Formatt Hitech Onyx vs Firecrest Ultra vs Firecrest Pro ND filters.
Welcome to my Formatt Hitech filter review.
Before I start I should say I am a Formatt Hitech Photography Educator, Featured Artist and Brand Ambassador. The plus side of all this is I can give you a 10% discount code HAYES10 for the Formatt Hitech Worldwide and US website, this code is active all year round.
The best way to do this review is to briefly start with the Onyx filter range and to explain how they are different to the Firecrest Ultra and Firecrest Pro filters.
The chart below shows at a glance the differences in the products
The keen eyed among you will notice that they are not branded Firecrest and this in itself is the biggest difference between the filter ranges. Now most people will think that’s a marketing ploy but it’s a lot deeper than. To help this all make more sense we need to find out what Firecrest actually stands for?
Formatt Hitech Firecrest filters
Firecrest is a manufacturing process designed by Formatt Hitech that is totally different to anything currently being used in the Neutral Density (ND) filter industry today.
It starts with two panes of optical grade Schott super white glass these two sheets of glass have a special Firecrest rare earth metal coating applied between the two of them and they are then bonded together. To form the filter, the Neutral density coating is now completely scratch proof as it is protected by the two layers of glass.
The whole process is far more technical than that but it gives us two advantages over all other normal filters.
The Neutral Density coating is scratch proof and yes I know some companies say the coating applied to the outside of their filters is scratch proof or scratch resistant but they really aren’t scratch proof no coating is scratch proof. It’s a bit like having a waterproof watch or a water resistant watch, they are two completely different things. Having the filters ND coating covered by glass on both sides truly does protect these filters coating incredibly well.
The second slight added benefit to the bonding process that’s used to make the Firecrest filters is they are slightly more resistant to damage than normal filters. Two panes are better than one in that regard. I should add here they are the same thickness as any other filter and will work in all standard sized filter holders ie… 85mm or 100mm holders depending on the size of filter you buy.
So we now have a rough idea of what makes a Firecrest filter, so let’s have a quick look at the Onyx range now.
Onyx are made from a single piece of hardened glass that has been designed to be drop proof up to 1.2m, please note this rating as with all other drop proof filters is that they land horizontally. The reason for this is if the filter lands vertically it can still possibly break pieces off the corners. The odds are greatly reduced but it’s still possible.
So now we have a very robust piece of glass all we need to do is to add the ND coating. The ND coating is applied to both sides of the filter with a scratch resistant anti reflective coating, I mentioned earlier this coating may well be scratch resistant but again I wouldn’t like to test that. The filter also has a waterproof coating on it, now that may seem like a weird statement but what it really means is that it has a special coating on the filter which helps water droplets run off the filter, that’s a great feature to have while shooting in light rain, drizzle, mist or seaspray conditions.
So far we can see two distinct differences between Firecrest filters and the Onxy filters.
Onyx are drop proof making them more resilient
Firecrest filters have a more resilient coating as it’s protected by glass.
So it’s slightly easier to break a Firecrest filter and it’s easier to scratch an Onyx filter.
Now just to be clear this makes both these filters better than most other brands out there already in their own ways.
Crazily on the resilient side of things they both have advantages and disadvantages. I had intended to make this as straight forward as possible but so far you need to ask yourself if you mare going to scratch your filters or drop them which all seems a bit mad… then again if you have a history of dropping filters then Onyx could be a sure thing for you. Everything I have mentioned so far is about durability and and how tough they are but there is a lot more to a filter than that.
So how else can we test a filter? Well the two main criteria in filters are colour neutrality and sharpness.
Before we go into Colour neutrality and sharpness I think it’s only fair to say that the Firecrest Ultra filters have one of the best reputations of any photography filters currently available. This might seem like a bold statement but when you consider these filters are used on blockbuster movies and television shows worldwide including Hollywood productions and are the choice of some of the most demanding cinematographers out there it gives you some slight idea of how well respected they are in the industry. To think we can go out and buy the very same filter albeit in a smaller version and use it for our photography is mind blowing. These studios have million dollar budgets and the fact they trust the Ultra range of filters says a lot in my mind.
The Ultra filters have an edge here over the onyx filters in my experience. Their colour neutrality is simply amazing and it’s clear to see why they are the most trusted filters for use in Hollywood blockbusters. If the film industry trust them on multi-million dollar productions then I think it’s safe to say they must be the best out there. I have a review of the Ultra filters here where I compare shots with and without filters to give you an idea of how neutral they really are.
For this part of the test we need to separate Pro and Ultra filters and compare each of them against Onyx.
The Onyx range of filters are sharper than the pro filters on longer focal length lenses, generally above 50mm on high resolution camera sensors.
So the big question is if you are out shooting grand vistas with a 16-35mm lens on a full frame camera will you see the difference in sharpness between the Onyx vs Pro filters?
Well for me the answer is if you can see the difference between them your eyesight is a lot better than mine. I tried them side by side one day and accidentally forgot in which order I tested them (it was my first day testing the Onyx filters and excitement got the better of me), I couldn’t tell when I switched filters and which if any was sharper.
My second day out I took a bit more time and really did a very close inspection on both filters and found the Onyx to be that little bit sharper than the Pro filters but it was really slight. If you are reading this and wondering if it’s worth upgrading from Pro to Onyx then I would say do yourself a favour and save your money for now but if you really want to upgrade then buy the Ultra filters. Which brings us to the next part of the review.
Firecrest Ultra vs Onyx filters
Now this is one is really tricky and not so easy to explain so stick with me. The Firecrest Ultra filters are without doubt the best filters currently available worldwide and there is a reason they are used in Hollywood productions and on blockbuster movies and television shows. I know this was to be about Sharpness but it’s so much more than that. For me I am very careful with my filters and to this day I have never dropped one or scratched one for that matter. So the advantage of having a drop proof filter isn’t important to me
I believe the Ultra filters are a lot better for 3 reasons, they are absolutely pin sharp, colour neutral and more resilient to scratches compared to the Onyx filters. So for me they are the filters I will personally be using from now on.
How could they possibly be sharper you may ask, well let me tell you how they are made… As I mentioned before they are bonded filters and after they are bonded they are lapped and polished. Well most companies would stop there and just ship them out but no those perfectionists over at Formatt Hitech went back and polished the Ultra filters again to make them completely optically flat so there are no tiny imperfections in the glass. Now that’s dedication and something that I feel really stands to them in the sharpness they produce. With no optical imperfections and the flattest optical grade glass you can buy the Ultra’s are just staggering. The only way I can describe it is if you can see the sharpness difference in a photograph with and without an Ultra filter then you clearly have incredible eyesight, even at 100% I can’t see it.
So which one should you buy? Well it all comes down to the type of photographer you are really. If you are like me then it’s Ultra all the way, if you have a tight budget but still demand amazing results from a filter then it has to be Onyx and don’t forget they also plant a tree for everyOnyx filter sold.
To check the latest prices for Onyx, Firecrest Pro and Ultra filters just check them out on the USA website or their worldwide website. You can get 10% off also with the discount code HAYES10 which helps save you a nice bit of money.
Have a look at my photography tips and tricks section in the menu where I cover everything from…
There is a new Formatt Hitech Firecrest 100mm MKII filter holder (review here) see my video review of it below….
If you have any questions or need some advice then please feel free to contact me I am only too happy to help.
See you out there,