Over the past few years, plug-in software developers have continued to evolve their packages of filters into comprehensive effects suites, complete with ready-made presets to preview just how your images will appear. One of the newest of these is the Tiffen Dfx suite (version 3), which has been developed through the ongoing collaboration of The Tiffen Company and Digital Film Tools. Tiffen Dfx traces its heritage back to the 55mm and Digital Film Lab software products developed by Digital Film Tools.
The custom interface used by the Dfx application is very reminiscent of another new product from Digital Film Tools – PhotoCopy, which I reviewed a few months ago. DFT PhotoCopy worked off of the analysis of representative feature film, painting and photographic looks. The Tiffen Dfx package uses a more traditional combination of textures, color correction, image enhancements and filters. Thanks to the relationship with Tiffen, the Dfx package is able to include the digital equivalents of many of Tiffen’s trademarked Hollywood F/X glass filters, such as the various diffusion, grad, pro-mist and warming filters that are offered. Instead of a simulated version, you get a look that has actually been approved by Tiffen.
Tiffen Dfx version 3 adds a number of new effects to stylize the image. These include high contrast color shadow effects, artifact removal (DeBand, DeBlock, DeNoise), lighting/smoothing effects (KeyLight, Glow Darks), Texture, image color/tone/grain matching (Match) and realistic light ray effects (Rays). Plus a wide range of Film Stock filters than simulate 113 different color and black-and-white photographic stocks.
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The Tiffen Dfx digital filter suite is sold in three versions: a standalone application, a plug-in set for photo applications and a separate plug-in set for video applications. In the standalone version, users can process the standard still photo formats, like TIFF, RAW and JPEG, but in addition, can also deal with DPX images. Since batch processing can be set up, it is possible to use the standalone version to affect motion footage by batch processing TIFF or DPX image sequences.
The plug-in version for photo applications installs into Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple Aperture and is similar to the standalone version, minus the import/export and batch controls. Both the still photo and standalone versions of Dfx include drawing tools for custom masking and the ability to stack layers of different filters, complete with blending modes. Applying the Dfx filter in Photoshop sends you to the same custom interface used in the standalone version and both can be used in single and dual-monitor configurations.
The Dfx interface is divided into a layer stack, parameters to adjust filters, a browser of presets and the active canvas that previews the effect applied to your image. The preset browser will also create thumbnails using your image with each of the various filters and effects applied. Across the bottom of the interface is a selection strip with the various major filter and effect categories: Film Lab, HFX Diffusion, HFX Grads/Tints, Image, Lens, Light, Special Effects and Favorites. Within each category is a series of subcategories. For instance, Film Lab would include Film Stocks and Bleach Bypass filters among others. Each of these groups includes a series of presets that can be applied, as well as flagged as a Favorite for quick recall. These tools make it quick to preview a wide range of looks and filter options on your photo.
The image in the preview canvas can be resized and displayed in various split-screen and two-up views in order to compare your look against the original starting image. The Dfx suite is so deep – with so many color correction and filter options – that a photographer or designer would never really have the need to do any of these adjustments in Photoshop, Aperture or Lightroom if they didn’t want to.
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The video version of the Tiffen Dfx suite installs into Adobe After Effects, Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro 7 and Avid Media Composer/Symphony. In these hosts, the individual filter categories show up within the standard effects selection palette, so you have to apply one of the individual filters, like Film Stocks from the Film Lab category, in order to get started. Depending on the host, some or all of the adjustment sliders are available within the effects control panel. If you want greater control, click on the Dfx Interface button to launch the custom interface.
In the video version, you can only work with a single filter at a time and cannot stack a series of filters within the Dfx interface. As in the other versions, the Dfx interface displays the frame you were parked on when you launched the custom interface and uses that image to generate the preset thumbnails of the various settings. The video plug-in can also be used in both a single and dual-screen mode. The center canvas has several comparison and split-screen views, while the right panel includes the adjustment parameters.
One handy feature in all versions is a Variations window. Click one of the slider control names in the Parameters window and the Variations window is quickly populated with a series of iterations based on possible changes to that control. There’s a slider in the Variations windows to control how many thumbnails you’d like to preview.
The big selling point for the Tiffen Dfx package is that many of the effects are based on specific Tiffen Hollywood F/X glass filters and gels. These are called out by name and number in the preset panes, so someone familiar with the physical product will know right away what result each of these will have. In additional, the film stock presets are also based on specific known Agfa, Fuji, Kodak and Polaroid products.
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I did most of my testing in After Effects and I really loved the versatility of this filter package. Not to mention the sheer range it has to offer. Unlike the standalone version or the photo plug-in, you couldn’t apply multiple effects while staying inside the custom Dfx interface. To apply multiple Tiffen effects in After Effects, you simply apply several filters, the same as any other package. The difference is that if you want to make the tweaks inside the custom GUI, then that means bouncing between the After Effects (or Final Cut or Avid) interface and the custom Dfx interface for each filter adjustment. However, the parameters are available in the host application controls, so you can make adjustments there if you prefer. As a set, the Dfx package is very stable in the applications I tested. It’s particularly well-suited for Avid systems, making it a “must have” tool for Media Composer editors who want to stylize their projects.
Overall, this is an impressive combination of tools. I don’t think any of the other digital filter suites on the market offers as much variety in the number and type of included effects. If you can only go with one effects suite and want the maximum toolset, then look no farther than the Tiffen Dfx Digital Filters Suite.
Written for DV magazine (NewBay Media LLC).
©2011 Oliver Peters