View Full Version : How to soften or diffuse a lens

28-Feb-2011, 17:36
So, how do you kids create a diffused or soft filter effect using household items? Any advice or tips?

Please, no vaseline or saliva.


Mark Sawyer
28-Feb-2011, 17:59
Stretching a nylon stocking or similar material over the front of the lens is one historically-accepted way of doing it. Vaseline is another (sorry!), but do it on a UV filter, not the lens!

But be aware that, while such methods might give a pleasing result, they do not duplicate the look of a genuine soft-focus lens.

Brian C. Miller
28-Feb-2011, 18:07
Man oh man, you just gotta take all of the fun out of it! Next you won't want to use pantyhose over the lens, either. (What do you think is in those soft net filters, anyways?)

I just got through emailing a fellow about the Fuji diffusion discs for their lens. The discs go inside the lens, between the front element and the shutter. I just finished looking at my lenses, and their is plenty of space in there for an insert. The diffusion disc has a large hole in the center, surrounded by smaller holes. It should work similarly for other lenses, too. I suppose that it would take some of the mystique out of it if the discs were marketed seperately for various shutter sizes.

You can also take a straight glass filter and have some fun with it. Anything that distorts the image is fair game.

Mark Woods
28-Feb-2011, 18:26
Vaseline is not optically clear, KY Jelly (non-flavored) is optically clear. It's true.

Mark Sawyer
28-Feb-2011, 18:39
Man oh man, you just gotta take all of the fun out of it!

Vaseline is not optically clear, KY Jelly (non-flavored) is optically clear. It's true.

Well, somebody's putting the fun back into it! :eek:

28-Feb-2011, 18:39
Thanks for the tip Mark :l

Tracy Storer
28-Feb-2011, 19:14
You can also do up a uv filter with polka-dots of clear nail polish...a crude imitation of a Softar. Or you can buy a Real Softar filter.

John T
28-Feb-2011, 19:23
Vaseline is not optically clear, KY Jelly (non-flavored) is optically clear. It's true.

Plus it is a lot easier to clean off. Almost impossible to completely clean vaseline from edges of the filter

Jim Noel
2-Mar-2011, 14:26
Focus the lens then unscrew the front element 1/8 to 1/4 turn. Don't re-focus

Bob Salomon
2-Mar-2011, 14:46
You want it sharp and soft or just fuzzy soft? With halation or without? besides the diffusion itself lighting is a major player in soft focus. Strong, directional lighting rather then soft diffused lighting is required along with strong lighting ratios like 5:1 rather then 3:1. It is the spectral highlights that create the halation.

If you want it sharp yet diffused don't forget to make a hole in the center. Try different size holes with different lighting ratios. Or just buy a Zeiss Softar 1 or 2 if you can find one that fits or a Duto type diffusion filter (the kind made with concentric rings). The non Zeiss Softar copies simply do not work as well as the Softar. The big advantage to using the Softar is that the effect does not cheange with aperture like it does with other soft focus type attachments.

The big caveat with soft focus is what diffuses into what. When you use a true soft focus lens like an Imagon the highlights diffuse into the shadows. When you use a soft focus lens or stocking or spread stuff on a filter the effect is different. the shadows diffuse into the highlights so you never truly duplicate the effect of the soft focus lens itself.

Paul Fitzgerald
2-Mar-2011, 22:24
You could use a UV or Skylight filter and a Sharpie felt pen and put concentric rings of dots all round or leave the center clear. Use black or silver, different effects.

Same filters and Testors clear model paint, concentric or radial. Add just a drop of silver or gold to increase the shimmer.

a fixed-out sheet of Tri-X.

Bubble wrap.

Have fun playing with it all.

Jon Shiu
2-Mar-2011, 23:26
I heard you can breathe on the lens.


Mark Woods
2-Mar-2011, 23:56
Bob is right about the stockings BTL or in front, or the KY on an optical flat. But you can begin to approach the "classic" looks with the Panchro/Mitchell diffusion (Tiffen's copy is the Classic Soft filters). These filters have been used from the 20's to the present. I have a set and I really like them. That said, Tiffen makes the Black and Gold Soft EFX filters that are a combination of the scalloped glass with small sperm shaped Black or Gold shapes on the filters. So they're a combination of the classic scalloped glass with the semi-random shapes of a net, but variable based on the power of the number used. The soft focus lenses, to my knowledge, are more or less sharp in the center gradating to a softer OFF image on the perimeter. Their affect is also based on the F/Stop. I have a lens that's pin sharp at F/16 but nothing appears in focus wide open at F/4.5. One could always spray some clear Crylon onto a piece of glass with a dime or a quarter held away from the glass with a wine cork and get a very nice filter. The optimal diameter of the coin would be based on the focal length:image magnification. I hope this helps, but a little KY goes a long way, and it's water soluble. And as was mentioned, it does wash off, not like Vaseline. ;-)

Mark Woods
3-Mar-2011, 00:06
David Hamilton had his AC breathe on the lens to fog it as he shot his images. He got a tremendous variation and tonal range in his shots. I'm sure his "Art" Cred is considered Post Modern because of this random technique as opposed to being based on shooting nude teenage, or prepubescent, girls. Not so different from Phillip Glass -- but without the nude girls. ;-)

Brian C. Miller
3-Mar-2011, 01:35
Mark, do you mean the Schneider Classic Soft (pdf link (http://www.schneideroptics.com/pdfs/filters/classicsoft.pdf))? (Ooh, yow, these are not cheap!)

Also, I found a discussion at cinematography.com quite interesting.(Tiffen "Diffusion filter" and "Soft FX" filter are they the same? (http://www.cinematography.com/index.php?showtopic=42112))

3-Mar-2011, 01:42
Dear Joe;
Here is a self portrait I made on my 39th birthday, many years ago Yikes! well anyway it demonstrates the white nylon with a hole in the center technique. I used this as an example of alternative diffusion techniques for a class on professional portraiture I was teaching at the time and the rules allowed no retouching and this was an one of many options that could be employed under those circumstances. I loved teaching that class and I believe I learned as much as I taught.
Denise Libby

3-Mar-2011, 03:48
I had a few misguided years of soft focus and can add this:
1. The best, if it fits, is the Hassleblad filter with bubbles. It just haloes the higlights and removes excessive LF microcontrast.
2. Second best is the black nylon stocking. It fits big lenses but it can't be used above f32 on normal or wideangle. Good for interiors.
3. Third, the concentric ring filters which, for some reason, veil the shadows and flatten contrast. Not much good.
4. Glycerine and vaseline cost a lot of film to get right. Only good for weird effects.
5. Breathing is totally unreliable - unless you do long exposures and let it fade.
6. Thambars etc. are wonderful but too long and need to be used too wide open to handle tabletop and interior DOF.
I shot with and without on 8x10 and 5x7. Agency and client always chose the 'with'. So after a time I stopped using soft filters, stopped all the way down and relied on diffraction.

Peter Gomena
3-Mar-2011, 09:49
One of my instructors encouraged students to try a "scratch filter" made from a sheet of acetate, as in a 4x5" film sleeve. You put the acetate on a smooth floor, stand on it with your shoes on, and rotate your foot. One rotation was a "#1 scratch filter," two rotations a "#2 scratch filter," etc. He was fond of a #3. It worked very well and was extraordinarily cheap.

Peter Gomena

Brian C. Miller
3-Mar-2011, 15:22
I had a few misguided years of soft focus and can add this:
1. The best, if it fits, is the Hassleblad filter with bubbles. It just haloes the higlights and removes excessive LF microcontrast.

The Softar, right? I think that's also the B+W Zeiss Softar.

I haven't had that much softness stopping down. My Optars lose some sharpness stopped down, but it isn't enough that I'd call it "soft". I have a Wollensack Versar Portrait f/6 that needs CLA, but I haven't gotten around to sending it in yet, and I haven't spent time to fiddle with it.

Bob Salomon
3-Mar-2011, 16:26
There is only one Softar. The Zeiss Softars. They were sold by several companies; Heliopan B+W, Hasselblad, Rollei for example. But all were a Zeiss Softar. The difference between them was the mounts. Heliopan, B+W, Contax, Rollei and Hasselblad supplied Zeiss with their own mounts and Zeiss then assembled the Softar in the rings.

Heliopan and later B+W and Contax/Yashica could only sell them in screw mounts. Hasselblad and Rollei could sell them only in the mounts that fit their lenses. Contak, while selling them in screw mounts only sold them in sizes that fit their screw mount lenses and Heliopan and B+W sold them in a range of screw-in sizes up to and including 105mm.

So the only differences between them was the ring and the box or pouch the Softar was supplied in. These Softars are very different in effect then the similar looking one from Japan that were primarily sold by Hoya and B+W and did not have the Zeiss Softar name on them. One important note. All Zeiss Softars were made from acrylic. They were never glass.

John Berry
3-Mar-2011, 22:12
I have a softar 2 in 67 screw mount for my largest lens and use reducers. As Bob said it has it's own look. Independent of which way the flare blows, I would say it's the only filter that gets the " sharp edges with soft glow overlay ". Closest thing to the real thing in a filter. That IS what you want to know after all, isn't it? ALL others get left in the dust when the aperture ring leaves the starting blocks. If only one, do 2. Spendy, but if you can get one ( spend to cover large and reduce ) I am happy with my 67 and have stepped down to 49. I don't feel oversold.

4-Mar-2011, 02:11
Than goodness for Bob. He is precise.
Most of the colour in here (http://www.christopherbroadbent.pro) is done with the Softar. No.112 is an example of what John calls "sharp edges with soft glow overlay".