Two 10-stop filters put through their paces side by side. Both advertise they do the same thing but are they really the same? In short, yes and no, but mostly no. You'll be interested in the reasons why.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of comparing these two 10-stop neutral density filters, I want to make it unequivocally clear that I'm not affiliated with either company in any way, shape, or form. I bought the LEE Filters 100 x 100mm Big Stopper 3.0 Neutral Density Filter almost 10 years ago now, and I picked up the Kenko Pro ND 1000 about a month back.
Why did I grab this filter when I already had the Lee Filters Big Stopper? It was for two major reasons, really. Firstly, I just get really trigger-happy when I see some gear that I think could benefit me in some way, especially so when it's actually affordable. And secondly, while I have never had any real complaints about the results I've got with the Lee Filters Big Stopper, I had grown a little tired of the various parts needed to set the whole thing up, which I'll touch on below.
The Differences Between the Two
It's really very simple: the Kenko is a screw-on filter, which simply fits on to the end of your lens, while the Lee Filters Big Stopper is a square filter that requires an adapter ring and a holder. When I first bought the Big Stopper all those years ago, I naively failed to realize that I needed those extra parts to make the whole setup work. And I wasn't overly happy when it dawned upon me that I had to shell out more money for all the extra parts, as they weren't included with the filter itself. You can see the differences in the setup from the images below.
In this image here, you can see how the Kenko filter simply screws on to the end of your lens. In the image below, you can see how the Lee Filters set up requires a lot more parts.
Firstly, you need an adapter ring to match the diameter of your lens, which screws on to the end of your lens via a thread. Here, I have a 77mm adapter ring, but I also own three others for different sized lens diameters. Then, you need the holder, which is the part you can see above with all the screws in it. This has slots that you can slide your filter(s) into. Then, of course, you need the filter itself. Below, you can see a picture of all the parts necessary with the Lee Filters setup. The adapter ring is furthest left, and the holder is just inside and below it. The furthest right is the Big Stopper filter, and just under that is an ND Grad filter (optional). It's a lot of parts compared with the one-item Kenko filter, which just screws onto the end of your lens
As you might imagine, the Lee Filters set up is considerably more expensive because you need more parts to make it all work. To buy the 77mm adapter ring, the filter holder, and the 10-stop filter itself, you'll need to shell out about $280. Then you'll need to pay extra for each adapter ring you might need for different lenses. The Kenko filter, on the other hand, costs about $60 all up. You'll need to buy different filters for different-sized lenses. So to get going with a 10-stop filter set up, the Lee Filters rig will set you back almost five times as much as the Kenko filter.
So, now we get to the most important part: the comparison between the two when you take some actual photos with them. For this test, I went to a beach just near home in the southwest of Japan. We're currently in the middle of the most devastating rainy season in recent times, so I was happy just to get out of the house for an hour or so to get these photos taken. I made it by the skin of my teeth, as after I'd packed up and set off for home, the heavens opened and continued pouring for about 72 hours longer. This was the scene without any filters — not particularly amazing but perfect for my comparison test.
The two images you can see below show the Kenko filter image on the left side, and the Lee Filters Big Stopper image on the right side. They were taken about 10 minutes apart at an exposure time of 70 seconds. I haven't done any editing to either of them.
You can see that the Lee Filters image, on the right, has a faint, blue tint, but it's nothing that can't be fixed almost instantly in post. The Lee Filter's image on the right also seems to have a tad more detail in the sky, while the foreground in the Kenko image on the left is considerably warmer.
In these two shots above, the Kenko Filters image is on the left side once again and the Lee Filters Big Stopper image is on the right side. In these images, I added a two-stop ND Grad filter to bring out some extra details in the sky. You can see that the Kenko shot is much sharper and has much more detail in the foreground. On the other hand, the Lee Filters shot on the right has a lot more detail in the clouds, but has a rather curious purple tinge to the sky. Neither image was edited.
To me, the Kenko Filters Pro ND 1,000 is the clear winner. The first reason is that you only need a single part: the filter. It screws on to the end of your lens and you're good to go. Perhaps most importantly, it costs almost five times less than the Lee Filters gear to get out and shoot. I have used the Lee Filters Big Stopper for almost a decade now, and it's done an amazing job for me. Indeed, it's earned me far, far more than I originally laid out for it (all parts), but if I'm perfectly honest, I'm tired of all the parts necessary to set the whole thing set up. With the Kenko 10-stop filter, I can even leave it on the end of the lens when I'm done for the day, as you can see in the image below.
Thus, for cost, convenience, and image results, I have to give a clear win to the Kenko ND 1,000 over the Lee Filters Big Stopper. What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.