is a well thought out solution for ultra-wideangle lens users, additionally, as one would expect, it's also very well made, being reassuringly tough with filters being held securely. My only slight concern being those large filters, there's no way around that, being the size that they are for obvious reasons, just don't be a butter fingers like me, take your time and don't rush! Once you've removed the fear of dropping one, the whole system is a pleasure to use.