Lee Elements VND 2-5 Review

What’s easier to do: carry around a handful of ND filters of different strengths, or carry a 4-in-1 solution that offers the same quality in a smaller, more convenient package? If you’re worried that the latter might result in awful X-patterns or heavy vignetting, then Lee Filters has the solution for you. They’ve just launched their Elements series of Variable ND filters that come in 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, and 82mm screw-in sizes with 2 to 5 stops of neutral density. Billed at both photographers and videographers who seek the absolute best in optical performance, the Elements VND series are coated with multi-function, scratch-resistant nanocoatings. Lee Filters always come with a hefty price tag, and the Lee Elements VND 2-5 is no different.

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Earlier in my career, I carried around 100mm square filters with multiple lens size adapters. They sat in a box and were barely used. I don’t know if this was because it was cumbersome to unpack, use, and repack each time, or because I was afraid I’d drop them and burn a hole in my pocket. Either way, many of them remained unused, and I even stopped going out for landscape shoots to avoid using them sometimes. As my career progressed, I became pickier with the lenses I’d use on a daily basis, and I decided to try out circular filters. I sacrificed the convenience of using one filter for all lenses, but it meant I didn’t have to lug around that bulky box all the time. I just kept a couple of circular filters in my backpack, and I felt less worried about smudging or dropping them.

One such filter whose convenience I’ve come to love is the newly released Lee Elements VND 2-5 model. It offers the flexibility of precise ND adjustments between 2 and 5 stops for landscape and outdoor photographers who want to cut out excess light. I took the 82mm screw-sized version for some outdoor shots and was pleased with the quality.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

Lee Filters is synonymous with quality finishing and top-notch glass at a substantial price, and their Lee Elements VND 2-5 model is no exception. There’s no discernible color cast at any ND strength, but I did observe some slight vignetting at ND5 between 24 and 34mm.

Pros and Cons

Pro

  • Couldn’t see any X patterns
  • Scratch resistant
  • Dust easily blows off
  • Edges are finished for easy gripping

Cons

  • Slight vignetting at ND 5, between 24 and 34mm
  • No hard stops between the ND 2 and 5 strength markers

Gear Used

I used the 82mm version of the Lee Elements VND 2-5 filter with:

  • Sony A7 III
  • Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM lens
  • Vanguard VEO 3+ 263CT tripod
  • Sirui G-10KX ballhead

Tech Specs

The Lee Elements product page didn’t have tech specs for this model, but I found some info on Adorama:

Filter Type Variable ND
Density 2 to 5 Stop
Coatings Multi-Layer Coating
Filter Size 3.22″ (82mm)

Ergonomics

Many of the recent filters I’ve reviewed had knurled grips around the edges. The Lee Elements VND 2-5 is no different in this respect. This is a lifesaver for most of us with butterfingers, who often see slippery square filters dropping out of our hands.

There’s no option to screw on more Elements filters on top to increase the strength of the ND. So you can’t add the 6-9 version of the same filter on top if you had ideas of creating infinitely long exposures in this manner.

Build Quality

“Machined-alloy” is the term Lee Filters uses to describe this series of filters, and the Lee Elements VND 2-5 does feel like a precision-made product. I’d even say it’s almost rugged in the way it feels in your fingers when you attach it to a lens and also while turning the ND strength adjustment ring. It’s a reassuring experience when you don’t feel like the filter will fly out of your fingers while screwing and unscrewing it.

Ease of Use

This is fairly straightforward. The filter screws on comfortably, and I didn’t experience any moments where I had to unscrew and re-thread it correctly. The threading on the base looks to have been catered to easily screw onto your lens. Even while unscrewing, I removed the filter with ease, avoiding the often observed “front element rotation” where one thinks they’re unscrewing an ND filter but is simple twisting the front element. That won’t happen with this filter; it has hard stops at the 2 and 5 ND stop positions.

Unfortunately, there are no hard stops in between. This meant that, when I wanted to increase the ND strengths on the Lee Elements VND 2-5 during my testing, I had to look under the lens each time and turn the front element.

I also observed vignetting at focal lengths below 35mm, when shooting in the direction of sunlight. Some image samples below will illustrate this.

Image Samples

From day one, The Phobographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

Edited

ND filters are great for making tourists disappear in public places by taking multiple long exposures and stacking them
Note the slight vignetting in the corners
Note the vignetting in the corners

Unedited

Only sensor dust spots were cleaned up in the below images. No other retouching was done.

Conclusion

Likes

  • Color neutral results. Haven’t observed any color casting. It’s so good you probably won’t want to take it off most of the time.
  • Fine build quality. Edges have a rugged grip to them
  • This is not listed as a feature, but the front element could be dust repellent. I shot outdoors during a hazy evening and didn’t see any dust accumulated on the filter.
  • Easily screws on and off your lens

Dislikes

  • I really wish the ND stops were hard stops. It’s easier to adjust the settings this way without having to look at the filter markings.
  • Occasional vignetting under 35mm when shooting in the direction of sunlight.

Like almost all Lee Filters products, the Lee Elements VND 2-5 filter is pricey. But it does provide some excellent build and image quality for the money. Thanks to the rugged metal edges, I never felt the filter needed to be gripped more firmly than usual. Colors were great and true to life in the resulting images. The vignetting under 35mm, when shooting in the direction of sunlight, was a bit of a mood dampener.

I’m giving the Lee Elements VND 2-5 filter four out of five stars. Want one? Check them out at Adorama.



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