HT stands for Hi-Trans, a proprietary multi-coating process, but do these Made In USA filters do more? And can you really clean them with a paper towel without scratching them?
Tiffen knows a thing or two about optical filters—they’ve been manufacturing them for over 75 years. One of the notable technical achievements of the Long Island-based company is ColorCore technology, an exclusive lamination process that bonds the actual filter material permanently in between two layers of optical glass to enhance control over filter color and density, assuring absolute uniformity of production. If you think that’s just the usual promotional hype, no less than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (of Oscar fame) awarded Nat Tiffen, one of the company's founders, a Technical Achievement Award for the consistency of its filter quality back in 2000.
Ironically, it is Tiffen’s unwavering commitment to consistency, and providing filters capable of withstanding the rigors of professional use, that made them reluctant to jump aboard the bandwagon when competitive filter makers started multi-coating their filters about 20 years ago. Their reasoning: The use of ColorCore technology eliminated the need to polish and multi-coat their filters to achieve uniformity, and the multi-coatings being used were quite fragile and easily scratched and abraded. Once you scratch a multi-coated filter, it’s compromised and unsuitable for critical work, so the risks outweighed the benefits. (Read our Filter FAQ)
Tiffen's 4-point star filter handles spectral highlights brilliantly while offering ample lgiht transmission.
Nevertheless, multi-coating both exterior surfaces of a filter does increase its light transmission and minimize reflections, so Tiffen embarked upon a program to develop a superior multi-coating process to address the deficiencies. Their goal was a coating process that combined high-performance optical parameters, ease of cleaning, and a very high resistance to scratching and abrasion. The result, announced in 2008, is Tiffen Digital HT Filters, featuring an exclusive Titanium Multi-Coating that is claimed to deliver excellent anti-reflection and light transmission characteristics along with an easy-to-clean, extremely scratch resistant surface.
Charts supplied by Tiffen show excellent light transmission.
In the Field: High Performance, Tough Coating?
To check out these claims, I obtained seven different 72mm Tiffen HT filters along with step-up rings that allowed us to mount them on the 52mm and 49mm threads.
The first thing you notice when you take Tiffen Digital HT filters out of their boxes and slide them out of their lined nylon pouch cases is that the all have titanium-finish filter rings that are beautifully made and feature a milled front edge for easy mounting and removal. These anti-reflective locking rings are low profile to facilitate stacking when needed and will not cause physical vignetting even when they’re used with ultra-wide-angle lenses.
Multi-element HT filters, such as the adjustable HT 4-Point Star and HT Circular Polarizer I used have separate milled front rings that can be turned, plus fixed milled rings for mounting located just behind their mounting threads. The front rings on both turn with a smooth, well damped action and precision feel—a clear indication of high quality. Tiffen also uses Water-White Glass of the highest grade in manufacturing these filters, and that’s one of the main reasons they cost more than Tiffen’s conventional filters.
Other thoughtful details: The single-filter pouches have transparent I.D. windows so you can slide in a slip of paper to identify the filter inside, and the 4-slot filter kit case has a handy belt loop.
While the Adorama Learning Center is not set up to conduct laboratory tests to verify Tiffen’s light transmission and reflectance data, I can confirm that none of the images I shot with the Tiffen HT filters exhibited any distortion or loss of definition when I compared them at high magnification with images shot without a filter in place.
Before and after: Above: Without 812 Warming Filter. Below: With 812 Warming Filter.
Can’t Do That Digitally
I was especially pleased with the Circular Polarizer that eliminates reflections on glass and water, enhances clouds, and selectively enhances color contrast, the ability of the HT 4-Point Star to adjust the look of the star patterns in specular highlights, and the HT Clear/ND filter with its feathered split that allows you cut the exposure of sky or foreground seamlessly without affecting the rest of the image. These are things you simply can't do with digital filter apps, even the versatile Tiffen Dfx filter-emulation software. I also liked the subtle, beautiful, and predictable warming effect of Digital HT 812 Warming Filter, a filter exclusive to the Tiffen line.
Without HT Circular Polarizer, above, and with Circular Polarizer, below. You can't get rid of reflections in Photoshop, but you can with a polarizing filter!
Filter Cleaning Stress Test
How well does the Digital HT Titanium Coating on Tiffen HT filters stand up to less than optimal cleaning procedures, and how easy it is to remove typical grease and grime without the benefits of lens tissue, a microfiber cloth, etc?
To simulate a worst-case field scenario, I placed big, greasy thumbprints smack in the center of a few different HT filters and then attempted to clean them off with whatever we had on hand. Anyone who’s tried this knows that completely removing a greasy fingerprint from a coated glass surface is not easy, even with the right stuff—it often results in a thin residue of muck being thinly deposited over the filter’s entire surface. Well, I broke every filter- and lens-cleaning rule in the book and used Kleenex tissue on two of the filters and an even more abrasive paper towel on the third. I didn’t breathe on the filters or use anything else to ease the process, but simply dry-wiped them with a circular motion until the thumbprints were gone.
In no case was there any visible residue left on the filters, and in no case was the multi-coating damaged in the slightest. To corroborate this I held the filters up at various angles and examined them with a magnifier. To make sure, I asked two photographer buddies to check out the filters to see if they were sparkling clean. The verdict: They were clean as a whistle. To check for scratches and abrasions in the multi-coating, we used a 60X jeweler’s loupe and can attest that there was no damage whatsoever.
Kids, don't try this at home: Here I used a tissue—not a lens tissue, but a regular Kleenex—to remove nasty oily fingerprint and dust from a Tiffen Digital HT filter. The cleaned lens is shown below and seems none the worse for wear and tear. On your filters, I recommend using a standard microfiber cloth or lens tissue and following this procedure.
Conclusion and recommendation
I conclude that Tiffen Digital HT optical filters are very well made and finished using excellent materials, and that the Titanium HT Multi-Coating is sufficiently robust to stand up to any reasonable cleaning method short of sandpaper or steel wool. All performed perfectly for their intended purposes and we can recommend them to any serious enthusiast or pro.
Tiffen HT filters aren’t the least expensive filters on the market, or even the least costly optical filters offered by Tiffen. The minimum Adorama price for a clear glass HT lens protector in the 52mm size is $49.95, and $159.95 for the HT Circular Polarizer. The list prices of a twin-pack start at $139.09, and the 3-filter Digital HT neutral density kit has suggested prices starting at $186.49. Larger diameters are progressively more costly. On the plus side, these filters will last practically forever, so they’re a one-time purchase. And the fact that such high quality high-tech products are still made in this country is a source of personal pride—even though the pouch cases are Made in China.
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