FILTERS; A brief journey of discovery

Over the years I have used many filters on my various cameras. When I first started out in film, and all the way through Art college and Uni, I had a set of Cokin filters… this was the small square A set, and I quickly upgraded this to the P series to get a bit more size. Cokins were good, they did the job for college; I scratched them, dropped them, sat on them, forgot them…

Old Cokin P Series…

The various grads and ND filters opened up a new world of styles and looks to the images I was shooting, and I continued to work with these until I went into digital years later.

With digital came Photoshop and I quickly fell into the trap of creating all my effects in post-production. I soon forgot about filters in the name of the ‘shooting fast and post later’ style of shooting.

As my lenses changed over the years and I went full-time, I grew a substantial collection of pro glass and started shooting more and more around f1.2 – f2 to create the look I wanted.

Without filters I was hitting ISO 50 / f1.2 / 8000’s which doesn’t leave much room to allow for effects when you hit the camera limits. Quite often this would still blow highlights or you would have to sacrifice aperture and ‘the look’ to get a shot. To continue shooting f1.2 – f2 on those sunny days I found I had to start using ND filters and faders etc to slow the whole thing down again.

I was shooting more and more landscapes, watersports, and I started shooting the ‘Motion project’, a collection of images from the streets of the world, with human emotion and influences. The ND filter really helped here, but only at the wide apertures. If I went up to f11 – f32 the fader created an ‘X’ effect through the images. As you worked your way to smaller apertures the effect got stranger…NOT cool!

Then a few years ago I discovered the Lee filters 10 stop/big stopper. This was a great filter for big landscapes and long exposures. I was lucky and had a good example of the filter (they can vary slightly) but it still produced the well known Blue and Purple colour cast. Colour correction can minimise the ‘Big Stopper’ look, but sometimes nothing works.

Last year I was discussing landscapes with a friend of mine at Smugmug, and I mentioned the colour cast issue, and they told me about a great UK based manufacturer called Formatt-Hitech and their Firecrest 16 ND…Sorry? What? Did you say 16 stop? This sounded interesting …. I mean, 16 stops!!??


And that’s not all! The Firecrest 16 is made to have NO colour cast. You can find all the Tech shiz here: <FIRECREST>

So I contacted James Stamp and arranged to test the screw-in version of the Firecrest 16 and it was fantastic! Long exposure in seconds became minutes very quickly. I probably need to start writing more or maybe get some books to read between exposures, because 30 minute exposures are not uncommon and if you check out the exposure charts you could in theory expand this into days! Seriously!!

I soon realised the screw-in filter would need to be replaced with the drop-in version just for ease of framing and focusing, so I opted for the ‘Ken Kaminesky’ kit and a few extras:


Firecrest ND 3.0 (10 Stops), Firecrest ND 1.8 (6 stops), Firecrest ND 0.9 (3 stops)
Firecrest Soft Edge ND Grad 0.6 (2 stops), Firecrest Soft Edge ND Grad 0.9 (3 stops)
Firecrest Multicoated Circular Polarizer, Aluminum Holder, Adapter ring, Polarizer Ring, Ken Kaminesky Booklet, Filter Pouches

I have to say, this kit is the Bolihocks! I have reversed the screws and use two filters with the circular polariser. I generally use either two grads or an ND plus ND grad depending on the lighting and effect I’m after.

SETUP – ELMS 4 Hours of Red Bull Ring at Red Bull Ring – Spielberg – Austria

Long exposure shoot on Tripod set up
Long exposure shoot on Tripod set up

I find the filters are really useful not only for landscapes, but also for studio work, pit lane and track shots. The tracks always need a little sky attention in the arty shots and an ND grad helps there. By using a standard ND I can keep the shutter speed at a 15th easily and a wide aperture – this is helpful for creating long artistic and atmospheric pans.

Sometimes for speed in the pit lane, I will hand hold the filter to enable me to change the filter or effect very quickly on the fly. An ND filter is standard in pit lane to keep the aperture wide and the subject isolated.

Fuji X-T1 set up with the Formatt Hitech Filter System

Set up is simple for long exposures etc.. with the Formatt Hitech aluminium filter holder attached to the camera lens and the Polariser ring mounted to that. You simply screw the Firecrest Polariser to the ring mount, then slide in the Firecrest 16 Square Filter followed by a Graduated filter for the sky… Calculating stop totals and exposure times is a whole other matter. One I will go into another time. 🙂

Fuji X-T1 / Fujinon 16 – 55mm f2.8 / Formatt Hitech Holder and Firecrest Filters with Peak Design ‘Slide’ Strap and usb remote control.
Fuji X-T1 / Fujinon 16 – 55mm f2.8 / Formatt Hitech Holder and Firecrest Filters with Peak Design ‘Slide’ Strap and usb remote control.
Penmon Lighthouse image from the above set up…


Capturing the effect in camera saves on the processing afterwards. Using the ‘neutral’ filters from Formatt Filters range has been a game changer for me.

If I get time I will still post process the filtered images, mostly when I’m not tied to deadlines. I find post processing the ‘filtered’ shots is even better when you really work those exposure zones, much better than the old ‘shoot and Photoshop’ method.

When used on Fuji glass you get the dynamic range of tones and sharpness combined, to produce epic quality images full of emotive atmosphere.



DSCF4613 JRXT6095

If you haven’t tried them, check them out here>>

Various samples can also be found here on my facebook page:

Stay shiny! 🙂

5 thoughts on “FILTERS; A brief journey of discovery

  1. Hi John

    I’ve just discovered your blog; it caught my eye as you’re a Fuji user & I wondered if you could give me a pointer here.

    I’m a complete novice when it comes to filter holder systems (as opposed to circular filters) but I want to invest in the Formatt Hitech system, as the reviews have been so positive. I enjoy cityscapes & coastal landscapes.

    As an XPro1 user, I’ve been struggling to decide on the best option from the FH range. I don’t intend to return to DSLR, as I have wee hands. The size & weight of the Fuji X range suits me- plus, it’s a fantastic camera.

    Have I understood you correctly (from above) that, although Formatt recommend their 67mm holder system for mirrorless cameras, there’s nothing to stop me choosing the 85mm or 100mm?
    If so, do you have a view on which would be most useful for the XPro, given I’m unlikely to shift to full-frame (unless Fuji introduce one)? I’ve seen a couple of blogs refer to the vignetting issue that you & Peter, above, discussed.
    My plan is to start with a couple of ND filters (6 & 10 stop) & build a collection from there.

    I’d appreciate your view on the system size- I’m going round in circles!

    Thank you

    1. Hi Lorraine, I dont think it matters which camera the kit is going on…. It really depends on what lenses you use, I use the 100mm system, and also use the lacroit system that goes to 165mm…now thats big! The 100mm system will work on the 10-24mm f4 fujinon easily and therfore everything else. Also as its 100mm it will work on anything else I have. Its very rare I would use one single filter for a shot, so stacking should be factored into your choice. I can get the 16stop, a grad for sky and then a polariser on my holder and its out of sight because its on a 100mm holder. I couldn’t comment on the other sizes or systems though I’m afraid. I find the Formatt Hitech filters to be perfect. The 16 stop firecrest is amazing! 🙂

  2. Hi John. Thank you for writing an interesting article about filters. I am also a Fujifilm X Series camera user mainly using the X-T1. Could you advise, please, I am not clear on whether you use the 85mm versions of filter holder with your Fuji cameras, or you use the 100mm version. I know Formatt-Hitech says on their web that the 85mm version is ideal for mirrorless systems. However I read somewhere that some users had problems with vignetting with the 72mm lenses, so they prefer the larger holder version anyway. However this information was related to other brand, I think it was Lee Seven5 (75mm) vs. Lee 100mm. What is your personal experience. Please, drop a line when you find time. Thank You 🙂

    1. Hi Peter, I frequently have an ND + ND Grad + Polarsier stacked up which sticks out a little beyond the front element as you can imagine. I think if I had the 85mm it would show in the corners.. I will set it up later and do some test shots if get 5 mins today, then will pop them up on here…. I originally had the Formatt-Hitech system set for use on my old DSLR system so it was a no brainer to keep it the same size.

      in the meantime…
      These are all shot on the 16-35mm f2.8 (82mm Filter) on a fullframe Canon 5DmkIII
      also remember the Fujinon 16-55mm f2.8 is a 77mm Filter.

      I personally would go wider for longevity.

      1. Thank you John.

        Yes, I guess you are right, it would be better to go with the wider one. The difference in their size is not extremely big. And there is also another fact to consider, that even one uses a smaller mirrorless systems, there may be an occasion where he will need or want to use filters with a full-frame camera and/or larger/wider lenses.

        Thank you for taking time to answer my question John, I appreciate it.

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