With filters, you can do everything from manipulating contrast and highlights to even soften wrinkles and make the skin of your subject more visually appealing. Beyond that, you can change how light flares are handled by your lens and even achieve something close to an anamorphic horizontal flare look without spending thousands on anamorphic glass rentals. Filters are a powerful tool for any cinematographer and a LA based company called Prism Lens FX has a variety of affordable (very affordable) filters that I’m going to put to the test. What do they do to your image and what is the cost savings from their products at the expense of quality? Let’s find out.
I’ll admit I’m new to Prism Lens FX as a company, but their general mission is very appealing. In short, Prism Lens FX seems built around the disruptive idea that filtration is overpriced and that achieving those looks shouldn’t be reserved only for filmmakers and photographers able to pay hundreds of dollars per filter. In fact, Prism Lens FX has filters with looks meant to compete with other companies whose products cost three times as much. That isn’t to say they aren’t innovating either — they make several filters with looks that I simply haven’t seen anywhere else before.
I went ahead and clipped a Bright Tangerine Misfit Atom matte box on my SIGMA fp for a few quick pics showing off some of the Prism Lens FX filters. Everything was shot with the Sigma Cine 18-35mm T2.0 in EF mount.
DREAM FX Filter
For me, I’m most interested in the Dream FX Filter for wide use in my work. This filter is meant to compete with Tiffen’s Black Pro-Mist or Schneider’s Hollywood Black Magic series and costs $125.00 for the 4×5.65 version (several hundred dollars cheaper versus the competitors). There is a subjective element here, but the common thread with all three of these filter types is they are attempting to take the edge off modern digital sensors by softening and blooming highlights a little, lifting contrast and softening the look of skin. Digital sensors are sharp and many types of modern lenses are sharp too and that is not always flattering to your subject.
Not all Prism Lens FX filters are available in the industry-standard matte box 4X5.65 size, but the Dream FX is. It is also available in a 77mm version that can be stepped up or down with rings (Prism Lens FX sells these too) to the filter thread size that works best for your DSLR or Mirrorless glass.
Given the drawbacks of work during a pandemic, I wasn’t able to do a true test of the softening look on skin, but the Dream FX filter handles light sources in a very pleasing way and you can see the contrast handling yourself. Check out the photo below for yourself.
For comparison, below is the same image with the 4×5.65 Tiffen Black Pro Mist in 1/2 strength.
Here is the same image with no filtration. You can really see the light bloom changes if you look at the candle in the bottom left and compare the other images.
Here’s a direct side by side comparison in a closeup of the statue (not a crop). The left image below has no Dream FX and the right has the Dream FX filter in the matte box.
While not every job may require this exact look the Dream FX filter is an excellent filter that gives a great character to the images. It is worth pointing out that the Dream FX filter is currently only available in one “strength”, so you do get a little more flexibility with other brands when it comes to adding to or taking away this particular look. However, at a cost of $125.00 for the 4X5.65 version and only $60 for the 77mm version you’re getting a great deal here for the Prism Lens FX Dream FX filter.
Prism Lens FX was also nice enough to send me a few other filters for testing including a 77mm Split Diopter, 4×5.65 Starburst, and a 77mm Kaleidoscope. Most of my glass has an 82mm filter thread, so I used a Sensei PRO 82-77mm Aluminum Step-Down Ring for testing. I grouped these filters into the “fun filter” section of this article because they won’t be widely used by me necessarily when compared to the Dream FX filter, but they still have fun distinct looks for the right project.
77mm Split Diopter
There are a few famous examples of split diopters being used in cinema and two of my favorite examples are in Citizen Kane and All The Presidents Men. Again, these filters can run several hundred dollars, but you can pick up one from Prism Lens FX for $65.00. Essentially a split diopter allows you to keep focus on two distinct elements of your frame using a piece of convex glass (see the below image).
It’s a little tricky to get right and definitely shouldn’t be something you’ll do in a run & gun scenario, but with planning and time, you can nail some really unique shots with a split diopter.
4×5.65 Starburst ($100)
Everyone loves an interesting lens flare if used judiciously and nobody more so than JJ Abrams. The Starburst filter (also available in 77mm) takes a hard light source and makes a 4-pointed Starburst effect from that source. This would be an interesting look for the right project, but this isn’t the horizontal Bladerunner anamorphic flare that we all know and love. The folks at Prism Lens FX are actually developing just such a filter to compete with Schneider’s line of True Streak filters, so those will be interesting to try out when they begin to ship.
The Starburst flare does change character as you open and close the iris, so that is something to experiment with should you pick up this particular filter.
77mm Kaleidoscope ($75)
This look is absolutely nuts and has to been seen to be believed. Depending on your focal length I did find that this look changed from more aggressive (while zoomed in) to more subtle (with a wider millimeter). The filter rotates so you could even change the look mid-shot if you wanted.
The idea of using a filter with a strong look to further “burn in” an image that I’ve carefully crafted before handing over to post is appealing to me as a Director of Photography. We all know how malleable modern digital footage can be in post. You can take an image in the field and a post house can change it into something entirely different and don’t get me started on changing the composition of an 8K image in post without talking to the cinematographer. If the DP is truly the keeper of the image then using glass filtration in front of a lens can further put a cinematographer’s stamp on the final product. Of course, the goal here is not to be sneaky about this and to gain buy-in from all creative parties during the course of the normal creative process, so that there aren’t any surprises about the overall look of the project.
Prism Lens FX has found an excellent niche in the industry with their line of affordable and useful filters. Currently, you can purchase Prism Lens FX filters on their website HERE.
What do you think? Do you use filtration (other than ND) in your own work? Let us know in the comments below!