ND-Filter review: Lee Big Stopper / Formatt Hitech ProStop IRND / Haida

Lee Big Stopper, Haida, Formatt Hitech ND Filter TestNeutral density filters (also called ND filters or greyfilters) are an indispensable tool for achieving special visual effects in landscape photography. Exposure times can be significantly extended and moving image content becomes washed out. With ND filters you can blur moving water, passing clouds can be turned fuzzy and long exposure times may even eliminate moving people from the scene.

Ideally an ND filter is dyed neutral gray so the color reproduction is not changed. In practice however particularly strong ND filters tend to change the light spectrum and lead to color shifts. This can usually be corrected by manually adjusting the white balance. Depending on the filters used the impact on the spectrum is so strong that extensive adjustments of the color balance become necessary. And even then not 100% neutral color reproduction can be achieved.

The most often used 100x100mm (4″x4″) ND filter in landscape photography is the Lee Big Stopper which achieves a light reduction of 10 stops (ND 3.0 / 1000x). The company Formatt Hitech offers various ND filters with their lately released Prostop IRND Series in the strength of ND 0.3 to ND 3.0. Since a few months the company Haida is offering ND filters in ND 1.8 and ND 3.0.

The filter strength of ND 1.8 and ND 3.0 (6 and 10 stops) is in my opinion the most interesting for landscape photography and I have taken the opportunity to review the newly available Haida filters against established filters from Lee and Formatt Hitech.

Review of the ND 3.0 (10 stops) filters

In this test I have compared the following filters:

  • Lee Big Stopper
  • Haida ND3.0 Optical Glass Neutral Density Filter

For comparison of the two filters I first took a shot without any filter at a fixed white balance (direct sunlight, 5050K / +8). Second I took images with both filters at the same white balance. A greycard was placed in the frame that should serve as a reference point for manual white balance in post processing.

ND 3.0 Filter before WB correction

The white balance was adjusted in Adobe Camera Raw by using the pipette tool and the greycard in the lower part of the image. The corrected white balance values are listed in each shot.

ND 3.0 Filter after WB correction

Findings of the ND 3.0 comparison:

The Lee Big Stopper leads to a very strong blue cast in the images. The Haida does just the opposite. Here you will find a slight shift to a warmer color. After correcting the white balance with the gray card the color temperature of the image taken with the Big stopper is greatly increased, whereas only a slight decrease in the color temperature is necessary for the image taken with the Haida. Both filters allow very neutral looking images after correcting the white balance. From my personal point of view i prefer the overall look of the image taken with the Haida filter.

In real world shots one would possible choose a slightly warmer white balance of all images and if you want to compare the images in your RAW converter you can download them here. (140 MB)

Review of the ND 1.8 (6 stops) filters

In this test I have compared the following filters:

  • Formatt Hitech ProStop IRND Resin
  • Haida ND1.8 Optical Glass Neutral Density Filter

I have used the same set up to compare the filters.

ND 1.8 Filter before WB correction

The white balance was adjusted in Adobe Camera Raw by using the pipette tool and the greycard in the lower part of the image. The corrected white balance values are stated in each shot.

ND 1.8 Filter after WB correction

Findings of the ND 1.8 comparison:

The Formatt Hitech Prostop IRND Resin leads to a very strong blue / green color cast. The Haida shifts the colors in the same direction but the color shift of the Haida is significantly lower. After correcting the white balance the image captured with the Haida  filter is very neutral. Looking at the greens the colors seem to be a bit warmer than in the photo with no filter. However the overall impression fits very well.

The Formatt Hitech Prostop IRND Resin leaves a very distinct color cast in the photo even after correcting the white balance. In particular, the green channel shows a significant shift to the red / brown. This false color can hardly be corrected. Significant and time consuming adjustments in the individual color channels are necessary and even then a neutral look might be not achievable.

If you want to play with the RAW files you can download them here (140 MB)

Haida – the new “Star” of the ND filters?

From my personal experience I can answer this question with a very clear YES! First i was very surprised about the optical quality of the Haida glass filters. Meanwhile I am absolutely convinced of their quality. With the ND 3.0 filter  Haida offers a real alternative to the permanently sold-out and overpriced Lee Big Stopper. The color impression of the images with the Haida I do like even better and the Haida leaves no blue tint in the pictures. Here the Lee Big Stopper is known to cause problems when shooting in twilight. Shooting in “Auto WB” mode the Haida delivers images with almost accurate colors already on the camera display. The subsequent  but necessary correction of the white balance in RAW post processing is on a very low level.

ND 1.8 filters with 6 stops of light reduction have been only available from Formatt Hitech. Their ProStop IRND filter is available in resin and glass. The tested version of mine was the plastic filter. According to the information directly from Formatt Hitech there should be no visual difference between the almost twice as expensive glass version and the resin filter. I can only advise you not to buy the Formatt Hitech filter because of the extreme color cast. Again the Haida ND 1.8 scores and after minor white balance correction you are rewarded with a perfectly color neutral images.

In the meantime Lee Filters have announced the long awaited ND 1.8 Filter that is being sold as the “Lee Little Stopper”. I am very curious when this filter will be available for purchase… and considering the low price and high quality Haida filter I doubt that I am anymore interested in the Lee Little Stopper.

Last but not least some information on the Haida filters:

The Haida ND 1.8 is made from glass and ships in a plastic box that can take 6″ x 4″ filters. You’ll find a big cleaning cloth in the box. The ND 1.8 does not ship with a foam gasket. The Haida ND 3.0 is also made from glas and ships in the same plastic box with a cleaning cloth. The ND 3.0 also has no foam gasket attached onto the filter but you will find 2 self adhesive gaskets in the box. It is very simple to attach them to the filter. As you need only one gasket per filter you can use one of the ND 3.0 for the ND 1.8 if you buy both of them.

Both filters fit perfectly in the Lee Foundation Kit filterholder.

Haida Filters are also available in 150 x 150mm (6×6″) fitting the Lee SW 150 filter holder.

32 Comments on “ND-Filter review: Lee Big Stopper / Formatt Hitech ProStop IRND / Haida

  1. Hi, I read your review: it is very interesting
    I would like to ask you if there is any difference between the circular version with the screw connection of the filter and this one in the review
    thanks

    • Hello Marco,

      to be honest I don’t know. I’ve never used any screw ND filter. Just tested the square ones in the Lee filter holder.

      Best regards
      Achim

    • After reading your excellent review. I have just received both filters to use in my Lee sw150 holder. The 150x150mm filters came in stiff bags like the lee filters not the plastic box and there was no foam gaskets.

      Cheers from Aus

      • Hello Roy,

        yes you are right. The 150x150mm filters ship in stiff bags. And these bags are really stiff and better made than the Lee bags since they need to protect the glass filters from braking. And they have no foam gasket because a foam gasket won’t help against light leakage in the Lee SW 150 holder. The holder design does not allow any sealing by a foam gasket directly attached to the filter.

        It’s a little bit tricky to shoot with ND Filters in the Lee SW 150 holder. You will definitely run into flare issues caused by reflections between the front element of the lens and the Filter itself.
        Something like this might help: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oi9Gk0Ob6sE

        Best regards
        Achim

        • I have made a EVA foam gasket that fits between filter and holder but I still have a 3mm gap behind the filter that I should be able to cover. I have noticed that the glass filters are very slippery in the guides and I may need to stick something on the glass to give them more grip. Or glue a stop on the filter above the slide so it won’t drop out. It will require some more thought.

          Cheers

          • Roy,

            the surface of the glass filters is more slippy than the surface of resin filters.
            And since the glass filters are heavier than resin filters they really tend to slip out of the holder.

            I’ve put a small stripe of electrical insulation tape around the corners of the filter.
            That tape is less slippy and holds the filter perfectly.
            You might need to cut the tape smaller than it comes from the box to avoid vignetting.

            Would be great if you would share your experience and pictures of the EVA foam gasket!

            Best regards
            Achim

  2. Hello,

    where did you buy the Haida 1.8 / 3.0 ND square filters from?

    Best Regards,

    Mark.

  3. Hi Achim,
    Thank you for the review and for sharing the results you have achieved with the Haida filters. I for one appreciate it!
    I have been seeking a 6-stop for some time and had been looking at the new IRNDs from Hitech and wondering if I should just wait on the new Lee. Having had a bad experience of non-correctable magenta colour casts from 3 stop and 4 stop Hitech ND filters previously, I was reluctant to go back despite seeing some positive reviews of the newer IRNDs. And waiting on anything from Lee becomes a chore. So your review has come at a perfect time for me. I am now thinking I may try both the Haida 6 stop and 10 stop. Even though I already have the Lee Big Stopper there are times when it remains too cool even after WB correction.
    Have you been combining the Haida NDs with GNDs? If so, has your experience remained positive with respect colour casts being easily corrected?
    Again, thank you for taking the time to share your results.
    Cheers
    Trace

  4. Hello Trace,

    I was in exactly the same situation as you, having the Big Stopper and waiting for the Little Stopper since years…
    I’ve also had very bad experience with Hitech ND and ND Grad filters.
    Today I am very happy with both the Haida ND 3.0 and ND 1.8.

    I use my two Haida ND Filters with my Lee ND Grads all the time and for me the combination works just fine.
    As Lee ND Grads are the most color neutral filters (at least up to 0.9 ND) there is not much to correct.
    I do not have any experience with the Haida ND Graduated filters. They are made of glass which might be good in terms of quality but i am quite afraid to break them in the field. Therefore Lee is my preferred choice.

    Best regards
    Achim

  5. Hiya Achim,

    Thank you for the effort to test the filters and share with us your findings.

    Have you heard of Progrey ND filter? Are you able to test it? I would like to know the color shift of this brand comparing to the others. I am thinking of buying ND and grad ND filters. And can’t decide where to go – Lee, Hitech, Tiffen, Cokin… Any advise. Thank you.

    • Hello Jason,

      for graduated filters I would always choose Lee Filters. Lee produces the most color neutral filters and I haven’t seen any other brand that comes close.
      In terms of square ND filters Lee is also a good choice (e.g. Lee Big Stopper) but I personally prefer the Haida square ND glass filters as they are even more color neutral and produce better results when shooting in Auto WB. I am just about to test the Lee Little Stopper that I’ve borrowed from a friend yesterday. Will run a new comparison with Lee / Haida / Hitech ND 1.8. and share my findings the next days.

      Never heard about Progrey filters…

      Cheers
      Achim

      • I’m looking forward to seeing your comparison between the Lee Little Stopper and the Haida 1.8! My Haida hasn’t arrived yet.
        Cheers
        Trace

  6. Hi Achim,

    Thank you very much for your review of the Haida filter. I would like to ask, are you using the Haida ND 1.8 and the 3.0 with your Nikkor 14-24, if yes how do you overcome the flare issues?
    I’m looking for ND filters that can be use with my Nikkor 14-24 in conjunction with my existing Progrey set up (filter holder and ND Grad filter).

    • Hello John,

      yes I use the Haida ND 1.8 and ND 3.0 in 150x150mm size in the Lee Holder with my 14-24.
      Flare is for sure an issue and I am using a dark black cloth to cover the backside of the Filters (and the entire filter holder).
      Quite difficult to explain in words so take a look what the guy in this video uses:

      His hair band is not the perfect solution and I am currently working on an improved solution that I will post on my website.
      But this may take a while since I am quite busy at the moment.
      So please be a little bit patient.

      BR
      Achim

      • Hi,
        Read your post and viewed the video of the ‘sock’ covering the ND filter….any ‘update’ on an improved version of the light leakage device?
        Regards/Bill

  7. I just received a copy of the Formatt-Hitech ND3.0 ProIRND in 150mm square format. I can concur with your finding as the blue colour cast is very strong. Using the gray eyedropper tool in LR5 and clicking on a gray card in the scene only left a magenta hue. I was experimenting with 2.5min exposure, so the negative effect were even stronger, rendering colour photography useless. I’m returning it and will wait for the Haida.

    I bought into the hype that IR attenuation was supposed eliminate the colour cast and that it is endorsed by Joel Tjintjelaar. But JT specializes in B&W……….

    FWIW, I am stacking 2 x Lee resin ND (0.6 + 0.9= 5 stops) in the meantime and I am seeing NO colour cast.

    • You are absolutely right. Joel Tjintjelaar does more or less exclusively B&W but for color images the Hitech filters are useless.
      You will love the results from the Haida!

      Best regards
      Achim

  8. Hi Achim,

    Thanks for this brilliant analysis. I’m awaiting my Haida ND 3.0 too.
    A quick question :
    Any reason on why you shot at 18 s with the ND 3.0 ? It should have been 1000/80 = 12.5 s according to Lee’s shutter compensation charts.

    Also some forums are reporting that the actual Haida ND 3.0 light reduction is more that 10 stops, I can remember figures between 10.5 to 15 (???).
    What’s your take ?

    Thanks a lot.

    • Hi there,

      reason for the longer exposure is that my Haida ND 3.0 is not exactly 10 stops.
      I calibrated it and found 10.6 stops. So it requires a longer exposure.

      Best regards
      Achim

  9. Hi Achim,

    Thanks for the review. Trying to source the Haida ND3 & ND1.8 filter plus holder system as these filters look really good value for money!

    Couple of quick questions:
    1) Since your review have you seen or tested their ND Grads? Interested but cannot find much info
    2) Does the tog’s setup in the video you linked above, work well enough to prevent flare and / or light seepage? I haven’t used filters like this and I am not really sure what to expect?

    Thank you.

    Regards,

    David.

    • Hello David,

      I have never tried the Haida ND Grads. In general I am a little bit afraid to use glass filters when there are resin alternatives. Glass breaks more easily than resin. In terms of sharpness you won’t see any difference in real world images. Stopping down from f/8 to f/11 or from f/11 to f/16 clearly degrades image quality. 3 resin filters in front of my 14-24 doesn’t degrade image quality at all. I’ve tested this in 100% view several times…
      As Haida ND Grads aren’t cheaper than the Lee ND Grads I don’t even see a reason to test them.

      Did you read this post?
      http://www.achim-sieger.de/en/filters-on-the-nikon-af-s-nikkor-14-24-mm-128g-ed/
      That’s the optimized solution to shoot Filters on the 14-24 f/2.8

      Best regards
      Achim

  10. Hi Achim,

    Thanks for the feed back. Good point on the LEE Grads. I haven’t seen that post so will go and read now.

    Thanks.

    Cheers,

    David.

  11. Hello Achim,

    Have you tried out the Haida filterholder for the 100mm system and do you use the Haida CPL also?

    /Lars

    • Hello Lars,

      yes I have tried the Haida holder with their ultra slim CPL that is mounted on the adaptor ring.
      You can shoot with two graduated filters and Polarizer without vignetting at 16mm on a full frame camera.

      However personally I prefer the Lee Foundation Kit holder with the 105mm CPL mounted in front of the graduated filters.

      Best regards
      Achim

  12. Hello Achim,

    Recently i bought a Lee Big stopper, after i do a lot of research on net,compared with Hitech prostop (not IRND), it seems will cause blue cast but it can be easily adjust in ACR. After that i look for Hitech Prostop IRND , they said Hitech has fixed the colourcast problem , it is hardly to get the detail review of it, at that momet i feel so lost because before i buy the Lee big stopper, i am looking for a filter that cause the least colour cast , i am getting to sell the Lee big stopper and get a Prostop IRND ( even want to try out the Firecrest), but after i read your post, The IRND still cause the problem, i have read some post which they do a simple test, the prostop IRND does show a significant performance compared with Big Stopper, the frame almost alike with original shoot, this make me really confused

  13. Hello! Im about to buy a couple of haida 4×4 filters. Do you know if they’ll fit in a cine matte box?

  14. Hi Achim, I’ve bought a pair of this filters based on your recommendation. I’m interested in finding the real stop value of this filters.
    In one of your comments, you mentioned that you find the real value based on a calibration process (10.6 stops For Haida big stopper).
    If you are kind enough, can you explain in short words this type of process? Thank a lot! (Your beautiful works stands for your words).

    • Hello Lucian,

      first indication that your ND Filter has more or less stops of light reduction is indicated by an image darker or brighter than the correctly exposed image without the ND filter. The histogram of your image indicates perfectly what’s going on.
      You have to consider that any ND filter leads to vignetting and this effect is stronger at shorter focal length.
      So first thing to do is to test your filter with a long focal length (like 100mm or so)

      Take a shot without filter and calculate 10 stops longer exposure. If the resulting image is darker than the one without filter your ND filter is more dense than 10 stops. Take more test shots until you come to an image with the same histogram as in the shot without ND Filter.
      Than take my excel sheet http://www.achim-sieger.de/en/exposure-calculation-for-the-lee-big-stopper/ and change the number of stops in the upper right corner until the exposure time matches your findings.
      That’s it.

      Cheers
      Achim

  15. Thanks for the review. I wanted these filters for my Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 lens. Lee was the only option for a long time and till date it was not available here in my place. Now that one of the dealers told me that they have spoken to Haida and have made some arrangements for the 150*150 filters and also the polarizer. I’m happy to see this review and that too about Haida. It much cheaper when compared to Lee. Just waiting for the import and customs clearance. Will share this post of yours with my dealer. Thanks again.
    Ravindra

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