Our ‘New Gear’ section looks at Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Neutral Density (ND) Kits – by Clinton Harn
For most cinematographers, photographers and filmmakers, neutral density filtration is merely a device, utilized to attain, adjust, correct and augment proper exposure. There are many applications; from drop-in types for matteboxes, to screw-on circular NDs for smaller photographic lenses, to the ever so popular variable strength faders.
Filtration, like lens optics, is simply a tool for most, but to the ill informed, it can sometimes cause a lot of heartache. We often see so many users skimp on quality, which can often result in color shifts or cast, soft images and an overall degradation in picture quality.
To the consumer end of the market, smaller screw on filtration systems are almost
like normal & regulation standards. Most enthusiasts, and sometimes professionals, will buy filters solely for convenience and slap them on their prized lenses, without ever really considering the ramifications.
From a practical standpoint, there exists logic in using quality screw in filters for a small camera package. However, going that extra mile in adopting a larger filtration system
like a mattebox may mean access to higher tolerances in quality. When you consider the great lengths in which we all go to combine gorgeous large chip sensors, light sensitive cameras with beautiful glass, why is sticking random resin or glass filtration in front of all this cutting edge technology an afterthought?
With convenience comes several problems, and here are just a few. Variable NDs
are horribly soft when using tele-focal lengths, they vignette on wider lenses and they produce that dreaded X or butterfly pattern when you over dial the maximum stop threshold. Unless you are buying into reputable brands, you may have to deal with inferior, mass produced materials or glass. Hence Its no surprise that you will not see cheap screw-on variable NDs on major feature film sets or shot crucial camera set- ups.
With modern digital cameras now flooding the market, it is imperative that we understand how digital sensors are sensitive to infrared (IR) or ‘far red’. With this in mind, IR pollution issues will vary from camera to camera depending on the type of filtration you use. Various camera manufactures also implement some degree of IR protection to their sensors.
One of the biggest, most revealing, obvious and significant topic on filtration is this IR pollution. In my findings, I’ve decided to opt for drop in filters using matteboxes. This has led some Cinematographers on a quest to find filters that would be both conducive and neutral across a range of camera sensors. While there isn’t a ‘silver bullet’, there can still be consistency.
Enter the Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Neutral Density Kit. We recently pulled
the trigger on a basic set of 4×5.65 filters comprising of a 0.3, 0.6, 1.2 IR ND and a 0.6 horizontal soft grad for our brand new Bright Tangerine Misfit mattebox.
In a recent test, we utilised all these filters across a variety of camera sensors such
as Arri Alexa, RED, Canon, Blackmagic, Sony, & Panasonic. The intent was to see how these filters stacked up to the different sensors. An effective way to see if filters hold up is to either stack filters or use strengths of 1.2 and above to search for obvious IR contamination. Unlike the old Schneiders that gave Canon cameras a noticeable colour cast, to the Tiffens only playing nice to the Alexas and REDs, these Firecrest IR NDs performed remarkably well and were frighteningly neutral across all the camera sensors tested.
It would be safe to assume that most reviews or unregulated test are often flawed, as there are so many variables and inconsistencies in the lighting (choice of gear, environment, etc). Unless testing is conducted in controlled conditions, we would suggest that everyone examine and try products themselves.
Formatt-Hitech filters are designed and manufactured in the United Kingdom (Wales to be specific). They are a boutique manufacturing company that sets itself apart from its competition by claiming differences in four specific areas such extensive research into the science of filtration, having the most advanced computer controlled facilities, using only high grade materials and that are all made with love in Aberdare. They manufacture a variety of resin and glass filters for photographers and cinematographers.
Build wise, these filters are made from Schott Superwhite glass. For the curious, Schott AG is a reputable German institution, developer & manufacturer for all things glass. Named after the glass chemist Otto Schott, who laid the foundations for glass science & technology back in 1884. Just because any brand claims they use Schott glass, however, doesn’t guarantee a quality product. It all comes down to the implementation of the technology. Formatt-Hitech’s process is more than just using Schott glass. The Firecrest filters don’t use any dye. The ND is the result of rare earth metals coated to glass through an electrolytic process, and the coating is sandwiched to remove the possibility of scratching and damaging it. The filters are then precision polished for extreme surface flatness so that when the camera is panned, there is no perceived distortion in the image.
We would like to use these filters more extensively before we come to any solid conclusions, but we must confess to be pleasantly surprised with them. When
the revenue, along with research and development of a company like Formatt-Hitech, focuses solely on filtration and their manufacturing work is not shipped to the lowest bidder to somewhere in Asia – it’s almost a certainty you might just be getting something special here.
Clinton Harn is a cinematographer, filmmaker and producer.