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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gadget Bag: Special-Effects Camera Filters


Craft the image in-camera instead of wrestling with Photoshop

Labels: GearMore GearGadget Bag

This Article Features Photo Zoom

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Cokin Double Exposure
The close-up and split-field close-up filters often are classified as lenses, but they belong in this collection of special-effects filters. They’re available in different strengths (generally calibrated from +1 to +3) and can be used in various combinations, to allow you to get closer to your subject. Although relatively inexpensive, they produce surprisingly good results. The split-field is half close-up, half empty, so you can capture two distinct planes of focus simultaneously—one near and one at infinity.

Neutral-density filters reduce light transmission evenly without adding color or making any other changes to the scene. They’re labeled based on the amount of light they absorb: a 0.3 ND absorbs one stop; a 0.9 ND absorbs 3 stops. Standard ND filters are useful but boring. On the other hand, grad ND filters are cool because you can hold back exposure in part of a scene—the sky, typically—without reducing the exposure overall.

B+W offers more than 1,000 filters in standard screw-in configurations and more than 1,600 in all. Sizes range from 19mm to 122mm—essentially, there’s nothing they can’t fit. Many fall into the special-effects category, including every flavor mentioned here, as well as many others. For example, in the 55mm size, B+W provides four-point, six-point and eight-point star-effect filters. B+W was founded in 1947 and became part of the Jos. Schneider Optical Works in 1985. The merger of these giants has produced interesting products, including the world’s first filters with a water- and dirt-repelling multilayer coating.

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Tiffen Digital Diffusion FX-1
If you own several lenses that have different filter sizes, you’ll love the Cokin Creative Filter System. Instead of using duplicate filters, you can use the same filter on (nearly) all of your lenses. All you need is one Cokin filter holder and an assortment of inexpensive rings in the appropriate sizes. The filters are square and slide securely into the holder, which makes it easy to adjust both the vertical and horizontal position—a key benefit when using split-field, grad ND and multi-image filters. Cokin offers one of the largest assortments of creative special-effects filters, including interesting masks and double-exposure trick filters.

Formatt Filters
are mainly marketed toward motion-picture, video and broadcast-television camera users, but that doesn’t deter enthusiastic still photographers. The Supermist clear filter is a highly prized softening tool for knocking the edge off excessive sharpness and reducing contrast by slightly lightening shadow areas without detracting from the overall image. Formatt traces its heritage back to Reginald Morris, grandfather to the company founder, who worked for many years as chief physicist at Eastman Kodak and helped develop what’s now known as the Kodak Wratten Standard.

Heliopan supplies 13 types of polarizers, grad wide-angle filters and a full range of special-effects filters. For occasional close-up photography, nothing is more convenient than close-up filters. They can’t replace a true macro lens, but high-quality results can be achieved if you use a high-quality filter like those made by Heliopan. Available in four strengths (NL 1.0 through NL 4.0), they can be used in combination (NL 2.0 + NL 3.0 = NL 5.0, for example) for greater flexibility. All Heliopan filters are made from glass supplied by Schott (wholly owned by Carl Zeiss) and set in black, anodized brass rings.

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