Long Exposure Landscapes… Review: Formatt Hitech

I’m probably known more now for my fashion and editorial work than my interest as an outdoor pursuit’s photographer. However, the landscape has formed part of my general interest in life for as long as I can remember. I’ve climbed on its rocks and I’ve raced across its oceans under sail. I love it in all its majesty, through all the seasons, in good weather and bad.

For me, good landscape photography is as challenging, if not more so, than taking photographs of people and I admire those that put the time in to creating great landscape images. I do it but as a relaxation; a bit of tinkering, perhaps. I’ve always played with longer-than-normal exposures, to bring motion into images, whether that is people rushing in a shopping centre or perhaps capturing the flow of a river, rather than freezing the action.

I have been fascinated by true, long exposure work, for example, light trails at night. But what of long exposure during daylight hours? Many of us have neutral density filters that allow us to shoot wide-open during good weather. These are usually two or three stop filters. Take that a stage further and use ten stop, or sixteen stop neutral density filters, where it is almost impossible for us to see anything other than the brightest light through them. With these filters, the exposure may be from tens of seconds to many minutes. The effect of long exposure is to merge or blend moving objects. Water or cloud movement are the favourite for showing milky and silky movement in images, whilst people and vehicles that move quickly, fail to register or appear as ghostly apparitions.

I was very fortunate to win an Elia Locardi, long exposure kit at the beginning of the year, in a photographic competition. The kit is put together by filter manufacturer Formatt Hitech with specific filters, selected by the American travel and landscape photographer, Elia Locardi, himself. The kit comprises of two square 100×100 glass Firecrest neutral density filters and a 150×100 graduated Firecrest neutral density filter, along with a CNC machined alloy filter holder. It is really well put together with quite impressive glass, as there is little or no colour cast that I can perceive on the final images, which is where cheaper filters suffer. The advantage of this type of filter holder is that the filters can be set up, then fixed onto the lens filter adapter and tightened with a brass screw, after focus has been set. All good so far?

Well, almost.

Formatt Hitech

Formatt Hitech Review published in Issue 18

With a circular filter that screws into the lens, there is no light leak, it is just a pain unscrewing the lens every time you want to make an adjustment. With the original Formatt Hitech filter holder I received, you had to have a roll of gaff tape at hand to stop the light leaks. Not ideal. But long exposure work is a relaxed art form; nothing to rush for so…

A few months back, I received a package in the post. It was another box from Formatt Hitech. This was the new filter holder which incorporates a super slim, circular, polarising filter. I have to say, the design thinking that has gone into this product really does float my boat. The holder has been completely revised. It all pulls apart, and the filters are inserted and the shrouds are replaced, giving light-leak-free performance. It even has replacement pop-outs, top and bottom, that are slotted to allow the use of the longer, 150mm graduated filters. Oh, and gone is the thumbscrew; it is a spring-loaded catch. What is there not to like? The holder comes with three standard sizes of lens filter adapters and others are available.

So, for ease of operation, take a camera and a sturdy tripod and a cable release. Set the camera up and frame your landscape, having put the filter adapter on your lens. Focus the lens and put it into manual focus to stop the auto-focus defocusing when the neutral density filter is placed on the lens. Make a note of the exposure and consult with your exposure ready reckoner or app, as to the time in seconds you will have to expose the shot. Turn the shutter dial to B for bulb. Slot the filter holder, with filters, onto the lens adapter and depress the shutter using your cable release and start the count. Most digital cameras have a counter on the LCD screen. Release the shutter and wait for the image to process and there you have it. It is as easy as that.

A little bit of advice though. If you do long exposure work, do have a sensor clean, otherwise you may see spots before your eyes where the sensor isn’t as clean as it could be. I have had to clean images up where I have had dirt spots on the sensor.

Formatt Hitech have taken a good product and made it into a fantastic one, just by re-inventing the filter holder. Congratulations.


David Edwards