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Lee filters vs other brands

Rising Star

Hi All,


I have always used screwed on filters until now, mostly by B+W. Having watched WAY too many videos on youtube, it seems that Lee filters are very poppular with the youtubers. I am curious if anyone here have first hand experience with this brand, and can give me some pointers? I read an article the other day, it talks about filters made of glass are fare more surperior quality than those made by Lee which are made of plastic resins. If that's the case then I don't understand why these filters can run for hunder if not higher.






I use Tiffen glass filter. Also use a plastic Hitech filter that I have schratched. If I would buy a new filter today I would buy Tiffen again or Hitech glass filter.


I would investigate Photoshop and learn how to use it.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!


B+W's screw-on filters have very high quality anti-reflective coatings (you'll see "MRC" on the name of the filter which means they have these coatings.  It's Multi-Resistant-Coating" because it's coated for more than one thing... anti-reflectivity being one of them.


Anyway... I ALSO own Lee filters.   But these are different animals... the LEE filters are usually square slide-in type filters and a major advantage of these is the ability to use "gradient" filters (filters that are not uniformly coated all the way across).


Lee is famous for their Grad ND with soft or hard edges... great for things like landscapes late in the day where the sky is still quite bright but the low-angle of sun means the land is getting quite dim.  You "slide in" the filter so the land isn't being darkened... but the sky is.   That's the general idea (although they make loads of other fitlers).


Screw-on filters have to be purchased in the correct fitler diameter to fit your lens.  But once you own the correct size, they do thread directly onto the lens and that means you can still use your lens hood and even attach your lens cap without removing the filter.


Slide-in filters require a filter holder.  They make a bracket with several slots or rails into which you slide these filters (because you can stack in more than one filter on the same holder).  But these bracket now needs an adapter ring to fit your lens diameter.   Also, you can't put the lens cap on when the filter or filter holders are attached... that needs to come off.  You probably can't fit it into your camera bag with the filters or holder attachd either.


But one big advantage happens when you own several lenses and they all have different filter size requirements.  With "round" fitlers, you can either (a) buy another set of filters or (b) buy the filters in the diameter of the LARGEST lens you own, and then buy "step-up" rings to adapt the smaller lenses to the larger diamter filters.


Also keep in mind that if you plan to shoot a lot of landscapes... you'll prefer slide-in filters.  The idea of a gradient filter in a round screw-on style just doesn't work because you can't control where the transition is located (that's the whole idea behind WHY the Lee filters "slide in" ... you can decide how far to slide the filter on to get the transition point to match up to your horizon.)


But with slide-in filters... you just buy a different mounting ring (and those are cheap).


With slide-in filters, you can't use your lens hood.  Lee does make a special version of the filter holder that has a hood built into it (it has the accordian style bellows ... pull it out for long focal length lenses... push it in for short focal length lenses to avoid vignetting.)


The slide-in fitlers are physically larger and will take up more space in your gear bag.  




Which is better?


Honestly after years and years of shooting and acquiring equipment and gear... I own both.  So I grab whichever I want however I think I will be shooting that day.


For most shooting, I grab my B+W screw-on filters.  It's the least amount of fuss.  I own 77mm diameter filters in that system (it's a very popular size).  A few of my lenses are 82mm.  (my original 24-70 uses 77mm filters although the new version II uses 82mm filters).  If I'm going out to shoot landscapes or planning to use my tilt-shift lenses... I grab the Lee filter system.


If you do (or plan to do) a lot of landscapes... maybe you'll want grad ND filters and for that you want the slide-in type system.  If not, and you just want to use circular polarizers and ND filters... then I'd go with the thread-on filters (and you'll have a hard time beating the quality of B+W).


BTW, the slide-in filters do come in sizes... but the 100mm width (aka 4") size is the most popular by far.  There are also other vendors who make slide-in filters.  Cokin makes some low-cost filters.  Singh-Ray makes some high-end filters.  


Formatt-Hitech is another very high end brand.  Although when I visit their main website ( I get a GoDaddy notice that the domain expired (that's not very reassuring) although their USA site ( is still there.




As for other brands...


I used to buy "whatever" was available at the photo store (before we had an Internet).  I now realize that while they all look the same... they don't all work the same.  The key thing is the quality of the anti-reflective coatings.  Some of these things either have no coatings or very poor coatings.  It seems a shame to buy a $2000 lens... then cheap out on the filter (you may as well have just bought a cheap lens as well).


B+W gets top marks in the industry.   Hoya PRO1 series (and ONLY the PRO1 series because Hoya makes lots of variety and they aren't as good as their PRO1) also gets top marks (I don't own any of these).  


I do own a Tiffen filter (before I understood the importance of buying good quality filters).  I've placed the Tiffen & B+W filters on a piece of black card-stock side-by-side and the difference is very noticeable.  The Tiffen has a strong glassy reflection.  The "black" of the cardstock it is resting on looks dark gray.  The B+W glass looks nearly invisible.  The black of the card-stock still looks black (as though I placed a filter ring on the card with no glass in it).  If you try to see your own reflection in the glass, the Tiffen reveals a strong reflection.  The B+W offers a very weak reflection ... there is one, but it's not nearly as strong.


This means the B+W transmits substantially more light into your camera (that the Tiffen would reflect) AND it also means that ghosting would be far more likely to show up in your images with the Tiffen as compared to the B+W.



As an experiment, find a bright light (it could be a light bulb in your house ... just remove the lamp shade).  Position the light so it's roughly half-way between the center of your frame and one of the four corners ... and snap that photo.  Now inspect the results but specifically check the OPPOSITE corner.  Suppose you put the light bulb in the upper-left section of the photo... check for a reflection in the lower-right.  If you see a reflection of the bulb or the filament of the bulb... that's ghosting.  That's what you're trying to avoid.


I'll caution you that all flat filters will have reflections.  It's not a question of "if" ...  it's a question of "how much" or how strong is the reflection.    Quality filters will have reflections which are too weak to notice or only show up with particular bright lights.  Poor quality filters can have obnoxious reflections that are bright enough to be noticed in many more situations.



There are other issues such as dispersion and contrast.  Poor quality filters can degrade the quality of the shot (nevermind the reflections problem).  




Tim Campbell
5D III, 5D IV, 60Da

Hi Tim,


Thank you for the detailed info and explanation. As you've stated, having multiple lenses with different diameters, buying filters for both lens can be very expensive, thus I opted for the slider one from Lee.


The reason for asking is that, I read somewhere wihch stated that most Lee's filters are made of plastic or resins, where as other brands are made of glass. Can you really tell the different between glass and resin?




@limvo05 wrote:

Hi Tim,


The reason for asking is that, I read somewhere wihch stated that most Lee's filters are made of plastic or resins, where as other brands are made of glass. Can you really tell the different between glass and resin?


That's correct... they are resins.  If you wear prescription eye-glasses those are also resin (polymers)... partly for safety and partly for weight.


One exception is that the Lee circular polarizing filter is real glass (not sure why because polarizing sunglasses are usually a plastic resin).  Mine actually has a few chips on the edges (because it's real glass ... a problem I don't have to worry about with the rest of my Lee filters because they are resin.)


Glass is not necessarily better than resin.  I bought solar filters for my camera lenses and telescopes.  One of them was "glass" and I had always assumed that since it was perfectly flat (you can see wrinkles in the other filters) that it must optically be the best.  Turns out that wasn't true... my polymer solar films are optically better and have less distortion than the glass.  Usually glass has a higher index of refraction than plastics (and when you're trying to not refract the light, the plastic or resin would be an advantage.)



Tim Campbell
5D III, 5D IV, 60Da

So confusing with all the brands. Some like Hoya, some preferred Tiffen. Not sure which to get. Properly try saving more and then get Lee since I already have Lee holder. Having said that, wondering if you could get filters from different brand and mount them on Lee's holder? I would think as long as they are the same size, they should work. Am I correct on this?



@limvo05 wrote:

So confusing with all the brands. Some like Hoya, some preferred Tiffen. Not sure which to get. Properly try saving more and then get Lee since I already have Lee holder. Having said that, wondering if you could get filters from different brand and mount them on Lee's holder? I would think as long as they are the same size, they should work. Am I correct on this?



The 100mm width (aka 4” width) is the standard size that everyone seems to make.  They each have other sizes that seem to be less standard.  


Tim Campbell
5D III, 5D IV, 60Da

Rising Star
When I need a filter...
I have every ND they make from 0.3 through Solar
3 different CPs
Graduated ND
Even wasted my money on the UV/IR, need one, I have a 67 & 82 give you a great deal, but will tell you that they are a waste of money, terrible vignetting
I went from teffen to Hoya, incredible how much better the results are.
Regarding lens protection, I watched a demo of a guy dropping a 3/4" socket from 2 feet onto a Canon lens and did it several times, passed the lens around the room, the glass was not marked despite the horror of the crowd the real fact is what will actually damage the lens will also damage the lens body therefore its game over.


Sometimes filters just can't do their job properly. I'm a blogger, and I like to demonstrate different shopping hauls and looks I've created. But the camera can't capture the color properly.

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