This year the ultra dense ND filter market has been rocked by the release of the Formatt Hitech Firecrest 16 stop ND filter and the Singh Ray 15 stop ND filter. This amount of ND is simply incredible in such a thin filter. The biggest news though was the lack of color cast with the Firecrest, which is a very common problem with ND filters. I have been using a Lee Big Stopper for the past couple years, along with a Little Stopper more recently. I was immediately intrigued to try the Firecrest and compare it to Lee and Singh Ray. B&H sent me the Singh Ray 15, 10, and 5 stop filters, along with Firecrest 16, 10, and 5 stop filters.
I was using the Lee Foundation Kit with a Wide Angle Adapter on my Fujifilm 10-24, the Lee holder takes 4×4 (100mm x 100mm) filters which make it extremely easy to remove or add filters without unscrewing a circular filter. When using ND filters that are this dark you must first compose without the filter to be able to see through the viewfinder or even use live view. It also prevents most vignetting when stacking filters, a very worthy investment for doing long exposures.
The first thing I noticed when I took the Firecrest 10 and 5 out of the package was their thickness, I failed to do my research on these and quickly realized they were too thick to fit into the Lee holder (they are 4mm thick, apparently for cinema and the only thing B&H had), photoraphic filters are only 2mm thick, so I was unable to test these. The Firecrest 16 stop is 2mm though, along with all the others.
The Lee Big Stopper and the Singh Ray 10 and 15 come with a foam pad on the rear perimeter of the filter to prevent light leaks, the Firecrest comes with the foam but you have to affix it yourself, it came with 2 different types of foam so I am assuming they are for different holder types. Not a big deal, I had a hard time putting it on straight myself, but it still worked fine. One thing to note with the Singh Ray was the thickness, or maybe the stiffness of the foam made them extremely difficult to remove from the Lee holder, each time I removed them I was afraid I was going to break the filter, whereas the Lee and Firecrest were very easy to take in and out.
The filters include storage pouches, the Lee comes with a tin box for storage which I prefer to prevent breaking the filters. The Singh Ray pouches are padded better than the Firecrest. but I would recommend using a Mindshift Filter Hive to hold all of your filters instead.
As you can see with 16 stops of ND my exposure went from 1/500 sec to 2 minutes 11 seconds, by going to f/22 I would then be at 17 minutes 29 seconds in broad daylight! I stuck with f/8 for this test to keep my exposure times down to ensure the light stayed consistent.
I used a Triggertrap as my shutter release which allowed me to dial in a specific time when attached to my iPhone (or in this case my iPod Touch).
Below you can see the results…
download an extremely large jpeg here (right click and save as).
These all have the exact same settings with a daylight white balance, only the shutter speed was changed. The Firecrest does have a blue/green color cast and no noticeable vignetting. The Lee Big Stopper (10 stop) has a strong blue cast with some vignetting, when combined with the Little Stopper (6 stop) the vignetting becomes very strong. The Singh Ray 15 has a strong red cast along with strong vignetting, I was surprised how disappointing this filter was. The Singh Ray 10 stop appears to be closer to 9 stops (this was a 2 sec exposure), and the 5 stop appears to be closer to 6 stops. I was actually more pleased with the Singh Ray 10 and 5 combined vs. the 15 stop.
Next, I tried a very basic correction for the color cast by simply using the white balance eyedropper in Lightroom on the white part of the fence post (not very scientific but gets the job done)
The Singh Ray 15 did not correct well and would require more advanced methods using RGB curves to remove the red cast, a time-consuming task. The Lee’s cleaned up quite well, which is due to the blue cast being easy to fix by just warming up the white balance. The Firecrest was also easily corrected using only white balance, quite impressive for a 16 stop filter! For reference the Lee Big Stopper required a large white balance correction, going from a Temp of 5000 to 9300 and a Tint of 5 to 19, the Firecrest on the other hand only needed to go to a Temp of 5400 and a Tint of 1, a very small adjustment. When shooting in RAW white balance can be easily adjusted, many believe that this can be done with no compromise to the image, which is true up to a point. When making extremely large adjustments the quality is affected so this is something to take into consideration. When shooting with a Lee Big Stopper you need to adjust the white balance in camera to 9300 to ensure you do not need to make a large adjustment, later on, when using the Firecrest there is no need to set your white balance like this, daylight is very close.
I was extremely surprised by Singh Ray, a company that typically makes the best filters on the market proved to be a disappointment here. This is good news for the consumer though as Singh Ray is also extremely expensive. The good news is the Firecrest is actually quite affordable and performed exceptionally! I would highly recommend this filter.
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