A few years back, a bunch of photographers started experimenting with high density ND filters, designed for photographing bright industrial processes like welding and furnaces, to achieve super-long exposures in broad daylight.
The technique soon caught on and demands for the filters sky rocketed. The main player in the high density ND game was German company B+W. Their screw-in 3.0 ND became as ridiculously hard to get in 77mm (the size most wide-angle lens filter rings are) with waiting lists of months at most suppliers.
The main downside of the screw-in B+W was the difficulty using ND grad filters with it; having to screw the filter in an align grads against a black viewfinder. Live View on some camera models could compensate but it added an extra degree of hassle.
In March 2010, Lee Filters released the Big Stopper, their entry into the 10-stop ring. Unlike the B+W, the Big Stopper was designed to use Lee’s 100mm slot-in filter system, enabling the user to align their grad filters and then slot in the high-density filter after. Waiting lists became ridiculous, 3-4 months at most UK suppliers, Lee couldn’t keep up with the immense demand the new filter generated.
When the reviews started appearing online, the general reception was outstanding, further fuelling demand for the filter.
I’ve had mine for a few months now; here are my thoughts on it…
Manufacturer: Lee Filters
Model: Big Stopper – 10-Stop ND
Size: 100 x 100mm Slot-In
Density: 10 Stops / 3.0
Accessories: Filter wallet, booklet, exposure guide.
Price: £90-120 – Expect a waiting list.
Initial Thoughts –
To start off I should say I got mine second hand on eBay. A guy ordered two from two different suppliers, intending to cancel one when they other was dispatched. They both arrived on the same day, after a three month wait, so he opted to put the spare on eBay to make a profit on it. So I got mine within 3 days of ordering, not months.
If you’re thinking of ordering one brand new, you should probably still expect to wait before its dispatched.
The filter its self comes with its own hard wearing nylon wallet, a little booklet explaining it how it can be used, how to use it and that sort of stuff, as well as a handy business card sized laminate with common shutter speed conversions.
On said handy business card sized laminate, Lee make the ommision that your BIG Stopper may not actually be 10-stops, but somewhere between 9 ⅓ and 10 ⅔ stops of reduction – I echo that statement.
Take a few test exposures of something consistently lit, I used my lounge, cause I was sat in my arm chair when I read the handy business card sized laminate.
Take an exposure without the filter, then compensate for 10 stops and retake the shot with the filter in place and compare it with the unfiltered shot. Mines around the 10 ⅔ end of the exposure spectrum. It’ll save time in the field if you know exactly how many stops you need to compensate for.
The filter its self is made of Lee’s high quality ProGlass high quality glass, which is optimised for digital cameras.
I’ve heard reports of them being quite brittle. I know a few photographers who have dropped them and had them smash instead of bounce and get scratched, so you need to be extra careful when handling it.
On the back of the filter is a 1-2mm foam gasket. Lee’s designers placed this ingenius piece of flattened pipe insulation on the back to lightseal the filter. The advantages of screw-in filters is that they’re light tight; slot-in filters can suffer from stray light causing reflections on the back of the filter, ruining the image.
The Big Stopper is designed to be used in the rear-most slot of your filter holder, the foam gasket providing a light tight seal against the holder. Lee have also promised to replace the gasket if its used so much that it begins
to fail, but from what I can tell, that’ll take A LOT of using…
In Practise –
The slot-in configuration of the BIG Stopper makes setting the filter up as doddle.
Compose your shot > Align your grad/’s > Take a test exposure > Insert Big Stopper > Compensate for 10 stops of light reduction > Fire and wait.
Having used the screw-in B+W filter, I personally feel the Big Stopper is a lot easier to use. Being able to align your grads THEN attach the 10 stop makes life a lot easier.
The only snag I’ve come across so far is the foam gasket on the back makes the fit a bit… ‘snug’. Theres been times where the filter holder its self has rotated as a decent amount of force needs to be applied to get the Big Stopper into the filter slot.
I fix this by taking the hotshoe spirit level off of my camera, making sure the holder is horizonal, inserting the Big Stopper, then rechecking the filter holder.
Of course, thats not going to work if your shooting with your holder slanted to begin with, but lets not complicate matters…
Like its B+W counterpart, the Big Stopper does suffer from a colour cast. Most exposures will result with a very blue look to them, which can actually work on some images.
If you’re shooting RAW, which I hope you all are, its easy enough to correct in post-production. The cast is pretty much pure blue, so a boost in colour temperature, normally to around the 10-12,000k mark will do, though sometimes as high as 15-18,000k is required.
I’ve shot with the B+W 10-stop and I personally found the colour cast too strong and sometimes very difficult to remove in post. The majority of exposures with it come out with a weird pinky-orangey-reddy cast. Its like a sunset all day! Though removable in post, the Big Stopper wins hands down, it still has a cast, but its so so much easier to remove.
The difficulty most people have is the long shutter speeds, which a lot of the time are in excess of most cameras 30 second built in limit. I’m lucky in that I have a timer release, so I can dial in how long I want the shutter to stay open and let it do all the work.
Most of you will probably have standard cable releases or IR remotes. Your normal cable release probably has a lock feature on it, and most IR remotes, in my experience, use a timed mode when the camera is set to BULB, in that you fire it once to open the shutter and firing it a second time finished the exposure.
Most of you will probably be carrying a phone or have a watch on, so you can easily time the exposure, but I know from experience that can get a bit tedius, and on occasion you forget to check the time, though that might just be me.
If you’re serious about long exposures greater than 30 seconds, think about investing in a timer release. Most of the main brands have their own ones, but think about looking to companies like Phottix, I use their Nikos release which works perfectly. Review of that [here].
I’ve personally found the filter hard to get to grips with. Its not the filters fault, its my own, more so the weathers fault, damn you weather! Best results [in my opinion] are acheived with patchy, broken cloud. Whilst you can get good shots with heavy-ish cloud cover, a lot of the time the
motion is lost and the sky looks… flat.
Like any shot, the right conditions are needed to get the best out of this filter.
Its capable of helping you achieve awesome looking, but be selective of when you use it. A lot of people use their 10-stop on everything and it gets a bit old. Try to only use it if you think it suits the subject and conditions.
With practise, it can become a super powerful tool in your arsenal. I need to give it more time to get the best out of mine.
Pros and Cons
Slot-in system makes it very easy to use.
Colour cast is much easier to remove than rivals.
Lee quality – ie Outstanding.
Waiting lists can be absurd.
Over all, I’m very happy with my purchase.
I haven’t been able to use the filter to its maximum potential yet but from examples I’ve seen taken with it, its capable of outstanding shots.
Its quality is second to none. Its versatile. Its easy to use thanks to the Lee slot-in system.
As far as I’m concerned, the only real downsides to it are the price [which is expected, its Lee] and the availability issues.
If you use the Lee 100mm filter system [though I assume it would work with Cokin or Hitechs] and are thinking of getting a 10-stop filter, I personally feel the Lee Big Stopper is the best one out there.
If you can, get one to use for a weekend and see what you think of it. I shoot long exposures a lot but the 10-stop has taken a lot of getting used to…
Anyways, I think that covers it.
Any questions, leave a comment or email me. Anything I’ve missed? Let me know. Want me to go over anything?
Let me know.
I’m hoping to borrow a B+W 10-stop to take some comparison shots with soon, I’ll update the article with those results.
I hope you’ve found this useful 🙂