Friday, July 20, 2018

Product Review: Formatt-Hitech Filters

Update

In January 2018 I wrote a post about becoming a Brand Ambassador for Formatt-Hitech filters - I Am a Formatt-Hitech Ambassador! I recently had an opportunity to put the filters thru a test and, as a result of the test, I resigned as a Brand Ambassador in July 2018.

Some background

In July 2017 I contacted Formatt-Hitech to see about getting a filter kit to review on this blog and my YouTube channel. They weren't able to provide me with a kit but did offer to have me as a Brand Ambassador which entitled me to a discount and allowed me to offer discounts to my followers. I purchased my filter set in July 2017 and used filters, sparingly, over the past year. I am going to write a brief review in the second half of this post. The kit I bought came with .3 to .9 (1 to 3 stop) solid and graduated neutral density filters. I also bought 1.2 (4 stop) solid and graduated filters. The filter holder is aluminum and I bought 2 rings - 67mm and 58mm. The filters I bought are resin filters and not glass, the glass filters are considerably more expensive.

As I mentioned, I didn't use them a lot but was happy with most of my results but when I tried to use the 3-stop solid filter I realized I had a second 2-stop filter. This was the case for both solid and graduated. I wrote to the company and the filters were immediately replaced with the proper 3-stop. Their customer service is quite good and they were very responsive - I don't know if this is because I was an Ambassador but I don't think so. Everyone that I have dealt with at the company has been very helpful and friendly.

The Review

How I Tested

So, I know all about scientific methodology and controls but I don't have that kind of time. I wanted to put the filters thru their paces in somewhat "real world" conditions, with my main concern being "color cast". Neutral Density filters should be just that - neutral. I wasn't overly concerned with how accurate the "density" was - I wasn't measuring to see if the 1-stop was, indeed, a full stop.

I wanted to keep the number of variables to a minimum so I picked a cloudless, windless day and shot under full sun at noon. I taped a white card with the density of the filter onto a piece of white foamcore. The camera was mounted on a tripod and all exposures were at f/16, ISO 100 and "auto" white balance. The only thing that changed from exposure to exposure was the shutter speed. The camera was a Canon EOS Rebel T3i with a Canon EF-S 18-135mm lens @ 95mm. I set to "manual focus" and turned off image stabilization - the image quality was "RAW+L" - I wanted to shoot both RAW and JPEG. The images shown here are the JPEG images and are all "out of the camera" with no post-processing whatsoever.

The Test

The idea was to test each filter separately (solid and graduated) and then "stack" them to achieve greater densities. The filter holder has three (3) slots, so that was the maximum number of filters for any given exposure.

I started with the 1.2 and worked down to the .3, each a single shot with a single filter. Next, leaving the .3 in the holder, I paired it with each of the other filters - .6, .9 & 1.2. The next step was to test combinations with the .6 and I tested it with the .9 & 1.2, finishing up the initial round of tests with the .9 & 1.2.

After running through all of the combinations with the solid filters, it was time to try the soft graduated - I did each separately and then paired them with the corresponding solid filter, ie .9 soft grad with .9 solid. I didn't bother to run thru all of the combinations.

The last test I did involved only the .9 filter - I wanted to see if there was a "right way" to put it in the filter. I put it in with the engraving facing the lens and then facing away from the lens - there was no difference in the resulting image.

The Results

The results were a mixed bag - some of the filters were truly "neutral" while others were not. The .9 (3-stop) solid filter was the least neutral of them all, in fact, it really wasn't "neutral" at all - there was a distinct magenta cast to the image. This was more pronounced when stacking filters with the .9. This was true of the .9 soft grad, too.

The Bottom Line

If you are looking to open up your lens by 1 or 2 stops to get shallower depth of field, you can get by with these filters. The same can be said if you need to tame a sunset (sunrise) sky a bit - 1 or 2 stop soft grad should do well for you. If, however, you want to be able to use the filters for long exposures or need to open up the lens by more than a couple stops - my recommendation is that you look elsewhere.

Epilogue

I contacted Formatt-Hitech about my findings and gave them access to the JPEGs - this is when I was told the resin filters are not suited for stacking or exposures greater than one or two seconds. I have done some longer exposures in the past - 15 to 20 seconds - in lower light situations and didn't notice a strong color shift when using a single filter but did notice some when stacking. The factory did offer to put my filters thru tests to determine if they were faulty but the packaging and shipping was to be at my expense. The factory is located in Wales. It seemed a fool's folly after learning about the limitations of the filters; from what I had learned thru our emails, even a 100% flawless filter in this series was not going to produce the desired results.

The company does produce a line of glass filters called "Firecrest" - they are quite expensive. I don't know anything about this line, other than what is written on their website but would suggest you look into this line if you are interested in Formatt-Hitech and long exposure photography.

As I mentioned earlier, this was an informal test to see how the filters perform in real life. Your results may be radically different than mine and I cannot vouch for how the filters perform under different lighting conditions. I also based my opinions on the "out of the camera" JPEG images. I decided to bring some of the images into Photoshop and use "Auto Tone" to see how the images would look - most of them were acceptable after applying "Auto Tone" but any combination of filters that included the .9 soft grad still had a distinct color cast on the area covered by the graduated ND. I took five of the test images, brought them into Photoshop, made a duplicate layer, applied "Auto Tone" to one layer and left the other "as-is". Using a layer mask, I created a side-by-side composite - the left side of the image is the edited side while the right is "out of camera". You decide which is more suited for you. I tried using "Auto Tone" on the RAW file using Adobe Camera RAW - the results were not as pleasing and would have required much more work to get a pleasing effect.

When I finished writing this review, I sent a copy to the company asking them for input. I wanted to make certain that I properly represented what they had told me. I have included their feedback below.

from Formatt-Hitech

The following is an excerpt from an email I received after sending them my review:
I have attached a screenshot from our website below, you can reach this page yourself using the following link: https://www.formatt-hitechusa.com/neutral-density

This section of the Learn area of our website deals specifically with ND’s and their relative uses.

Under Popular Uses we state that;

4-6 stop ND filters create a moderate lengthening of exposure time to create a misty effect in moving water. Usually around 1 second.

(Unless I have missed it, you have not included in your blog or any earlier emails how long an exposure you were attempting, but as I said in my earlier email, anything up to 2 seconds should be ok, anything over that will give a colour cast). (Authors note – as stated above, the exposure ranged from ¼ to 1/500 sec, well within the 2 seconds mentioned here.)

The second thing to notice from this section is, under Choosing a ND;

Standard ND are professional quality resin ND filters available between 1-4 stops of ND. Standard NDs don’t block infrared, but they only go up to 4 stops of density, so infrared is not an issue because there is not enough filter factor to overwhelm the digital sensor. With standard NDs, you get a professional quality ND at a really low price.

So we do make it quite clear that the resin filters do not block infrared. This would make them unsuitable for long exposure work. (Authors note – while it does, indeed, state that it doesn’t block “infrared”, I had no idea up until now what that meant. I also don’t know the relationship between that and exposure length. It does state that a 4-6 stop ND will give you an exposure “usually around 1 second.” But doesn’t warn against longer exposures.)

With that being the case, as the results of your blog are that you are experiencing a “distinct colour cast”, I would appreciate if you could refer to this section of our website (maybe include the link) and advise what length exposures you were trying. With anything over 1 second being beyond the bounds of the recommended use. (Authors note – as stated above, the exposure ranged from ¼ to 1/500 sec, well within the 1 second mentioned in this paragraph.)

See for yourself

If you are interested in seeing ALL of the images, you may check them out at this location - https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jI4YgWncegz-JQ9sW_lbLtxV4fdNOdDR/view?usp=sharing. I don't know how long I will make them available - if this link doesn't work, let me know and I can reactivate it. I can also make the RAW files accessible, upon request.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Maclearie Park - Small Park, Big Sunsets

Maclearie Park

Maclearie Park is a small municipal park in Belmar, New Jersey. On one side you have a highway and the other side is the Shark River which leads into the Atlantic Ocean. Just east of the park is a marina where many charter boats dock; the marina is another great spot for sunsets but that is a story for another day. You may have already seen some of my images from Maclearie Park, if not check out Sunset and a Peek-a-Boo Moon where I not only got a sunset but the added bonus of a full moon peeking thru the clouds.

My Introduction

I have to admit that I never thought about shooting sunsets at Maclearie Park - I had been there with my kids before and have driven by countless times but, for some reason it never got on my list of places to shoot. It wasn't until Dave Schofield (you remember Dave, he was the subject of one of my most popular interviews - Interview with Sports Photographer Dave Schofield. Read it if you haven't already.) Dave shoots there frequently, as well as the marina, and has set the bar high. It has since become a "go to" spot for sunsets and I am often surprised to find new compositions after I thought I had exhausted possibilities. That is one of the wonderful, and frustrating, things about landscape photography - you never know what awaits you.

Trees

I think one of the things that makes the park such a special place to shoot are the trees - especially in silhouette. I have a favorite little tree at the far west corner of the park by a bench. This is the tree in the panorama at the top of the page and the shot with the great cloud formations on the right ("My" tree). I found this tree the very first time I went to shoot but I have since found others that I can use, depending on the conditions. It is easy to get caught up in the beauty of the sunset and focus on the colors but adding some foreground interest will really set your images apart from the rest. You can also use the trees to block out uninteresting stuff - the image above left (Sunset framed by a tree) is one that I found on my last excursion. The sky has some incredible cloud formations but there was also a large expanse of flat, gray clouds between the horizon and the interesting formations. I used this tree to hide the ugly clouds.

Look Away From the Sun

If you concentrate on the sun, you may miss out on some of the best light. The marina sits to the north of where the sun was setting, the image here was shot just a few minutes before the sun disappeared completely. I noticed the lights on the other side of the river and put on a longer lens and stopped down to f/22, knowing I would be able to turn the lights into starbursts. I also wanted the longer exposure so that I could smooth out the water as much as possible. This is one of the few "HDR" shots that I have done - I wanted a darker exposure to capture the warmth of the sky and water but I also wanted some detail in the building and shadows. This image has proven to be quite popular.

My last image for today is an example of a making lemonade when the world gives you lemons. I was at the park for what I thought would be a nice sunset but it wasn't very good. I started looking around and saw this tree with the pastel sky behind it. I was shooting towards the east, away from the setting sun and was initially struck by the muted colors.

In Closing

I hope I have inspired you to get out and shoot a sunset or two, maybe even at Maclearie Park! If you do go to Maclearie Park, I have a few suggestions:

  1. Get there early! This is especially true if it is your first time there. You want to scout the park and look for your composition. I have been there in each of the different seasons and a composition that works in the winter, may not be there in summer. It is also a popular place for people to watch the sunset so you want to stake out your territory.
  2. Bring insect repellent! Obviously, this doesn't apply year-round but definitely during spring and summer. The gnats and mosquitoes can be quite a nuisance and you will spend more time shooing them than shooting. I have been using "Deep Woods Off!" the last couple times I was there and it made a big difference.
These are just a handful of the many images I have of sunset in the park and just a fraction of the compositions available to the photographer willing to look. Have you been to Maclearie Park? If so, let me know what you think. What is YOUR favorite place for sunsets or sunrises? I am also looking for new places to shoot. So, if you find yourself in the Belmar area, looking for something to do - check out a sunset at Maclearie Park, you won't be disappointed. While you're there - if you see me, stop by and say "Hello!", I'll be the guy with the tripod and backpack.

Until next time - get out and enjoy the beauty that is nature!


All photos are copyright Joseph S. Valencia All Rights Reserved They may not be used in any way without express written permission of the photographer. If you wish to use any of the photos you may contact the photographer at valencia32photo@gmail.com