January 24, 2019

Hands-on with the New Tiffen NATural ND Filters

Tiffen is focusing on color consistency and reproduction with their new line of NATural ND filters.

ND filters don't get nearly enough love. Maybe it's a leftover of the time in our filmmaking where they were the "default" filters in any kit and then on top fo that you ordered the "fun" filters like diffusion, contrast, and color effects, but the ND isn't a filter that people give a lot of attention to.

Which is a shame, since many don't appreciate precisely how much affect a poor quality ND can have on their image, creating a color cast whenever used that can make color grading particularly difficult. One more than one project we've had to work out inconsistent color casts from various ND filters used on a project, which isn't even getting into the issues with infrared contamination from filters not designed for working with digital cameras.

Even more frustrating than having to constantly shim the final grade for ND filters has been how inconsistent that color cast might be. Using an ND to create an artificially dark image? That cast will play differently and need a different correction than if you are using NDs to create normal exposure. Sometimes the cast will appear differently on different levels of fleshtone. It's a major frustration, but since it slows you down in post, instead of on set, it's one that sometimes people don't spend enough time worrying about during production.

Which is what made the Tiffen NATural NDs so exciting when we first saw them at NAB last year. Tiffen is one of the top filter brands, and they have reformulated their ND's with a specific focus on color consistency from filter to filter even as you stack up filter factors. In every other way they are a normal filter (nothing special in how they mounted to camera, nothing especially fancy in their etched names). All they wanted to do was the make lives of colorists and DPs easier with more consistency.

Those wonderful transmission curves.Credit: Tiffen

In our experience, we couldn't be more impressed. Shooting outside in day exterior settings, with an lower level in one camera (the long lens, where we wanted more stop), and then heavier ND in another camera (wide lens, where we wanted shallower depth), we were able to cut shots together without dramatic color shifts between the two angles.

That's all you really want out of an ND, and we felt like the Tiffen NATural really delivered. This pairing is completely ungraded dailies from cameras with matching in-camera menu settings, but different ND levels (compensated for by the T-stop on the glass), which have come in much closer together than we normally expect when working with heavy ND filtration.

For pure science sake, here is the same color chart shot through various levels of the NATural ND. This isn't the perfect test (raw still vs. raw video, processed in Lightroom not Resolve), but it's a good indication of how consistent the view is image to image: we corrected for small exposure in lightroom, and used shutter speed to compensate for exposure when shooting instead of aperture to introduce less color cast.

Of course, none of this purely scientific, you are far more likely to use aperture than shutter speed to adjust exposure on set, but it does show how close the exposure is through the ND range. We notice a very, very slight color shift in the highlights, with almost no changes in the mid-tone range or pure color patches, and all so small as to be no obstacle at all when getting to the final grade.

Overall, the NATural NDs might just become our default filter choice, for the vital but unglamorous ND.

Available Now.

Tech Specs:

  • Neutral Results, Visible, & IR Spectrums
  • Water White Glass Construction
  • Padded Pouch

Price: $494.10     

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January 24, 2019 at 2:12PM

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