Hitech Neutral Density Master Kit Review

This is a review of the Hitech Neutral Density Master Kit, which contains a number of filters that I use with the Hitech Filter Holder for landscape photography. Since I personally prefer soft edge graduated neutral density filters over hard edge (doing mountain photography with hard edge can be problematic), I decided to go with the Soft Edge ND Kit instead of the Hard Edge ND Kit Density Kit. The nice thing about this particular master kit, is that it contains two sets of filters – one standard set of square ND filters (1, 2 and 3 stop) for slowing down the shutter speed when photographing moving water, waterfalls, etc., and one set of soft-edge GND filters (1, 2 and 3 stop) for those tricky high-contrast scenes during sunrise, sunset, etc. If you do not understand what any of this means, I highly recommend to read my article on Lens Filters, which explains all this in detail.

Hitech 150mm Neutral Density Master Kit

I have been a long time user of Lee Filters (soon to be reviewed) and I decided to give Hitech a try for two reasons – my old set of filters had gotten pretty old / scratched up and I needed to replace it, and I wanted to get a single kit with filters I need and use the most, instead of purchasing filters individually (a kit is cheaper). In addition, I had used Hitech filters in the past and I had good experience with them, so I already knew what to expect from them.

1) Product Information

Product Specifications:

  1. Type: Solid and graduated neutral density
  2. Size: 5.9 x 5.9″ / 150 x 150 mm (solid ND), 5.9 x 6.7″ / 150 x 170 mm (graduated ND)
  3. Filter Factor: 0.3 (1 stop), 0.6 (2 stops), 0.9 (3 stops)
  4. Construction: CR-39 dyed resin

Main Features:

  1. Kit includes 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 solid ND filters and 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 soft-edged graduated ND filters.
  2. Solid ND filters darken the image, allowing you to photograph with a longer shutter speed or wider aperture than normally required. These filters allow you to control depth of field and convey movement more easily.
  3. Graduated ND filters provide selective darkening for controlling the exposure of the sky or other bright areas of the image.
  4. Neutral density filters do not affect the overall coloration of the image.

The Hitech 150mm Neutral Density Master Kit (Soft Edge) contains a wide range of 6 neutral density filters, including both soft-edged graduated and solid.

The solid ND filters included are 0.3, 0.6, and 0.9 densities, offering exposure reduction of 1, 2, and 3 stops respectively. An ND filter creates a darkening of the entire image, allowing you to photograph with a wider aperture or slower shutter speed than normally required. By slowing your exposure time or increasing your aperture, you are able to control depth of field and convey movement more easily. These filters measure 5.9 x 5.9″ / 150 x 150mm and are constructed from specially dyed CR-39 resin.

The ND Grad filters included are 0.3, 0.6, and 0.9 densities, offering exposure reduction of 1, 2, and 3 stops respectively. A graduated ND filter has density on half of the filter surface, helping to darken skies and other bright areas of the image. The filter is most dense at the edge and softly tapers to clear by the middle of the filter. The filters measure 5.9 x 6.7″ / 150 x 170mm and are constructed from specially dyed CR-39 resin.

2) Packaging and Use

The Hitech ND Master kit comes in a single rectangular box and each filter is separately protected by a plastic case. Here is how the GND set looks like:

Hitech Neutral Density Filter Kit

The top left corner of the filter is engraved with information on what type of the filter it is. For example, the ND filters say something like “ND 0.3 STD”, which translates to “Neutral Density 1 Stop Standard”. To be honest, I could never understand why filter manufacturers have to define stops in 0.3 increments – we have enough of technical verbiage in photography, why make it more complex than needed? Seriously, just call these damn things 1, 2 and 3 stops instead of 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9! Anyway, here is how the GND filters are packaged:

Hitech Neutral Density Filters

Personally, I prefer the soft pouches that Lee and Singh Ray use for storing filters – those are quite handy when using filters in the field. The Hitech plastic containers just won’t last long with repeated use. Plus, it is too painful to get a filter out and put it back in.

Using these filters is a no brainer – you either hand-hold a filter in front of your lens (like I typically do when using just one filter) or slide them into a filter holder. When using Graduated Neutral Density filters, you start off by sliding the filter in with the transparent side down. Then as you slide it down, look through the viewfinder and make sure that the bright area gets darkened. Also, note the transition line, especially when using the 0.9 (3 stop) filter – you do not want a portion of the frame to look underexposed. I typically take a couple of pictures as I slide the filter, to make sure that the transition happens exactly where I need it. Sometimes it might be a good idea to tilt the lens left or right, depending on the scene – do not always just keep it straight. Once you use a soft edge GND a couple of times, you will get used to it pretty quickly.

Hitech Graduated Neutral Density Filter

As for quality, the Hitech filters turned out to be excellent, I would say on par with the Lee filters that I have been using for many years now.

3) Sample Images

I typically use a soft edge GND filter when photographing high contrast sunrise/sunset shots, with the sun out of the frame or behind me. For example, the following image was captured with Hitech Soft Edge 0.3 (1 Stop) GND filter:

Nikon D600 Sample (11)

The picture was taken right after sunrise, as you can see from the shadows on the peak of the mountain (the sun was on the left). When I took a picture without a filter, the sky did not look that blue and the clouds were a little overexposed. By using a one stop GND and setting the transition line in the evergreen zone, I pretty much nailed this shot right in the camera. Sure, I could have used Lightroom’s ND filter to achieve a similar result, but if I can get a good exposure in my camera, I have way more post-processing options (I don’t do HDR/image stacking for landscapes).

Here is another sample image, this time with a 2 stop GND:
Mt Rainier Stream

And finally, a couple of waterfall images using the plain 3 stop ND filter:
Vertical Waterfall #1

Vertical Waterfall #2

4) Summary

Many landscape photographers, including myself, heavily rely on neutral density filters to get the optimal exposure without having to use HDR and other post-processing techniques. Using GND filters coupled with cameras like the Nikon D600 or D800 can provide so much dynamic range and recovery data, that it almost makes HDR useless in most situations. I have nothing against using HDR, as long as it is done right. However, too many people have the “I can fix it in post-production” mentality nowadays, which I just do not agree with. Yes, post-processing is very powerful and you can get a lot done with tools like Photoshop today. But, why spend all that time trying to fix a bad exposure if you could have done it right from the get-go?

5) Pricing and Where to Buy

The Hitech ND Master Kit can be purchased from B&H for $568 (as of 10/26/2012). If you do not want to buy the whole kit, I would recommend getting just the 0.6 and 0.9 Soft Edge GND filters – those are the ones I use the most. The 1 and 2 stop regular ND filters that come with the kit are not very useful in my opinion. If you want to blur motion or slow down your shutter speed, I would recommend something like B+W 77mm 1.8 ND MRC filter instead (6 stops). Or use one of those Singh-Ray VariND filters – they are expensive, but excellent!

Hitech Neutral Density Master Kit
  • Features
  • Build Quality
  • Handling
  • Value
  • Size and Weight
  • Packaging and Manual

Photography Life Overall Rating

4

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Peter S
    October 27, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Hi,

    Thanks for the review. As for 0.3 vs. 1-stop, the difference arises because outside of photography, scientists who use neutral density filters work in powers of 10 (like the metric system!), not powers of 2 (stops), and 0.3 uses powers of 10 (also called optical density). I imagine they don’t want to print a unit on the actual GND, and without printing stops, the 0.3 label is much less ambiguous. If you look at scientific neutral density filters, like http://www.thorlabs.com/NewGroupPage9.cfm?ObjectGroup_ID=6271 , you’ll notice _nothing_ is labeled in terms of stops!

    • October 28, 2012 at 11:42 pm

      Peter, thanks for the info, that’s very interesting! :)

  2. 2
    ) SVRK Prabhakar
    October 27, 2012 at 9:30 am

    That is almost the price of an entry level slr camera body…among other things, I wonder why these nd filters are so costly…but have to be told the photography world they will open us to…

    • October 28, 2012 at 11:44 pm

      SVRK, good high quality filters are expensive. For most people, smaller and cheaper Cokin filters work great. For landscape pros, 4×6″ or bigger is the way to go…

  3. 3
    ) Steven P.
    October 27, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    How wide can you go if you were to use these filters on either the Nikon 16-35 or 17-35 lens?

    • October 28, 2012 at 11:45 pm

      Steven, it depends on which filter holder you use. When going that wide, I typically just hand-hold the filter in front of my lens. That way, there is no vignetting at all…

  4. October 30, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Afternoon Nasim, did you ever have issues with colour cast while stacking the HiTech ND filters? I’ve had quite bad magenta casting when using the 2-stop and 3-stop HiTech ND filters stacked, at least for my set of filters.

    Mostly, I am using the NDs for helping achieve high speed synch on bright days for flash portraiture with wider apertures. With just one HiTech ND filter in use, I’ve found the cast isn’t really noticeable.

    Stacking my Lee GNDs or Singh Ray GNDs don’t seem to suffer from casting issues at all (typically for landscape, sometimes for portraits).

    Since HiTech filters are so much cheaper… I tend to overlook the colour cast issues and continue to buy them.

  5. 8
    ) Michael
    November 2, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Hi Nasim,

    If you ever get the time, could you do a comparison with the Lee and the Hitech Lucroit systems for the 14-24 mm Nikkor.
    Hitech have a range of 6-10 stop new IRND Pro filters which are expensive , but are they worth the money?

    Regards
    Michael

  6. December 3, 2012 at 2:50 am

    An excellent article with great images to demonstrate the effectiveness of the system. Let’s hope that Hi-tech take note of you very valid critisisms. I have always observed very high quality results with these filters and what’s more, they float if dropped in water (which can be useful).

  7. 10
    ) Michael
    December 8, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Hi Nasim,

    If it were possible for you to review the latest Eclipse Variable 8 stop ND filter, i and probably others would be most interested.

  8. 11
    ) Michael
    December 8, 2012 at 8:23 am

    Hi Nasim,

    If it were possible for you to review the latest Eclipse Variable 8 stop ND filter, i and probably others would be most interested.

    Regards
    Michael

  9. 12
    ) Scott Bennett
    January 6, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    Just curious…I assume you are shooting full frame SLRs since you mentioned the D600/D800, yes? If so, why use the 150mm? Why not the 85mm Cokin P size?

  10. 13
    ) HomoSapiensWannaBe
    August 16, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    Nasim,
    I am looking for an ND solution for using wide apertures in bright sun as well as slow shutter speeds for landscape and creative photography. All stills at this time, but video is likely in the near future. A few comments and questions…

    Tiffen are offering some of their fixed value neutral density filters with IR absorption. Almost all digital sensors have IR filters, so is extra IR absorption necessary with a ND? Or, is this needed only for film cameras?

    What is your overall experience with variable ND filters?

    Have you experimented with making your own variable ND filter by putting a linear polarizer in front of a CPL? As I understand it, this works with autofocus and DSLR meters because a CPL has a scatter layer closest to the lens that is sandwiched to a linear polarizer. Therefore, the 2nd linear polarizer does not impact metering or autofocus. Most of us already own a CPL, so adding a linear PL to create a variable ND seems a flexible and relatively inexpensive solution. However, variable ND are said to cause “X” patterns and streaking problems at higher densities like 8-9+ effective stops when used on wide angle lenses and still images. Some variable ND manufacturers even warn about this in their product literature.

    Then there is the usual concern about vignetting, which can be prevented by using a large enough diameter glass section relative to the lens filter size. I noticed that Schneider’s 77mm True-Match Vari-ND Filter (currently $396 at B&H) has an 86mm filter section permanently mated to a 77mm filter ring.

    So, if I want to make a variable ND filter starting with an existing 77mm CPL, and want to avoid vignetting with a lens like the Nikon 18-35G, I suppose it would be a good idea to use an 86mm linear polarizer ($66 Hoya) and attach it to the CPL with a 77-86 step up ring ($6 Sensei brand).

    Thanks for any comments and suggestions.

  11. 14
    ) Twan
    July 13, 2014 at 5:57 am

    Hi, Thanks for your great review.
    Why do you advise the B=W ND filter at the instead instead of for ex a Hitech IRND?
    I’m looking for ND filters to and maybe I want it to be able to combine with a GND.
    That’s why I’m curious why

    • 15
      ) brecklundin
      July 19, 2014 at 6:15 am

      Twan:

      Perhaps because when this article was written there was no IRND version of the Formatt Hitech filter yet? Previous versions of the HT ND 10-stop filters could exhibit some pretty fugly, at times, IR leakage on DSLR’s.

      But now it can be the B+W (I had one of the B+W 1000x ND filters) that shows IR leakage in comparison to the FHT IRND filters. I want to try using stacked ND filters and my plan is to use a single Formatt Hitech IRND 10-stop (or even a 5-stop) with the now very inexpensive older version FHT…I am thinking the new IRND will block that IR leakage to let me get some very looooong exposures because I can get 15-20 stop blocking using older 5-10 stop ND filters.

      I might even try a very “fast” 1-3 stop IRND version with slower GND filters as I just picked up an older but new set of Hitech GND soft edge (0.6, 0.9 and 1.2) filters. I am thinking I might see some small amount of IR leakage with the 4-stop (1.2) so the IRND will work like an IR cut/blocking filter…still don’t want to stack too many filters in the mix, right?

  12. 16
    ) Jeff Allen
    August 6, 2014 at 3:47 am

    The reason Formatt Hitech, Lee Filters, Singh-Ray filters are “expensive” is because they use optical grade resin of the type used for prescription eyewear which because it covers a larger area must be optically flat, free of blemishes that would show up when the neutral desity tint is applied and are individually tested on a spectrometer.
    The filters are mainly hand-made by skilled people and if your spending anywhere from $ 400 – $,2000 or above for professional grade or high grade lenses you would not want the filter to degrade the image. Fact of life is you get what you pay for.

Comment Policy: Although our team at Photography Life encourages all readers to actively participate in discussions, we reserve the right to delete / modify any content that does not comply with our Code of Conduct, or do not meet the high editorial standards of the published material.

Leave a Comment