Tiffen Vari IRND Brings Cinematic Look to the BMCC
- February 20, 2014
- Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Welcome to the Hurlbut Visuals Blackmagic Cinema Camera Tiffen Variable ND test. Tiffen and I have had a very long relationship dating back to the days of The Rat Pack when I was shooting film. It’s always been a great collaboration. Steve and his team have really knocked it out of the park on all of their neutral density and beautiful diffusion filters. They really understand filmmakers and cinematographers and what they absolutely need.
When Steve Tiffen came to me and said, “You know what? I’ve created the Tiffen Vari IRND. Would you like to test it out?” I said, “Absolutely! You know, this sounds very cool.” I’m usually not a very big fan of Vari IRND or any Variable ND because it’s basically dueling polarizers. Any time you have dueling polarizers, by rotating, you are intensifying the polarization. By intensifying the polarization, you are taking the reflection off of somebody’s skin and making their skin appear to be very matte. By doing that, I feel that it really loses the vitality of the skin of the actor or actress. I really love the subtle reflections that you get without polarizing skin. As a result, I was reluctant to use Vari NDs, and I haven’t used them in the past. I’m very old-fashioned in that regard. If I want 3-stops ND, I put a ND 9 and if I want ND 5-stops I put in a 1.5, and I’m constantly changing it. I’m not sitting there just rotating the variable ND to dial it in to the correct exposure.
So we are going to embark on this wonderful Tiffen Vari IRND test, so let’s roll it. Here we have the Blackmagic with an L-series 24 mm lens. I’m at ISO 200, shutter speed 180, 5600 Kelvin, 23.976fps, the aperture at ƒ/17, shooting in pro-res. This is the minimum at which you can have this Vari ND, which is somewhere around a 1-stop on Neutral Density.
Right off the bat, what I’m seeing that is there is too much IR filtration on this Vari ND. The sky is going very green. The cream-colored building across the street has green tones. There just seems to be a green cast everywhere.
My thought process was that the Blackmagic camera has about three stops IR filtration built into its sensor. Look at the filmstrip below of one stop ND, 2 stop ND and 3 stop of ND where it is not getting browned out with IR pollution.
At DOT 1, still you can see the image is way too green. This obviously means that the Blackmagic camera has some IR filtration on its sensor. We did tests by shooting with straight ND’s up to .9 and found that somewhere in between, .9 – 1.2 is where you need to add IR filtration.
Now this is where it changes. At DOT 3, we are starting to see the color green coming out of the image. You are really starting to see the cream color of the building show and the sky is starting to get a little bluer instead of its green cast that we saw previously.
At DOT 4, it looks even better. I think Tiffen is really nailing the IR filtration right at DOT 3 and DOT 4.
When you think about it, you know we are still not at the f-stop that we should be shooting with the Blackmagic Camera at a 8.7. Look at the image. Everything is in focus, with this very small 4/3 chip camera. The maximum f stop that you should be shooting at is a ƒ/4. Take a look at DOT 5. It is looking beautiful with great skin-tone with no brownness. The sky is coming alive. There are no browns in the green and no brown in the shadows. This is an excellent filter.
At DOT 6, we now have 7-stops worth of IRND. It’s beautiful. Look at how all the color tones are here. We have greens. We have the cream of the building. We have the beautiful blue sky. We have a wonderful skin tone. I shot this all on pro-res. I didn’t want to go raw. I just wanted to show you pro-res so there’s some kind of color on it and it was not just a flat file.
At ƒ/4.5, ISO 200 at max the background is just starting to come out of focus a little and this is where it’s starting to become a very cinematic camera.
My favorite setting on this Vari ND is X, which is 10 stops worth of IRND. I absolutely love this look. You have the glow in her eyes there. You have the beautiful blue sky. There’s no brownness at all. The images are very clean. Now we are at ISO 400 at an ƒ/2.0. Our background is beautifully out of focus, and our model separates beautifully from the background. This is the way I would be shooting a BMCC. This is where it really shines.
Monette Moio is a very beautiful model and I want to thank her so much for coming in and doing this.
Now we’re going to move on to a maximum minimum test because what I wanted to do is to see if the IR and these dueling IR filters would take that skin reflection out.
This is what I noticed. Tiffen is being very smart at what they do. They use the minimum setting to kind of matte the skin because you really are not going to roll out with the Vari ND at its min setting. As you intensify the Vari ND to the .3, .4, .5, .6, .7 area, it opens up and brings that vitality back into the skin. It makes it so it’s absolutely beautiful and with no skin reflection being removed.
We are going to rotate the pola and try to adjust the stop. My ACs are doing their best job, but we can see it’s really not matting the skin that much. The polarizers are reacting beautifully and they are reacting in a way to deliver a clean image the way you should be shooting this camera, which is mainly at 6 or .7 max or X.
What kinds of filters do you use? What have you encountered when shooting with the Vari NDs?
From blog reader Hans Hijmering:
These are color corrected files from the Tiffen IR Vari ND test. It’s a test to see how well they grade. In the process of filtering the infra red light this filter leaves a greenish cast in the image (higher ND number produces less green). Color correction was done in Davinci Resolve. The green was removed to make the image appear neutral. A custom LUT was applied to transform the image from film (log) mode to REC 709 color space. This LUT also ads color saturation. No masks or power windows were used.
We have made these files available for download here in 1080p:
E E02 2013-11-20 0750 C0022 grade HH
E E02 2013-11-20 0751 C0023 grade HH
E E02 2013-11-20 0752 C0024 grade HH
E E02 2013-11-20 0754 C0025 grade HH
E E02 2013-11-20 0756 C0026 grade HH
E E02 2013-11-20 0815 C0034 grade HH
Hans has made the custom LUT available for download here: