With the recent purchase of a 2nd ten stop filter I finally had a chance to compare 2 of the them side by side. My original filter, a Heliopan ND3.0 has been well used and was a very good buy. However, the screw in can be cumbersome especially if you recompose for any reason.
The big problem with a screw in 10 stopper is that with it in place you can’t see anything at all through the viewfinder. This means you need to remove the filter to recompose and attach again for the shot. Either that or guess the composition, ramp up the ISO, take a test shot of a few seconds and adjust till you get the composition and then drop down to a low ISO and take the shot. Neither that handy if I’m honest.
Hence, the attraction of a slot in 10 stopper. In a perfect world I’d have bought a Lee Big Stopper, a proven product. Sadly, the Lee filter is almost impossible to get hold of right now thanks to supply issues at Lee and 2nd hand items are going for nearly double the price on ebay. Facing either nearly £200 for a Lee or a 6 month wait I opted for the new Hitech Pro Stopper.
Hitech claim this filter is made of a new IR resistant resin and they also claim to have fixed the light leak issues of the old filter by adding a 1.5mm gasket (for Lee holders, 3mm for Hitech holders). The filter comes in it’s own pouch and does seem pretty well made. Price is reasonable at £72 from TeamworkPhoto. TeamworkPhoto also supplied by Heliopan at a cost of £92 for the 77mm version.
So, how do they compare side by side?
This was a shot taken one after the other in dull conditions. Both shots were 90s exposures with a Hitech 150 0.9 GND in front of the 10 stopper. Same ISO, same lens, same f setting etc etc. The shot is a straight conversion of the RAW file to jpg for each with no PP applied.
As you can see, the Hitech does have a pronounced blue cast compared to the Heliopan which has a slightly warm cast but much better colour reproduction. Casts are not that hard to remove but obviously there is a lot less work to do with the Heliopan. The blue cast however, might be desirable in seascape type shots.
The Hitech also seems to let in slightly more light that the Heliopan, maybe not quite a full 10 stops? Other than that, all other areas of performance seem fairly equal.
So, it comes down a choice between the convenience of the slot in filter vs the colour reproduction of the screw in filter. Shooting for B&W, the slot in will be fine. Shooting for colour, I’d go with the fiddly screw in every time.
I’m going to keep the Hitech filter though, it’s got a place to be used where the screw in maybe isn’t convenient. The Hitech too unlike the other popular 10 stoppers in the market isn’t glass, it’s resin which should make it far less likely to end up in a million bits on some slippy rocks somewhere!
About a year ago I made my first serious move into using filters in my photography. At that point the furthest I had gone down that route was a few cheap screw in circular polarisers, ND8’s and UV filters, which were fine for what they were but the more I read about filters and seen what other people were doing with them the more I wanted to stick a toe in this whole new world of photography.
Cost was an issue, isn’t it always, so I lowered expectations and bypassed the pro systems like Lee or Cokin Z and stated to look at a P series system, the 85mm slot in filter range. This seemed perfect as the filters were reasonably priced and there was a huge range to choose from. After some initial research I discounted Cokin’s range of ND filters as they got a terrible feedback online with dozens of complaints of purple colour casts on shots taken with the Cokin ND’s.
Eventually I settled on Formatt Filters Hitech range which seemed to be a decent alternative and bought a set of 0.3. 0.6 and 0.9 ND filters and a set of 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 ND soft grad filters. Throw in a P series holder and a 77mm and 67mm adapter ring and I was no more than £75 out of pocket for a basic setup. I quickly also added a Kood 85mm slot in circular polariser to this line-up and for just under £100 I was ready to go.
The journey though, was a rough one. I learned a lot about filters and found that Hitech filters did indeed colour cast, especially with more than 2 stacked together. A 0.9 on its own was fine. A 0.9 soft grad on its own was fine. Stack the 2 and purple skies all round. At this point I nearly gave up, disheartened by the new purchases as they seemed to be a step back rather than the step forward I had hoped for.
In this situation, rather than throw in the towel it’s better to try and understand what is actually happening and how you can best avoid it. To this ends I started to see which conditions the filters worked best in and also figured out how to remove the worst of the cast in Photoshop so it was less of an issue. I soon stated using them all the time and was getting some reasonable results.
By this time I had added a cheap sunset grad, Kood red soft grad, Kood light tobacco soft grad and a Cokin 81A warm up filter to the collection and found that each of them worked best in certain situations. It took a lot of trial and error but once the understanding was there it made the frustration a lot less. Once you understand that in the middle of the day a red grad will give a shocking false image and used on a sunset it will work nicely you can really move on!
The next step was delving into long exposure photography. Initially I done this by stacking a screw in ND8, first then attaching the p series holder fitted with the Hitech 0.9 ND, 0.9 ND soft grad and 0.6 ND soft grad. Colour casting was horrific but I was able to get exposures up to long enough to streak clouds and flat out water, although the shots could only be used as mono conversions.
The solution to this was to invest in a proper 10 stop filter. Some research suggested that screw in types were best as they avoided light leak so I attempted to get a B+W ND110, which was the first time I came up against the difficulty in getting good filters. These were nowhere to be found, most places were quoting 6-12 week lead times which were no good to me, I wanted it now! Another quick Google and it seemed that the Heliopan ND3.0 was as good as the B+W and luckily, there was a stack of new 77mm versions on EBay at £95 a go. Cheaper than the B+W but even better, available now.
The Heliopan changed everything. Long exposures with no cast were now possible. Even stacking one 0.9 grad in some situations was possible but it still gave horrible casts from time to time. Not the Heliopan, it was perfect but the Hitech was no doubt the cause of the problem.
This got so frustrating I ended up buying the Lee filters foundation kit with intent to move to Lee filters, no matter what the cost. I got the holder at a decent price and it lay there unused as I had no 100mm filters for weeks on end. The problem this time was the lack of Lee filters anywhere. There are just none for sale, or at least for delivery this side of Christmas it seems. Some places are quoting 16 week + lead times for any Lee resin filters and as a result of this the 2nd hand market for them is nuts. 2nd hand Lee grads are going for silly money with this shortage and the “Big Stopper” even worse!
Eventually out of frustration I looked again at Hitech filters. Some recent blog comment seemed to suggest that the company had a new resin it was using and the results were near comparable with Lee filters for a fraction of the cost. This was based mainly around the Hitech equivalent to the Lee Big Stopper but there was also a new range of 100x150mm Hitech filters.
A quick search on eBay shows these filters going for around £40-£55 but in one of these rare moments where you get an actual bargain on eBay I found individual 0.6 and 0.9 soft grads for sale, made an offer and now own both for less than the cost of a single filter from some of the other sellers, both brand new and unmarked!
A quick test with these in conditions I would have normally expected to see colour cast produced no colour cast at all. Even a 30s exposure in tandem with the Heliopan 10 stopper produced no cast which is an encouraging start. Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll try these in a variety of ways and conditions and report back what the overall impression is.
If it’s good then an investment in a Hitech 0.9 reverse grad may well be in order and I’ll have to possibly consider the new version Hitech ND3.0 as well. The screw in Heliopan is a terrific filter but screw in and out in cumbersome if you need to recompose. A slot in option might well be handy but only if it performs as well.
I’m not discounting a switch to Lee in the future but for now while there is no availability there’s nothing to lose in trying the Hitechs, if nothing else it’s letting me use that nice new Lee filter holder at last!
Well, I finally got my hands on a 10 stop filter. Not the B+W I had originally hoped to get, they seem to be rather hard to get hold of just now in the UK, but a Heliopan ND3.0. After a little bit of research it seems that this filter is rated as highly as the B+W so when TeamworkPhoto on Ebay put a stack up for sale at a slightly lower price than the B+W versions a sale was inevitable. At a touch under £100 for a 77mm version it might seem expensive for a little bit of round glass but it’s when you start to use these things you can see the quality and exactly what your paying for.
This particular filter is the slim version so it fits nicely onto my Sigma 10-20mm lens and I can attached the 77mm p series adapter ring to it to allow me to use the CPL and grads easily too. The lens is usable at around 12mm upwards otherwise you do start to photograph the edges of the filter holder, which isn’t too bad as even without the 10 stop in place you get this same effect at around 11.5mm so no great hardship there.
First thing I noticed and it’s fairly obvious really, you simply cannot see a thing through this filter. It’s that dark. Hold it into very bright light, i.e. into the sun and you could just about compose a shot but with grads and a CPL in place as well, not a hope. This means the shot has to be composed on the tripod (obviously); the head locked in place and then carefully fit the 10 stopper and slip the filter holder with the grads on. Bit fiddly but you won’t be taking that many shots with this arrangement in place since you’re likely to be playing around in the 3 minutes exposure mark.
This was the first attempt with the 10 stopper. Taken on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, just the 10 stop and CPL in place. VERY bright light, around 5pm with a clear blue sky and, unusually for Scotland, a nice bright sun. 3 minute exposure and it’s nicely done the trick I wanted and got rid of all the tourists walking about in front of the monument, which was sheer luck not of them stood still long enough to get into the shot.
I did have another attempt later the same day at Newhaven Harbour and got some cracking results but the sea was rough, the wind was terrible and the grads were picking up spray all over and the shots were frankly unusable as a result. Lesson learned there.
Next night out was the Forth Bridges. A very familiar subject so a good place to test the filter out. I started around 7.20pm, approx an hour before sunset with the tide coming in and the sun still quite high above the Road Bridge. It seemed pointless to go shooting into the sun so I took a shot of the rail bridge with the rocks in the foreground getting covered by the incoming tide. This was a 4 minute exposure with the CPL and Hitech 0.6 ND soft grad. Very impressed at the lack of colour cast from the grad with the 10 stopper, at least if your not looking into the sun with it.
As the sun went further down I moved to the other side of the rail bridge to get the sunset with both bridges in the shot. A popular spot for photographers and sadly, the ned element of South Queensferry too it seems.
This was the last of my 10 stop shots for the night as exposure times were getting way too long with the decreasing light. This was a 331s exposure with the 10 stopper, CPL, ND0.6 soft grad and a light tobacco grad, ISO200 f11.
I have to say I’m enjoying the learning process with this new filter although my usual hit and miss method of calculating exposure times is going to get very tiring very fast. To that ends I’ve found an iPhone app called Long Time that does the calculation for you which I’ll give a trial of next time I’m out which will hopefully see the end of hit and miss results guessing exposure times.