In this review, I will talk about the brand-new Firecrest 16 Stops ND Filter (IRND 4.8) by Formatt-Hitech, the most neutral filter in the world. The new Firecrest 16 offers 16 ND stops in one filter, this is what 16 stands for. This neutral density filter is not only the most neutral in the world, but, in its circular version, it is also the slimmest stackable ND filter in the world, only 5.5mm thin.
More recently Formatt Hitech has also launched a 10-stop and a 13-stop Firecrest ND filter, whose characteristics are similar to the 16-stop one we review now, so you can consider this review covering the 10-stop and 13-stop filers too.
You can find more things about the Firecrest filters and many other subjects related to black and white fine art photography (composition in black and white photography, vision, black and white processing tutorials), in the book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography, by me and Joel Tjintjelaar, where we both talk about these filters extensively together with reviewing the most important other filters on the market and generally the equipment you need for creating long exposure and black and white fine art architectural photography, and even going beyond architectural photography. We were the first who talked publicly about the Firecrest filters (in the book) even before they were released and now we do this again by reviewing these filters extensively on our sites too.
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What is inspiration?
Can gear give you inspiration? Can a neutral density filter give you inspiration? I say it can. Because it can open you new horizons and give you new possibilities. Let’s see why…
First time ever a 16-stop ND filter
Let’s start by saying that this filter is a first. It is the first time anyone builds a 16-stop ND filter. Why this wasn’t possible before? Because anything higher than 10 stops would have had a heavy color cast that was making getting a decent result color-wise in the image almost impossible.
The highest density neutral density filter you could find was so far the 15-stop Singh-Ray but it was not free of color cast and, despite what you might think, there is a big difference between 15 stops and 16 stops – in terms of exposure 16 stops means a double exposure of what you can get with 15 stops, which is very important. In addition, Singh-Ray filters are traditionally quite expensive so they are not a solution for everyone. But the main problem with higher density filters was the color cast, especially for those wanting to work in color. This is where the new Firecrest 16 gave a solution, a great one indeed.
A hyper-neutral (no color cast) ND filter
If you use to shoot long exposure and have a bit of experience with neutral density filters you will know what I mean about color cast. If you are still at the beginning of your long exposure journey, you will have to take my word for it or ask everyone who was shooting long exposure over the past years. They will all tell you the same.
Color cast was one of the most annoying things you could get in a long exposure, especially for those working in color, but for black and white photographers too, because color cast doesn’t mean only shift in colors but also degradation of the clarity of the black tones and degradation of the contrasts. But this is in the past, color cast is not an issue anymore if you work with the Firecrest filters!
The Firecrest 16 Stops ND filters have been independently tested and declared hyper-neutral, which is an impressive result and if you read this review till the end you will also see which is my opinion about them after testing them in different conditions over the last weeks.
Let me start by showing you how one of the images I shot looked like on the back of my camera. Even like this, you can see how natural and free of color cast the image looks.
A different type of review – How can a filter make you feel?
I will try not to stress too much on numbers and technical aspects in this review, not more than necessary, because in my opinion, they are not truly helping you in your creative work.
An artist focuses more on what lies behind numbers and tries to reach the essence. You need to be informed about technical aspects, of course, so you can get the best of your inspiration in your work (I try to be very well informed because knowing my tools gives me freedom of creation), but you don’t need to know everything to create art. Besides, there are people who are much better at technical stuff, as the scientists at Formatt-Hitech who have thought about everything, just for me and other photographers like you to be able to spend our time creating and not analyzing numbers.
What I want to mention and even emphasize here is how this filter makes me feel. Yes, a filter can make you feel something. And in my case, working for some time with the Firecrest 16 made me feel inspired. It made me see the world around me in a new way, because it opened for me new creative possibilities, making possible some of the things that were not an option before. As I was saying earlier, it solved some practical aspects freeing my mind and giving me more time to think about the creative part of my work. And this is the role of a tool like your camera or your filter. This is why working with quality well-done equipment is so important. Even if you can create with any tool, there comes a moment when your equipment will give you a creativity push and the new Firecrest 16 is capable of doing that.
So, you understand now, I think, why I say numbers are not so important but what is important is what they give you, what your photography tools can give you. The end goal for them is to give you the freedom and the inspiration to create photography that makes you happy. Because why do we do this in the first place? To make us feel good, to make us feel happy. This is the reason of existence of art. To give us the key to enter a world where we feel at peace and in balance with everything.
Just a few numbers
Because I know you will still be interested in technical characteristics, let me mention a few details about the filters now.
Here is also a very clear and to the point description of the Firecrest filters by Rod Clark, VP of marketing at Formatt-Hitech. You can get the most important info about these filters from this video.
What are the Firecrest filters
A few words from Formatt-Hitech on the Firecrest filters:
“Firecrest ND is a revolutionary new type of infrared-attenuating neutral density filter from Formatt-Hitech. Firecrest is a 15 layer multicoating process that is applied directly to the glass through a vacuum-formed, hard-coated, electrolytic process. Firecrest filters are anti-reflective and extremely flare resistant, which increases contrast and visual acuity in challenging lighting conditions. They are also hydrophobic and scratch-resistant. “
How many types and densities of Firecrest you can find
And some more info about these filters from the source.
Firecrest ND filters are available between 1-10 stops, plus a 16 stop filter for long exposure, the subject of our review today – Firecrest 16.
Firecrest ND SE Grads are available between 1-5 stops.
UPDATE 2017: More recently Formatt Hitech has also launched a 10- stop and a 13-stop Firecrest ND filter, whose characteristics are similar to the 16-stop one we review now.
Rectangular Glass Firecrest filter for Photography
This is the 2mm thick filter and it is the one you should buy for use with photo cameras. I’ve been asked by quite a few fellows photographers which thickness they should choose: the 2mm or the 4mm rectangular Firecrest, and this is the answer: The filter for photography is the 2mm version. The 4mm Firecrest rectangular filters are meant for use in cinema where more resistance and hardness is needed, thus their bigger thickness.
Here are the dimensions or rectangular 2mm Firecrest you can find.
– 67x85mm solid & grad
– 85x85mm solid & 85x110mm grad
– 100x100mm solid
– 100x125mm grad
– 100x150mm grad
– 150x150mm solid & 150x170mm grad
– 165x165mm solid & 165x200mm grad
Circular Firecrest filter for Photography
Circular Firecrest ND filters are available in the thinnest rings on the market. There are two types: SuperSlim, which is threaded, stackable and 5.5mm thin, and the UltraSlim that are 3mm thin. The UltaSlimm will be available from October 2014. They are not stackable and don’t have threading for lens caps, but they will be the thinnest circular screw-in filters in the world.
The circular Firecrest sizes cover the following range: 39 | 46 | 49 | 52 | 58 | 62 | 67 | 72 | 77 | 82 | 95 | 105 | 127
Some practical info
Both the circular and the square Firecrest 16 Stops ND Filters are delivered in a resistant package that will keep them safe till they reach you.
The circular filter is ready to use as you take it out of the box, on the square one you will need to apply the foam gaskets included in the package to help you avoid light leakages when mounted on the holder.
The square filter has a protective pouch provided by the manufacturer. The square filter is made of 2mm thick glass and seem very solid and resistant. I still didn’t try it outside my home, because the square one just arrived, but I will get back and update this review with my new impressions about the square Firecrest 16 when I work some more with it.
The first impression you have when you hold the circular filter in your hand is to wonder how can this filter be so slim and still cut off so much light. I’m sure all long exposure photographers will agree with me, especially those who started with regular circular neutral density filters that, if stacked, would give you a quite thick result.
I started shooting LE with a Hoya ND400 (9 stops) and I was stacking it in the beginning with a ND8 (3 stops) and a polarizing filter to add some density (the polarizing filter cuts around 1.5-2 stops of light). Later on, I would use a B+W 106 (6 stops) instead of the ND8 so I can get longer exposures. You can see below what a difference there is between my first set up and the Firecrest IRND 16.
The difference in thickness is mind blowing and what this change gives me besides the lack of color cast? It’s the lack of any vignette, no matter how wide the lens I use is. This practically makes your usable image area at least 15-20% larger.
I didn’t have this issue when shooting with square filters, but the circular ones are more practical in many cases so it is good to know that now we can combine practicality with such a slim filter and not worry about vignetting.
Shooting with the Firecrest 16 Stops ND Filter and the issue of light leakage in long exposures
There are a few things you need to take care of when shooting with ND filters. The most important thing after mounting the camera on a tripod, composing the image, attaching the filter and setting up the correct exposure is to take care of the light leakage that might occur in these cases.
From my experience, the Canon cameras have more issues with light leakage than the Nikon ones so you need to give even more care to sealing your camera if you shoot with a Canon. Also the light leakages will be more intense when the light is stronger, i.e. in the middle of the day opposed to shooting at sunset, when you can be more relaxed about sealing your camera, or when the sun hits directly some of the points that can allow the light to reach the sensor, as for instance the viewfinder or the sockets for your shutter release and other connections. In the case you shoot with a tilt-shift lens you can add this to the list too.
When you shoot with a tilt-shift lens you will need to take care of the lens and seal it or cover it since it has more openings and moving parts than a regular lens and this can lead to more intense light leakage. You can see below how I covered the viewfinder of my 5D MKIII that has a special piece for this on the camera strap.
In case you shoot with a Nikon, on the more advanced Nikon cameras you will find a sliding cover that you can close the viewfinder with, or you can use the separate cover piece for the viewfinder in the other Nikon cameras. In the other image, you can see how I covered the T/S lens with a lens pouch from which I cut off the bottom making it into a sleeve that wraps the lens keeping out the light from it.
When you shoot with square filters, even if the Firecrest have an isolating foam gasket, the safest thing would be to cover the edges of the filters too, either by using a larger lens pouch or other cloth or by applying duct tape on them.
Another thing to keep in mind and be careful about, when you use circular filters, is not to screw them too tight so they don’t get stuck on the lens and you can’t take them out. Especially with such a slim filter, it can be a serious issue to take out a stuck filter even if you use the special clamps that exist for this purpose.
RAW file results with the Firecrest 16 Stops ND Filter
I wanted to test the Firecrest 16 Stops ND Filter in different conditions and at different times of day to see in a more objective way how they behave and how the results differ from each other.
One of the first conclusion was one that I was expecting at, namely that there is no vignetting when shooting with the filter attached and this is because its thickens is only 5.5 mm.
The other aspect I was interested in was how much color cast I will get in long and very long exposures.
So I tried to push the exposure to times of 8+ minutes where other neutral density filters traditionally give enough to excessive color cast. When shooting with other neutral density filters, the most difficult moment as for the color cast I would get, was at sunset and especially while shooting longer than 4-minute exposures.
This is why I wanted to try the Firecrest 16 in these conditions too and you can see below the results. You can compare the still image I shot before taking the long exposure one so you can see how perfectly neutral these filters are. I have to repeat, for any long exposure photographer, this is really mind-blowing. See for yourselves!
EXIF: 24mm, 1/30 at f/13, ISO 100
EXIF: 24mm, 474 sec at f/7.1, ISO 100
EXIF: 24mm, 1/125 at f/3.5, ISO 100
EXIF: 24mm, 484 sec at f/3.5, ISO 200
EXIF: 24mm, 1/60 at f/3.5, ISO 100
EXIF: 24mm, 484 sec at f/3.5, ISO 100
Furthermore, here you can download the full-size TIFF of the RAW file of the second long exposure image above, a 484 sec exposure shot with the Firecrest 16 circular filter so you can see in detail the results.
Below you can see the RAW file and the final processed result of an image I shot with the Firecrest filter (the image is called In search of Lost Time. and you can see more details about it at the link).
Also, another image shot with the Firecrest 16, called Fading Away, this time processed in color.
Conclusion – Can Firecrest 16 Stops ND Filter give you inspiration?
Coming back full circle to the beginning of this review, I will ask again: can a neutral density filter or any gear give you inspiration? Can Firecrest 16 give you inspiration? Looking back to the last weeks that I was shooting with this filter and at the images I got with it, I can surely say: Yes, it can, because it opens new possibilities, it remove the frustration and the limitations of the vignette or the color cast it is easy to transport, apply, take out and back again when you need to recompose. In a word, it takes your mind from thinking about the tool, thinking about solutions and gives you more time to concentrate on your vision and on what you want to create with it.
My verdict as to whether it is worth using these filters in your long exposure work is undoubtedly YES! I will go as far as to say that this is a revolution in the ND filter industry. So far we were talking about which ND filter has the least color cast or the most acceptable one, from now on we can say that there is a filter out there that has NO color cast. It still amazes me even after having worked with this filter for a few weeks, and this is because I was so used to having this issue so far with all the other brands I was using that I was considering it a matter of fact. But now the things have changed and frankly, I don’t know why someone buying a neutral density filter for the first time would choose anything else.
If you don’t mind color cast you may still use the solutions you own, but if you do, I am definitely recommending you to invest in the Firecrest system. It will just make your (photography) life easier. Add to this the lack of vignette with the circular filter even when you shoot with ultra-wide lenses, and you have the ideal ND filter for landscape and architecture long exposure, both color and black and white.
I hope this review will be helpful for you and help you choose the neutral density filter you need. I know I don’t need another filter and that Firecrest covers my needs fully, so it will sit in my photo bag at all times and you will see even more images shot with it very soon from me. If you have questions or would like to know more about these filters, don’t hesitate to ask me and I will add the info here or answer you personally.
Just don’t forget, like I said above, that now you can get…
10% OFF ANY FORMATT-HITECH PRODUCT: FILTERS, HOLDERS, ACCESSORIES
WITH CODE “JULIA 10”