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A Variety of Cinematic Lens Filters for a Tenth of the Cost

Lens filters are a great way to get a more cinematic look by softening skin and blooming highlights, while still maintaining contrast.

Before the age of computer grading, most effects were done in-camera, including softening and tinting an image with filters.

The downside has always been cost. The 4×5 filters that fit into most matte box trays cost between $400 and $600 dollars. If you want to have different gradients of filters — from 1/8th, 1/4th, 1/2, and full — you’ll spend around $2000 for each “flavor” of filter.

Adapter Rings

A Variety of Cinematic Lens Filters for a Tenth of the Cost — Camera with Adapter Rings

Use adapter rings for a cheaper option. Image via CIGI.

There’s another way, especially if you’re shooting on a micro 4/3 or S35 camera sensor. Most matte boxes come with an adapter ring for fitting the matte box directly onto the lens, as opposed to mounting it on 15mm rails. If you’re using rails, you can use these adapter rings to fit the matte box with the much cheaper circular filters.


A Variety of Cinematic Lens Filters for a Tenth of the Cost — Camera Filter

Circular filters are cost effective and readily available. Image via Boule.

Circular filters are cheaper because they contain less glass and — due to their crossover with photography — are produced in much higher quantities. The equivalent Black Pro-Mist filter costs just $39 in a 52mm circular form.

Filter and Adapter Rings

You can fit this filter onto the adapter rings, then fit it to the lens adapter on the matte box. It’ll cover the entirety of most lenses on most sensors. If you get any vignetting or want to use a wide-angle lens, opt for the larger size circular filter. The 77mm Black Pro-Mist is still only $93, and will cover an 18mm lens on my S35 Canon C200.

Rather than screwing different filters on and off, you can get more than one adapter ring of the same size (they’re only a few dollars), or order filters in different sizes and leave them attached to the different-sized adapter rings.

You can also use circular filters in conjunction with a 4×5 drop in filters, especially if your matte box has a rotating filter holder. With one polarizer fitted to the lens holder and another in the filter holder, you can use the contrasting polarizers as a variable neutral-density filter, which will vary in darkness as you rotate the 4×5 filter.

Now that you can get them at a reasonable price, I encourage you to experiment with a variety of filters.

  • Pro-Mist: The classic “Hollywood” look that softens skin and blooms highlights. Kind to older faces but can look a little “Soap Opera,” if overused.
  • Black Pro-Mist: Same as Pro-Mist, but with added contrast. This has long been the go-to in 1/8 and 1/4 strength to make images less like video.
  • Glimmer Glass: Used a lot in idealized flashback scenes, adding a soft sparkle to highlights. There’s a brown version and — in addition to Antique Suede — it’s often used to give an “Old Time” feel.
  • Black Satin: Adds a grain to highlights, as well as a mild glow. A definite 70s feel.
  • Hollywood Black Magic: Adds mid-tone contrast and reduces glare. A favorite of indie DPs in 1/8 and 1/4 to reduce sharpness.

Looking for more on lenses and filters? Check these out.

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