*Tiffen Dfx 3, one plugin to rule them all?

There are no shortages of plugins to help photographers and digital artists streamline their workflow and help fine tune their look. Tiffen Dfx-3 offers an amazing amount of digital filters and user manipulatable options in one plugin. Is it useful to have this many options in one plugin, or is it too much? Well, depending on your needs and budget, this may be the only photoshop plugin you’d ever require. Read on for examples and my tip of the iceberg review on this amazingly filter packed plugin…

Firstly, Tiffen Dfx-3 is offered as a plugin (PS, LR and Aperture) or as a standalone program. I’ve been using the plugin inside Photoshop CS5, so I can only share my experience with it from this angle, but I’d imagine the breadth of this program translates just as wholly, regardless of the platform or host.

Okay, I’ve been playing around with this plugin pretty extensively for about three weeks and I still feel overwhelmed with the task of trying to explain it. It is immense and feature rich. At first, it is hard to figure out where to start, but with a deep breath and a few clicks, the plugin starts to come into focus. Never mind that the plugin has many (I lost count, but near a hundred I’d guess) native presets, but each and every one of these presets have controllable parameters and many have up to hundreds of sub filters (film duplicator, digital filter settings, etc). If there is a problem to be remedied in a photograph, Dfx-3 has a solution, or 5. Finding them may be trickier, but they’re there and live under categories. A jack of all trades type of plugin as it were and the more that I play with it, the more I realize how handy it can be.

The interface is complex but intuitive. Dfx-3 allows photographers to use multiple filters on one image file by way of integrated layers (a la photoshop) with blending options (again a la photoshop, ie: screen, multiply, soft light, etc), masking as well as adjusting opacity for each individual filter layer shown on the left hand side of the screenshot above. This may be a bit much for someone not used to working in Photoshop, but with a little effort to learn, you quickly realize how amazingly useful this is. You get to add layers and adjust their effect as you would in Photoshop directly in the plugin! This is pretty damn cool. When using Dfx-3, I will still first duplicate whichever layer I’m working on inside Photoshop before running Dfx-3 on that duplicated layer. Dfx-3 will not automatically output your results on it’s own layer like Alien Skin plugins do (which I love) so remember to duplicate your layer before you run the plugin to apply it to that duplicated layer. Other than that, the amount of control in regards to blending or adding multiple effect filters is unparalleled to any plugin I use, and I use quite a few.

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The results range from simple and concise, to sky’s the limit. If you need to apply a colored lens filter (like you would have back in the film days for instance), you can choose from a plethora of existing choices, and then tweak any of those choices to your heart’s content. If you want to add a fill light to your subject, you can all while manipulating the intensity and placement. Want to add a bleach bypass layer, or add a Kodak Portra 160 treatment layer, a texture layer from the collection of preset textures within the plugin? No problem. From exposure fixes to artistic filters, Tiffen Dfx-3 provides a remarkably large library of applications in a single plugin.

If I were to suggest this plugin to a particular photographer, I’d say it would truly benefit at least two sets of shooters that I can think of.

First, I believe it would benefit a photographer without any or many existing plugins. This one plugin has so much going on, while it may be bested in certain areas by other more specific plugins, it does a good job at providing a very complete set of filters, fixes and artistic accoutrements. For instance, I use Alien Skin’s Exposure 3 for my color and black and white film replication filters, but Dfx-3 has almost as many offerings. The grain and pure film replication is better in Exposure 3 for me, but Exposure 3 costs almost as much alone and the film replication is one of dozens upon dozens of categories that Dfx-3 offers. I’ve used Nik Color Efex Pro for years, but Tiffen’s Dfx-3 offers many similar effects, plus so much more. Does Dfx-3 have u-point technology? No, but it has an EZ Selection mask which does better for fine detail as opposed to globally changing parameters based on tone like U-point does. I’ve been finding more and more reasons to push my Nik Plugins further and further down the pecking order and aside from Silver Efex Pro, I don’t even really use them anymore. Dfx-3 offers the largest single library of digital filters that I’ve seen in a plugin.

Secondly, for shooters like me that like to have as many tools available to them possible. I am one who appreciates and often intentionally keeps it simple, getting it right in camera, not wanting to spend hours in front of the computer post processing, but on the other hand, I am a huge fan of digital file manipulation. I don’t like to think of myself as a one trick pony, but one who attempts to learn a variety of skills to be able to more diversely offer solutions to project output or artistic idea. Visualizing the end shot, be that a simple lighting set up, or all out composite monstrosity, I want to know how to be able to do it all and have the tools to be able to help me more easily do so. Will I use Tiffen Dfx-3 for every shoot? No. But, for the shoots that I need it, it will easily carry its weight.

You can download and try the software for free directly from Tiffen’s website HERE and I would suggest doing so. It’s free to try and fun to play around with. Most any software plugin is available to try for free so the beauty of the times we exist in is that we can use these tools before forking out the cash. This to me means that software developers have to really offer value. Why would we buy something unless we’ve done our homework and determined that it is a good value? Rhetorical questions aside, I would absolutely suggest anyone interested in this plugin, download the free trial and watch a few of the videos (on the site via the link above) which will do a good job at getting you started. Dollar for dollar, you might be hard pressed to find more for your money in a plugin.

While it may not offer the best singular solution depending on the specific application, it certainly offers more solutions than any one plugin I’ve ever used. If you need a plugin that has an answer for just about any challenge, a one plugin solution, I think Tiffen Dfx-3 is it.

You may say that I tend to speak highly about the plugins that I review, which is true. The reason is that I don’t review the plugins that I don’t feel offer a good value, or are plugins that I’d use myself. This is one of those plugins that I will certainly be using for a long time. So, just to be clear, I’m in no way affiliated with Tiffen. They’re not paying me, nor holding a gun to my head. I just like this program and I think you might too. It’s free to try, what do you have to lose?

As always, we’d love to see any examples in our flickr group so please stop in and drop an image in the pool. You can subscribe to my blog by entering your email address at the top right of the page which will fire off the articles as I publish them or you can follow me on twitter @photosbytyson.

Thank you for reading through and let me know if there are any collaborative projects you would like to discuss. I’m always game to try and connect and network with other photographers and bloggers. Hit me up!

Happy shooting,

Tyson

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15 thoughts on “*Tiffen Dfx 3, one plugin to rule them all?

  1. Love what you did with the shot of the leaves! Was thinking I might have used that on my leaf shooting expedition to the park/creek. You can see a couple of those dropped into TRP Photography. I see you put one of your there, so you might have seen them. I kinda like the red one.

    But if DFX 3 is free and standalone, I might try it. Thanks for the tip!

    • Thanks Terry!

      Yes, you can download a 15 day free trial of the standalone software as well as the plugin. It took me about as long to really get rolling with it by trying to fly at it blindly. I like to try and figure these types of plugins/software out without any experience so that I get a feel for it. It’s intuitive, but overwhelming. So many choices that it took me a little while to know what I wanted to do. I’d suggest to wait until you have the time to really take advantage of the program by dedicating a little time to it. By watching the videos and following along with your own images, it should really help understand the depth and power of the software while getting you going much more quickly than my approach. I think you’ll like it. Hope you’re enjoying a beautiful Fall.

      t

  2. Tyson,
    Took your suggestion and downloaded the free trial (b/c I don’t have much time b4 our next trip) – began learning almost immediately. Apparently it works with Photoshop Elements 9, also. I did not pick that but chose the stand alone. This b/c I didn’t want trial s/w wound into my PSE 9 s/w. The trial s/w seems to be fully featured, AFAICT.

    I haven’t found the videos you mention yet (Tiffen website I expect), but the basic “flying at it blindly” roughly works. I still don’t understand how to apply on present on top of another but I did discover the parameters behind each preset allowing you to fine tune. Don’t understand the names at all (two strip, three strip) but that is probably not terribly important. Like Film Stocks presets!

    The interface for TfX 3 is remarkably like the editor in PSE, which is nice. I expect that it would integrate pretty easily. It’s true, as you say, that the NUMBER of choices is a bit intimidating, but they are broken down into categories (Film Stocks, Bleach Bypass, etc) and very nice that you can watch the effect of each preset on your image of choice. You can also make preset “favorites” and cut down on the choices but I expect that experience would also be a boon.

    Like I said, I don’t see how to easily add two presets together but that will come. Great fun to play with so far and maybe even worth the $125 it costs. Thanks for the tip!
    -tdd

    ps. Take a look at some early fiddling at:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/35742767@N04/sets/72157627931340323/

    or the 15 image slide show at

    • Awesome to hear Terry!

      The camel shot with the Agfa filter is absolutely stunning! In the plugin version, to add another layer/filter, you would just click the button above the filter palate on the top left of the screen (it’s the button with 3 horizontal lines and a plus directly to the left of the layer title bar). Not sure about the standalone, but I’d imagine it’s the same.

      As for the videos, if you go to Tiffen’s website and click on the “tutorials” tab at the top of the page, it brings you to a list of vids.

      I myself need to go through them now that I’ve finished up the post.

      Enjoy it and keep me posted.

      Cheers,

      Tyson

  3. Stumbled upon your blog…very nice and really good reviews. I’ve used Alien Exposure and have been using DxO FilmPack for a while now. Both are remarkable, easy to implement solutions. Truth be told, I can replicate all of that in PS but it will be a long process.

    Cheers Jack

    • Thanks Jack! Glad you found me. I love AS Exposure and use it regularly. I’ve not used DxO, but have always been curious. Photoshop is by far and away the most useful software I have in regards to pure photo manipulation, but to replicate some of these effects, as you mention, would be not only tedious, but might take hours upon hours of searching out tutorials, and learning how, even before actually altering the photograph. I’ve been using PS for about 6 years now and I feel like I’ve barely scraped through the grime on top of the crust…

      Cheers,
      t

  4. Pingback: *Digital Film Tools – Film Stocks Plug-in! «

  5. Ok, so I clicked over from the other post.

    I have to say, I too want to get the shot in/out of the camera without too much fiddlin’ , except for when I want a “look”.

    I try to make simple choices after lots of searching (and lots of great feedback from you), so now I can think about this vs. the Nik collection, have to decide on Aperture vs Lightroom and all the rest. Just want to make smart investments!

    • I think that out of camera should be every photographers goal. No matter what we intend to do with it in post production, it is always better to start with a well exposed, nicely composed frame period. That said, I’m a big fan of tinkering when the mood suits me. I rarely shoot with the intention of major post production in mind, but love having various tools to help me as a vision comes after the fact.

      As for the Aperture vs Lightroom question, I’d say both are wonderful and really comes down to the way you interact with it. I tend to use Aperture more because I need it to be a digital asset manager (DAM) first, and an image manipulator second. The way I can modify, drag and drop and catalog my master files works better in Aperture for the way my brain works. I think that purely on an image manipulation level, Lightroom is the more powerful program, but Aperture is no slouch and not far behind. As with most things, either can do certain things better than the other, so I’d say try the free trials of both before deciding.

      I originally started off using the Nik Collection and found myself really only using Silver Efex Pro and Dfine. Now, I rarely use either as I feel that for the price, there are better options, for me anyway. I’ve not used the newer SEP or CEP releases as they’re too expensive for me to justify when I have the Alien Skin and Tiffen plugins. I’d say, Tiffen Dfx is kinda a better version of Color Efex Pro, and Alien Skin Exposure 3 is like a hybrid of CEP and SEP with better true film replication details. The newer Digital Film Tools Film Stocks plugin is pretty damn nice for under a hundred bucks, and a great way to get cool filter looks, but it doesn’t quite have the pure replication (grain structure, color fidelity, etc) that Exposure 3 has. The layering though, in both Tiffen Dfx and DFT are unique and very, very useful, especially if you don’t have Photoshop to utilize layers, masks, blending, etc. All good, unique tools and really I don’t think you could go wrong. I’d really suggest downloading the free trials of every piece of software you are considering and run the same series of pictures through them. See what feels right, which seem to make more sense to you and choose that way.
      :)
      t

      • Hey there!

        Yes, I’ll definitely download the trial versions. Your feedback is always so objective, and what I really found that hit the mark is when you say “how your/my brain functions” (re Aperture or LR). I’ll start with these two and then see where the rest fits in. DAM….my new “focus”.

        Ps. Still haven’t gotten my hands on the 5d! Lol

  6. Hi there,

    OK, so I’m going back into your archives and reading all your reviews and will download trials of everything before purchasing, because as you so wisely wrote, each of our brains work in different ways and our needs are different.

    But, on a simple financial off-the-cuff look, if ones buys the entire NIK plugin bundle (Aperture version) with: (Dfine, CEP, SEP, HDR Efx, Viveza, Sharpner) it costs $300. Compared to Tiffen DFX ($200), Alien Skins 4 ($250) plus for the HDR, Photomatix (Aperture version) plugin ($80) – for a total of $530…..

    In your opinion does the combo version of the various mixed bag of SW plugins offer much more, better quality, more options than “just” the NIK bundle?

    BTW; having fun playing with my Aperture trial!

    • If you feel you would use more than two of the plugins, I think you could certainly make a case for the NIK collection. Personally, I used Silver Efex Pro the most, Color Efex Pro a little and Define every once in a while. Now, I don’t really use any of them. Not that they’re not good plugins, but I have found myself getting better results from others.

      You can also look to Alien Skin’s bundle, or OnOne’s bundle, Topaz’s bundle, etc. The nice thing about NIK is that you would, as you mention, get the HDR plugin (which I’ve not personally used) along with the others. I know that NIK has had some issues with translating to newer operating system upgrades, the transition to 64 bit was poor in my experience, and that ultimately turned me off. I’d hope they would have addressed and remedied these issues, I’ve just not wanted to spend the time to see for myself. The fact that most all other plugins also offer both LR/Aperture PLUS Photoshop compatibility with the same license, while NIK does not, seems petty to me. I’ve tried connecting with NIK to get answers, provide feedback and have requested to review and I’ve not ever gotten an answer which certainly leaves a bad (albeit jaded and biased) taste in my mouth. They’re good plugins, when I’ve used them, and I certainly wouldn’t say that you shouldn’t try them, but I’d make sure the trials work with your system configuration before buying.

      I do think that single plugin prices are a bit high. This is where Topaz comes in as a compelling and comparably affordable alternative. I do think that they’re also not as customizable, nor provide the same level of control or attention to detail for certain applications. On a budget, they should certainly be looked at though. Alien Skin offers a lot, but are pricier. They don’t have a noise reduction software in their bundle, nor an HDR plugin, but I tend to use the plugins from them (exposure, bokeh, snap art) more often for the stuff I like to do.

      Tiffen Dfx is a very compelling plugin. It is a jack of all trades as it were, and I think if you’re not using Photoshop, it would give you a tool that no other plugin would, layers. A combo of Dfx and the Digital Photo Tools – Film Stocks would be pretty solid as far as color/black and white processing along with a variety of creative features would be concerned.

      Each plugin provides a solid argument in its own right. Every single one will provide the right match for a particular type of shooter. It really comes down to the type of look you’re wanting to go for.

      I know this isn’t very definitive, but I really can’t answer what would be best for any individual. For myself, ignoring price, I’d say for film replication/that “look” = AS exposure, for HDR = I’m a big Photomatix fan, for a little bit of everything = Tiffen Dfx. But I’d also say that as long as you wouldn’t be needing to use anything in Photoshop, and found that the plugins didn’t crash, the NIK bundle would be interesting.

      • Thanks Tyson, I’ll check out the other bundles as well, and like everything in this world: we don’t need it all at once. Maybe it is “better” to invest more in various items bit by bit, sort of like gear.

        Interesting about the NIK problems, and as you point: LR/Aperture compatibility….

        I have Photoshop, and am familiar with layers, am not a super-pro, and in some ways find working on each and every image with curves etc a pain and long….

        Just want some simple tools, not to instantly fix everything in one fell swoop — I just can’t see myself spending hours and hours in each and every image with PS…

        I’ll keep you posted and thanks for your feedback!

      • I think you’ve nailed down the “mission statement” of a good plugin.

        Simple tools to keep us from having to spend hours in photoshop.

        A good plugin will provide you with those tools. The somewhat trickier part is figuring out exactly which plugins are best for your style and workflow.

        good luck with it all and let me know if I can answer anything specific for you.

        All the best,

        Tyson

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