As a photographer who grew up in the age of film photography and spending countless hours rummaging through dads camera bags, I have some wonderful memories of playing with filters and coloured flash gels. As the onslaught of the digital age swept relentlessly through, with it came the multitude of digital manipulation and editing software which we have all come to know so well. As good as the software is these days it quite frankly can't hold a candle to the filters of yesteryear. They do a good job, however they are nowhere near as enjoyable as using an old screw in filter directly on the camera lens and seeing in real time the effect it has on the image. Maybe it was a touch of nostalgia creeping out, or perhaps a fond reminder of times past, but when I was offered the opportunity to test out some brand new starburst filters from Formatt-Hitech, I jumped at the chance!
It is no secret that Formatt manufacture some of the best quality filters in the industry today. Their Firecrest range are renowned for being the go to system for long exposure work and they are held in high esteem by the landscape capturing connoisseur. So it was no surprise when I first laid my hands on the new Fireburst filters that the same quality and dedication was present here too! Fireburst is a unique range of coloured star effect filters. These SuperSlim stackable filters are currently available in 8 different colours in a choice of 2 point, 4 point and 6 point stars. I believe the 8 point stars are scheduled for release later in the year. Currently there are eight colour choices: Lemon, Gold, Sapphire, Emerald, Amber, Flame, Pink and Ice. Because the filters are stackable this affords you a wide choice of colour combinations which should cover pretty much any given shooting situation or effect you require. The 360 degree rotating front element gives you complete control over the angle of the stars or streaks if using just one filter and opens up a huge amount of possibilities to help you realise your vision. It is also worth noting that in addition to the stated colour, the effect is slightly refractive, which enables the filters to pick up and enhance surrounding colours in the image.
I shoot a lot of live music events, performing arts and festivals and my initial thoughts were to use the filters in this environment to add some interest to the stage lighting. The filters arrived on the Friday morning and I had two full days of gig coverage that weekend. Disappointingly, the stage set was so high and the lights just didn't give me the chance I was hoping for to give the filters a good run. Not the end of the world as there is still ample opportunity on upcoming concerts and festivals, and I shall update this blog accordingly.
Test Shots taken with Fujifilm XT1 at 18mm f/2.0 with Fireburst Sapphire and Fireburst Emerald stacked.
Still keen to use the filters and explore their versatility, I set aside some time in the studio to take some shots. This was to see what the filters were capable of and to discover the best way of using them effectively.
This is the first SOOC shot without any filters attached to the lens. The set is lit using the main candle which you can see and 3 tea lights hidden behind the glass and bottle.
The following image is shot with the Flame and Amber filters attached. Shot on the XT1 18mm f2 1/125 ISO 6400 spot metered and camera on a tripod. Apart from slight tweaks to vibrancy and a slight vignette this is pretty much SOOC.
As you can see, the Fireburst filters have helped create very pleasing starbursts at the point of all the highlights produced by the candles. The overall colours have definitely been enhanced by the filters. I have to admit to getting somewhat carried away with the Jack and candles.
The next three images had the Fireburst Amber filter swapped for the Fireburst Sapphire.
The beauty of shooting with the Fujifilm XT1 is that the EVF gives me a real time view of the image I am producing and makes using these filters all the more easy not to mention enjoyable. Playing around and changing the position of the filters has a huge impact on the final image which is limited only by your imagination.
Through, very little, trial and error completely different looks were achieved and I can see these being a huge advantage to product photography and advertising alike. With this in mind I set up a couple of shots to illustrate how the filters could be applied.
I can see these filters having many uses across a whole host of photographic genres. They can be as subtle or as over the top as you wish. So far, for the purpose of this review, I have only played around using two stacked. Although I did stack them all together just for fun to see what happened and as you can imagine the result was massive vignetting. I can see me using no more than three at once during live music work to add sparkle to any stage lights. I can see images taken using the filters gracing the front of greetings cards and such like.
I have a particular attraction to black and white images, indeed 95% of my work is monochrome. So it goes without saying that I just had to test the filters on some mono images too. The results are superb and work just as well as the colour shots (better if you ask me. But then I do prefer life in black and white).
These filters are just superb! I didn't think I would've had so much fun using them and the results are outstanding, as you would expect from such a pedigree. The build quality is just as high as Formatt's other filter ranges. The rotating filter rings themselves are, I should imagine, made from aircraft grade Aluminium. The rotating action of the rings is ultra smooth and very easy to adjust even when stacked. The part which makes the magic happen is more of a mystery at this point. I am guessing that the 'lines' which are in the filter are made by laminating very fine strands of coloured wire, or some form of monofilament line, between two pieces of glass (?). Regardless, of what I would think is a closely guarded secret, the manufacturing process produces filters which work. They do exactly what they are supposed to do, and they do it well. The vast scope for using these filters by both enthusiasts and professional photographers alike is huge.
"The star effect will vary according to the size, prominence and contrast of the points of light picked up by the filter against the ambient light. So a daytime shot of reflected sun can give a fine, subtle effect whereas shooting against streetlights later in the day or at night will give a much stronger effect. The applications for star filters are limited only by your imagination! They can be used to create dramatic night-time cityscapes, draw attention to a sole point of light in a more minimal composition, introduce subtle changes to portraits, bring out the reflections in automotive or product photography, and create truly dramatic visuals in long exposure or light trail work."
I am so looking forward to exploring more ways to use these filters and to incorporate them into some of my work flow.
Jim is a freelance photographer based in Merseyside. With over 30 years experience he covers studio work through to weddings. He specialises in live music events, performing arts and festivals and much of his work emulates the 'look and feel' of old black and white film. Jim has covered numerous concerts over the years with such names as New Model Army, Status Quo and Will Young to name a few. A convert to the Fujifilm X Series system two years ago reinvented his shooting style and passion for his photography.'
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