Lee Big Stopper Filter: A Cautionary Tale

May 27, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

A few weeks ago I headed to the Neuse River near New Bern, N.C. in search of locations to take a few long exposure images.  Naturally the night before I had checked my camera, ensured that the batteries were full, the lenses I needed were in the bag and of course a tripod.  I had made sure that my filters were in the bag but the one thing I have never done is to pull my filters out of the case to inspect them.  I just make sure that they are physically in the bag.  So the following day I depart early and drove to the first location, pulled the camera out of the bag and set it up on the tripod, attached the remote shutter release and then reached into the bag for my filter case and pulled out the Lee Big Stopper.

 

Lee Big Stopper with Filter HolderLee Big Stopper with Filter Holder

 

Most photographers are already pretty familiar with the Lee Bigger Stopper, but for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Big Stopper is a 10X Neutral Density filter designed for landscape photographers.  Basically the filter, by blocking light from entering the camera, extends exposure times and has the effect of allowing anything that is moving in your image to become blurred or ghost like.  The Big Stopper has been extremely popular and difficult to get your hands on, despite its price tag of around $140, most locations have them backordered for extended periods of time. 

 

Circular ND FilterCircular ND FilterCircular ND Filter

 

Filters come in two basic shapes: rectangular or square and circular.  For neutral density filters I prefer square filters over the circular ones because their ease of use.  These filters are so dark that the cameras auto focus will not work when the filter is on the camera.  The normal sequence in preparing for a long exposure image is to frame the image in the viewfinder and focus the camera.  The camera is then placed on manual focus mode so the focus will not change and then the filter is attached to the lens.  The Big Stopper just slides down the filter holder into place, opposed to the circular filter which you have to screw into the lens, this also makes readjusting the composition much faster.

 

Big Stopper on CameraBig Stopper on Camera

 

Like all filters the Lee Big Stopper comes with its own case and like most photographers I throw the case in the back of a shelf somewhere never to be seen again and consolidate my filters in a filter holder to reduce the bag space the filters take up.

 

Square Filter CaseSquare Filter CaseSquare Filter Case

 

 Ok here is where the warning portion of this article comes into effect.  For years I have carried my two graduated ND filters and the Big Stopper in the Lee Filter Wrap shown above and my circular filters stacked together like the image below.

 

Filter CapsFilter CapsFilter Caps

 

In all this time I have never had a problem and while I do not baby my gear I don’t abuse it either. I have carried camera gear to a lot of remote and rugged locations and it has been on and off many aircraft ranging from transcontinental flights to puddle jumpers.  The difference with the Lee Big Stopper is that it is made from optical glass, unlike the Lee Graduated Neutral Density filters that are constructed from optical resin.  From my personal, unscientific and unintended experiment optical resin will flex under stress and optical glass, to state the obvious, will crack.  

 

Cracked Big StopperCracked Big StopperCracked Big Stopper

 

Luckily I still had my older circular ND filter that I bought while waiting for the eternally backordered Big Stopper to take these images:

 

Neuse River Pilings - New Bern, North CarolinaNeuse River Pilings - New Bern, North Carolina

 

Cypress Knees - Bachelor Creek, North CarolinaCypress Knees - Bachelor Creek, North Carolina

 

 

Initially I thought that I was the only one that this had happened to but after searching the internet I discovered that this was more common than I had thought.  I did manage to get extremely lucky and buy another Big Stopper without too much difficulty and the new filter comes in a small tin box.  So the bottom line is I still think the Big Stopper is great and love the effects it can create but now the filter will be carried and stored in the tin box for added protection.

 

Tin CaseTin CaseTin Case


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