Magazine article American Cinematographer

Tiffen Company Celebrates 50th

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Tiffen Company Celebrates 50th

Article excerpt

Nat Tiffen's filter business was founded in 1938 on a lofty goal: to produce the best photographic filters in the world, with the most accurate colors, and the most reliable performance, even under adverse weather conditions. Over the next decade, that goal became a reality.

The history of Tiffen goes back 50 years to a small factory in Brooklyn that housed three employees - Nat Tiffen, and his two brothers, Sol and Leo. Most of the products Tiffen manufactured then were lens shades, adapter rings, and custom metal adapters. It wasn't until 1948 that Tiffen began to get involved with glass and optics. Tiffen had become frustrated with the poor quality of available filters, and although he had been trained as a machinist, not a chemist, he was looking for a way to make them more durable.

"I started out by attacking the libraries and calling people, trying to put two and two together," Nat recalled. "But every time I spoke to somebody, two and two always came out as six and ten." One professor told him flatly that what he wanted to do simply couldn't be done.

It took five years to figure out how to make the dyes, and 18 months to work out the production process, but in 1949, Tiffen sold his first filters to amateurs, and three years later began selling to professionals. In 1954 the Tiffen Company moved to Roslyn Heights where it enjoyed growth until 1978, when a tragic fire destroyed much of the plant.

"I was coming back from a trip to the Far East. When my plane touched down in California, I got a call from my son, Steven, who told me the factory was on fire. By the time I got back, the entire building was gutted. It was really a tough situation," recalls Nat.

The Tiffen family regrouped and amazingly, in only 12 weeks, were in operation again at the present facility in Hauppauge.

Today, the company employs over 100 people and manufactures more than one and one half million filters a year, making Tiffen the largest American filter manufacturer.

The Tiffen Laminate Process, developed and patented by Nat Tiffen, is the basis for the way Tiffen filters are made to this day. In the Tiffen process, the dyes are precisely measured and mixed with other chemicals into a liquid form, and subjected to 500 degrees of heat and 450 pounds of pressure, until it becomes an adhesive layer that is less than one-thousandth of an inch thick. Then it is sandwiched between two pieces of crystal water-white optical glass; fused together with the use of a special bonding material. The key to the filter's durability is the method for making the dyes into a bonding agent. "This method allows precision control of transmission characteristics, resulting in more accurate and dependable filter colors," says Nat. …

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