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

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:

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:

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.

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:
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:
Grizzly Peak, Berkeley
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:

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.

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

  1. Interesting read, Denis. I am not a landscape guy and gave up using filters like the Lee system a long time ago but I admire your logic to correcting the problem.

  2. Good to know! I did a quick test at home and I was able to reproduce it. I’ll do some long exposure photos in UK next week with the X-E1, X-E2 and the my new Lee Seven5 Filter System + the Big Stopper. Looks like I have to cut some tape and stick that over the lettering on every lens!
    Thanks for the info!

    1. Interesting. I have a B+W 77mm 10 stop filter as well and never noticed any reflection issues with the other lenses I used with the filter. Hadn’t seen any evidence of reflections with the screw in filter, either, now that you mention it.

  3. Hi, I have found this with the 10-24 as well, my solution was to make some ‘O’ shapes out of matt black card and put them up against the lens front before I put the filter adapter on.

    1. Hi Paul and thanks for the comment. Sounds like a good solution short of painting things. 🙂 Good to know on the 10-24 as I’m eyeballing that lens primarily for some of the interior work I do. Are you getting any vignetting on the 10-24 with the Seven Five system at wider focal lengths?

  4. same thing happens with the 10-24, 18-55, 14, 18 and pretty much any lens with the white letters on front when you add a filter if you have the light on it just right. A black market or grease pencil work as well and are a little less permanent. Gaffers tape also does the trick. Oh, and just FYI, the 10-24mm needs the 4×6 setup, the seven5 is too small…

    1. Interesting, thanks Ben. I just acquired an 18-55 recently but haven’t been out to test with it. Looks like I’ll be masking it off, too. I tried a black sharpie initially and was unimpressed with the result – I still got a lot of reflection showing up in the images. Thanks for the 10-24 info, as well. I figured that it would need the full-sized holder and filters with its wide field of view and 72mm filter size.

  5. I’ve done the same with all my lenses from day 1. It’s a standard procedure for TV and film crews as well. I now use the 14mm with my NDx64 plus my Lee Big Stopper with no problems. It’s a neat job that you’ve done 🙂

  6. Denis I noticed this a few weeks back with my 10-24 and just Lee Grads on, I see others have mentioned it. Thing was I wasn’t pointing into direct or even close, in fact the sun had gone down. I was shooting across a harbour with a large body of still dark water in the lower third of the image. I only noticed it when I was doing pp. Very annoying and too timely to remove. Tonight I was out and shooting towards the setting sun with a Lee Grad on again and same thing only a lot worse, no water this time to show it up as it was landscape. They weren’t great images so I’m not so bothered. Looks like I will be trying the dark card option. Thanks for the resource to read up on it. I’ve shot Canon for the last 5 years and never seen this problem. I think Fuji need to look at their lens design personally.

    1. Thanks for your comment. That’s a bummer.

      It must be related to that ring and the text pointing inward toward the center of the lens. As you say, Canon’s got it figured out. Maybe the next iteration of Fuji’s lenses will have a ‘silent update’ that will address this (or come with a small tin of matte black paint for us Landscape shooters). One can hope. 🙂

      1. Dennis, I’ve written to Fuji UK about it, if not just to raise it with them from a point of view of awareness although I’ll be amazed if they don’t know. I’ve been dealing with them on the hot pixel issue in long exposures on the x-t1 and whilst they can’t fix that issue their attitude has been first class. I bought the x-t1 & 10-24 as a lightweight landscape kit as an alternative to my weighty Canon 1Dx & 16-35 and if I can’t use filters its a waste of time. Having to resort to Heath Robinson measures to fix the issue isn’t what should be expected from lenses causing circa £900.

  7. Thanks for the heads up on this.
    To overcome any potential reflections I purchased some black self adhesive felt (or velour, flock, baize) and a compass cutter, cut a circle out 1mm smaller in diameter than the lens filter size (so for the Fuji 14mm which has a 58mm thread I cut out a 57mm circle of felt, then cut another circle, or hole within the circle 6mm smaller than the outer diameter and covered the offending text.
    I wanted something that wasn’t permanent and easy to remove, in case I ever sold the lens.

  8. Hi all, I shoot with a 10-24 lens and use a Format Hitech 100mm system with wide angle ring. I use the 10 and 6 stop filters as well a range of ND grads. Never had single problem. I was advised not to use anything smaller than a 100mm system with wide angle lenses and its paid off.

    1. Hi Gary and thanks for the comment! I’ve been eyeing those Hitech filters as they seem to be a bit more appropriate to the Hasselblad I bought recently. I’ll keep it in mind as my wallet edges ever closer to the keyboard! 🙂

  9. Dennis, further to my comments above I went for a black tape option around the lettering. I was shooting the eclipse today. North East of Scotland, I had my Fuji Camera set up with the 10-24 and 2 ND Grads (3 Stop and 2 Stop) as my wide kit. In the bottom left of my later images there appears to be a reflection which looks like the ribbed edges of the front element surround. There is more than one set of them which could be a multiple reflection but they are beautifully concentric if so. Have you seen this before or just the lettering?

    1. Hi Brian. What a bummer. I hope the images are otherwise still usable.

      To your question, I haven’t had an issue with reflections of any kind really since I painted the front ring matte black.

  10. Genius idea – thanks for sharing. From the several approaches described, yours seems the best and most elegant solution. If you go ahead and do this to any of your other lenses, would you consider posting a video on your spray painting technique showing your choice of paint, how you covered the glass etc? Thanks again.

    1. Hi Steve, Thanks for the comment. I’ve done my 14 and 18-55 and am probably not going to buy another lens. I used what I had handy, which was blue 3M painter’s tape (2080/delicate surface type) and a can of cheapo flat black spray paint from Home Depot. I masked off the glass by making a stencil with a roll of electrical tape that was about the right size (remove tape to correct diameter), then cut the circle out and stuck it on the glass making sure I erred on the slightly bigger side so that all of the glass was covered. Next I masked off the rest of the lens in its entirety with blue tape so that only the lettered ring was exposed. Shot the lettering with a couple of coats (20 minutes in between coats in warm weather) and it was done. Hope that helps.

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