Review: Tiffen 77mm Combination Neutral Density 1.8 Infrared (IR) Filter

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tiffen filter photos (4 of 7)ISO 1001-320 sec at f - 2.5

Editor’s Note: Big thanks goes out to Doug Guerra over at the Alternating Line; a new NYC based company that focuses on freelance camera operating and video engineering.

Filters are an interesting bunch–many photographers will say that you don’t need them but others swear by the protection that they can offer. But when it comes to the video world, they’re a necessity. While many of us on the site prefer to use Vari-ND filters for the convenience that they offer, many videographers still prefer to go with dedicated filters. Both have their advantages, but some are really designed to give an extra punch. In the case of Tiffen’s Combo IR ND filter, you might want to use this one with a cinema camera.

Gear Used

For this test, we tested the Tiffen 77mm Combo IR ND filter with the BlackMagic Cinema Camera. The lenses used for the test were the Sigma 85mm f1.4 DG and the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 L.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the B&H Photo listing of the product

Type Neutral Density/Infrared filter
Size 77mm
5mm thick
Grade 1.8
Filter Factor Neutral Density = 6-stop; Reduces ISO by 1/64
Multi-Coated Not Applicable
Rotating Not Applicable
Effect Reflects infrared light from digital still and video cameras
Application Digital/HDSLR or HD video
Color Temperature Not Specified by Manufacturer
Construction Water White Glass
Front Filter Thread Size 77mm
Front Lens Cap Size 77mm

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tiffen filter photos (6 of 7)ISO 1001-250 sec at f - 2.5

Tiffen’s filter isn’t like others designed for video. Many others are Vari-ND filters, and so with a twist of a ring you can dial in the intensity of how much light is cut down or not. This filter is a dedicated IR and ND filter, and so it seems perfectly designed for one of the best budget-level camcorders out there: the BMCC. The reason for this is due to the fact that it cuts down light hitting the sensor and therefore lets you shoot with a more wide open aperture and it is also an IR filter–which helps because the BMCC doesn’t have one.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tiffen filter photos (3 of 7)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 2.5

With all of this said, the filter can still mount to the front of your lens and still have room for a lens hood–which helps when needing to block out extra sunlight. However, most videographers don’t shoot with a hood.

Image Quality

As we stated earlier, many folks complain about using filters because they say that it degrades image quality–but the videography world needs them. And despite video still not being as heavily detailed as still images, there is still a need for sharpness. In our use of the filter with the BMCC and both the Canon L lens and Sigma 85mm f1.4, we didn’t think that the filter seemed to leave any discernible issues with the image. Overall the video we yielded was still still sharp and free from any defects–even when shooting with the lenses wide open. Color correction done in post and on a calibrated monitor seemed to help any issues that we saw like how it skin tones were affected, but they still overall weren’t as lively as when a filter isn’t used.

This is all quite impressive for a strong ND filter. With a six stop cut, this is most useful in bright outdoor light–just as most ND filters are. A still shooter can likely make this a more versatile filter with a slower shutter speed and reduced ISO (like when shooting bodies of water), but this filter is unique in that it combines an IR filter as well. Standard ND filters don’t remove the IR light hitting the sensor, though most still cameras have IR filters built in.

In this case though, the BlackMagic Cinema Camera doesn’t have an IR filter, and so this filter is ideal for it. Cinema cameras also tend to work with fixed exposure ratings and shutter speeds, so cutting light with an ND filter is extremely useful. We’ve got a lot more on this in our intro to videography for photographers.

Some cinema cameras also have a fixed base ISO; such as the digital bolex and the BMCC: which starts at ISO 800. Using this filter, a bright shooting environment was no problem, and most times, at ISO 800, and 1/48 shutter, we had stopped down to a sharp f/5.6 with pleasing results. The filter really helps take advantage of the enormous dynamic range of a cinema camera–especially those that shoot RAW video.

This section was created with the help and advising of Doug Guerra.

Conclusions

The Tiffen Combo IR ND filter is obviously something that was designed for indie film-makers that can’t afford to bring matte boxes and square filters to cut down light. And for what it is, it does an excellent job. While we still overall prefer Vari-ND filters, we believe that Tiffen is doing a great job on ensuring that the myth about image quality degradation stays to just that–a myth.

If you’re a videographer, we recommend that you get your hands on some cinema glass and give this little filter a whirl.

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