December 26, 2015 at 2:59PM, Edited January 2, 12:50PM

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Digital filters in post vs real filters

The obvious advantage in digital filters is control in post. My goal is improve my camera operation and make more beautiful images. I use Canon crop factor cameras. So am looking for your opinion about using digital filters vs actual filters on lenses?
In addition since I use a neutral picture profile, how to use that profile for best effect?

23 Comments

If you really want to make more beautiful images with your camera, don't put filters on your lenses (*). Instead, put lights on your subjects, and possibly put gel (filters) on your lights to make them give you the colors you want.

(*) You may need to put neutral density filters on your lenses to control the absolute amount of light hitting your sensor. You might also want to put diffusion filters on your lenses...that's a filter-based effect that's very hard to get right in post. (It's also difficult to get right when you are shooting, but at least you have the freedom to try a lot of things to see if any of them will work. Once you are on post, it might be too late to get a good diffusion effect.)

December 26, 2015 at 3:44PM

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I have a good set of gels for my lights, I have alot of lights, in fact will be selling some soon. I appreciate the thoughts Michael, I have used diffusion in the past, but maybe time to revisit that, it just costs more money.

December 26, 2015 at 8:56PM

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Good deal! My apologies if my response was off-target.

December 27, 2015 at 5:26AM

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There are many "filters" you can simulate well in post, but a few that are critical to use on location. A good set of NDs or a variable ND. A Circular Polarizing Filter is a must in many situations. And for some things a graduated ND can be super handy. Some sensors are also very vulnerable to IR when using ND filters so an IR cut filter is required.

These are all about controlling the light coming into the sensor and will give you a clean image to work with in post. As mentioned above, always plan your colors and lighting appropriately.

December 28, 2015 at 12:53PM

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I really enjoy using glass filtration. I love playing with bloom and halation around light sources. I like adding streaks or stars in certain shots. Bloom, halation, and star effects are something that cannot be replicated as naturally in post. If you are just looking for a generalized diffusion, it is probably better to wait until post.

December 28, 2015 at 3:08PM

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Casey Preston
Videographer
431

Hey Lofar, check out Tiffen Diffusion FX. It's a post plugin for adobe premiere (and I believe other programs too). It's around $500 I think, but you can trial it for two weeks for free, no watermarks etc. Check that out, it's basically Tiffen doing their best to replicate their diffusion filters at different densities.

If you are unsure of exactly the look you're after, post is a good option as it's flexible - you can choose later. And surprisingly the Tiffen plugin didn't slow down my export noticeably.

However if you know the look you are after and a Black promist or glimmer glass or whatever is the filter that will give it to you, there's no substitute for getting it in camera. You just need to be SURE it's what you want. (Subtle is often best)

December 28, 2015 at 5:32PM

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Dean Butler
Writer Director Shooter Editor
862

I am well aware of the possibilities, most of us have a pile of video making crap and video production software. What I hope is people will post of their EXPERIENCE and workflow? Thanks Dean, they have pkg to $200 and of course most everybody discounts heavily at certain times of the year. I would think for example that if this is a really great option many others would use this in their work, but I am not hearing much enthusiasm. I have used black mist filters when I was using camcorders now in the distant past, but am thinking to explore filters real and digital since I am pretty happy with my camera settings, composition and lighting. I mostly shoot indoors. So am interested in what you do? and re filters what you don't to record beautiful video images.

December 29, 2015 at 3:09PM

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all the posts are helpful and I hope more to come.

December 29, 2015 at 3:10PM

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Lofar, can you at least show some of your work? May be it is so horrible that we'll tell you to become a writer instead :/ Or it could be totally professional grade where all of us will start asking you for tips how to do this or that.

And naturally, what is your your end goal? Do you want to be a filmmaker, DP, director, etc? I am sure you recognize that in some of these categories grinding your camera skills will actually move you further from your end goal due to missing out on opportunities of improving skills essentials to each of the aforementioned classes.

December 29, 2015 at 4:45PM, Edited December 29, 4:45PM

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Hi everyone first comment! So this is really a choice and I think we are really talking about color timing/ color grading.

You are going to spend ALOT of time in post to get the right effect and if you do it in camera you will save yourself heaps of time per shot.

With that said, I have gotten very good results out of davinci resolve (free) here is a good example from one of my own projects (original on the right/ color timed on the left) http://thelittleblackdogfilms.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/diwebsite.jpg

As for taking advantage of your flat color profile. Well you get a little more latitude in the shadows and highlights. I'm a big fan of exposing to the left and letting the highlights blow out to hold the shadow detail but this is your call really. Also this will desaturate your image quite a bit so feel free to crank up the saturation in post to taste.

December 29, 2015 at 6:18PM, Edited December 29, 6:18PM

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Christopher Vaughan
Director/ Director of Photography/ Producer
154

You look like you've got a grasp of things, but you might wanna take it easy in post. It looks like you might have went a little overboard. The unnatural look to the colors kind of throw it off, and it's pretty clear that it was softened during the grade.

You get out what you put in to the camera. Focus more on getting the right colors and I guess correct softness in during the shoot. and it'll make the grade look a little more natural. Keep up the work!

December 30, 2015 at 12:35PM

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Jacob Floyd
Writer / Videographer
1303

Thanks man. Yeah it was a dream sequence in a music video, Hence the soft unnaturalness.

December 31, 2015 at 11:45AM

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Christopher Vaughan
Director/ Director of Photography/ Producer
154

I use heavy pro-mist filters all the time. I love what it does to my highlights, and it gives me that soft, slightly lo-con look while having proper in-shot contrast.

Crazy sharp images never look right to me, but that's just my style.

December 30, 2015 at 12:27PM

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Jacob Floyd
Writer / Videographer
1303

Alex Z, I am best known for my work in adult video, I have worked with A list adult celebrities including the centerfold for Penthouse magazine. I also do work for non profits, music video, but always striving to take my work to the next level. I cannot give you access nor would I give anyone access on this forum and if I did (like a music video) everything I do is different. Each project is crafted to have its own look so would not be helpful. This discussion is about filters so I am interested in what you do! your workflow etc and why?

December 30, 2015 at 7:43PM

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If you look at all the people getting good images off of Canon crop sensors they all say the same thing, get the look you want when you capture it. Anything that can be achieved before editing in post is always better with these cameras as they are 4:2:0 with an 8-bit color workspace. They just don't hold up to a lot of editing.

January 2, 2016 at 9:18AM

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Sean Sims
Wannabe DOP
175

As a rule of thumb, I always try to achieve the image and look I want on set, and improve it on post. As many of the previous comments says, ND filters are many times mandatory when shooting on exteriors when you can't control some of the lighting. And regarding color lighting, it's always better to have them on the set, the objects reflects the light in many different ways, and on post this doesn't always works right.

January 2, 2016 at 9:38AM

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I almost never shoot with any filtration aside from ND. That being said, there is one exception; I am a huge fan of the Hollywood Black Magic filter sets (usually either a 1/8 or 1/4). The highlights bloom every so slightly in the most lovely of ways. Also, unlike pro mist or black pro mist, it doesn't make your image look like a 90's sitcom.

Other than that, though, I prefer to shoot the cleanest digital negative possible and then work with a good colorist to finish off the look.

I have found shooting with LUTs to be particularly useful, as well. I recently did a shoot for a museum exhibit here in Utah that was a highly stylized period piece. The director and I felt that the piece should be in a low con black and white, so we shot a few samples on a sound stage and worked with our colorist to create a LUT for the Arri Amira that we would be shooting on. It was super helpful to be able to see something close to what our finished product would be, especially in terms of how I was lighting on set. I had full confidence knowing that the Log C image that I was shooting was well exposed and that our look would be easily obtained by using the LUTs created beforehand.

January 2, 2016 at 9:52AM

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Trevor
Director of Photography
81

Most of the time I prefer real filters. The need for NDs and polarizers is obvious, so it doesn't need to be discussed. Diffusion and other creative filters I use in camera out of three reasons:

First, I want to give the director, the editor and the production as early as possible the impression of how the image should look in the end. It is a psychological thing: If editing takes a long time, directors get used to what they see working with the rushes. So sometimes it can be difficult to bring in something new in the end. (Sidekick: This is also a reason, why it makes sense to make rushes already with a custom made LUT instead of only Rec709 (or even worse: without any LUT at all).)

Second: Sometimes as DoP you can't join the color grading (mostly in commercial work). Especially in this case I try to keep as much control over the image as possible by using glass filters. And I also use graduated NDs. Besides technical reasons (contrast reduction) I want to give the image a character/mood already on set.

Third (and fourth): It saves time in post production and most important: mostly it looks more natural.

Sure there are exceptions: if you shoot for VFX, stay away from (creative) glass filters. Every VFX artist who should key a greenscreen that was shot with diffusion would kill you (justifiably). Same for stereo 3D. Slightly different effects of the two filters could blow your 3D.
Second exception is, if you get reflections or ghosting from too many stacked filters.

Using glass filters requires one precondition: you need to know the filters very well and how to use them. Same filters look different on different focal lengths, types of lenses and with changing conditions on set (haze, backlight, frontlight...)

But once you got used to it, it is so much fun! I love it.

Here is a very good comparison of Tiffen diffusion filters: https://vimeo.com/tiffencompany/4kdiffusiontest

January 2, 2016 at 10:54AM

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Ben Wieg
DoP
74

I'm probably echoing previous comments but...

If I'm shooting film, 99% of the time I wont be carrying any filter other than a few NDs and polarizers.

If I'm shooting digitally, I have occasionally stretched black stockings over the rear elements of the lenses to counteract some of the digitalness of the image and I haven't really found any post effects which have emulated that well enough.

January 2, 2016 at 12:17PM

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Matthew Espenshade
Cinematographer
142

Posted images to Imgur taken using my 1890 lens. Comments were that I could have made the same effect using Photoshop. Stopped wasting my time posting to Imgur.

January 3, 2016 at 4:08PM

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Julian Richards
Film Warlord
1673

If you're speaking of diffusion filters, there's now an AE plugin called Variable Diffusion (http://invisiblechainsaw.com). Disclaimer: this is my plugin, but it is the best post production emulation of real glass diffusion filters available and it's a result of 18 years of development. But keep in mind that there is nothing better than the real thing when it comes to diffusion filters. Here's why (from our FAQs)...

"When you use real physical diffusion filters, you’re sampling light from the real world which contains much, much more image information that any recorded image of it. We feel our Real Filter Emulations come very close to the look of physical glass diffusion filters and capture the “feel & spirit” of them, and do so closer than any other dedicated post production product, thanks to our new proprietary algorithm. For most types of shots, our Real Filter Emulations affect the image in a way that is almost indiscernible from the way the real physical diffusion filter affects the image—albeit in terms of “feel & spirit” and not in exact, pixel-for-pixel emulation. No post production solution can authentically duplicate what a real physical diffusion filter does, at least until there are cameras that record in 14-bit color space with 40+ stops of dynamic range."

January 5, 2016 at 6:30PM, Edited January 5, 6:43PM

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Jaan Shenberger
designer/animator & live-action director/DP
1233

While I think digital effects may often be the best solution, the one thing a digital effect will never be able recreate is the way hot highlights bloom on a glass diffusion filter. Once the image clips, there is no more information available. Therefore, an overexposed white sheet sitting at 100% of IRE reads the same as shooting directly at the sun. The sun, however, will completely blow out a heavy diffusion filter whereas the white sheet will just softly bleed into the edges. Similarly, color information in colored lights is much better recovered using a diffusion filter that diffuses the colored light so that it doesn't just clip the sensor. Also, as much time as people spend trying to add flares in post, it will never seem quite as natural as actual flares created by glass.

January 6, 2016 at 4:05PM

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Casey Preston
Videographer
431

You are correct, I agree (as detailed in that FAQ excerpt). But compared to all other post options, our plugin does come closest.

January 6, 2016 at 8:05PM

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Jaan Shenberger
designer/animator & live-action director/DP
1233

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