Boris FX Optics 2021 review: Hollywood visual trickery, now for digital photos

The definitive digital toolbox for photos, Optics is designed to simulate optical camera filters, specialized lenses, film stocks, and a lot more.

Credit: Boris FX

Modern digital photographers have plenty of options for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom plugins, including longtime personal favorite Tiffen Dfx. Following the release of version 4.0 in 2014, the future looked uncertain after the software was sold to Digital Film Tools, who were in turn acquired by leading visual effects publisher Boris FX last year. Despite changing hands, the heart and soul of Dfx thankfully remains intact under a new moniker.

Billed as “visual effects for photographers,” Optics 2021 retains everything that was great about Tiffen Dfx (including the intuitive user interface), infusing it with a liberal amount of the Hollywood magic Boris FX is known for. A standalone application that doubles as an Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom plugin, Optics offers 160 filter types across nine categories, each with a ton of one-click presets for thousands of potential creative possibilities.

boris fx optics 2021 multiple looks IDG

Why limit yourself to just one Instagram-style filter? With Optics 2021, you can add multiple filters, each on their own layer.

The exhaustive lineup includes emulations of classic color and black-and-white still photo film stocks, hundreds of gobo-style lighting effects for adding subtle textures, window frames, foliage, and other natural anomalies, plus dozens of color grading presets from Academy Award-winning motion pictures. There’s seriously so much good stuff here, seasoned shutterbugs who work with Optics daily will probably never use them all.

Whether standalone or plugin, the familiar UI works largely the same, with Color, Diffusion/Blurs, Film Lab, Grads/Tints, Image, Lens, Light, Render, and Stylize categories across the bottom (plus slots for saving customized or favorite settings), a bank of presets for the selected category displayed at right, plus layer, masking, and opacity controls in the left-hand sidebar. One noteworthy difference: the standalone app can’t directly open PNG or HEIC files, which otherwise work fine via Photoshop.

boris fx optics 2021 gobo preset IDG

Optics 2021 makes it easy to add gobo-style shadows and reflections for a dramatic effect.

Filters and more

Optics 2021 arrives packed with plenty of cool new tricks as well, like a new Halo filter (found under Diffusion/Blurs), and 75 Emmy award-winning Sapphire filters borrowed from the high-end Boris FX visual effects software used by countless feature films and television shows. Included are unique blur, glow, clouds, and light leaks, which add a subdued realism to even the blandest photographs.

Sapphire filters are sprinkled throughout relevant categories, but easy to find using the new built-in search. Click the magnifying glass to the left of the Filters window, then type inquiries into the field that appears there. (Pro tip: Sapphire filter names start with “S_”.) Search has conveniently been added to the Presets window as well.

boris fx optics 2021 light leak IDG

Powerful new Boris FX Sapphire filters allow Optics users to create light leaks, smoke, and other photo-realistic effects.

When it comes to pricing, Optics 2021 is equally flexible—affordable subscription options have been introduced ($9 monthly or $99 annually), while retaining the option to purchase outright for those who want it, with one year of free support and upgrades. About the only thing missing is extension support for Apple Photos—we’d love to be able to apply these awesome filters directly to images in our library.

Bottom line

Boris FX Optics 2021 is a must for photographers who want to infuse their creations with tried-and-true Hollywood visual effects wizardry.

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J.R. Bookwalter
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