Trouble in Paradise – the Fujifilm 14mm/2.8R and Lee Big Stopper produce(d) awful reflections

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The Lead-In
I’ve been a Fuji proponent/fan since I bought my X10 in 2011 and my X Pro 1 in March of 2012.  The X system has matured substantially since the early, dark days of the aperture dance, S-L-O-W autofocus and *gasp* no focus peaking.  Over the years I’ve been using these cameras, I’ve posted extensively on my photographic experiences and results with manual focus, legacy lenses from Canon, Minolta, Pentax, Helios and others on the X Pro 1 and XE-1.  I also own an X100 which sees frequent use.
I dreamed of owning the 14mm since its introduction.  When my work as (among many other hats) the staff photographer for my day job provided the means to acquire the lens, I jumped at the opportunity.
Since I was already buying things, I decided I needed to buy a Lee Sev5n/Seven-Five system, too.  One of the first things I did upon receiving my Fuji 14mm lens, Lee Big Stopper and soft ND filter kit was to head to my home town of Half Moon Bay to shoot the sunset and seascape.

The weather cooperated and I had brilliant, sunny conditions.  This is by no means a common occurrence at the coast just south of San Francisco as any Bay Area resident will tell you.  There are plenty more grey, flatly lit afternoons on the coast than there are sunny ones.  On the drive over, I was envisioning some or all of the following a la Ralphie in ‘A Christmas Story’:

A breathtaking, tack sharp seascape courtesy of the now legendary Fuji 14/2.8;
Retreating waves captured with a drag of the shutter in full daylight thanks to the Big Stopper;
Incredibly detailed, perfectly exposed foreground balancing the brightly lit skies;
Brilliant, harshly lit skies tamed with my newly purchased grad NDs;
A ticker tape parade (do they still have those?) to honor of the genius behind the machine that created such a wondrous image, the likes of which the world had never seen!

Let’s just say I was pretty excited to go see what the combo of a world class wide lens and the best filters in the business were capable of.

The Gut Punch
One of the first things I did upon setting up and looking through the viewfinder was to curse out the lens and filter combo.  The excitement of testing a new set up/playing with a new toy for the first time turned to immediate disappointment and irritation.  Upon setting up the camera for my first shot, I saw these reflections in the bottom of the image.  Clearly, the reflections were those of the lettering on the ‘beauty ring’ on the front of the lens since they’re legible in reverse:

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Argh!
There would be no ticker tape parade this day.
Granted, this is a whole hell of a lot of light striking the front of the camera and might be dismissed with a wave of the hand and a ‘there’s just too much glass in front of the lens’ and ‘what do you expect’ type of response.

But.  There’s a fix that completely eliminates the problem.

The Fix
My dad was an engineer.  He instilled the critical thinking and problem solving skills that I use every day, all day:  Make things better.  Make them work better than they do right now.  Be brave enough to think about what is in front of you and don’t be afraid of trying to think of a better way to do things (or, if not necessarily a better way, a different way).  He taught me to identify the problem, get mad if necessary, work out and identify a solution, measure twice, cut once, implement the solution for minimal cost and effort.

When I’d gotten what I wanted in terms of an exposure and a somewhat better composition of the above scene, I started trying to figure out what was causing the reflections.  I removed the Lee filter holder and stared for a while at the front, lettered ring on the lens and noticed that it was angled inward from the outer rim of the lens toward the center point of the glass.  I don’t have a ‘before’ photo of the lens with its lettering, but:

http://www.fujifilmusa.com/products/digital_cameras/x/fujinon_lens_xf14mmf28_r/

With the lens tilted down relative to the horizon and the Big Stopper installed, light was striking the white letters on the front ring of the lens and reflecting onto the inboard surface of the Big Stopper, then back to the sensor.  This happened regardless of exposure time or aperture.  There was no light leak.  The Lee filter holder was installed correctly using a 58mm Lee adapter ring.  No UV filter or other screw in filter was in place.  I took a look at the front ring on my X100 and, while it is also beveled slightly inward, I can’t replicate the issue with the Lee hardware in place.

When I reviewed the images on my laptop, it was clear that post processing wasn’t going to get rid of the reflections with any reliability.  In the second of the two images above, the reflected letters showed up as white radial streaks that I was able to burn a bit so as not to draw attention, but they’re still there in the rock lower left and lower right.

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Still there, but better
Next morning before work found me with a roll of blue ‘painters’ masking tape, masking off the entire lens.  I made a template to cover the inner, non reflective baffle surface and the glass elements and spray painted the front ring flat black.  This is what it looks like now:
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Blacked out
After completing the work and letting the paint dry, I shot several exposures with the Lee Big Stopper facing the sun at varying angles, apertures and exposure lengths trying to reproduce the reflections and was unable to do so.  I haven’t seen the reflections in any of the images from subsequent photography outings using the Big Stopper and ND grads:
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Grizzly Peak, Berkeley
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Pescadero
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Davenport
Summary
Fuji’s 14mm/2.8 is a wildly amazing piece of glass.  The images I make with it stand out in their clarity and sharpness, colors and perspective. It is the best lens I’ve ever used.  Likewise, the Lee Seven Five system and its highly sought-after Big Stopper is an incredible tool for landscape photographers (and people like me who like to dabble).  Mating this lens and the Big Stopper, however?  Yeah, there’s a real issue.

The beveled ring on the front of the 14mm is a potential problem for long exposure photography when using the Lee Seven Five system’s Big Stopper and when there is a very strong light source in the frame.  I was only able to get the reflections from the sun, but it stands to reason that the same may occur with very long exposures at night with light cumulatively filtering in, reflecting off of the back of the Big Stopper and causing issues in exposures that last several minutes or longer.  I haven’t experimented with that, so I can’t really comment other than my scientific, wild-ass guess.

I’m writing this piece to advise both potential purchasers and Fujifilm about the issue.

I found later that I wasn’t the only one having these issues.  There is a short thread over on the Fred Miranda forums that also details the symptom and a couple of different remedies.  You can read that thread here: http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1273977/0.

In my case, I didn’t mind masking off my brand new lens to improve how it took long exposures in bright sunlight with a 10 stop filter in place, but many would probably object and return the thing after one frustrating outing.  I hope that this helps out in some way.