December 9, 2019
Field Test

CineFade Lets You Rack DoF While Keeping Your Exposure the Same

CineFade is one of those inventions that might just become a default part of every kit.

We've been hoping to see a CineFade in person since we first heard about it way back in August of 2016.

An automated system that controls both a variable ND filter in front of the lens and the aperture on your camera, the CineFade allows you to rack the depth of field while keeping your exposure precisely the same.

Want a shot with an actor in the foreground while the background gradually looses focus? The CineFade is just the tool for you.

After years of hoping to gets up close and personal with a unit, the timing finally worked out and Oliver Christiansen, the visionary inventor of CineFade, happened to be in New York when we had time. We got together to play with the CineFade and get real hands-on time with the unit.  

CineFade is a combination of things. Of course, it's a physical ND filter that slides in front of your lens, but beyond that, it's an interface designed to work perfectly with the C-motion FIZ setup. (Support for other platforms, including ARri, will come out in the future.)

Of course, the first thing we wanted to see was the "dramatic," self-conscious depth of field rack, which isn't something that is needed in many productions but is something that is good to have in your back pocket as a possible effect. 

As we learned with testing, though, the CineFade is also a useful tool for less dramatic and self-conscious effects.

When walking a character from a bright exterior to a dark interior, it's traditional to change the aperture, but that changes the depth of field. With CineFade, instead of changing the aperture, you change the variable ND in front of the lens so that the exposure changes fluidly and the depth of field stays consistent.

In short, the CineFade is just one of those tools, like a wireless follow focus and wireless video, that we've long dreamed about but only really became possible in the last decade or so. 

After spending a day with the unit, it seems like it has the potential to become just as ubiquitous as those other tools for its day-to-day flexibility in giving cinematographers more power over their shots. 

For example, the wireless follow focus was an "occasional" rental back in 2006, but by 2016, it's just assumed to be part of the kit. It seems like CineFade might do the same over the next 10 years.

The brainchild of Mr. Christiansen, the CineFade is made in collaboration with C-Motion and currently works best with their follow focus units. However, they are working to roll out support for other follow focus systems and already works well with the popular ARRI follow focus system.   

Setting it up requires taking up a mattebox slot with the variable ND filter and then calibrating the lens stops into the follow focus unit. Once calibrated, you can keep the aperture and ND locked, or switch it into a mode that lets you directly control only the ND. 

Keeping the filter and aperture locked together will allow you to keep a constant exposure for dynamic focus changes, while the direct filter control will be more useful for dealing with changing lighting situations.

As you can see in this shot, with a model in the foreground and LED tubes in the background, the depth of field can "pulse." While the uses for this in a music video or commercial are endless, it will likely be more subtle in dramatic work (but no less useful) to be able to gradually shift the depth of field over the course of a take.

One caveat is that some lens companies don't mark their widest aperture accurately. While T2 on down will usually be accurate, sometimes the widest aperture will be marked T1.4 or T1.5 for marketing purposes (since the widest aperture is the marketing number that gets attention in the press), but in reality, the lens won't quite let in the right amount of light for that. 

In that case, you might see a slight exposure bump when pushing the aperture wide open, since the ND filter will be changing assuming that the lens is accurate. If you aren't going wide open you won't have a problem, and if you want to go wide open you can shim your exposure setting to make it work. This just requires a little extra time in prep to decide for yourself what the actual maximum aperture of the lens might be.

Overall we were very impressed with the CineFade system. As camera sensors get natively faster and faster, we could see leaving this type of unit on for speed of use during more and more of the day.

The least light it cuts is under 2 stops (around 1.5 stops), so you could work with a natively 5000 ISO camera and this unit and still end up with a functional  1500 ISO "base" exposure, which is useable for many situations. Then you can use ND, instead of aperture, for all your exposure changes, without ever waiting on swinging a filter.  

Tech Specs

  • 1.5 minimum stop light loss
  • 5 stop range
  • .5 second max speed
  • C-motion C-pro compatibility, others coming
  • Works as a standalone variable ND
  • Arri polarizers
  • 690g

Pricing and Availability

While it was rental only for many years, you can now purchase a CineFade setup for €7980 EUR or about $8830 USD    

Your Comment