After months of reading, researching, and trying to find ways to justify the expense, I decided my 30th birthday was a good enough reason to cough up some cash and bought myself a shiny new Lee Big Stopper. I don’t have any other square filters, so I also needed a filter holder kit and an adaptor ring for my 24-70mm lens. Those extras bumped up the bill a fair bit, but I see them as an investment.
The Big Stopper is a 10-stop neutral density (ND) filter. In normal people speak, it’s a really dark piece of glass that covers the front of the lens. It limits the amount of light that gets in, meaning longer exposures are required. Long exposures being the desired effect.
It means you can make photos during the day in full sunlight with a 30 second exposure. It also means you can create long exposure photography in darker scenes with exposures lasting minutes. Here’s a quick RAW comparison to show you what I mean:
See that gorgeous milky water? Pretty huh?
The above photos were taken just after sunset with no editing applied. The clouds don’t have a lot of movement, but there wasn’t a lot of wind, so they just weren’t moving very fast. The water, however, shows the long exposure photography effect beautifully. Unfortunately, it also shows EVERY little dust spot on my sensor, but that’s my own fault for not cleaning it enough.
In the short time that I’ve had the Big Stopper, I’ve found that it’s actually a lot easier to use than I expected. As the filter is too dark to see through, I thought that having to take the filter on and off to recompose or refocus would be a hassle. It turns out the Lee Foundation Kit / Filter Holder has a great system for quickly snapping the filter on and off the lens adaptor, making recomposing and focusing easy.
I also assumed that the exposure compensation would take some time, but if you have a solid understanding of the principles and practical use of exposure, it’s not a problem. The only real issue I have had so far is that it’s just one more surface that I need to keep my greasy mitts off. Handling the filter regularly means there is a high chance of having to clean finger prints and smudges off.
I read a lot about the Big Stopper’s blue color cast before buying it. It seems to be a bit of a hang-up for some people, but if you’re shooting RAW, it’s a simple white balance adjustment in Lightroom or Camera Raw, so the issue is kinda redundant.
Overall, I couldn’t be more happy with the Lee Big Stopper and Foundation Kit. Not only is the filter exactly what I was needing to add long exposures to my landscapes and seascapes, the filter holder system has now given me a foundation on which to build a complete filter system. It allows you to stack as many filters as I like, but realistically, I will likely just be using any combination of the ten-stop ND, neutral density graduated (ND grad), and circular polarizer (CP) filters. Of course, there are plenty of other filters available for anyone wanting to go crazy.
I did manage to get away last weekend to Lake Rotoiti, Rotorua and used the Big Stopper for a while before a huge storm rolled in and smashed the country. Here are a few shots from where I stayed at the Amora Lake Resort in Okawa Bay.
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