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black-satin-1-filter-outdoors-2 News & Insight

Why You Should Try Diffusion Filters – Comparison & Review

By Ryan Filgas on July 8th 2014

Why Diffusion Filters?

In today’s photography world, our images are all about getting sharpness, and sometimes the artistic expression is left out in favor of an image that’s technically perfect, but can also be technically boring. For photographers that have been in the industry for a while, it becomes a different story in some respects, because their artistic vision is honed to the point that they see an image for its aesthetic, and not necessarily the “flaws.” This isn’t meant to justify technically inadequate images, but to say that once you’re able to create those technically perfect images, it’s the perfect time to start breaking those rules in the name of art. One way to break out of this “rule book”  is the use of diffusion filters. This video from The Slanted Lens gives a good idea of what you can expect from diffusion filters should you decide to purchase them.


For portraits, having a high sharpness may not always be what you want as it exposes “imperfections” in the face and makes retouching work more difficult as well; that’s where a diffusion filter comes in. It allows highlights to bleed into the shadows making smoother transitions, and softens the skin for a more “pastel” look. Here’s a small selection of sample images showing the level one black satin and pearlescent filters.


No Filter On Left | Black Satin 1 Filter By Tiffen On Right


No Filter On Left | Pearlescent 1 Filter By Tiffen On Right



No Filter


Black Satin 1 Filter By Tiffen


Pearlescent 1 Filter By Tiffen

Personally, I think these are worth a shot. I’m not a fan of blurry images with the dreaded white vignette reaching to the center, but doing this slight diffusion in camera for a subtle effect seems like it could be part of a good recipe that also keeps the precise focus every professional looks for in an image. Why not do that “vintage look” in camera? Would you add these to your shopping list in the future, or is the loss of sharpness a deal breaker?

You can find the original article at The Slanted Lens here if you’d like to see more filter comparisons from this shoot.


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Ryan Filgas is an aspiring portrait photographer and studio arts major at Humboldt State University. His life consists of talking with friends, taking classes, and planning his next outdoor adventure. You can find his work on his website, Facebook, Google+, or connect with him via email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Emilio Savov

    There is nothing better than to be able to do the trick IN camera!!! I love it, I love the old ways of doing things, mostly in camera, and not so out of this world sharp. Sharpness is good, but now a days, it went over the top .. to a point where it kinda looks ugly. Great idea about the filters!

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  2. Martin Laguna

    It´s a different way to have a different photo. Sometimes we need an original approach. Thanks for share.

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  3. Jim Johnson

    I’m an old school shooter who remembers when this about the only technique for softening, and I can’t say that I would go back to it. Even in the old days I would try to get something similar in post (a softening filter on the enlarger— which had a slightly different effect) rather than on the only copy I have of the negative.

    Having said that, I also find the aesthetic very dated and old fashioned, so I would not use any method to produce it.

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  4. Jason Ranalli

    Even though I think it is great to get things as close to perfect “in-camera” I gotta be honest and say that this is one I would prefer to do in post. Even my crummiest skin touch-up is better than this IMO and stays local to where I need it.

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  5. Stan Rogers

    For those dismissing the filters (or, for that matter, throwing a bit of nylon stocking material over the lens), a few things to think about:

    1. Yes, you can get some of this effect in Photoshop, perhaps using a plugin or two to speed hings up. But what’s your turn-around time like? Amateurs (and I mean that in the sense of “don’t need to worry about making money”, not as a shorthand for “lacking competence”) and pros at the high end might be aable to afford the luxury of doing things in post, but there are a lot of people who need to grind ’em out to keep their heads above water or get a business to profitability.

    2. Diffusion will raise areas of shadow by adding to the exposure, not by amplifying a weak signal along with the noise. You can always drag the darks back down, but you can’t pull true colours out of anything that was too close to black.

    3. It’s damnably hard to soften video well.

    Given a choice, I’ll make sure I’m in control of the contrast, and I’ll use Ps so that I can get the unachieveable Holy Grail of my film days: sharp detail where I want it and softness where I want that. But then I don’t have to struggle with processing a whole lot of images (the processing of which pays almost nothing compared to shooting time) while trying to find that magical work/life balance. As for “undoing the dreamy”, we’re not talking about Bob Guccione’s Vaseline look here; the effect is incredibly subtle.

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  6. Brian Stalter

    My biggest problem with using these is that if you ever want to go back and remove the ‘dreamy’ or ‘vintage’ look – you really can’t. While I prefer to get things right in-camera, this is not one form of in-camera processing I would want…. there is no back pedaling from the glow effect.

    I think the filters are neat and have their use – just not in my bag.

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  7. Valentin Zwick

    Dunno…i tend to rather have the best possible (technically) shot and do the rest in post where i have the full range of techniques and possibilities, especially when it comes to local/global adjustments. if course this will slow down the post processing workflow due to the many options so i´m waiting for slr lounge to come up with some cool videos on how to achieve the look of these filters by using the ACR/Lightroom V5.1 Preset system or with a new set of presets, simulating the look of the different diffusion filters with the possibility to easily apply them on any image to see which one works best :-)

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  8. Ben Perrin

    No thanks, there are other methods that can help control the contrast and dealing with imperfections is really easy due to frequency separation and other techniques with much better results. I’d really rather not put a filter on my lens which is going to affect the quality in this way. Of course that’s my preference only, others may love the look.

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    • Ryan Filgas

      That’s valid. It’s definitely something I’d not shoot with all the time, but am willing to try it out at least for a couple outdoor images to see if I like it. If you plan a styled shoot and are confident about what you want as an end product I don’t see an issue. The small draw to this is that it’s a controlled effect; it’s not going to somehow ruin the image, and you always have the option of taking it off after a couple frames.

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