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Review of Tiffen Dfx3

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Review of Tiffen Dfx3

Digital filtering for your images.

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Tiffen have always been known to me as suppliers of high quality glass filters for photographic use.

Their products extend to movie use (film and video) where there is a huge range of optical filtering and effects available – indeed they have been in the business for over 70 years.

Keith Cooper has been looking at the latest version of Tiffen’s Dfx filter suite – version 3.

tiffen dfx3

Keith Cooper has been looking at the latest version of Tiffen’s Dfx filter suite – version 3.

This quick review looks at using the filters as a Photoshop plugin, although they work just as well with Lightroom or Aperture. It can also work as standalone software.

Do note that these filters are available to work with a variety of video processing software titles, but since we don’t do any video work here at Northlight, this review just looks at processing still images. The software was tested on a Mac, but works on both Mac & Windows (32 and 64 bit).

Filters and Images

As a photographer who works predominantly in stills and generally eschews optical filter use, it came as news to me to discover that so many of Tiffen’s optical effects were duplicated in their Dfx digital filter suite.

If you’ve read some of my other reviews, you’ll know that I’ve a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards using filters in Photoshop – sometimes I just feel that I should make the effort to ‘do it in Photoshop’ whilst other times I recognise that even if I could duplicate the effect in Photoshop, then I’d never remember the process the next day.

I’d suggest looking at any review of filter functionality from the point of view of how much effort it saves you personally, in the sorts of work (and software used), compared to not having the filter.

One thing that quickly struck me about Dfx3 was the sheer number of variations and filter types – this review really only scratches the surface of what you get.

Fortunately there is a free time limited demo, so if you see something you like, then give it a go.

Tiffen Dfx3 – What do you get?

The software comes in a number of versions depending on whether it’s meant to work on its own or with another image/video editing package.

dfx3 install versions

Licensing is easiest if you have an internet connection, but can be carried out via email.

license setup

I initially thought that the software wasn’t licensed to run on two machines (as with photoshop), but that shows the perils of trying to read licensing text – it will work on two machines (laptop/desktop) so i can use it on location without having to transfer licenses.

It is worth noting that one Dfx photo plug-in license will allow it to run in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture if installed on the same machine.

Similarly, one Dfx video/film plug-in license will allow it to run in Adobe After Effects, Apple Final Cut Pro and Avid Editing Systems if installed on the same machine.

Using Tiffen Dfx3

The examples here are screenshots from my Mac Pro – the interface is similar if running on a PC.

I’ve opened up this image of a country cottage taken one sunny day in May.

Unfortunately I needed to take the shot just then, so couldn’t wait for the sun to move round and light more of the front of the house. Sometimes in commercial work – you don’t get the luxury of waiting for perfect lighting…

When this image was actually used in a brochure, the client lightened up some of the darker areas of the front of the house, and cloned out the TV aerial on the chimney…

dfx plugin window layout

The layout can be customised to some extent, but this view shows a fairly basic mode to start with.

On the left hand side, the thumbnails show filter outputs, this is also where you can stack multiple filter effects on top of one another.

At the bottom are some of the filters, sorted into different categories of effects.

As I mentioned, there are a lot of filters – you can browse them all, with more examples of their use, at Tiffen’s filter samples page.

The shot below shows the ‘2 monitor’ mode – move your mouse over the image to see what’s on my second screen.

I do often use software in this mode, but all the rest of the examples here are single monitor views, for clarity.

Original ImageHover Image

Additional windows, such as this histogram are available via the main menu.

additional controls

The appearance of this menu initially confused me, until I realised that the plugin is running as a separate program, which hands its results back to Photoshop.

menu options for screen layout

You can also see some of the variety of icons that allow access to functions of the plugin.

When first experimenting with the plugin, I ‘lost’ some windows and only found them again after discovering the View>Window menu options.

There are enough quirks and idiosyncrasies of the interface design, that I would suggest taking a bit of time to read the guides and introductions for the software.

Just how ‘different’ it will seem to you is very dependent on the route you arrived by. An Apple Aperture user will find different changes, to a Windows Photoshop user.

Some filters

The little thumbnails along the bottom give rapid previews of what’s going to happen to your image.

On my Mac Pro, there were no real delays in the appearance of previews, and even changes in the main display window only seemed to take a fraction of a second – the software is certainly fast.

Some ‘film’ effects…

assorted filter types

…and some ‘Special effects’.

more filter types

Most of the filters have an array of adjustments and sliders you can change.

It’s possible to pick two sliders and get the software to generate ‘variations’ for you to explore – this rapidly explodes the number of options you’ve got, and IMHO should be used with care (see later for my opinions on why a huge range of choice is not always good).

This is a ‘3-strip’ process.

filter settings adjustment

Three strip? Probably better known as Technicolor to many (see WP article on Technicolor)

As I mentioned, this plugin is intended for video use as well, so if you’ve no film/video background then the function of quite a few filters will be a bit of a mystery to you (I learned more about the history of movies during my testing of this software ;-)

You don’t need to face all those sliders, since for many filters, there are preset options (top right of the window below)

The view below also shows a split screen option, where you can see the before/after views.

split view mode for filter preview

You can move this split around, but if you zoom in, the tick marks above and below the image are lost. However, if you move your mouse over where the divider is, a double arrow cursor appears (I missed this feature when initially testing – another reason to read the manuals ;-)

An edge blurring effect, with optional colour changes…

edge blurring

As you’d expect from Tiffen – there are a lot of graduated filters and tints.

tints and grad filters

More tints.

more tinted filters

In amongst all these image adjustments are some such as DeBanding and DeBlocking that may be of use in cleaning up low quality images (blocking removes JPEG artefacts for example).

image adjustments - colour balance

Or, how about a choice of emulated film stocks?

emulation of various film stocks

For all those people who still like to insist that film colour, was ‘better than digital’ – Nope, it was different, but rarely more accurate.

There are a lot of them…

film processing effects

There are a wide range of diffusion patterns you can apply.

diffusion patterns

There is also a ‘black and white’ effect, but even when tied in with emulated B&W film stocks, I found the B&W effects fairly lacklustre, given what’s available in Photoshop or Lightroom – one for the video users I’m assuming.

colour filters for Black and white effects

One area that is very comprehensively covered is ‘lighting conversion’ – what I’d generally lump together as white balance and colour correction.

Once again something of more interest to the film world?

colour balance and WB options

Numerous special lighting effects are available.

lighting effects

Do have a look at the examples on the Tiffen site, since there are many that show examples from sorts of photography I don’t do (portraits/fashion etc.)

When I was out on location, I was so much wishing I could project a big skull and crossbones onto the scene.

No problem – it seems that Gobos [WP] are the answer to my unasked question…

gobo application

Gobos with lots of adjustments too…

I did alter the sliders, but personally I’m lost for any use of this in my own work (YMMV).

gobo adjustment

And I get a paint tool too.

Once again, perhaps not of the greatest use since I’m in Photoshop? (although LR and Aperture do not have such functionality – perhaps another reason I don’t use either in my work)

It does include cloning and red-eye reduction – but for me this just isn’t the place I’d do such things.

built in paint tool

However my serious point is that with quite a few filters of negligible (IMHO) use to many photographers, I’d query the organisation of the filter types that are provided. It’s that problem of choice, when do you just experiment, and when do you need to have an objective you are aiming at.

The night-time look (below) may be great for your next rock video…

simulating a night time look

The software does offer quite a few effects that can be localised to image content, such as the zone selection feature, where I’ve changed the hue to show the selected parts of the image.

zone selection

A range of lens correction options are included.

lens corrections

Another ‘film’ effect – telecine [WP].

telecine conversion

Filters can have their effectiveness adjusted (Opacity), such as below where I’ve added a vignette and then reduced it’s effect somewhat.

The previews here are updated as well as the main image display.

blending filters

Filters can be stacked, so in the view below I’ve stacked a brownish vignette with a blue overall filter (which could be graduated if needed).

Layers can also be blended in several different modes.

stacking multiple filter effects in Dfx3

In the example below, I run an autoadjust filter and then a white vignette to produce just the sort of twee country cottage view I can imagine finding in a brochure…

vignetting applied


I’ll finish up with one feature of the filters I found extremely easy to use.

Any filter can have a mask applied to specify where is (or is not) affected by that filter layer.

A series of mask creation tools is available along the top of the display, these allow you to paint in areas to include/exclude, and offer refinements afterwards.

mask creation tools

In the example below, I want to ignore the sky and just lighten up the buildings.

As you can see, the selection process can be quite roughly done.

auto mask generation

The auto generated mask (visible in the top left) works well – it correctly included the weather vane in the mask.

Here, it allows me just to apply the ‘Relighting’ filter to the building. I’ve over emphasised it here, so you can see the effect, but it does help with cloudy days…

masked filter application

Note that the previews along the bottom, do not use the mask.

The masking options are numerous, and very good at making quite complex masks – you really do need to read the manual and the examples to get the best out of it.

The full range of filters…

Ambient Light, Auto Adjust, Black and White, Black/White Looks, Black Diffusion/FX, Black Pro-Mist, Bleach Bypass, Blur, Bronze Glimmerglass, Center Spot, Chromatic Aberration, Close-Up Lens, Color Correct, Color-Grad, Color Infrared, Color Looks, Color Shadow, Color Spot, Cool Pro-Mist, Cross Processing, Day for Night, DeBand, DeBlock, DeFog, DeFringe, DeNoise, Depth of Field, Diffusion, Dot, Double Fog, Dual Grad, Edge Glow, Enhancing, Eye Light, Faux Film, Film Stocks, Flag, Flashing, Fluorescent, Fog, F-Stop, Gels, Glimmerglass, Glow, Glow Darks, Gobo, Gold Diffusion/FX, Gold Reflector, Grain, Halo, Haze, HDTV/FX, High Contrast, HFX Star, Ice Halos, Infrared, Kelvin, Key Light, Lens Distortion, Levels, Light, Low Contrast, Match, Mono Tint, ND-Grad, Night Vision, Nude/FX, Old Photo, Overexpose, Ozone, Paint, Pencil, Photographic, Polarizer, Printer Points, Pro-Mist, Rack Focus, Radial Exposure, Rainbow, Rays, ReLight, Selective Color Correct, Selective Saturation, Sepia, Sharpen, Sky, Silver Reflector, Smoque, Soft Contrast, Soft/FX, Soft Light, Split Field, Split Tone, Star, Streaks, Strip Grad, Sunset/Twilight, Telecine, Temperature, Texture, Three Strip, Tint, Two Strip, Ultra Contrast, Vari-Star, Vignette, 812 Warming, Warm Black Pro-Mist, Warm Center Spot, Warm Polarizer, Warm Pro-Mist, Warm Soft/FX, Water Droplets, Wide Angle Lens, and X-Ray.


The software offers vast numbers of options and refinements to hundreds of different filter types.

These filters are for the most part easy to apply and can be stacked to give thousands more options.

What it does, it does very well.

Tiffen’s own blurb says: “Simulating 2,000+ popular award-winning Tiffen glass filters, specialized lenses, optical lab processes, film grain, exacting color correction, plus natural light and photographic effects”

My own issue, is that with quite a few filters of negligible (IMHO) use to photographers, I’d query the organisation of the filter types that are provided.

Sure I can select favourites, but there are just so many that it would be nice if I could have some alternative sets, perhaps named after the types of use they are aimed at.

Three-strip may be a film process familiar to those with technical historical movie knowledge, but I can’t say I’ve ever met a photographer who thinks – “I wonder what this shot would have looked like in Technicolor in 1953”. One definitely for the movie makers amongst you (BTW I believe the effect was use in Titanic and ‘The Aviator’).

You can be spoilt for choice – it’s well known that giving people many many more choices does not always make things easier (57 varieties of everything makes choice difficult)

I kept finding lots of things of potential use, but lost in many others that just didn’t fit my needs at all – I suspect that not everyone would have the patience to go through it all… It was like someone had given me a 2000 piece tool box, but the crosshead screwdrivers I needed to open something were distributed all over the place in different sections.

Just remember… that I’m looking at the functionality from the point of a photographer using Photoshop, who’s main job does not involve much heavy photo manipulation – that’s what my clients want the photos for. This probably explains why despite finding IR photography technically interesting in my recent experiments, it just didn’t fire my creative enthusiasm. I’m not a fan of graduated filters in front of my lens either, so do look at my comments in the context of the sorts of photography I do. For example, there are many effects that might be of use in fashion/beauty work – something along with weddings and portraits that don’t form part of my business.

So, great filters, but be prepared to spend quite some time finding out just what’s of use to you.

Trying it out

As I’ve mentioned, there is a free demo of the software available which gives a time limited (15 day), but fully functional version of the software.

There is also a ‘Demo version’ option to test the software, where processed images are watermarked and that is a function always available, even if the product is not licensed.

The software can be purchased on-line or at a number of suppliers. Buy Tiffen software at B&H (US)

System requirements

Dfx v3 is compatible with:

Photo Plug-ins

  • Adobe Photoshop CS3 and up
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 and up
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 and up
  • Apple Aperture 3 and up

Video/Film Plug-ins

  • Adobe After Effects CS5 and up
  • Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 and up
  • Apple Final Cut Pro 6 and 7
  • Avid Symphony, Media Composer, Newscutter, Xpress Pro


  • Mac OS X 10.6.x – 10.7.x
  • Macintosh Multicore Intel processor
  • 1GB RAM (2 GB+ recommended)
  • 1GB available disk space for caching and temporary files
  • Display with 1280 x 1024 resolution or higher
  • Three-button mouse
  • Wacom Intuos 3 and 4 support


  • Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7
  • 1.0 GHz processor or faster
  • Intel or AMD processor
  • 1GB RAM (2 GB+ recommended)
  • 1GB available disk space for caching and temporary files
  • Open-GL capable graphics card
  • Display with 1280 x 1024 resolution or higher
  • Three-button mouse
  • Wacom Intuos 3 and 4 support

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