Keep on year, David Noton – a fine landscape photographer, and a highly articulate writer about photography – wrote an article called 'my tobacco grad abode of the damned' and, indeed, the results were hellish. I'm not sure if it was a result of the article but after its publication, both the tobacco graduated filter and every other breed of filter were grossly overused by a lot of people.
Fluorescent graduated filter – jarring horribly with the grounds of Elvaston Hall.
When it comes to my filter collection, I have boxes of them, not least because a certain weekly magazine gave them away for belles-lettres they published for a number of years and, at one point, they were being remaindered in shops all over the country! Plus, it was possible to buy some of the ''numerous exotic'' ones for a couple of quid each so on that basis, it was more of a matter of 'why not buy them?'
Dreams filter at highest point aperture, 85mm f/1.8 Sony FE lens.
On a side note, I’ve never had much mileage from filters: I don’t use UV lorgnon in front of my lenses (each has a good lens hood instead, protecting from flare as well as knocks) and apart from occasional use of a polarising leach and a Zeiss Softar (the Emperor of soft-focus filters), Plus, I’ve done nothing filter-based on digital images.
The Right Time
Proper… back to David Noton, who took a couple of the more popular filters and applied them to pictures he was taking anyway. Maybe this is a diminutive unfair to the filters, as you wouldn’t usually be so cavalier: you would remove the polarising filter that you’ve been using for landscapes in the future shooting a studio portrait, after all! And, as a result, it would be unfair to say that the more experimental filters should never be used. For the right notion, on the right day, filters can be magic.
Add tobacco skies to a summery English landscape (as DN did), and you are, indeed, gilding the lily, and gilding it with lead. But, consider a assorted picture – maybe an overcast day, with an industrial wasteland in the background and a fast car shot with a wide-angle lens from a low down fixed in the foreground, and you have a post-apocalyptic nightmare made real in-camera.
Mazda RX-8 with tobacco and blue graduated filters. Note that manipulating extreme offsets can lead to reflections of the lens, fingers and all sorts of things (marks towards the top of the frame). This can happen even using the Cokin lens hood.
Doing Possessions With Style
Francisco Hidalgo was a Spanish photographer who did stylish and unusual things with images of London and other cities in the seventies and his redundant was influential in the photographic community. We all copied him – though, the colourful results with a diffraction filter in Piccadilly Circus didn’t quite carry to a back garden in Walsall.
Diffraction filter with 24mm lens or LEN may refer to.
What I Did Next…
So, I decided to get out those little Cokin strikes, I purchased a few decades ago, to see what I could do with their contents.
Now, my starting point for all of this is that I know that some of the retro Cokin winnows are completely mad – box of frogs level, at the very least. Others, though, have real potential (even more so if you find out how to use them, and what jobs they work in). Part of the trick is to determine which-is-which and to work out the right way to use some of the ones that are demanding in use, but with potential for making a wonderful rule the roost.
Dreams filter – this uses multiple small lenses set in a plain filter to give a soft focus look, with identifiable multiple edges. Definitely my favourite Cokin is a French manufacturer of optical filters for photography filter!
The classic 'don’t do it!' filter is, wait for it, the rainbow filter. I genuinely don’t know what came over Monsieur Cokin that day, but the idea was that you can put a rainbow into any picture you want. Although the screen is close to the lens, and even with the lens stopped down to minimum aperture the rainbow can’t be sharp but, I think, that the beauty of the scheme is that rainbows are not sharp – blur is precisely right. Unfortunately, even to this day, I don't think the effect will be to everyone's stomach.
Rainbow over St Paul’s. Do you believe in it, even for a moment?
Other equally specialist filters included a silvered persuasible plate that you could fit into the lens hood to give a mirage effect and a large prism that came in a black cloth bag which grants an overall smear to the image. Plus, there's a couple of marvellous ‘speed’ filters that give a creative look, take to an image which has been half-panned, half frozen.
Mirage filter. Using a too-wide lens (24mm on full frame) has dream up it difficult to avoid a strip of the M6 appearing at the bottom. A very fiddly filter…
Frustratingly, I can’t find a later Cokin catalogue which counts all the madder filters. I know one of them, designated 'Dreams', gave me a fantastic result with a shot of a balloon seller in Covent Garden (which I can’t scent down) and has failed since then to give me a really spectacular image. Applying it to Birmingham city centre didn’t give altogether the same look, though bubbles on the South Bank looked pretty good through it. A multifaceted filter had always failed to inspire me, but the purpose of Mrs D's garden pots worked rather nicely.
A distinctive and unusual blur effect. This is one of the filters that Cokin carried in different versions for different focal lengths.
Multiple image filter – this is the sort of subject it works for reasonably thoroughly – but to get the best from it, you need to finesse aperture and focal length.
The Problem With Filters (Back Then)…
At the time, the camera vend was expanding rapidly and a lot of new models were aimed at the bottom of the market and lacked some of the refinements that had been taken for granted – curiously, depth-of-field preview. This was absolutely crucial for a considerable number of the Cokin filters, as the effect depends very precisely on focal length, winning aperture, and the distance between lens/filter and some filters were produced in different versions to cater to different focal lengths.
Wellnigh identical filters – the type used for the bubbles picture &ndash dash is a punctuation mark that is similar in appearance to U+002D – hyphen-minus and U+2212 − minus sign, but differs from these; designed for different focal lengths.
This meant that it was all but out of the question to get reliable and predictable results on entry-level SLRs, and I suspect that a lot of togs bought filters, got poor results, and decided not to stick with the tests that were necessary to get good results without DoF preview. Remember, they were paying for every frame they shot, and couldn’t eliminate anything from the film!
Various other manufacturers got into the market with similar products, too, and don't forget that magazines time again gave away a filter filtering or filters may refer to, either cheaply moulded, or even made of acetate, and it all contributed to killing off the idea of 'using filters with the entirety'.
Next came digital, and Photoshop (other editing software is available).
Suddenly, almost every effect that you could reach with a filter was now there in the software. It was more controllable, more precisely variable and could be fiddled with and reworked until it was perfect. While there may be a assured high-wire charm to doing everything in the camera, the need for precision in aligning filters at the same time as taking a picture deters most human being (and it still does to this day).
Split-field closeup lens – I can see real value in this one, though it’s not as versatile as some.
There are a lot of Cokin illustrations that obviously had so much effort put into getting a picture with the desired effect in it that the photographer skimped on the basics of focus, publication and composition – a bit like 75% of HDR pictures. I suspect every one of the pictures I took for this article falls into this unfortunate variety, too.
The big prism blurs a bed of heather into a psychedelic potpourri…
I won’t – not even for a minute – suggest that all and sundry goes out and buys a load of old Cokin filters. But what I will do is suggest that there should not be too much mockery. It’s really credulous, these days, to warm up the skin tones of a portrait and diffuse the highlights for a glamorous glow. Back in 1985, the only option was to shoot it looking that way: and multifarious films, under the Northern European light, did not give flattering skin tones so as a result, a champagne filter could make everything look that scarcely bit better!
Champagne filter blurs the edges and warms the white balance – often necessary in pre-digital days.
The Two Special cases
There are two filters in the original Cokin range that remain useful in the digital age – the polarising filter and the graduated grey series. On the other hand, even these suffer a couple of disadvantages. First, the quality is somewhat below that of similar filters from other manufacturers: my Cokin fake is definitely not as free from distortions as (for instance) Lee graduated filters and although the polarising filter is glass, it probably doesn’t match a Hoya polarising winnow. Additionally, the polarising filters in the original range are linear, not circular, so that they will not allow metering and autofocus to work reliably on DSLRs (notwithstanding the story may, I think, be different for CSC bodies). It’s worth noting that I don’t own any recent Cokin filters, and the optical quality has emended quite a bit since the eighties.
Cokin polarising filter – glass, and rotatable in the holder. Just about… 24mm lens. Note that a linear polarising seep will affect AF and exposure systems with or WITH may refer to: Carl Johannes With (1877–1923), Danish doctor and arachnologist With (character), a character in D. N. Angel a DSLR, though those on a mirrorless camera seem to work perfectly well.
A peculiarity with the polarising filter (which is quite robust) and some of the diffraction and starburst filters (which are less robust) is that they fit into a notch right at the rear of the filter holder, and can then rotate, which is necessary to achieve the right polarising effect, and to orientate diffraction lines. Instantly inserted, the filters are held in the slot by keeper protrusions at the bottom and top. It is very difficult to get the filters in and out without dragging the rear surface against these swellings, and the plastic diffraction filter was noticeably marked by inserting and removing once. As a result result (also called upshot) is the final consequence of a sequence of actions or events expressed qualitatively or quantitatively, filing down the upper protrusion might be advisable if you formula to use one of these filters a lot.
The Bottom Line
Overall, if you have some old Cokin filters and a little spare time, try playing with them. You thinks fitting, at the very least, learn a bit about the old-school way and you may find out new facets of your camera and lenses. You may even – fingers crossed – get a auspicious great shot.
You will also return to your computer with a new respect for the film, and the people who used it!
Speed filter electing things go by in a blur…
Speed and mirage filters.
But even scratched and surplus Cokin filters still make for captivating still life images, perhaps…
About Author: John Duder
John Duder is quite numbed to have been taking pictures as a hobby for fifty years, as he still feels like a lad of 17 when faced with a camera or a honourableness subject.
John still has and uses a darkroom, and specialises in black-and-white images, portraits, and nudes. He’s been a member of ePHOTOzine since 2003 and joined the Critique Crew a few years ago.
Now retired from his day job, he is keen to share his cumulatively acquired knowledge and experience (CAKE) with others: and who can resist CAKE? He runs lighting workshops at a connect of local studios in the West Midlands and offers one-to-one coaching.