Lee Seven5 Filter System

I am fully conversant with the benefits of using filters, particularly neutral density graduated filters, standard and extreme neutral density filters and polarisers, having used them extensively over the years for landscape photography. However, I watched a short video recently from Lee extolling the benefits of using filters in an urban setting  that got me thinking. Given how much I like the JPEG files that come from my two Fuji cameras wouldn’t it be useful to utilise the power of filters to reduce the need to compensate for over-exposed skies; making the out-of-camera JPEGs truly one-stop solutions.

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Fuji X-T10 and Samyang 12mm lens

As a result of this train of thought I recently bought into the Lee Seven5 filter system specifically designed for compact camera systems such as the Fuji-X range. My initial impressions are very positive but it has to be said that in some instances, such as when using the 12mm Samyang lens with three filters stacked together  (above), it is better to use the full-sized Lee system. However, for less extreme lenses and for portability the Seven5 system is proving hard to beat.

I recently spent part of the day at Scammonden Water (post to follow) putting the Fuji X-T10 and Samyang 12mm lens through their paces using the full-sized Lee filters with neutral density graduated filters and both the Big Stopper and its sibling the Little Stopper. The Seven5 system is so light and small however I popped that in the bag to use with the Fuji 18-55 that I also planned to use on the X-T10 that day.

First, a simple comparison shot taken using the Fuji X100T both without and then with the Lee Seven5 0.9 hard neutral density filter. It says everything that needs to be said about the benefits of using graduated neutral density filters for landscape work.

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Scammonden Water and the M62 which is actually the dam wall. Fuji X100T no filters
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As above but with a Lee Seven5 3-stop graduated neutral density filter fitted.

In this example I think a third of a stop additional exposure might have been appropriate but I still refer the overall look of the second image. Whilst mentioning the X100T I should point out that I use a third-party hand grip which makes the camera a lot steadier in my experience. However, because of the very flat profile of the built-in 23mm lens I found that with the filter holder attached I could no longer grip the camera properly and indeed removed the grip for these shots.  Not a deal breaker but something to be aware of when using the filter system on the X100T.

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Looking down on Scammonden Water

The image above was taken with the Fuji X-T10 and 18-55 lens at 18mm. This was handheld and utilises two Lee Seven5 filters. Across the top is the three-stop neutral density filter to hold back the bright sky. I also reversed a very subtle warm-up graduated filter in the holder just to give the foreground a little bit more warmth.  Looking at both the with and without versions in Lightroom I was pleased with the choice; the effect is only subtle but has been effective.

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The filter tower and M62 beyond

At present I have just three of the Seven5 filters – the three-stop hard graduated filter, the 81b graduated warm-up filter and a Little Stopper. With a full set of the 100mm Lee filters I wasn’t keen on spending too much on the more compact system until I’d had a chance to test it properly.  The image above utilises the graduated neutral density filter with the addition of the Little stopper which enable an exposure time of 2 seconds. The X-T10 was able to judge the exposure time through the filter although I did check that it agreed with my calculation before pressing the shutter.  The effect of the Little Stopper is subtle and with hindsight I should have popped the full sized set on and used the Big Stopper but the purpose of the exercise was to test the Seven5 system.

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All of the images here are out-of-camera JPEGs, it would miss the point of this test  to have processed the RAW files and added additional tweaks. Whilst the Little Stopper image was shot from a tripod the image above was hand held. If the system is to work for me in an urban setting then nine times out of ten it will need to be used hand held rather than on a tripod.  I found positioning the filters very easy using the Fuji X-T10’s EVF and looking at the files back at home was pleased to see that everything lined up exactly as I saw it in the viewfinder.

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Rain heading my way!

The image above was taken “on the run” as I moved to get under shelter from the pending rain. It was a useful test however as it reassured me that positioning the filter through the EVF was very quick to achieve.  Likewise, the image below uses both the neutral density graduated filter and a reversed warm-up graduated filter and was taken whilst walking back to the car.  In terms of being quick to set up whilst hand holding I am very pleased with how the Lee Seven5 works.

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The final view of Scammonden Dam and the M62 as I head back to the car

So, the acid test. Will I be investing further in the Lee Seven5 system?

Unequivocally YES!

Whilst they are less useful for the Samyang 12mm lens they are perfect for the X100T (without hand grip!) and for using on the fly with the Fuji X-T10 and 18-55 lens. For urban or street photography these are likely to be my go-to options as the extremely wide-angle and the manual control of the 12mm lens are less useful in these situations.  I found the small size of the system a positive advantage – the 100mm system which I’d been using takes up a third of the small  camera bag I use for the Fuji system! In practical terms the EVF of both cameras is perfectly good enough to enable accurate positioning of the filters which is particularly import given their small size. Looking back at the files in Lightroom there are no examples of poorly aligned filters both amongst the handheld and tripod-mounted images.

My only gripe with the system is the cost but Lee are able to charge what they do because the system is so good and therefore photographers are willing to pay the premium.

My Lee Seven5 wish list comprises a Big Stopper, a two-stop soft graduated filter and the phenomenally expensive polariser.  Thinking about how I use the larger Lee system on my Nikon DSLRs this would give me the most-used combinations certainly for landscape photography. I often stack a three-stop hard with a two-stop soft graduated neutral density filter, use the polariser a lot and the Big Stopper more than I should I suspect.

All images © Dave Whenham

That Velvia Moment

I’m still getting used to the Fuji X-T10 and when the opportunity arose yesterday for a few hours on Marsden Moors I grabbed the camera, the Samyang 12mm and my Lee filters and headed for the moors.  Let me firstly say that it was freezing and windy up there. It was warm and still when I set off and therefore I was in shorts and a fleece but fortunately my old coat was lurking in the boot of the car as when I stepped out on Buckstones Edge (also known locally as Nont Sarah’s) it was anything but warm and still.

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If I was cold I suspect the paraglider were colder

To my mind it takes a brave soul to leap off Buckstones Edge to go paragliding but when I arrived there were four such hardy individuals in the air. With a 12mm lens I was never going to capture action images but they do add a sense of scale (above).

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March Haigh Reservoir – I used a polariser to take some of the glare off the reservoir

I had previously experimented with using the Lee Seven5 filter system on the Samyang 12mm lens but found that the full-sized 100mm Lee filters were less problematic particularly when stacking filters.  Even so, when using the polariser (above) there was slight vignetting in the corners. Not a huge deal as it could be handled in post-production but nevertheless worth remembering. Another way around the problem is to frame the scene a little larger than you need in order to crop out the corners I guess.

So despite the user being rather cold the Lee 100mm system acquitted itself well up on Buckstones Edge and the smaller size of the X-T10 and Samyang, compared to a Nikon D800E and 14-24 f2.8, was not a problem in any significant way. I did need to get my reading glasses out at times to check the screen information but I do that with my Nikons too.

I tried some long exposures with both Little and Big Stoppers but the sky was coming out mainly white with few streaks of colour so gave that up for another day and headed down to Scammonden Water to try my luck there.

The vegetation around the beck, indeed around the whole of the area was particularly lush and verdant and so I did something I’ve never done before and switched the shooting mode to Velvia. I am a big fan of Velvia transparencies but have never been convinced by Velvia simulation modes on cameras or indeed plug-ins for post production. However, in the spirit of getting to know the X-T10 I turned it on safe in the knowledge that I was shooting RAW+JPEG so had a safety net.

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Lush vegetation – JPEG from camera using Velvia setting

As I think the image above shows, the “Velvia” JPEG, this is straight out of the camera, did a pretty good job overall. Velvia was noted for highly saturated, vivid colours and the X-T10 simulation delivers just that.

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A polariser helped reduce some of the glare although I did not fully polarise the image as I wanted some of the highlight to balance the composition

I work mainly in black & white but have to say that the richness of these JPEGs means that I have lost my aversion to Velvia simulations. I was already a fan of the “Classic Chrome” simulation on the X-T10 but in the right situation I think that the Velvia option is worth using too.

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Fuji X-T10 Handheld – “Velvia” JPEG – Lee Seven5 0.9 ND graduated filter

So, my “journey” with the Fuji’s continues to be very positive and I am starting to really appreciate how this system can complement and work alongside my larger Nikon DSLR-based system.

All images © Dave Whenham

Not another Fuji journey!

It may just be because of my recent researches but I’ve seen a lot of blog posts along the lines of “My journey with Fuji”, “My switch from [insert brand here] to Fuji” or “Moving to Fuji – my story”.  So the virtual world probably doesn’t need another such post. But then again I figured that as my posts are read by approximately one and a half people each time perhaps it would be OK to slip this one in under the radar.

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The start of my Fuji “journey”. Fuji X100 Winter 2011.

I was as it happens a very early “adopter” buying the Fuji X100 when it first came out and I instantly became enamoured by its retro styling and the way it forced me back into a way of shooting I’d last enjoyed thirty years previously.

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Coffee and Conversation. Fuji X100.
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Misty Morning. Fuji X100 Winter 2013/14
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Images from a photo essay 2013. Fuji X100
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Curves. Fuji X100 2014

That however was the honeymoon and whilst I continued to use the X100 regularly as shown by the images above it’s shortcomings and quirks finally led to it being left at home more and more until 2015 when, whilst switching my DSLR kit from Canon to Nikon,  I finally decided to part company with the Fuji.

It was a difficult decision, in so many ways it was a joy to handle but it could be a frustration to actually use and despite its image quality (I won a club competition with an X100 image) the fact that it was spending so much time in the drawer meant I wasn’t getting any meaningful benefit from ownership. The major firmware update in late 2013 came too late for me, by that time the X100 and indeed Fuji were rarely in my thoughts and I completely missed the announcements. I did update the firmware before selling the camera but by then the die was cast. I cried quietly inside at how little I got for it but that’s another story.

Looking back this morning I am well pleased with some of the images I made with the X100. On those occasions when I could be bothered to wrestle with it’s idiosyncrasies I was usually happy with the results even if getting there was sometimes somewhat painful. I never used the Fuji JPEGS from the X100 but was always more than happy with the quality of the RAW (RAF) files it produced.  From time to time though after selling the X100 I did regret the decision.

Recently however I’ve been looking again at the Fuji X100, now in its third iteration as the Fuji X100T. I initially started looking at classic film rangefinders with no intention of reentering the premium large sensor, fixed prime lens digital market. However, wherever I looked the Fuji X100T kept cropping up in articles, blog posts and discussion groups. Which naturally meant I followed the threads and dug deeper. And deeper. And yet deeper still.

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West End, London. Fuji X100T

So deep in fact that the X100T entered the house and I have very quickly embraced this newest iteration of the X100. The handling is the same but the user experience vastly improved.  Using this style of camera needs a different approach compared to a (D)SLR, more akin to a traditional rangefinder, but as with everything the secret is in getting to know your kit and actually using it regularly. I’ve used the X100T daily since I got it and the mechanical side of things is starting to become intuitive; muscle memory is being formed and changing settings is becoming easier through repetition. I think that is the secret with any camera, practice, practice and yet more practice.  Several of the buttons on the camera can be customised and I’ve been through three separate formations so far, each slightly more helpful to my way of working than before.

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Oxford Street, London. Fuji X100T

Getting to know the camera hasn’t been without its frustrations of course but I’m already feeling at home with the X100T and the quality of the images who I get it right make the effort very worthwhile.  Two main things stand out art present. Firstly, the camera tends to under-expose to my taste in most situations, not a major problem as I now keep the EV dial on +1 most of the time but I do need to keep an eye on exposure.  I will experiment further with exposure modes and see if that helps in this regard.

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Kings Cross, London. Fuji X100T

The X100T is great for candid photography and the image quality at ISO 6400, when exposed correctly, is superb. No complaints from me. The image above was shot at 1/60th second at f4 and ISO 6400 from a distance of five feet or so with the camera sat on my leg.

Which leads me to my other frustration, which I would stress is down to my handling and NOT the camera, and that is the number of blurred shots I acquired when street shooting due to the shutter speed being too slow. My bad as they say but I have been setting far too small an aperture for street candids I think. As a landscape photographer I am used to defaulting to f11 as my go-to aperture.  When shooting portraits I often use f2.8 or even wider on occasions. Out on the streets of London last week I set the X100T to f8 or f11, auto ISO (with a maximum of 6400) in aperture priority and manual focusing. Looking at the images this morning far too many are blurry and when I dig deeper I’m seeing shutter speeds of 1/15th second or less. When moving on the street I suspect that even 1/30th or 1/60th of a second might be too slow. This is NOT a fault of the camera but it is something to be aware of and for me it is a case of getting used to a smaller, busier viewfinder and keeping my eye on the shutter speed.

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“Now it’s your turn”. Fuji X100T

Looking back through the images, an aperture of f4 would be ideal with the 23mm lens of the X100T when shooting candids or street photography. This was indoors and 1/100th sec at f4 ISO 1600 with camera to my eye.

Last weeks experiences on the streets of London have taught me a lot about this style of shooting and also given me the confidence that insofar as I am concerned the X100T is going to be the perfect tool for the job.

But of course, I didn’t stop at the X100T as you will know if you’ve read any of my recent posts. A flurry of activity online, selling my Nikon 16-35 lens and the entire EOS M3 kit amongst other items, has provided the budget for a new Fuji X-T10 and four lenses (8mm fisheye, 12mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm).

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An iconic skyline. Fuji X-T10 with 55-200mm lens

One thing I have been very conscious of more recently is the weight of my Nikon kit. It is less of an issue when out in the fells for the day with one of my photographic partners but for a day out with the family it is frankly a liability.  However, spending five days away, as we did last week, I prefer to have some options other than just a DSLR and 24-70 zoom. But it is not practical, my full Nikon kit is bigger than the suitcase we use for a start!  So, whilst researching the Fuji X-series I realised I could put together an excellent system which would mean I could cut down on bulk and weight without compromising on versatility.

Spoiler alert: I bought the X-T10 as my lightweight alternative to the Nikons and at this stage it is not my intention to ditch the DSLRs so don’t expect a “Road to Damascus” moment later in this post because there hasn’t been one … yet.

 

The images above were all taken with the Fuji X-T10 on a day spent in Kew Gardens, London. I used three lenses during the day, the Samyang 8mm fisheye, the Fujinon 18-55 “kit lens” and the Fujinon 55-200mm. As you will have worked out I had a full-frame equivalent of 27mm through to 300mm at my disposal (if you exclude the slightly more esoteric fisheye) which compares more than favourably to the 24-70 I would have restricted myself to if I’d brought the Nikon DSLR on this trip.  Weight-wise I didn’t get the scales out but my shoulders reported no more strain from the Fuji and three lenses than it would have from one lens plus DSLR Nikon set-up.

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The Art of Conversation. Fuji X-T10

It is too early to make any detailed conclusions about the X-T10 although I have already fallen for the quality of JPEGs from both Fujis. I used the X-T10 mainly on a walk along the South Bank one afternoon and for a full day in Kew Gardens. It was in my bag at all times though and so did get a brief outing in the West End as the image above shows.

First impressions are very positive though both in terms of handling and in terms of image quality. I was very happy with the Canon EOS M3 I was using recently but have to say that the Fuji experience has been far superior so far. That is not to say the M3 is poor, far from it I still rate it highly, but the Fuji’s have so far provided an even better user experience so I am more than happy with my recent purchases.

Whether or not it becomes a DSLR-killer remains to be seen. I am not even going to entertain the idea of ditching my Nikons until I have used the Fujis for a good six months, which takes us into 2017.  I feel confident enough with the X-T10 though to have invested in a Lee Seven5 starter kit and will be testing the system out on my next couple of landscape shoots. If all goes well I will take both systems to Skye in November and use the Fuji for those days when the walking is mostly steeply upwards. But that is jumping head.

At present my introduction to the Fuji X-series has been a very positive one. From having mixed feelings about the X100 in 2011 I find myself in 2016 with an X-T10 and X100T feeling very positive about the system and looking forward to exploring the Fuji X-world further over the coming months.