When Lee released the ‘Big Stopper’ in 2010, they massively underestimated how much of a demand there would be for a decent 10 stop filter. Before the Big Stopper arrived, the only square 10 stop ND filter was the 10 stop filter from Hitech. Unfortunately this filter had a few problems. It was very prone to flare even if you covered all around the filter. It also was sensitive to IR which gave a hard to remove colour cast to foliage and greenery.
Fast forward 12 months and Lee cant make enough Big Stoppers to meet demand. The glass for the filters is sourced overseas, so supplies are patchy with people having to wait quite some time before receiving their filter.
The people at Formatt-Hitech saw how much of a demand there was for this filter and decided to go ahead and re-develop their 10 stop filter. The first thing they decided to do was to emulate Lee’s idea and install a gasket to the filter. They also designed a new CR39 resin which was much more resistant to IR than the previous one. All components of the 10 stop filter are manufactured and sourced in the UK. The resin is made at their factory in South Wales and as a consequence Formatt aim to turn around most orders in a couple of days.
Hitech went a little further than Lee though. Instead of just designing one filter, they have a whole range of Pro Stop filters from 6 stops to 10 stops. Filters are also available in an 85mm size as well as a 100mm version. The 85mm version will be welcomed by Cokin filter users as an inexpensive entry to long exposure ND filters. To cater for Lee filter users, the 100mm filter comes with a 1.5mm gasket to fit in the Lee holder. The Hitech holder is slightly different and the Pro Stop caters for this with a thicker 3mm gasket.
The Pro Stop ND filter comes, for the moment, in a padded cloth pouch very similar to the pouch that Lee filters are supplied in. Over the next couple of weeks the cloth pouch will be changed to a leatherette one with the same padded protection as the cloth pouch but with a different exterior material. The filter also comes with a handy exposure guide as once the filter is on the camera the metering wont work properly so the guide is invaluable to get the exposure correct.
As with my previous 10 stop filters review, I tested these filters under a few different conditions over the course of a couple of weeks. This time I used two lenses for my tests, a Tokina 11-16mm Ultra wide angle and a Nikon 18-70 lens. For these tests I decided not to cover around the Filter holder as I did on the last review as both the Big Stopper and the Pro Stop have gaskets which completely stop the light leakage from the sides and top of the filters. I also used a Lee 3 stop soft ND Grad for these shots as this is a combination I use a lot.
This first image is straight out of the camera. As you can see the 45 second exposure has produced an image in which both filters are within 1/4-1/2 a stop of each other. Both filters have a blue cast with the Pro Stop being lighter due to the slight difference in densities of the filters.
This second image is a combination of the reference image and the Pro Stop image. The reference image is using the white balance selected by the camera ‘as shot’. The Pro stop image is using a custom white balance taken from the mid-grey clouds just above the hills to the left. As you can see the colours are pretty accurate. The yellows and greens are just about the same as the reference image, with the blues being slightly paler. As this image has had no post processing, it would be very easy to adjust this image to be the same as the reference one.
The next couple of images were taken a couple of minutes apart. They show how close the two filters can look once a custom white balance has been taken. The white balance was taken from the grey clouds just above the peaks of the Isle of Arran in the distance.
Both images are perfectly fine. If I hadn’t been making notes of the file numbers, I would have found it hard to tell which is which.
As I have mentioned earlier in the review, I spent a couple of weeks and took 60-70 test shots under different conditions. I could post a few more comparison images from my tests but the truth is nearly all shots ended up with the Hitech Pro Stop making images every bit as good as the Lee Big Stopper.
The Hitech does actually beat the Big Stopper on 3 main points…
The Pro Stop is only £72. The Big Stopper can be found from £92-£100
The Pro Stop is available within a couple of days direct from the factory. Lee back orders for the Big Stopper are currently at least 8-12 weeks.
The Big Stopper is notoriously fragile. I speak from first hand experience! The Resin Pro Stop filter isn’t as easy to break and if you drop it there is a chance it would survive. Try this with a Big Stopper and it’s a gonner.
It seems at long last there is a credible alternative to the Big Stopper. The filter is available direct from Formatt.