Lots of folks know them as star filters. That’s essentially what the Tiffen Cross Screen filter is. It does the equivalent of putting a really wide mesh across your lens while also using a piece of glass to soften the image overall. Portrait photographers and anyone looking for a unique look are bound to like it. And as I found, it can even put a twink in someone’s eyes.
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The Tiffen Cross Screen filter doesn’t have a whole lot to it. You screw it onto the front of your lens, and that’s it. It’s different from the Prism FX filters that let you twist the ring to change how the effect is rendered. But I’m perfectly fine with it being just the way it is.
The way it works is by looking at point light sources. Anything that stands out in the scene as being particularly specular is rendered in a cross-section. So if you get a specular highlight in someone’s eye, it can turn that way. If you’re on the street and looking at street lights, they can turn all x-shaped. And this leads to a lot of really fun creativity that you get in-camera. I like combining it with slower shutter speeds to get cars leaving light trails while others are stopped and making cross-section lights. I also like dragging the camera and panning to get a really different effect, unlike anything I’ve seen before.
I’ve found that this effect is best pronounced when you’re shooting a bit wider open. I used the Tiffen Cross Screen filter with the Laowa 28mm f1.2 lens a while back. When you stop the lens down a bit, the effect stays for sure. But it doesn’t give you that nice glow that you get otherwise when shooting wide open. Instead, it becomes too sharp and clear. That’s not really a look that I’m going for.
This is a fun enough filter to keep on your lens at all times just to see and experience the cool effects that it offers. I caught a candid photo of my buddies at a bar I was hanging out at. And behind them is light. The Tiffen Cross Screen filter made the light render in a completely different way, and depending on where you’re focusing, the lights might play out or look totally unique each time. That’s something I really like about the Tiffen Cross Screen filter, you can’t always predict to know what it’s going to look like.
Most importantly, though, I think what it’s doing is letting you forego using a lens hood and embrace what the lens can do while being a smaller-to-carry package. If you just leave the filter on, it gives protection while also providing much-needed character to a lot of modern lenses. This is even better if the lenses are weather resistant because they’re protected, and hopefully, you’re using a weather-resistant camera too.
If you’re interested in the Tiffen Cross Screen filter, consider picking them up online. And more importantly, consider getting very experimental with things like white balance, shutter speeds, apertures, motion blur, movement, and so much more. The world doesn’t need to be crystal clear, and the Tiffen Cross Screen filter makes it just hazy enough to really like what you get.