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Tiffen Ultra / Low Contrast filters


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Last night I was looking on Vimeo at GX7 videos to see what other people were producing. For the most part it all seemed very casual, not much good stuff in there. But then I came across this:

First of all you should know that I've been shooting with my GX7 for almost a year now and I've messed around with the camera settings and resultant footage loads. So I pretty much know GX7 footage when I see it. The video above looks completely different to anything I've seen previously.I remember a phrase Andrew used in one of his videos regarding the BMPCC, "The camera has a very filmic response to mid-tones". And I guess this is the only phrase I can use to quantify what makes this footage look different. 


If you look at the tags on the video above you will see a mention of "Tiffen Ultra Contrast 5". So I did a little more research and it seems these things had their hayday a couple years ago around the time when the GH1/2 and Canon rebels were popular. These days some people still use them even for high end cameras like the RED. 


Here is the description from Tiffen itself:


ULTRA CONTRAST filter work with ambient light from surrounding, lowering contrast uniformly through the scene.  Shadow areas reveal more detail without any flare or halation from light sources or bright reflections, even direct shooting into the sun.


LOW CONTRAST filers work by spreading light from the highlights to the darker areas.  Shadows are lighter, enabling you to see more detail.  They also create a very slight flare or halation around hot spots which can be a useful effect.  Low Contrast is the filter of choice for people who shoot video but want to achieve more of f film look.


I quite like the look that diffuser filters give and it sounds like the Low Contrast filter will give some of that look along with the softened contrast. Does anyone here have any experience with these and can make recommendations?

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The sun is already behind the mountain but tomorrow I will show you some example. Anyway, this is with very strong ND's that tint and light up with sunlight shining on them, for normal use the low contrast filters should be much better but I haven't used them.

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Guest Ebrahim Saadawi

I was also interested in these for the highlight blooming effect they seem to produce, it seemed like it would really help harsh highlight clipping on most of the video cameras (expect alexa and f35),

Shane Hurlbut had an excellent article on these. Check it out. Just google Shane hurlbut filters.

I would love to see examples and more explanation though, it really looks interesting.

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Most of it seems shot in the golden hour and the full-daylight shots are warmed considerably.  In the car scene, the weakness of h.264 is obvious to anyone who has shot RAW (not that it was bad).


I went through a "filter phase" for a bit, trying to lower contrast.  The cost of good filters gets close to the $750 you can pay to get a BMPCC.  If low contrast shooting is one's style, beg, borrow or steal a RAW camera.  That was my conclusion.  Or shoot in the golden hour when the sky becomes one big soft-light.   Most cameras look good then :)


BTW, Inazuma, are you located in the U.S.?

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Hah, i'm not quite prepared to pay $750 for filters. These Tiffen ones are "just" £100 and seem to do a great job.


I'm sure there will be a day where I will upgrade to cameras that shoot in better formats (RAW or ProRes) but for now I have to stick to what I've got and get the best image I can out of it. Besides, it's not just h264 users that use these filters. Even guys with 5d RAWs do


I'm based in the UK. Why do you ask?

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I was thinking if you lived in the U.S. I could drop some filters in the mail.  I don't have any great ones, don't remember what I have exactly.  They're just sitting in drawer.  Except for polarization and ND I feel most other effects can be done in post.  I'm no expert though, that's a 1-pence opinion ;)

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you can get this lower contrast look by just stretching nylon stockings over the back of your lens... its cheap and works !!- they have been doing this in Hollywood for many many years since the 1930's - it works!!


just watch Atonement by Seamus McGarvey 2007 shot with nylons on the back of the lens


read this in American Cinematographer magazine about how he did it




  spacer.gifAtonement, shot by Seamus McGarvey, BSC, lends stunning visuals to a novel’s impact. spacer.gif
 To further emphasize the heat, the cinematographer shot most of the 1935 scenes with a 10-denier Christian Dior black stocking on the back of the lens. The only time the filtration came off, he explains, was “when we were shooting against very bright windows. It would bloom out too much and the areas of overexposure would start to corrupt the shadow areas. For those odd shots, I used Schneider Classic Softs — 1â„8, 1â„4 or 1â„2.†While praising the stockings’ effect, McGarvey’s 1st AC, Carlos De Carvalho, notes that the material “reacts very differently if you have a lot of stop on the lens, so [McGarvey] kept things pretty much wide open, which made it more challenging for me — more exciting, actually!† Easing the damage to De Carvalho’s nerves, Panavision supplied a complement of RF (rear filter) lenses, with the exception of the 40mm prime. De Carvalho explains, “The lenses have a little screw-on adapter on the back, which allowed me to pre-net all of the lenses and have a separate ring for each lens. The longer the lens, the more you have to stretch the stockings, so we had to be careful to mark them all. But it allowed us to take the stockings off or put them back on quickly.† 

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I tried the Nylon stocking thing too!   Andy's sending you down the rabbit hole!!!! :)  Next you'll be ordering clear filters and wiping vasoline on them.  I also tried small drops of clear nail polish.  I'm telling you, go take a job at McDonalds.  In the same amount of time you'll end up doing that stuff you could have earned a BMPCC at $10 an hour flipping burgers.  :) :) :)

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its a very old well established practice in cinematography - cheap and very very effective - it works!


if its good enough for DP Seamus McGarvey and  Shane Hurlbut its good enough for everyone on this forum.... here is his step by step post on how to do it properly






and the good thing about it is you can do it your own way and create your own look , no 2 people do it exactly the same ....so test it first and find the way that works for you ....then use it on a job

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Sorry, I was just talking about getting low-contrast images using filters.  That kind of softening stuff Any is talking about, I agree, every filmmaker should learn the technique.  I was only joking about trying to get a very specific RAW image from a compressed video camera.  Thanks for the links, Andy!  Maybe I'll go back one day and do it the right way.

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Yeh that nylon trick seems to do the diffusion thing pretty well but I'm more after the milky midtones achieved by these tiffen contrast filters. Nevertheless I'll give all these things a try :)


maxotics, I've just gotten past my 2 years of GAS. Why are you trying to tempt me into buying other cameras again :P Also I wouldn't be where I am now if I didn't already have a decent job

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Inazuma have you shot with a RAW-based camera, like Magic Lantern RAW on Canon, or BM?   If not, I don't expect your vacation from GAS to last much longer.  


The only reason I sold my BMPCC is that I shoot mostly stills.  Video (filmmaking) is my first love which I can't really scratch because I just don't have the time. I get obsessed.  I'm an independent data/software expert so I can't let my hobbies turn into obsessions that put my family out in the street.  Photography is time-consuming enough.  I'm one of those old guys who could never afford 16mm film (The RAW of my day, vs 8mm "h.264") when young, like other old guys who couldn't afford an electric guitar and now have 50 of them. 


Anyway, as you know, no one knows lenses and video looks like Andy.  Low dynamic range (images) video, however, cannot be achieved with lenses or tricks.  It's all relative to your needs and expectations of course.   Ultimately, the dynamic range between any two pixels is defined by the measurement of the light hitting those pixels, so two bits bit of data, each having between 0 and 24 million values say, will have more dynamic range than two bits between 0 and 1 million values. 


Here are two stills that represent the differences between the Panasonic h.264 camera and RAW-based images




Or to put it simply


Low Data = HIgh Contrast

HIgh Data = Low Contrast


Of course, we've beat this subject to death on EOSHD.  And I continue :)  If you have PERFECT lighting you can get good dynamic range with your camera (like the golden hour).  That is, the lighting has to be perfect BEFORE the camera compressed the image.  If not, you won't have the data to get it back.


Again, if you're just looking for soft looks, Andy will get you there.  If you're really trying to get low contrast images, you've probably maxed out what the Panasonic camera can do.  AGAIN, not saying they aren't great cameras.  I have a GM1.  Just saying IF one wants a certain look only RAW can deliver at this time.  Again,I'm just passionate about this point because I spent a lot of time trying to match dynamic range between cameras.


And I'd be remiss if I didn't repeat NOTHING ABOUT A RAW WORKFLOW IS TRIVIAL IN TIME AND MONEY.  You have to really want to sacrifice a lot for the look.  If you're shooting events and just want a few effects, then you have the perfect setup.  For the kind/amount of video I shoot, the GM1 kills it.

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Thanks for the image example above. It really hammers the point home about the difference between raw and h264. And as you say, working with RAW is not trivial, which is the main reason why I don't want to deal with it. There is the option of Prores which is a little less than half the filesizes of RAW but from what I've seen, the highlight clipping isn't that much better than my GX7.


You are right I am trying to squeeze out as much image from my camera as possible. But the alternative is to invest in a new and more expensive camera and add new power solutions and storage costs into the mix. I am not a professional film maker, I am just a hobbyist trying my best not to let this interest spin completely out of control. Besides that, the old directors didn't have anywhere near the control over their image as you get with RAW now. From my experience with shooting 35mm stills, it's actually just as unforgiving as h264. Highlights blow and you lose detail in shadows as readily as you do with h264 - depending on your film stock of course.

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that low contrast look can also be achived with the right lenses that have that look .


one that is very very good for this is the Tokina RMC 28-85mm f4


its cheap on ebay - it has very very low contrast and very low saturation - they just made it like that for some reason !

it looks great and I use it to get this look via the glass - not using filters on my good lenses


Now its a useful lens as it covers a good useable range 28 for the coverage , 85mm for the close ups and 50 0r 40mm for the rest !

you can shoot an awful lot on this one lens!


stick it on a speedbooster so you have Super 35mm field of view with it.

it also then becomes a very good f2.8 !!

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