British-based filter maker Formatt Hitech has released what may be the ultimate collection of circular, square and rectangular neutral density filters for cinematographers and photographers, Firecrest Ultra ND Filters.
The Firecrest Ultra collection is, according to Formatt Hitech, “the pinnacle of photographic filter technology” due to their perfect flatness, colour neutrality, clarity, sharpness and extreme effectiveness at cutting infra-red light pollution.
Infra-red pollution of video colour rendering has proven to be a persistent problem in recent years, with long established, popular brands and professional filter product collections failing to cut IR passing through their filters and hitting sensors to the detriment of accurate colour rendering.
According to Formatt Hitech, “we have had photographers do exposures of over 10 minutes with no IR pollution at all” so one hopes that cinematographers trying out the new Firecrest Ultra filters will experience the same benefits.
Firecrest Ultra Kits for Photographers
Format Hitech has released the Firecrest Ultra collection in a range of sizes as aluminium-mounted circular, square and rectangular ND and graduated filters as well as six sets of kits specified by five well respected landscape and travel photographers.
As landscape and travel photography are not my thing, I asked cinematographer/director Paul Leeming of Leeming LUT One fame for his advice on the best Firecrest Ultra kits for cinematography.
Our Firecrest Ultra Filter Kit Recommendations
- Base kit for 400 ISO cameras like the Panasonic Lumix GH5 – 82mm diameter circular filters in ND 0.6, 1.2, 1.8, 2.4 (2, 4, 6 and 8 f-stops reductions).
- Extended Kit for 1600 ISO cameras like the Sony A7S II – 82mm diameter circular filters in ND 0.6, 1.2, 1.5, 1.8, 2.1, 2.4, 2.7 (2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 f-stops reductions).
- Complete Kit for Feature Film Cinematography – 4×5.65″ filters in every stop.
The Xume Filter Adapter System
Paul Leeming uses and recommends the Xume magnetic circular filter adapter system for easy, fast and safe on-location filter swapping. The Xume system was created by XumeAdapters.com, now defunct, then sold to Manfrotto.
You will need to purchase enough Xume adapters, holders and caps for all of your video production lenses and filters, more items than are contained in the Xume Pro Kits, to get the best out of the system.
Standardize on 82mm or 77mm filters, place step-up rings on all your lenses, then attach adapters to each step-up ring.
I recommend brass rather than aluminium step-up rings to avoid binding and use brass step-up rings made by Breakthrough Photography, Heliopan or Sensei especially if they are knurled for better traction.
The Variable ND and Other Alternatives
I have been aware of colour, sharpness and other problems with some of the most highly recommended ND filter sets for some time and have held off investing in a base kit for my Panasonic cameras until something better comes along.
Working in the documentary genres, the time required to carefully white balance off colour checkers or cards is not always there.
Screw-on, screw-off filter swapping in the field can be dangerous especially with the smooth-sided filters that were standard before Breakthrough Photography came out with its innovative traction frame.
I have some Breakthrough Photography ND filters and they have proven outstanding insofar as colour neutrality and sharpness go, but enquiries about their degree of protection against IR pollution remain unanswered.
There is this statement, however, on the Breakthrough Photography X4 ND product page:
… the X4 ND maintains a very well controlled and flat transmission all the way throughout the visible spectrum and into IR.
In contrast to our GH5 base kit recommendation, Breakthrough Photography’s X4 circular neutral density filters come in 3, 6, 10 and 15 stop reduction values or, under the ND.number naming convention, ND 0.9, 1.8 and 3.0 with the last value between ND 4.0 and ND 5.0.
I’ll stick with f-stop reduction values and forego the arcane ND1number, ND.number and NDnumber naming conventions so 3, 6, 10 and 15 stops it is.
Breakthrough Photography’s Dark CPL & X4 GND Kickstarter campaign earlier this year saw the addition of 100mm and 150mm X4 Square filters: “X4 ND Square is available in 1-stop through 10-stop densities, as well as 15-stop.”
A Stopgap Solution for Documentary Cinematographers?
My stopgap solution in the absence of a full set of fixed ND filters was to rely on the most heavily recommended variable ND filter of the time, the Genustech Eclipse ND Fader with its 2-8 stops reduction range.
Nowadays the most recommended variable NF filters appears to be the 1.3-6 stop reducing SLR Magic Self-Locking Variable Neutral Density filter.
SLR Magic recently announced its 1.2 IEND filter for stacking on fixed or variable ND filters to bump exposure reduction up to 10 stops along with added IR colour control, so purchasing this in combination with SLR Magic’s variable ND filter may be a wise investment for documentary moviemakers always on the move.
- Breakthrough Photography
- News Shooter – SLR Magic 1.2 IEND filter
- Shutter Muse – Understanding Neutral Density Filter Names and Numbers
- Wikipedia – Graduated neutral-density filter
- Wikipedia – Neutral-density filter
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- Breakthrough Photography X4 Solid Neutral Density Filters – B&H
- Formatt Hitech Firecrest Colby Brown 100mm Signature Edition Premier Landscape Filter Kit with 100mm Firecrest Filter Holder – B&H
- Formatt Hitech Firecrest Elia Locardi 100mm Signature Edition Travel Kit with 100mm Firecrest Filter Holder – B&H
- Formatt Hitech Firecrest Joel Tjintjelaar 100mm Signature Edition Long Exposure Kit #1 with 100mm Firecrest Filter Holder – B&H
- Formatt Hitech Firecrest Joel Tjintjelaar 100mm Signature Edition Long Exposure Kit #2 with 100mm Firecrest Filter Holder – B&H
- Formatt Hitech Firecrest Ken Kaminesky 100mm Signature Edition Master Kit with 100mm Firecrest Filter Holder – B&H
- Formatt Hitech Firecrest Patrick Di Fruscia 100mm Signature Edition Pro Essentials Kit with 100mm Firecrest Filter Holder – B&H
- SLR Magic 82mm Self-Locking Variable Neutral Density 0.4 to 1.8 Filter (1.3 to 6 Stops) – B&H – has 86mm front filter thread.
- SLR Magic 86mm Image Enhancer ND Filter (4 STOP) – B&H – works with variable and fixed ND filters that have 86mm front filter threads.
- X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Photo – B&H
- X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Video – B&H
- XUME 82mm Lens Adapter and Filter Holder Pro Kit – B&H