Landscapes was my first interest in photography although wildlife soon took over. Over the last few years I have tried to get back to landscapes especially with long exposures that I really like. To get a long exposure in daylight a ND filter is needed. I use the Lee 100mm filter holder rather than screw in filters as it easy and cheaper to buy the adaptor rings to suit a larger lens than it is to buy larger screw in filters. The Lee 100mm filter system is a great bit of kit but it is expensive to buy.
One thing I have struggled with is the colour cast 10 stop ND filters give, many cause a strong blue tint to the image. It is possible to remove the colour cast in pro-processing but I have found it difficult and have several ruined images due to the strong colour cast. I found out about the new Hitech Firecrest ND filters that were supposed to have very little if no colour cast. At Chrsitmas they had a 20% off offer so I purchased a 6 stop and a 10 stop Firecrest ND filter and I thought I would compare them to my older Hitech Pro Stop 10 ND filter.
First Impressions of the New Hitech Firecrest ND Filters
The Hitech Firecrest ND Filters come in a small plastic case enclosed in a thin card box. The filters are sandwiched between two layers of foam and the filter itself is wrapped in tissue paper. Although the plastic case is not as nice as the filter pouch supplied with Lee filters this not really an issue as my filters are all stored together in a Lee mutli-filter pouch. The nice Lee filter pouches all sit in my cupboard having never been used since purchase.
One difference I noticed was the new Hitech Firecrest ND Filters are not supplied with a gasket fitted as standard. Hitech have told me this is due to some customers asking for the gasket not to be fitted. I was unlucky to have both of the filters delivered without any gaskets. An email to Hitech customer services and gaskets were soon posted out to me.
Fitting the gaskets to the filters can be difficult as a lot of care has to be taken to ensure they are straight. No instructions were included to advise how best to do this. One gasket went on ok but I tore the second gasket in half during fitting, cue a second email to Hitech customer services for another gasket!
The 10 Stop Filter Comparison
To compare the older Hitech Pro Stop 10 ND filter and the newer Hitech Firecrest 10 Stop ND filter I thought it would be best to compare them against each other and a control image in this a case a unfiltered image.
The exposure settings used were:
Unfiltered Image = ISO 100, f8, 1/500 sec (taken later as a comparison)
Hitech Pro Stop 10 ND Filter = ISO 100, f16, 20 sec
Hitech Firecrest 10 Stop ND Filter = ISO 100, f16, 10 sec
The unfiltered exposure at ISO100, f16 gave a shutter speed of 1/100 second, this was continually checked between exposures to ensure the light level had not changed. A small shutter speed change on the unfiltered image can mean you could be many seconds out as shutter speed doubles at each stop.
Using a long exposure Calculator App on my phone (the easiest way to calculate the long exposure!) a 10 stop worked out to be 10 seconds. From previous experience I knew the Hitech Pro Stop 10 ND filter really works out to be a 11 stop ND filter so an adjustment to 20 seconds was used on that filter.
The unedited images can be seen below:
The older Hitech Pro Stop 10 ND filter clearly has a strong blue colour cast. The new Hitech Firescrest ND filter has a very slight blue colour cast but its not too far off the unfiltered image on the left. There is a clear difference in the colour casts produced by the two ND filters, the Firecrest ND filter clearly gives an easier starting point for editing the unprocessed RAW. I have previously struggled to remove the strong blue colour cast of the Hitech Pro Stop 10 ND filter and had to reluctantly delete the images.
Edited Images (Lightroom 4)
The edited images can be seen below:
The strong blue colour cast of the Hitech Pro Stop 10 ND filter was mostly removed during processing in Lightroom 4. To remove the colour cast a custom white balance of 11000, a tint of +40 and increase in exposure by +0.5 was applied. The Hitech Firecrest ND filter was easier to process as there was no strong colour cast to remove before you started processing the image.
Stacking Hitech Firecrest 6 Stop and 10 Stop Filters
The problem with a 10 stop ND filter in midday sunlight is 10-20 seconds is not really long enough to get good cloud streaks across the sky. To get good cloud streaks the shutter speed had to be open for longer, this could be done by reducing the ISO or closing the aperture down further. Neither of these was possible so I thought I would try stacking the Hitech Firecrest 6 stop and 10 stop ND filters to make a 16 stop ND filter.
At ISO100, f16 a 16 stop ND filter would need a shutter speed of 10 minutes and 55 seconds which was far too long for me to stand still and wait. By opening the aperture to f11 it allowed more light through and reduced the shutter speed to a more manageable 4 minutes and 22 seconds.
The unedited image can be seen below on the left and the edited image on the right.
The Hitech Firecrest 6 stop and 10 stop ND filters stacked on top of each other works very well. Considering the stacked Firecrest 6 stop and 10 stop ND filters are not a true 16 stop ND filter they work very well with no clear colour cast caused by the stacked ND filters. The resulting image is both sharp and allows good rendition of colours.
In the images above there is clearly a white arc at the top of the image. At first I thought this was due to movement in the sky but as the same white arc is in another 6+10 stop image I can only think it was something caused by stacking the 6 stop and 10 stop Firecrest ND filters. Further testing of stacking the Hitech Firecrest 6 stop and 10 stop ND filters is needed to ascertain what has caused this problem is needed before I can recommend stacking the two filters. Although there is this slight white arc issue it is still impressive how well the Hitech Firecrest 6 and 10 stop ND filters stacked. By cropping to a 16:9 ratio it gave the image below without the white arc.
Conclusion- Hitech Pro Stop 10 or Hiteh Firecrest 10 stop?
The new Hitech Firecrest ND Filters clearly have very little colour cast compared the older Hitech Pro Stop 10 ND filter. The benefit of this is you need not worry about removing the strong colour cast later in processing. The performance of the Hitech Pro Stop 10 ND filter does benefit from applying an extra stop of light making it an 11 stop ND filter rather than a true 10 stop ND filter. The new Hitech Firecrest 10 stop ND filter does seem to be a true 10 stop ND filter.
Although not factory fitting the gaskets would seem to be a minor niggle, for some I can see this being a major factor when deciding whether to purchase the Hitech Firecrest ND filters. I cannot see a reason why Hitech would take this step considering they have effectively handicapped what is an excellent product by not completing the task of factory fitting the gasket. I can understand some may not want them fitting but surely they could sell the Firecrest ND filters with and without gaskets fitted, this would allow them to please all customers rather than one or the other.
Whilst I can recommend the new Hitech Firecrest 6 stop and 10 stop ND filters, I currently can't recommend stacking the two filters to give a 16 stop ND filter until I complete further testing. If stacking is possible it will clearly make both filters more versatile.
PLEASE NOTE: I am not connected to Formatt-Hitech Filters in any way and the above is my own personal review of the filters.