January 7, 2016

Here's Every Type of LEE Diffusion Explained

Every LEE Diffusion Compared
This video helps demonstrate the subtle differences in LEE diffusion materials.

Lee Filters became the standard filter company in British television in the 1970's and are now fairly ubiquitous in the film industry. White diffusions like 216 (full white) and 251 (quarter white) are very common, but are only the beginning to the rabbit hole of materials. Don McVey and Kieron Jansch test each piece of diffusion in front of an 800w HMI and a 2K Tungsten light source.

Of course, LEE isn't the only company making professional grade diffusion. Rosco has also been making color gels and diffusion for over 30 years. Diffusion and color gels vary between companies in terms of transmitted color spectrum and light emmittance. When mixing and matching, Rosco has this handy Lee to Rosco equivalent spreadsheet. Here's a quick introductory video from J.P. Morgan that walks you through a few of their materials.

As is explained in the video, the difference between a lot of these diffusion gels can be extremely subtle, but it's important to know the tool that will accomplish your desired effect. Ultimately it's all about choosing the visual language of your project and saving time on set (where time = money). Most diffusion materials are made from heat resistant polyester or fabric, but that doesn't stop me from using my favorite household white diffusion: the paper towel.

[note: I only use paper towels on LED lights] :)     

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7 Comments

Watched the whole thing through only to realise that I have f.lux switched on...

January 7, 2016 at 4:11PM

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Chris Geden
Filmmaker
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January 8, 2016 at 11:40AM

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Gareth Ng
Cinematographer
795

These comparisons (especially the Slanted Lens) seem very misleading. These compare diffusion as if they are sheets of color gels.

A sheet of 216 up against a fresnel in the back of the room is still a very small and sharp source of light. A sheet of 250 or even an 1/8 stop diffusion can seem much softer with a larger frame or close proximity.

More and more often I'm being handed a lighting diagram and someone wants to throw a light through two small frames of full-stop diffusion in the back of the room and then they worry about having enough light.
If you want something soft, just make a book light with a sheet of 250 and walk it in as close as you can to the frame.

January 8, 2016 at 3:06PM, Edited January 8, 3:06PM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1348

Hey Josh,

Totally agree. I did a blog post to go with the test to show exactly what we did. My preferred way to use diffusion is to hang it and get it in close for maximum softness. A sheet of 216 clipped to barn doors with the light 12 feet back is going to do very little as you say!

I'm also a big book light fan, but for the purpose of the Lee Filters test, we only wanted to see results straight through the diff.

https://don-mcvey.squarespace.com/cinematography-blog/2015/8/3/lee-filte...

January 9, 2016 at 9:04AM

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Thanks Don,

I apologize. The test you did with the Lee filters is awesome. I had just had a stressful experience on a show. I also realize that the goal of a diffusion filter test is not to teach the fundamentals of soft lighting but to compare different diffusions.

I've actually referenced your tests before and they are extremely helpful. I will definitely be checking out that app.

January 11, 2016 at 10:47AM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1348

Also worth mentioning that Lee have turned the test into a great free app for Apple and Android.

https://itunes.apple.com/app/apple-store/id1050979715?mt=8

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.leefilters.diffusion

January 9, 2016 at 9:06AM

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Great and valuable test! But I agree as others have pointed out, the distance of the diffusion from the light and subject makes a big difference that isn't accounted for here. Many diffusion materials can be made to look similar to each other by simply changing the ratio of distance to light to subject. But that said, this is still a very valuable test and shows what each does when simply swapped out and the light and subject remains the same. I especially liked what the 439 Heavy Quiet Frost did for warming skin tones! I practically live with 216 on just about everything, but after seeing this test, I'll be adding a roll of 439 Heavy Quiet Frost to my kit!

January 10, 2016 at 4:32PM, Edited January 10, 4:32PM

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Benton Collins
Camera aimer
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