The Big Stopper by Lee Filters is an amazingly popular 10 stop Neutral Density filter allowing photographers to shoot 30+ second exposures in the brightest of conditions. Easily mistaken for black welding glass this is a great creative tool and a must for all landscape photographers. Having owned the similar B+W 10 stop (3.0) ND filter ND-110 for almost three years I finally took the plunge and purchased the Lee Big Stopper. So why the change? Well as I discover there is only really one key benefit to the Lee Big Stopper.
Lee Big Stopper Build
The major advantage of Lee’s Big Stopper over the B+W equivalent is that the Lee filter is designed to slot into the Lee filter holder. This allows me to use a combination of solid neutral density and graduated neutral density filters (ND Grads) giving me extra long exposures with increased dynamic range. The B+W 10 Stop filter is screw on so your options are already limited. You could attach the Lee adapter ring to the B+W filter however adding extra length (only a few mm) to the front of the lens increasing the chance of vignetting or obstruction, especially at wide angles.
The Big Stopper has a foam gasket around its edge to stop light leaking in from the side. For some reason the gasket doesn’t quite match up with the filter holder but doesn’t appear to be an issue. Ideally I would have like to have seen the two marry up perfectly with a slight modification to the shape of the filter. Shaping an enclosure to follow the contours of the filter holder would ensure no light leakage, make the filter stronger and only slightly increase production cost.
As the filter holder slots are of fixed depth the Lee Big Stopper is marginally thinner than the other filters to allow for the the addition of a foam gasket. This comes at the expense of strength. Be warned this filter can easily be broken so don’t put it in your pocket and forget about it.
When viewing images at 100% I couldn’t see any quality difference between the Lee Big Stopper or the B+W 10 Stop filter.
The one thing I noticed about the B+W 10 stop filter was how warm in colour temperature it was. It would seem that all 10 Stop ‘Neutral’ density filters are not so neutral in colour. The B+W filter will warm your images whilst the Lee Big Stopper will cool them. Below is a comparison using the different brand filters using a fixed white balance (set WB in camera using grey cards).
Original Capture – 1/60 second, F18, ISO 100
B+W 10 Stop ND Filter – 30 Seconds, F18, ISO 100
Lee Big Stopper 10 Stop ND Filter – 30 Seconds, F18, ISO 100
Lee Big Stopper 10 Stop ND Filter + 2 Stop soft edge ND grad filter – 100 Seconds, F22, ISO 50
So is the colour cast really an issue? Well not really if you are shooting in RAW. Colour cast can easily be removed by correcting white balance via the RAW editor. I was surprised to see there wasn’t even any colour shift when stacking multiple filters as above (10 Stop Big Stopper + 2 Stop soft ND Grad). This is great as color correcting only part of an image, such as the sky is messy and can have mixed results. Below are the colour corrected images.
B+W 10 Stop ND Filter – 30 Seconds, F18, ISO 100 – Colour corrected
Lee Big Stopper 10 Stop ND Filter – 30 Seconds, F18, ISO 100 – Colour corrected
Lee Big Stopper 10 Stop ND Filter + 2 Stop soft edge ND grad filter – 100 Seconds, F22, ISO 50 – Colour Corrected
10 Stops is 10 Stops right?
Well not quite. You may have noticed that between the Lee and B+W there is a difference in exposure even though the settings are the same. When comparing the two filtered exposures against the original there is a slight difference in exposures. The original capture was 1/60th of a second so with the addition of a 10 stop filter, 15 second should yield the same exposure. Usually it is recommended that you compensate by 1 extra stop (so calculate shutter speed for 11 stops in total) hence why I doubled the shutter speed to 30 seconds. From the results it would seem if anything the Lee is 1 stop overexposed and the B+W is spot on. This would make the Lee Big Stopper bang on 10 stops in exposure reduction and the B+W about 11 stops.
With the B+W $140 and Lee Big Stopper $160 there is little price difference between the two.
The Big Stopper has become a hugely successful filter and with production issues most customers have waited several months to obtain one. The production issues seem to have been resolved and the filters can be purchased with minimal delay if any. I purchased mine at MediaVision Sydney, the staff there were great.