Tiffen’s Dfx Filter Software; A Famous Filter Maker Goes Digital

About 31/2 years ago something happened that was destined to change my view of filters forever. I was talking shop with an old buddy who happens to be a veteran professional photographer and a bona fide digital guru. In the course of our brief conversation I mentioned that I was using optical filters--namely a graduated ND and a circular polarizer--for a D-SLR project I was working on. "Why would you do that? I haven't used optical filters in years!" he proudly proclaimed. "Haven't you heard of Nik's Color Efex Pro 2.0, the digital plug-in filter system that lets you get practically any filter effect you want in postproduction?"

Parameters par excellence: Click on the Parameters tab and you'll bring up this window displaying the parameters of the filter currently in use--hue, saturation, brightness, contrast, gamma, and RGB color values. Adjusting the parameters will update and change the main image. You can also create your own custom filter variations.
All Photos © 2007, Joseph Meehan, All Rights Reserved

Well, after having used Nik's Color Efex Pro 2.0 for over two years I must admit that it's a well thought-out, comprehensive system that provides a plethora of fascinating and useful filter effects. But with all due respect to my friend, there are still many important things (like true polarization, lens protection, UV suppression, and brightness range attenuation) that can be done better or more easily with traditional glass filters--and you can even see the effects in the viewfinder at the moment of exposure.

Philosophical arguments aside, I was sufficiently impressed with Nik's Color Efex Pro 2.0 to bend the ear of a Tiffen executive I ran into at the PMA Show back in 2004. "Yes, your optical filters are among the best," I said. "But when it comes to plug-in software filters, Nik is eating your lunch. Tiffen had better come out with a comprehensive, top of the line, plug-in electronic filter system if your company expects to remain competitive in the digital era." Well, it's taken a while, but the Tiffen Dfx system has finally arrived--and based on my experience with it over the past two months, I'm pleased to say it was well worth the wait.

The Dfx Suite
The Complete Tiffen Dfx suite, providing over 1000 traditional and special effects filters and gels, is available as a stand-alone system or as an integrated plug-in for Windows or Macintosh versions of Photoshop (from Version 7.0 to CS3) or Photoshop Elements (Version 3.0 or later) at a suggested price of $299.95. There's also a more limited "Select" version, which I didn't test drive, that's available either as a stand-alone ($99.95) or as a plug-in for Photoshop or Photoshop Elements ($159.95). All are compatible with 8 or 16 bit per channel processing. The Complete stand-alone works with Windows XP and Vista, and if you're a Mac user like me, you must have Mac OS X 10.4 or higher installed on your machine to run it. Once you install the software and bring up the dialog box, it becomes clear that easy, intuitive, visually-oriented operation is one of the system's prime virtues.

(Top): Nik's Color Efex Pro 2.0 screen presents a large, clear view of the selected image plus the effect you'll get (in this example, cross processing), but not a range of selectable filters and effects for your specific image in one convenient place. Also, effects must be selected and controlled individually rather than via one multilayered dialog box. (Above): Intuitive interface: Main Dfx dialog box has large Viewer screen in the center and Filters window along the bottom displaying filter effects and clearly labeled thumbnails. It's easy to assess details in the magnified image window at left and there's a Histogram in the lower right-hand corner.

What You See And What You Get
The basic Dfx screen layout of the dialog box consists of four main components: Viewer, Filters, Presets/Parameters, and Effect. The large Viewer screen in the center is where the images are viewed, edited, and manipulated. Along the bottom is a Filters window displaying a horizontal row of filter functions (e.g., Gels, Film Lab, HFX Grads/Tints) and clearly labeled thumbnails of the range of effects possible with each filter in the set you select. At the right of the main Viewer screen is the Presets and Parameters window, with Presets set as the default. The Presets window lets you select from existing filters that closely emulate Tiffen's optical filters--a process much like mounting a glass filter over your lens--and there's also a Custom setting that lets you select your own personalized filter effects, which you can save as your own unique effects.

Select the Parameters tab at the bottom of the box and the window displays the parameters of the filter currently in use--hue, saturation, brightness, contrast, gamma, and RGB color values--which can be individually set. Adjusting the parameters will update and change the image in the Viewer window. When a parameter name is selected in the Parameters window, it brings up a Variations window that allows you to create your own filter variations.

The Effect window to the left of the Viewer screen shows all filters that have been applied to your image, their effects, plus the original unaltered image. Select the Magnifier window directly below the Effect window and it shows a portion of the image at a 1:1 pixel ratio with the current filter applied. Finally, there's a Histogram window at the lower right-hand corner of the screen, which plots the number of pixels at each color intensity level--a useful visual representation of how an image's pixels are distributed. In addition to the default layout, there are two other layout screens available by clicking on View.

The real beauty of the Dfx system is that it provides an easy, real-time visual reference of what you're doing to an image in the Effect box, and you can clearly see the results of each effect before you apply it. What's more, you can layer a number of different effects and control each one very precisely without ever leaving the main dialog screen--a level of flexibility not possible with most other filter-effect software systems. Using the Presets is a quick and easy way to apply standard filters in the extensive Tiffen range, and the Parameters allow you to make a wide range of adjustments, and save the result as a custom filter.

Masking for dummies? The EZ Mask utility in Dfx comes close. Just draw rough lines defining the mask around the subject using your mouse, select the effect you want--in this case a Sunset/Twilight filter--and voilà! Original image courtesy of The Tiffen Company.