May 10, 2015

Working with Lens Filters: Which Ones Do You Need for Your Film Projects?

Filters are essential to have in your gear bag, especially when it comes to correctly exposing your images. If you don't know much about filtration, Zeke Kamm of Aviator Camera Gear lays it all out for you in the video below, from what kind of ND filters to use to how to utilize a matte box.

Zeke explains the nuts and bolts of filtration thoroughly, but one thing that should be addressed is the decision to add filters in post-production. You've probably heard this statement plenty of times from from new filmmakers, "I'll just fix it in post." Even though there's a lot you can do with your images during the editing phase, it's good practice to not gamble with the quality of your image by waiting until then to get the look you want. This is one of the reasons why filters are so helpful, because they show you what you're going to get before you get it -- not afterwards when it's already too late.

Furthermore, it seems obvious, but make sure to test out your filters before you hit record on a project. There are always subtle differences between them, as well as their effect on different cameras, so screw them on or slide them in to be sure they're giving you the images you're looking for.     

Your Comment

11 Comments

Nice and informative video. Thanks. I've done several pixel peeping tests lately and found some interesting results. While NDs and Polarizers cannot be simulated in post, Diffusion seems almost better done in post.

I tested some Black Pro-Mist against computer Magic Bullet Diffusion (no I don't use MB to color, but the diffusion is useful) and you could not tell the difference between the optical filter and the computer. The computer diffusion was really nice in that you could control the diffusion so you were not locked to it, which is really important IMO because often times, especially when you first start using diffusion filter, you tend to way over to do and the person looks like a ghost.

Also, I tested a high quality Heliopan Variable ND against the internal NDs on the FS7. I was fully expecting the reflections and bokeh to be affected on the Variable ND. I was very surprised in all shots, the reflections and bokeh looked pretty identical to internal FS7 NDs and that's with heavy pixel peeping. There was a slight green cast on the Heliopan though, but probably a small compromise considering how much faster you can work with cameras like the RED or DSLRs that don't have built in NDs.

The cheaper variable NDs are pretty terrible though as they can be real soft, so get the good ones like the Heliopan and I've heard great things about the Genus Eclipse (which tend to skew warmer as opposed to green which is nicer IMO).

May 11, 2015 at 11:40AM, Edited May 11, 11:40AM

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Gene Sung
DP / Director
739

I am really surprised that more people haven't signed on to testing out diffusion filters. I actually prefer glass diffusion filters versus computer effects. The computer can't mimic the effect of bright lights on diffusion and halation. Once you get used to the look of a diffusion, you start to realize how many films actually use diffusion. People keep talking about how "filmic" a camera looks without realizing how much of an impact diffusion has on that look that they consider filmic.

May 13, 2015 at 7:38PM, Edited May 13, 7:38PM

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Casey Preston
Videographer
190

Agreed. Optical filtration adds that x-factor when done right, in a way that I couldn't have imagined before I started throwing Promist in front of the lens.

Post effects cannot do nearly as well as optical effects in regards to filtration.

May 14, 2015 at 12:07PM

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Taylor Russ
Director of Photography
661

Useful comment. Thanks Gene!

May 14, 2015 at 5:07AM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
875

Does anyone have suggestions for middle of the road filters? It seems like your giving over your first born for some quality stuff or pitching a few bucks for a near piece of trash.

May 11, 2015 at 12:38PM

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Daniel
133

Middle of the road is usually where you get run over. Jokes aside, sure you could get cheaper filters and if you want some specific effects they might do, but having good quality gets you to the other side.

May 11, 2015 at 4:36PM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1834

I personally just own circular screw on filters as even the good ones won't kill your budget (unlike 4x6 filters). For bigger shoots, I just rent the proper 4x6 filters as they are cheap to rent but very expensive to buy.

Basically, the main ones you need are a set of good quality NDs, a polarizer and a good variable ND if you run-and-gun a lot. Buying lower quality to save a few bucks just means you will buy again in the future when you realize that theres a green cast or softness to your image.

Buy wrong, buy twice; buy right, buy once. I've learned that the hard way.

May 12, 2015 at 12:40PM

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Gene Sung
DP / Director
739

Even for the circular filters, within the same brand there is quite a bit of difference in quality. The lowest price Tiffen NDs ($40) have this very visible green cast. I'm pretty certain the White Water Tiffens which cost about 2x as much don't have that cast. I spend about $80 per ND on Hoyas, but they are clear of any color shifts. You definitely get what you pay for.

May 12, 2015 at 12:44PM

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Gene Sung
DP / Director
739

Buy once, cry once.

May 14, 2015 at 2:36PM, Edited May 14, 2:36PM

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Taylor Russ
Director of Photography
661

Great tips! A must when you are taking aerial videos or pictures.

Thanks for the post!

May 12, 2015 at 12:29AM

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J. Fandino
Drone sales at www.providentialsystems.com
217

Good video. Appreciated that he mentioned that polarisers and variable ND can make skin look matte.

He probably should have commented on why you might not want to stack NDs if you can get away with it.

Mindshift bag for filters was a great recommendation.

Could have mentioned more types -- different types of diffusion, effect filters, colour correction, etc -- but maybe it's also true that ND, grad and polariser are the ones you can't fix in post. By the way, here's a great video on Tiffen filters: https://vimeo.com/96143464

About "native ISO", I think there might be room for quibbling. "Native ISO" can be a slippery term (compare the way 100, 200, 500, 1000 were said to be "native ISOs" for the 5D2, with the way the Varicam 35 is said to have "dual native ISOs").

Question for anyone who knows (because I don't): why wouldn't you want to use an IRND all the time instead of a normal ID?

May 14, 2015 at 5:34AM, Edited May 14, 5:39AM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
875

I was hoping he would talk about stacking order, but didn't. Anyone know where I can get some good advice on the best way to stack my filters? I realize this has much to do with the effect Im looking for, but is there any general rule of thumb?

May 19, 2015 at 3:54PM

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