March 01, 2011 — For over 70 years The Tiffen Company has supplied still, movie and broadcast camera operators with innovative and Academy Award winning optical filters. In recent years it has added tripods, camera bags and cases, lighting equipment, flash brackets and other products to its lines.
In 2007, Tiffen acquired the rights to the 55mm and Digital Film Tools software filters from Digital Film Tools and released them as the Tiffen Dfx Digital Filter Suite.
Dfx Version 2 Digital Filter Software is an expanded and enhanced edition of the collection. It is available as a standalone program or as a plug-in for Photoshop and Photoshop Elements on the Mac and Windows platforms, and as an Aperture plug-in on the Mac.
There is certainly no shortage of plug-in filters on the market, ranging from goofy to useful and free to pricey. I would place Dfx2 at or very near the top of the useful list, and, on a cost-per-filter basis, near the bottom of the price list.
I confess to having been a user of the Digital Film Tools filters from their earliest version and they figured prominently in my book, Professional Filter Techniques for Digital Photographers. They were accurate digital representations of screw-in camera filters, and the software was fast and easy to use, though with a minimalist interface. Dfx2 retains the speed while vastly improving the ease of use and the interface. It also effectively doubles the available filter possibilities to over 2000, including some of Tiffen’s own proprietary camera filters. Included are specialized lens effects (such as Lens Distortion), custom lab effects (such as Bleach By-pass and Cross-processing), as well as graduated neutral density and color filters, simulated Wratten filters and Hollywood movie effect filters. And included in Dfx2 plug-in versions is Digital Film Tools EZ Mask software, one my favorite masking programs, which here allows multiple masking without leaving the plug-in.
The base collection of 110 filters is categorized by function: Film Lab, Gels, HFX Diffusion, HFX Grads/Tints, Image, Lens, Light, Photographic and Special Effects. Within each category is a collection of filters, and each filter has customizable parameters. Tiffen provides a collection of presets for most of the filters, each preset being customizable also. And you can save your customized settings as a new preset.
This would all be totally unmanageable without the attractive and well thought out Dfx2 interface. I used the plug-in version on both Mac and Windows computers and the operation was identical on both. After opening an image, it is a good idea to duplicate your working layer before clicking on Filters>Tiffen>Dfx v2 since Dfx2 processes the composite result of your work to the active layer when it sends you back to Photoshop. I would prefer it to send the result to a new layer, or better yet, to send the entire stack of Dfx2 layers and masks to Photoshop layers and layer masks. Perhaps this will happen in Dfx3. The Dfx2 filter stack does remain editable if the image is opened as a Smart Object.
Once you have clicked on Dfx v2 from the Filter menu, your original image opens in the Dfx main Viewer window. Below this window is the Filters window, with tabs for each of the nine main filter categories mentioned above. When any tab is selected, Dfx2 shows thumbnails of the image on which you are working with a representative of the filters in that tab applied to it. This allows you to immediately preview what the filter could do to your image. An excellent and extremely useful touch, this makes it easy to choose a filter, or at least a starting point, from the hundreds of basic possibilities.
To the right of the main Viewer window is the Presets and Parameters window. When you select a filter from the lower Filter window, by default a group of thumbnails appear showing presets for that filter. Clicking on any of these applies the effect to the image in the main Viewer window. If the effect isn’t quite what you have envisioned, you can select the Parameters tab and adjust the components that make up the effect. As mentioned earlier, you can save the changes as a new preset.
Each time you select an effect or adjust a parameter, the result appears in the main preview window and in the Effect window to its left. This is the Dfx2 equivalent of a “layers palette”, where different filters are stacked in layers until the final result is achieved. Once you are satisfied with one filter effect, you can choose to add a new layer and add another filter. This is also where you can adjust the opacity of the effect on the layers below. You can also add a mask (or masks) to a filter layer and it appears next to the filter effect in the Effects window. Some of the Dfx2 filters, such as the extensive set of gobos, need to be masked, while masking others will depend on your personal vision. With the extensive set of masking tools in Dfx2, it is easy to accomplish any type of masking of opaque objects.
It would be impossible for me to describe the huge range of filters available in Dfx2. For that I would suggest you download the 512 page User’s Manual from www.tiffen.com. This manual and the Dfx Image Gallery on the website will give you previews of the filters.
I do have some favorites, but the list is too long to give them all. Here are a few. When I’m adjusting scanned film, I find the Photographic filters indispensable. They include all of the Kodak Wratten color conversion, light balancing and color compensating gels. For portraits, the Nude/FX, Soft/FX and Warm Soft/FX, named the same as the Tiffen optical filters, give subtle, pleasing adjustments to skin tones. For more dramatic effects, I love the Halo filters, which mimic the effect of diffusing a negative while printing, causing dark areas to blend into light areas.
And for changing the color of specific areas of an image, nothing is better than the Ozone filter in the Lighting tab. This filter divides the image into the ten zones reminiscent of the Ansel Adams Zone System. Zones can be created using luminance, hue, saturation, average, red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow values. The color values of each zone can be independently adjusted until you’ve painted a new picture. The adjustments occur on a zone-by-zone basis, but you view the result of all color corrections simultaneously. All without masking of any type. Dfx2 does all the work.
There are a lot of plug-ins available that provide highly specialized or gimmicky effects, but none that provide the range of everyday useful filter found in Tiffen Dfx Version 2. Portrait, wedding, landscape, event and even still life photographers will find many filters here to correct and enhance their images. MSRP for the Mac and Windows standalone versions is $149.95. The Mac and Windows plug-in versions are available for $299.95 and the MSRP for the Apple Aperture version is also $299.95.
Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, Professional Filter Techniques for Digital Photographers, covering both on-camera analog and post-production digital filters is published by Amherst Media.