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Micah Van Hove

Low Contrast Filters

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When would you recommend using LC filters?


I'm gearing up for a short film in January and the main reference the directors have given me is "Five Easy Pieces." It appears that that film could've been shot with LC filters, but I'm not sure. I'm hoping to use LC as a creative choice rather than technical — how powerful is the effect of an LC filter, and what grade of LC would you recommend (1/4, 1, 2,3,4 etc)? This film is a lot of EXT. DAY.

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Most of "Barry Lyndon" was shot with a Tiffen Low-Con #3:








When you get a bright area in the frame, you will notice a bit of halation, though not as prominent as from a Fog filter or a ProMist filter.


I think the Schneider Low-Cons may be a bit more like Tiffen's UltraCons, which lower contrast, lift blacks and shadows, but with less halation.


Low-Cons were popular in the 1970's, along with Fog filters. The past sequences in "Godfather Part II" were shot with Low-Cons. "Bound for Glory" used a mix of Low-Cons and Fogs. Harrison's Double-Fogs were a combination of Low-Cons and Fogs. A lot of "E.T." was shot with a very light Double-Fog.


Tiffen's UltraCons and things like Schneider's DigiCons came along after the 1970's.


Peter Hyams also used Low-Cons a lot, along with smoke, in movies like "2010".


The older filter technology of Low-Cons means that they soften focus slightly and the halation adds a bit of grain-like texture -- some people like this when combined with digital cameras, just as some people like Black ProMists for a similar effect.


In terms of black level, that's something you can control with digital color-correction. Truth is that if you just want a more pastel and lowered-contrast look, that's fairly easy if working with a log or raw original, so I would only use Low-Cons if you want that bit of retro optical halation and softening. These days, something like a #1/4 would be fine but there is no reason not to test.

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Thanks for the response, David. I assumed also that it could be done in post but I think I'd rather force the choice in-camera. I like the halation effect. Offhand, do you know the light loss of a LC filter or does that vary by intensity?

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