Tiffen DFX 3.0: Color Grading, Lab Processes, & More

Creative COW by Dennis Ketchera

When Avid launched Xpress DV, they included the Media Composer color correction tools. The poor cousin to Media Composer, Avid Xpress, was also blessed with the same color grading tools, essentially a lite version of Avid Symphony color correction. This was fantastic, because with my humble Avid Xpress(Pro) and a few tasty plugins, I was able to turn out some amazing online work, including a show opener that endured for many years until the series eventually went HD. One of boxes of fairy dust that I had bought back then was a plugin called Digital Film Tools 55 mm. It was my favourite tool for color correction work on Avid. I eventually sold my PC Avid and moved on to Final Cut Pro and I forgot about 55 mm.

But last year, while investigating current color grading solutions at NAB, it landed back on my radar, now rebranded as DFX 3.0 under the banner of Tiffen, the company known for its camera products that include Tiffen filters and Steadicam as well as lighting and other camera support systems.

Whatever your level of expertise with color grading, you are going to want to try Tiffen DFX after reading this review. In a sentence, it is one of the most useful, if not the most useful plugin you will find to extend the color correction capabilities of your editing software, solve picture problems and add creative looks to your production without a steep learning curve. In addition to some very powerful color correction tools, what you get for $599.95 are individual filters that simulate literally thousands of Tiffen glass camera filters, specialty lenses, film lab processes, Rosco light gels and even gobos. There is even a Looks filter if that is your magic bullet. There are 125 filters in all, each with numerous presets to get you started. I found most of the presets to be quite useable right out of the box rather than over the top as I have seen with other plugins.

Tiffen DFX 3.0 is also available for Photoshop Lightroom and Aperture. The first evidence of the photo heritage is the Film Stocks filter. Rather than motion picture stocks, I was surprised to find emulation of slide, print and polaroid film. I can't attest to the accuracy, but these stock emulations look great, ranging from cinematic to instagramatic. Beyond these looks presets, there are some really great color grading tools that extend quite a way beyond native NLE color correction. I even found some of them to be superior to what is built into Avid Symphony. Since installing DFX 3.0, I find myself reaching for it over and over. Yet, after months, I feel I've barely scratched the surface of all it's capabilities. I keep discovering new uses, especially for fixing problem shots.

There are two ways you can use the software - you can use the native plugin control interface of your Avid, Adobe or Apple software with a familiar control layout or you can launch the DFX software interface. While presets are available in pulldown menus in the host editing application, the DFX interface shows you what each preset will look like applied to your shot in a library of thumbnails to the left. You will also find full control over all the filter's parameters to the right and across the top there is a series of tools to help you compare before and after your settings are applied. But there are two glaring omissions to this interface. One is the ability to send the image to an external display and the other is a lack of scopes. As well, there is no way to update the picture. Like so many other plugins that have their own GUI, you are working with a still frame. With Final Cut Pro 7, when you open any 3rd party plugin GUI, you also don't see other previously applied filters. So while I might use the DFX 3.0 GUI to select a preset, I almost always go back to the host application to make my adjustments so I can actually see what I am doing. The exception to this is the amazing Ozone filter and some of the lighting effects. read more...

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