Cokin, Lee, Nisi and Firecrest photography filter holders and filter reviews and why I changed to the Formatt Hitech Firecrest range.
This is an update to an older blog post which as filters have changed I felt I needed to update the blog also. I might have a very long-winded way of writing this but if you have or are interested in filters or thinking of buying them then this is going to help you I hope. So sit down relax and take a few minutes to learn from my experiences.
As most will know I am an ambassador for the Formatt Hitech range of products incl the Firecrest Ultra range of filters but I would also like to say I purchased all these systems with my own hard earned money.
I haven't received any free filters or products for this review it's something I wrote in the hope of saving people money and lots of wasted time.
Speaking of saving money if anyone is interested I can offer 10% off Firecrest filters and all products on Formatt Hitechs Website with Discount code or Promo code HAYES10 at checkout.
To subscribe to my email list for the very latest Formatt Hitech special offers and special discount codes as they happen click Here.
So 100mm Camera Filters and holders and why I changed to Firecrest Ultra filters completely.
I have an in-depth review of the firecrest holder Here and the awesome reason why I love it.
Over the years I have tried and tested numerous photography neutral density filters and their holders for landscape and seascape photography this has been my journey with all the bumps and problems I have met on the way.
On my wandering journey through several filters and holders, I have tried and worked with a number of manufacturers from Cokin, Lee, Nisi and Formatt Hitech firecrest. This has been a long and winding road for me, most of us have travelled along this path with both positive and negative experiences. So I thought why not document my experiences and help steer a few people down the better path.
A long time ago I started with the cheaper Cokin filters (incidentally they were not the 100mm version) which worked fairly well but they have a strong magenta colour cast when combined together to increase the neutral density strength.
So I would have normally used a 3 stop nd filter with a 3 stop nd grad. This combination was sufficient after sunset or on overcast days to capture some motion blur but just not strong enough to create exposures for longer than half a second.
The holder and filters are ok for the price but the end results are nowhere near a proper set of filters. The holder is plastic which slides over the metal adaptor rings that screw on to the camera lens. It's a bit clumsy to take on and off when composing an image but as the nd strength is quite weak your camera can focus with the filters attached.
The filters are made of resin and apart from their magenta cast are usable just be careful as they are very easily scratched and rendered useless then.
Verdict... Cheap and a great starting point but that's where it ends. Not at all colour neutral and using these near sand they get destroyed in no time.
Next, I ventured down the road of Lee filters and yes they are a big step forward and worked reasonably well in most situations with only a few issues.
The first being the holder itself, it clips on snuggly enough to the lens adaptors but if you are unlucky to accidentally hit the holder while moving or repositioning the camera then the filter holder can just slip out of place and fall to the ground smashing your filters.
The edge of the brass gripper for some strange reason is sloped in such a way that you can pull the housing off the adaptor ring and it can easily unclip itself.
The next slight issue I had was the blue colour cast,
Yes, it can be corrected in editing to some extent but it throws of the colours in the sky still and I have struggled to correct this a number of times.
Also when you pay for a premium product you shouldn't accept defects straight out of the box.
Lastly, the nd grads were made of resin, now anyone that is serious about seascape or landscape photography will tell you how easy it is to scratch these filters. All it takes is a grain of sand in your cleaning cloth and serious damage can be done in a split second.
For their price, I wouldn't consider these filters or filter holder good value for money.
Time has moved on and most companies have improved their range incidently as have Lee but with that in mind, it took an incredibly long time for them to move forward and for that reason you tend to see fewer of them in use today.
Verdict... Colour cast was just wrong straight out of the box. Holder design needs to be improved on, Nd grads in Resin considering the price is crazy, lastly the price of the ring adaptors are very expensive. If you want a polariser they are incredibly expensive and have a design flaw in that light can get in between the polariser and ND filter or lens, this is a major problem at times.
Next on the journey was Nisi, I have to say I like the filters themselves they are fairly colour neutral and their filter holder is nice enough.
The real advantage of this unit over the other two above is the inbuilt polariser. Its a beautiful little touch and with the external wheels for rotating it make it simple to use.
The only criticism I have of the polariser is that it's delicate to put in place and I was always unsure if it was locked in place properly or not, would it just suddenly pop back out again and smash to a million pieces on the ground. A solid click as its positioned would be nice.
The polariser has fallen out on me more than once.
The holder itself is simple and it works well its not as easy to position on the adaptor rings as the Lee system but not far behind either. The two small little legs designed to hold the holder in place before you lock it in place are very small and hard to find at the best of times.
Verdict.. A nice product but not cheap, the filter holder is good but I constantly worried about the polariser and the seating on the adaptor ring was a bit hit and miss when your in a hurry.
I never scratched one of their filters but I didn't have them that long either. I would be worried about the nano coating on the filters getting damaged through exposure to grit, sand or dust.
In saying all that I would add that Nisi the Chinese manufacturer was better than the Lee setup.
Formatt Hitech Firecrest
Finally, we arrive where I am today, as an official Formatt Hitech Firecrest ambassador this review may seem to be biased but it just so happens I was delighted to be chosen by them for the simple reason that I love their filters and products.
Their customer service is second to none and constantly amazes me and anyone that I have spoken too has said the same.
A good product is only as good as its weakest link and I am still trying to find one after three years using their products now.
So let me just start with my very first experience using their new filter holder and filters.
Being honest when I initially used the Firecrest filter holder I wasn't sure about it. It just seemed to be so different. It was only when I stopped and treated it like any other part of my camera equipment I realised it just needed to be customised.
After two mins of adjusting it and getting it the way I wanted it, I started to feel very very comfortable with it.
Initially the filters were stiff going into their slots, the unusual aspect of having the gasket fitted to the filter holder and not the filter seemed alien to me. It was only when I slightly loosened the tension screws on the filter slots I realised this could actually really grow on me.
Now just think about that, isn't it great that you can have the filters at the tension you want and not fixed via the factory.
So it took me about an hours use before I really began to fall in love with this filter holder and I haven't looked back since.
The gasket on the holder is not a problem at all and the filter holder itself can be removed very easily with just one hand as there is a thumb slide that releases it, this is something I instantly liked, the ease of rapid removal then refocusing and composing a shot was just so very easy.
Repositioning it is just a matter of clipping it back in place and after you see the lever lock again with a nice solid audible click your ready to go.
Having an inbuilt polarising filter is also again a major plus. This time the polarising filter screws into the lens adaptor section, something you then don't have to worry about falling out of place. Also a lovely little wheel on the side of the holder to turn the polariser
A huge bonus to this system is you can use the polarising filter without the holder in place. Now that's a huge bonus and something the others couldn't do.
The extra removable caps for the filter holder are fantastic for removing any stray light and work perfectly. They are the holders secret weapon also as they stop any seaspray from getting in between the graduated filter and the Neutral density filter.
Can I find a fault with the adaptor?
Well not yet, it's easy to position on the camera and feels solid, has an inbuilt polariser, and external wheel to rotate the filter, seems to be easy to customise, if I were being petty I would have requested the option for a third filter slot (I will never use it though) and brass filter adaptor rings as Aluminium or alloys never wears well and have a tendency to lock on the camera threads but when you look at all the other systems mentioned above none of them provide brass rings either.
The winning points for the Firecrest filter holder over any of the others are.....
The Firecrest Ultra filters themselves are made of bonded glass so the actual nd part of the filter is protected by hardened glass on both sides making them incredibly scratch resistant. They are completely colour neutral and have a very large selection of filters to choose from covering all price ranges.
Full review of the Firecrest Ultra filters Here where I go into a lot more detail on their ground breaking sharpness and colour clarity.
Verdict... I love the filter holder now, it's so easy to use and the neutrality of the filters is second to none.
All in all a really nice system and great value for money definitely by far my favourite filter holder. In short, I always carried the Nisi and Lee systems in my bag but now I only carry the Formatt Hitech Firecrest system with me.
So to sum it up the Firecrest Ultra filters are completley colour neutral and exceptionally easy to use, at the end of the day we should expect no less.
It should be the case with all filters but sadly its not, I am very proud to be associated with such a company and can only give my honest opinion on their products. If I didn't like them I personally wouldn't use them or promote their products.
They have a huge range of filters and filter holders for all prices making it the ideal one stop shop. As an ambassador for their products I can also offer a 10% discount with the discount code HAYES10 at checkout via their website simply click Here to see their range.
Don't just take my word for it, look at all my new upcoming images. I can already see an improvement.
I have a blog post on Long Exposure Photography which helps explain what filters are used for and how to use them.
Any questions feel free to email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
See you out there,