Lee Filters Big Stopper Versus the Kenko ND 1,000: Two 10-Stop Filters With Vastly Different Prices and Surprising Results

Lee Filters Big Stopper Versus the Kenko ND 1,000: Two 10-Stop Filters With Vastly Different Prices and Surprising Results

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

Price Comparisons

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.

The Results

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.

Final Thoughts

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. 

Log in or register to post comments

23 Comments

Fabrice Petruzzi's picture

I dont have same opinion about the holding system. A big advantage of the square system is that you can use the same filter on all your lens if your lenses have not the same diameter. You just need an adaptater. An other advantage is when you want to change or adjust the composition. You can remove it easyer and quicker. An other point about the screwer system, is the temperature. If the weather is cold, the metal come tighten and it's hard to remove the filter from the lens...

Diego Garcia's picture

Nothing stops you by getting a big Kenko, and use ring adapters to the size of your lenses. It is still way cheaper than the Lee holder, and can be left at the front of your lens with no problem.

I do that with one of my filters. I got it for free, and I use in smaller lenses with rings, and it works just fine.

Christian Monnet's picture

Hi Diego,
Could you give me brands making that kind of adapter? Thank you.

Fabrice Petruzzi's picture

Thanks Diego for the answer. But I already use Lee and Im in 150mm system for my 14-24 2.8 There is no ring filter for this kind of lenses. And the last thing I said about the screw is realy a problem for me because I spend a lot of time in mountain and cold place

Iain Stanley's picture

Thanks for your comment. You’re quite right that you just need a different adapter ring, but that’s an extra purchase for every lens with different diameters. I have 3 adapter rings. For me, it’s not overly convenient to change everything onto a different adapter ring, say 77mm to 67mm, and deal with all the parts, especially if I’m on rocks or near the ocean. And as Diego says above, you could also just buy various Kenko filters (or another brand).

Also, the adapter rings and holder system can screw on to the end of the Kenko, which is what I did here. So you can then slide 3 square filters down over the Kenko if that’s what you wanted.

Andrew Morse's picture

Interesting to see the different outcomes, but I do have a few questions on the system. I've used the LEE system for a long time and I agree, it takes up way more bag space than I'd like it to so I'm definitely interested in alternatives.

For me, the value in any square system has been in combining multiple filters at once, especially ND grads which may need to be positioned in different spots to match a composition. I'd avoided round filters for that reason in the past, though in your comparison you used an ND grad on both a square system and a circular system. How was the ND grad mounted to the lens for the Kenko?

You mention that the Kenko was much sharper than the Lee system in the lower parts of the image. It's very difficult to see that on the web-posted images - would a 100% crop of a portion of each be possible to share?

Also, were both systems using the same physical ND grad or was it a different ND grad for each system? I've found some questionable quality from lee ND grads purchased on Amazon - it's made me think I ended up with a counterfeit product frankly. In my experience, even the clear part of the ND grad can soften the whole image if not properly produced. Is it possible that sharpness differences could be related to the ND grad used, or was the same ND grad used on both?

Thanks a lot!

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes I thought perhaps the Lee Filters system would win purely because of the versatility it affords in combining other filters like ND Grads etc. But then I realised you can simply screw the adapter ring onto the end of the Kenko filter, put the holder on, and you have 3 slots available for other filters.

That’s exactly what I did here, which made me think “huh, if I can use all my ND grads with the Kenko, then that rules out the big advantage I thought the Lee system might have“.

Of course, you still have to carry the adapter rings and ND Grads, but I used the Kenko screwed on to my 77mm lens, then the Lee Filters 77mm adapter ring, then a Lee Filters ND Grad filter.

I guess if you’re doing that it ends up being just as many parts to deal with, but you do get one extra slot (as it’s not being taken up by the Big Stopper)

Joe Malone's picture

I've graduated (no pun intended) onto the Kase Wolverine magnetic filters for similar reasons. They don't get any easier or quicker to fit. Weight and speed of installation were two key factors. Very expensive for what they are, but I think they're worth it. I generally use Nisi square filters, which I think are better than Lee in terms of image quality, no colour cast, as per the Lee filters, but as pointed out, this can be easily sorted in post. Same issue though, it's just a heavy system to carry round when you have 7 pieces of glass.

Ryan Mense's picture

If I were to get into a full-on filter system today I'd go with a magnetic option too. I've only used Manfrotto's take on it but I liked the experience. Heard nice things about Kase.

I owned Lee's square system and it was a light leak monster. I paid a lot of money for it so I just dealt with it best I could by holding my hand above the filter whenever I'd shoot. Since then I don't take the circular ones for granted in being light tight.

Iain Stanley's picture

Haha the old hand trick, eh. I still do that for exposures under a minute. Anything over, I slide a hat or jacket/shirt etc over the viewfinder :)

Joe Malone's picture

When I bought the Nisi set up, it was a big decision, short list was between Nisi or Lee, Lee seemed the most popular option, but the more I read the more I became convinced that the Nisi filters were the better option. I think I made the right choice, but I just wouldn't be wasting money on grads anymore. Another example of the many things we photographers waste money on. I use the Kase system for my XT3, the Nisi set up on my A7R3. If I was starting again now, I'd just buy lightweight portable circular magnetic polariser and 2 or 3 ND's for all my lenses.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yeah I’ve seen the Nisi setup and images and they look great. Too similar to Lee for me to switch over, but they do look like good investments.

I know it might be sacrilege to say, but you can always ND Grad effects in post too. In-camera is always better, of course, but if you really want to go light and minimal, then I can’t fault the Kenko

Joe Malone's picture

Yes, I rarely use grads and reverse grads now, generally I'll just exposure bracket, so I only have a need for a polariser and ND's for long exposures.

Hans J. Nielsen's picture

The Lee look soft to me. Is that true or is it just the shitty laptop I'm viewing this on?

I've come to the conclusion, that the only time you need a square filter is if you're going to use a graduated filter.
In all other situations, a screw-on filter is just more convenient and in most cases of better quality.

Iain Stanley's picture

No, you’re correct. I didn’t elaborate in the article because it may well have been user error. To be clear, the Lee Filters system itself does not produce softer results. However, one thing to note is that when I looked through the Live View mode on the Kenko, the view was bright and AF found my spot and locked on instantly. Once it did that, I switched to MF.

But when I put the Lee Filters Big Stopper on, the view through Live View was considerably darker, so much so that the AF was hunting and blinking. Why? Not sure. The shots were taken about 10 mins apart so I’m not sure the light in those 10 minutes became that much darker. I ended up focussing manually, and was confident it was sharp. I may have knocked the lens ever so slightly in making adjustments to the filter/holder etc at the time.

Normally, this would be no big deal and you could just retake the shot. Having used the Lee system for nearly 10 years, it definitely doesn’t produce “soft” images consistently.

Hans J. Nielsen's picture

Thanks for that explanation.
It is reassuring to know I don't have to go buy a new laptop, but can use the money on some new filters :-)

Mr Drizz's picture

I'm sure the high end filter systems are well made but they are over priced IMO. Personally I use the SRB photographic Elite system that cost less than a single Lee filter for a holder, CPL, adapter rings and a set of glass ND's. Image quality is excellent with virtually no colour cast.
And because I now blend in post I have no need for grads.

Paul C's picture

FOR THOSE ON A BUDGET

...best can be the enemy of good - so can I just put in a recommendation for the "Pig Iron Pro ND1000"

Photographer Christopher Frost tested 16 ND1000 filters head to head and posted the result on You Tube at -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcfNyKQa_9s

The cost/outcome winner by a mile was the Pig Iron Pro ND1000 - and as an introduction to slow shutter speed photography it is a great start.

Yes - there were better filters, but the small extra benefit came at a big cost increment - so for those of us who shoot long-exposure pictures only occasionally, a good $20 circular filter may be more useful and is a great place to start!

I bought mine on the strength of that 16 filter test - and I have found it to deliver excellent images, with only a little work in processing to get the image how I saw it.

Now if it's your job, then go ahead and invest the $ 100's, but for the rest of us........

=====
By the way - if you are new to this, there is a great video by Graham Houghton who shows you how to quickly discover the colour shift of an ND filter and how to correct it in camera using the white balance (useful even if you might prefer to shoot combined JPEG & RAW)------ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0MYWXQXzcs

=====

best wishes - Paul C

Paul C's picture

......and if you want to try out an ND fader - but also suffer from shallow pockets, do check out the head-to-head test of the $10 Fotga ND Fader vs $200 Genus Eclipse....

It is by the always excellent Mattias Burling
and is here ---https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEjVY-K9104

Best wishes - Paul C

Iain Stanley's picture

I’ll give it a look. Thanks!

Marvin Pryce-Jones's picture

Great piece of reviewing. I can see the advantages of both. But my problem? As an Architectural, Interiors, & Landscape photographer. i use almost 90% of the time the superb Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 ART lens (that's when I'm not using my 24mm PC lens or the Sigma 12-24 F3.5 or the 3 other lenses with different filter sizes!) Firstly you cannot fit screw type filters & I've yet to find a square filter system that doesn't;t vignette at 14mm @ F2.8!
Behind the lens filters in my mind are not practical, as i only remove lenses from the body an absolute minimum to avoid dust (I have 2 camera bodies as well).
So where do I go from here? Anyone have experience with other square filter systems & the Sigma 14-24 F2.8 ART lens?

Iain Stanley's picture

I see it has the lens hood attached. Hmmm not sure how to deal with that. I have the Sigma Art 50mm and I use my 77mm filter with that. Of course, it has no hood to deal with though.