Spencer Voss contacted me today to tell me about the success he has had with eliminating the dreaded aliasing and moire so prevalent in Canon DSLRs. He uses a softening filter made by Carl Zeiss called Softar 1,2 & 3. These differ from traditional softening filters as they retain their sharpness and are not plastic!
Expressing Emotion: The Zeiss Softar®
Motion picture directors of photography have been aware of it since a long time: for some applications, Zeiss lenses can be just too sharp! Close-ups of female beauties, for instance, do not really ask for maximum sharpness of every detail, do they? Instead, Hollywood’s goddesses expect to be given an aura of immaculate, radiant beauty… Introducing the Zeiss Softar®:
”Hang on to a Dream”
In the morning’s transition from a dream towards reality, when you look at the bright daylight outside the window in your darkened room, such a bright object will, for a few moments, appear with a radiant aura, a romantic glow of light around it. Like candlelight! The same visual appearance takes place, that same romantic glow shows when we look deeply into the eyes of a loved one…
Can this visual experience be expressed photographically? Today’s advanced camera lenses with their documentary, clinical, unemotional high-resolution rendering of object details do not lend themselves to supporting such emotional concepts like auras and romance and dreams. However, there has been a strong desire among photographers and cinematographers alike to add a sense of emotional warmth to some of their images.
As paradoxically as it may seem, no one has been more aware of this than Carl Zeiss. This is because Zeiss lenses are purposely designed to deliver the extreme opposite: perfect sharpness and total lack of romance. Since users of Zeiss lenses appreciate this typical characteristic for much of their work, but occasionally want to add ”dream-like romance” in a well-controlled way, Zeiss invented what we believe is the perfect solution: Zeiss Softar attachments.
Zeiss Softar attachments consist of a plane-parallel optical precision plate with tiny lenslets of varying size, randomly distributed over the surface of the plate. The optical surface is manufactured at the Zeiss Oberkochen plant with the same perfection applied to the optical surfaces of Zeiss lens elements. The quality of every single Zeiss Softar is verified on an interferometer, an optical precision measuring instrument capable of higher accuracy than any mechanical measuring device.
Unlike most softeners and diffusors the Zeiss Softar attachments are not mass produced pieces of plastic. This is why genuine Zeiss Softar attachments do not lose focus and do not produce unsharp out-of-focus images. Zeiss Softar attachments also do not lose important fine detail like eyelashes. Neither do they lose overall contrast and color saturation, which would result in dull images like the ones produced by so many softeners, ”soft lenses”, and diffusors. However, Zeiss Softar attachments reduce, lower, ”soften” the visibility of skin blemishes and freckles thus easing the life of the portrait and beauty photographer, saving retouching efforts, supporting the acceptance of his or her work and increasing the economic success.
Summing it up: Zeiss Softar attachments are designed and manufactured to the same exacting standards that apply for Zeiss camera lenses. They are not toys or substitutes, but professional tools for demanding photographers and cinematographers alike. In the hands of talented photographers Zeiss Softar attachments can lend an ethereal aura to portraits, bridals, wedding photography, and can even visually add emotion and romance to images of products, landscapes, and other subjects.
Zeiss Softar attachments don’t:
· produce fogged, dull photos with a total lack of brilliance, like most softeners, diffusers, and many soft-focus lenses do,
· lose eyelashes and other important detail in a portrait, like almost all other softeners do,
· lose overall contrast and color saturation, like most diffusers and other softeners do,
· create unwanted artificial optical patterns in the pictures, like softeners with concentric rings or textile fabrics do,
· limit the angle of view to ”portrait lens” angle only, like soft lenses do,
· limit depth of field by forcing wide and medium apertures to be used only, like soft lenses do.
Zeiss Softar attachments do:
· add a dream-like glow of romance, a sense of emotional warmth to an image without sacrificing sharpness or color saturation,
· produce a silky smooth appearance of human skin, with blemishes and freckles nicely ”retouched”,
· produce a softening effect that can be seen, evaluated and controlled on the • • viewfinder screen – at the full brightness of the wide open aperture,
· produce a softening effect that is the same anywhere in the frame,
· produce a stable softening effect over a very wide range of f-stops; depth-of-field can be used as usual,
· allow to focus the lens as easily as usual, be it with or without Softar attached at the full brightness of the wide open aperture,
· work with a variety of focal lenghts, including many wide angles,
· come in two different grades I and II, which can be easily combined into ”III”,
· come in a wide variety of sizes from 49 x 0,75 to 105 x 1, both Hasselblad bayonets 60 and 70, and Rollei bayonet VI.
Zeiss Softar attachments can be sourced from Hasselblad, Kyocera/Contax, Rollei, and from well-known filter manufacturers B & W, and Heliopan.
NOW, reading that blurb all sounds good and all, but I don’t want to make my subjects look younger, I want my moire to be minimised…that’s all!
The thing is they do give it a slightly different look and Spencer recommends the Softar 1 as it’s droplets are even and small and give the most pleasant image.
Now i haven’t tried these yet, but I have ordered a couple of second ones off of ebay. I will report back asap…i know there are anti-moire filters out there but I have to try them, be great to compare the Zeiss ones with these to see how they stack up if someone can point me in the right direction. Of course the perfect solution would be for Canon to work out a better way to downscale to avoid this. Using a softening filter is not ideal but these are very different to the softening filters I have used in the past due to their design…but hey, it’s pretty than nasty moire! Still am not certain I like the subtle promist look, it’s a baked in look that you are stuck with…anyway I am rambling and I will shoot something with one soon.
A comment has been added below that you can do this yourself with some clear filters and nail varnish…be interested to see if this works! I have ordered two clear Tiffen filters and will get my nail varnish out of the cupboard!
Here are some frame grabs from Spencer with and without the Softar.