Fstoppers Reviews Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra ND Filters: The Sharpest Filters I've Ever Used

Formatt-Hitech is a company that's been making ND filters for quite some time now. There are a large number of photographers that consider them to be the only choice for them and Formatt has worked hard to develop that reputation. With several new companies entering the market recently, I wanted to see how Formatt-Hitech filters performed. 

The Holder Kit

Almost all 100mm square filters require a holder system to work effectively. The Formatt-Hitech system isn't much different and their holder system is mostly quite simple when it comes to the design. The simplicity of the design is by no means a negative issue; if anything it's a very positive thing. The reason I say this is because of how easy it is to set up and use. Nothing is overly complex and this I find helps with speed of operation. Construction wise, the holder is mostly metal and has a good weight and feel to it; for the most part, the build quality is excellent and very premium. The polarizer that comes with this system works as part of the holder and connects to the 82mm adapter ring. The only noticeably unique thing about the Formatt holder system is the fact that they offer an outer shell.

The Outer Shell

As described above, this feature is relatively unique to the Formatt-Hitech filter system. The great thing about this is that if you're shooting in tougher lighting scenarios where the direction of light could cause light leaks, the outer shell can provide extra protection to prevent this. The only issue with the outer shell is that it limits usability slightly in that you cannot remove or add filters once it is attached. Having said that in practice, you would only be applying the outer shell when you have decided on all the other aspects of your shot; so it doesn't really impact the usability in real-world use. For the majority of the images I have taken, the outer shell was not required. The reason for this is because the actual holder itself offers more than sufficient protection against light leaks for most situations. It's only needed in tougher lighting scenarios where you may need that extra protection. Effectively, although it's not a requirement in most cases, it's extremely useful when the situation calls for it. 

Another great thing about the outer shell is that it significantly improves the handling of the holder system. It's far easier to hold the system with the outer shell as you have a greater surface area for you to comfortably hold the system. The other feature is that it does offer some physical protection when storing the holder with filters.

In the video I discuss how you can't adjust the polarizing filter when the outer shell is attached, this is not the case at all. Even with the outer shell attached you can still adjust the polarizing filter without any issues whatsoever. The correction has been added to the description of the video. 

Usability

The Formatt-Hitech Firecrest holder system is by far the easiest to use filters system I've experienced so far. I absolutely love the usability aspects of this system more so than any other I've used. The simple design is one of the aspects that make it so pleasing to use and it's simply a joy. Simple can sometimes mean lacking, but, that's definitely not the case with the Formatt system. My favorite thing about the Formatt holder is that it fits perfectly in my coat pocket. I can have two ND filters and the CPL in the holder with the outer shell and all of it fits in my pocket ready for it to be attached on to my lens. This is great if you're on the move and speed of operation is important to you. In situations where the light is changing fast due to clouds, or the sun setting, the Formatt holder system really helps with setting up quickly. Essentially, before I go to the location I'm shooting, I will have the holder system already set with the ND filters I intend to use. Once I have the settings ready on my camera I can take the holder out of my pocket and simply attach it directly on to the lens in a matter of seconds. The outer shell is extremely useful because while the holder sits in my pocket it offers that extra bit of protection; I'm not concerned about the filters getting scratched. Sure this may not be how many landscape photographers work but when I'm photographing architecture I'm not simply after one angle or one type of shot. When the sun is setting I need to be able to move fast and get multiple angles quickly without being hindered by the gear I'm using. 

When it comes to attaching filters into the holders, it's very intuitive in that it simply slides into one of the two grooved sections. The polarizer also sits in the 82mm adapter ring and can be controlled with the geared mechanism. In short, the usability of this system is fantastic and probably the best when it comes to many other systems currently on the market. 

Image Quality

This is probably the most important thing many photographers look for when it comes to deciding between filter manufacturers. Formatt-Hitech filters are definitely up there with the best when it comes to performance. Suffice it to say they do not disappoint and might just be one of the best on the market. As with most of my previous filters comparisons and reviews, I used the Canon 5DSR and the TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II to test the filters. Many photographers tend to use an ND filter with a polarizer and that's exactly what I did for many of the shots I took for this review. Looking at the first couple of images below you may notice some differences between the shot without any filters vs the one with the Formatt filters. 

 

The filters I used for the above image are the included CPL that comes with the holder kit and the Firecrest Ultra 10 Stop ND filter. Both images have had some of the highlights and shadows recovered. The white balance is exactly the same at 5500k to ensure consistency. There is a very noticeable difference in colors especially when you look at the grass. Greens are far more pronounced which might be a good thing if you predominantly shoot landscapes; although I personally prefer a more neutral image. There is also a noticeable amount of glare in the filter image and this is with the outer shell attached. Unfortunately, no matter what filter system you use, there will be certain occasions where you will find some glare or unwanted reflections appearing in the image. This is purely because you're placing extra pieces of glass in front of your lens. My guess is that this is appearing due to the gap between the CPL and ND filter in the holder. The gap isn't significant by any means and about the same as any other system, however, it's enough to cause some issues. It must be noted that this is something I experience with every filter system I've used and this was a relatively tough lighting scenario. The color shift, however, is very noticeable and although you can correct it, for the most part, there is a noticeable increase in both saturation, contrast (in some areas), and the shift in colors. I find that for this particular image, adding +14 to the tint does fix much of the color shift, but, certain issues still remain. 

For the second comparison below I decided to shoot when conditions were overcast. The reason for this was to prevent any issues occurring from drastic changes in lighting conditions. The images below also demonstrate a noticeable color shift. Speaking with Formatt-Hitech, they explained that the majority of this shift in colors is more than likely coming from the CPL as opposed to the ND filter itself. Personally, I find that when I shoot architecture, a CPL is normally required. This is the primary reason I shot these particular images with the CPL. The other reason is to ensure some level of consistency as all other filter reviews I've conducted included the CPL as part of some of the tests. 

 

Once again, these images have only had the exposures corrected slightly. The white balance for both images have been set to 6500k and a clear difference can be seen in colors. For the most part, colors can be corrected with some very simple adjustments and I believe most people won't find this to be much of an issue.  

 

Simply by using the eyedropper tool a neutral area I was able to get the colors very close. The new white balance readings for the non-filter image is 7900k and +5 on the tint. The corrected white balance for the filtered image is now 6750k and +18. 

Unfortunately, there are still some issues that remain in the image. For example, the building on the right-hand side has a very noticeable blue shift, and these aspects may require more work to correct. 

I also tested the filters in a more controlled environment in order to compare the color shifts of each filter individually. All the test images are available to download using a link found in the description of the video above. 

 

The above comparison is of just the 10 stop filter by itself without the CPL. There's a noticeable shift in colors and after correcting the white balance, I found that it was one of the highest shifts I've personally noticed in any filters I've used; although we're talking about very minor differences. The total difference was -500k  and -1 on the tint. 

Sharpness

Formatt-Hitech filters are without a doubt the sharpest filters I have ever used and I've used some very high-quality filters. I am genuinely impressed and properly surprised at how well these filters perform when it comes to detail and clarity. Some photographers may value sharpness and detail over colors because colors can be adjusted, whereas lost detail may not be recoverable. This is where the Formatt-Hitech filters really shine and hold their own against every other manufacturer I have tested and reviewed. If you want the sharpest filters, then these just might be the ones for you. 

Looking at the images above, to my eye the image with the filters actually looks better because it has more contrast. 

Most other filters I tested in the "real-world" demonstrated very little to no perceptible loss in detail. The difference was mostly found when testing in a controlled environment with a high-quality lens. The tests below were shot with the Zeiss 135mm f/2.0 and the Canon 5DSR. The Zeiss 135mm is known for being one of the sharpest lenses currently on the market and it's this lens that generally finds the flaws in many other filters. 

Looking at the controlled test above of the 10 stop filter, I find it very difficult to notice any significant loss in detail. This is exceptional because I have always found a very noticeable loss in detail with every other filter system on the market. The Formatt-Hitech filters perform at an extremely high level; one I have not seen any other system match yet. There are some manufacturers that claim to have the sharpest filters in the world, however, when put to the test they fall short. Formatt-Hitech seems to have somewhat of an understated marketing technique, but, the results are the best I've ever seen. These are without a doubt the sharpest filters I have ever used. 

What I Liked

  • The outer shell is very useful in some lighting scenarios.
  • The compact simple design of the holder system is very useful. 
  • One of the simplest and easiest to use filter systems. 
  • The sharpest filters I've ever used, performance is incredible. 

What I Didn't Like

  • Formatt filters suffer from a very noticeable color shift
  • The adapter rings felt a little cheaply made to me. 
  • All other points a minor nitpicks and not worth mentioning. 

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right filter system can be a difficult task and quite the investment. Unfortunately, there is no perfect system currently on the market. Every system I've tested and reviewed had their own respective advantages and disadvantages. Essentially it comes down to what you value the most and what aspects you're individually looking for. The Formatt-Hitech filters are fantastic and I truly do enjoy using them. The ease of use makes an incredible difference and usability is a huge point for me. Sure the colors could be better and the shifts in colors may not be for everyone, however, the way these filters retain detail is exceptional. If you value having super sharp filters the Formatt-Hitech filters might just be the perfect system for you. I highly recommend them. 

You can purchase yours using the links below. 

Formatt-Hitech Holder Kit

Firecrest Ultra Filters

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30 Comments

*Or* one could just buy proper, higher quality filters that are not only sharp but also don't affect color.

Nice advertisement, though.

Usman Dawood's picture

It’s a review not an advertisement. If it were sponsored we would legally need to disclose that. It’s a cheap way to try and undermine my review but nice try.

Which filter system are you referring to when you say “Or” and “proper”

William Howell's picture

Usman, I have made up mind to go with Wine Country Camera. Have you heard of this brand? And if you have, what is your opinion?
I have found your other review of ND filters very helpful.

Edit: Haha, I just found your review of WCC!

Usman Dawood's picture

Lol. Thank you very much, appreciate it :).

Any high quality traditional filters (Singh-Ray, Heliopan and B+W) that screw into the filter ring, Lee filters or the higher quality "clones". WCC fits the bill nicely as well, even though for my own work I have no need for that great system.

No regrets.

Jordan Flynn's picture

Why would anyone buy filters that suffer from a very noticeable colour shift?

Usman Dawood's picture

Every filter system I've reviewed has had a noticeable color shift. Hitech has one of the most noticeable ones but it's actually better than NiSi filters.

Have you seen Breakthrough Photography filters? incredibly little colour shift. its not even noticeable. And I dare say sharper looking images than these.

Usman Dawood's picture

Yep, did a review on them too. The colour shift on them was around -300k to -350k and -9 on the tint consistently. They're the worst filters I've used when it comes to sharpness. Very noticeable loss in details and lots of smudging. Worst filter system I've used for light leaks too.

Stephen Kampff's picture

Love the change in location at 5:45! Smashing review

Usman Dawood's picture

Complete random right haha.

William Howell's picture

I just went back and read Usman’s review of Wine Country Camera ND filters, and both articles are good reviews.
I noticed in his comment to David McCraken, that both systems are, basically, equal, WCC and Formitt. The big difference is aesthetic. Yeah, I’m sticking with my original choice.

Usman Dawood's picture

The WCC filters are better for colour and the Hitech are slightly sharper. Differences aren't significant but noticeable. Also, the vault system is really nice from WCC and the overall aesthetic and build quality is something WCC have over the Hitech filters although Hitech filters are much simpler and easier to use.

Hitech filters also have a potentially smaller footprint when it comes to transporting which is very useful. WCC take up a lot more space in the bag.

WCC are quite expensive though.

Usman Dawood's picture

The price differences aren’t significant last I checked. Better quality materials are being used too.

barry cash's picture

Unfortunately they don't yet (for the last three years) offer any holder for HC28mm or large lenses that need 105mm or larger to avoid vignetting. Other than that no issues with color cast that can't be easily corrected in post. A Big but why if you make 150x170 and bigger filters wouldn't you offer a solution in a proper holder.

I'm not saying formatting Hi-Tech filters are bad, these are not as good as Singhray Morslo filters, I've used both and it's a no brainier for me to with Morslo over firecast filters. That's my two cents.

Usman Dawood's picture

I haven’t tried those filters from Singh ray but dear god they’re expensive. I’ll see if I can get a chance to review any.

Jeroen Bouman's picture

My advice: Breakthrough Filters. No colour shift, and as sharp as without a filter as far as I can tell. Much better than Hoya or B&W ND filters I had before.

Usman Dawood's picture

Breakthrough filters do have a colour shift although it’s one of the least. They are also the worst for sharpness so far in my testing. Very soft filters, very noticeable smudging in the corners lots of light leaks. The holder system with how the CPL works is also less practical in real world use.

I did a whole review and comparison on them.

Jeroen Bouman's picture

Don't take my word for it, read https://diglloyd.com/articles/Filters/filter-X3-ND-10stop.html. I doubt anyones tests are more thorough than his.

Usman Dawood's picture

Those are the circular filters. I've only tested the square system which operates very differently. Even though the glass might be similar, the implementation is vastly different. You can't use performance from one system to quantify another; the results you'll find are very different.

I can assure you I was very thorough in my testing too the colour shift on them was around -300k to -350k and -9 on the tint on average which is not that much but the softness, smudging and light leaks were very bad.

This was a really disappointing review. You were honest in your comments about the filters, but your enthusiastic endorsement was completely in contradiction to what you found. Why would anyone buy these filters given the issues reported? And, I should mention something else you might want to investigate. I owned a set of 3 HiTech ND filters, admittedly the version before Firecrest. After a couple of years the coating went bad on all of them so that IR came through making all the greenery in my long exposure photos a lovely pink. I sent them to HiTech for testing and their response was basically deterioration is "normal". I'd hang on to your Breakthrough, NISI and Wine Country filters if I were you.

Usman Dawood's picture

I recommend them for two reasons.

Usability.
This is a huge thing because it really and truly has an impact on your workflow. Workflow is an extremely important aspect for many photographers and I’m certain it is for you. The thing is many of use don’t consider this aspect very much before buying something.

Secondly the sharpness.

No other filter I’ve used is as sharp as these filters. Seriously these filters blew me away with how sharp they are.

Some photographers can’t stand colour shifts and others don’t care that much for it because they say they’re happy to edit as long as detail isn’t missing. Comes down to what you value the most.

I honestly do recommend them but I also point out flaws so you can decide what’s best for you.

Thank you for the comment and suggestion I do appreciate it. I’ll keep an eye on the filters to see how they age.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Could you please define sharpness, because by the sound of it you are mistaken contrast and sharpness. Or are you indeed saying that the filters have optical resolving properties you haven't seen before?

What other manufacturer and filters are you comparing to?

Usman Dawood's picture

I've done detailed tests and reviewed Breakthrough, Wine Country filters, NiSi filters and now Formatt-Hitech. I've also personally tested and used Lee filters, Haida and B+W circular filters.

In regards to the contrast comment that was because of the CPL removing some of the reflections. The test images where I properly look at sharpness for the 10 stop filter did not include the CPL. The test images of the colour checker did not demonstrate any increase in contrast. I simply looked at how much detail was being lost and relative to other filters I've used Formatt-Hitech demonstrated the least loss in detail.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

There is a huge difference between claiming a filter is sharp than to say it does not deteriorate the image quality too much.

Unless you do a direct comparison it's quite hard to claim one way or the other.

Usman Dawood's picture

I have done a direct comparison. I just haven’t published those results because this was a review and not a comparison.

Your other point is mostly just semantics.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Semantics.. sure keep calling the filters sharp if that's what you want. :-) Should not be too hard to post them then if you already did them.

Usman Dawood's picture

It's semantics because you're arguing the choice of words I used lol.

Sure I'll get some images up. What's your email address?