- Jason W 3:19am, 28 January 2008
If you've done any research on the Expodisc or Expocap products, you may have come across people suggesting the use of a normal disposable coffee filter as an alternative. The results were quite positive. Since I don't own an Expodisc, I can only compare the coffee filter against a white card WB test. (since this is basically what the expodisc is intended to replace... ok ok an 18% grey card, but who's counting)

For those that don't know, the Expodisc is a small filter device you place over your lens during the time you manually adjust the white balance of your camera. When in unusual light situations the results will usually far exceed the 'auto' capability of the camera.

I decided to test it out, and took it a step further by adding the coffee filter to an extra UV filter I had.

These photos were taken in a room with a single compact fluorescent bulb (seen overhead) as the source of light. Regardless of camera setting (fluorescent, incandescent, outdoor, etc.) manual WB was the only way to achieve correct colors.

Before (auto WB)
Expodisc Alternative Example Shots (5)

After (coffee filter WB)
Expodisc Alternative Example Shots (4)

The "control" (photo WB with white card)
Expodisc Alternative Example Shots (4)

Directions to make the Filter:
Expodisc Alternative : Coffee Filter 2
Expodisc Alternative : Coffee Filter

All of the photos in the test sequence are here:

The Test Photos:

Make it yourself for about a nickle... And save $89.95... particularly if you have a spare UV filter around the house.

Remember, you point the expodisc (and this) TOWARD the light source(s), usually from the perspective of the subject being photographed. If you just aim and shoot at your subject it will normally not work correctly.

Happy building!

-Jason W
- Jason W 8 years ago
There was talk about the LED macro ring, and using compact fluorescent lights for lighting. This should help get the white balance correct right off when using those.
spiderbrigade PRO 8 years ago
building one of these is probably the single best equipment investment I've made. My disc tends very slightly towards the blue, but for $0 as compared to $90? Yes please. And it's 100 times better than trying to get a white-card reading in a situation with funky light, since the disc gives you a setting based exactly on what's coming *off* of your scene.
Station Street 8 years ago
Can I ask what the coffee filter paper is glued in with?
Erik Watts 8 years ago
This is not glued in. On the inside edge of most lens filters there is a round lock ring that screws down to the glass. If you click on the last photo above there are assembly instructions in the description.
Station Street 8 years ago
Got it!!
"..Tiffen UV Filter, unscrewed the retaining ring, and slipped the coffee filter between the ring and the glass."
I've not seen this type before. The Hoya filters I have all have a internal circlip holding the glass in, not a screw in ring.

you could as well use TWO UV filters... I'm "new" at this and certainly have plenty spares already :P
J. Albano Photography 8 years ago
Sounds awesome! So, let me get this straight:
1) You put the filter on your camera
2) Stand where your subject would be
3) Point camera in direction of light
4) Set your white balance in manual mode
5) Put your subject back in place, and shoot away?

That seems rather simple. I was thinking of buying an 18% gray card, but this seems better.

I'm gonna try it
J. Albano Photography Posted 8 years ago. Edited by J. Albano Photography (member) 8 years ago
And how the heck do you get the retaining ring off?

EDIT: I made one out of 2 filters, but they only fit onto one of my lenses that I don't use. I have it in my bag as a WB lens now! Lol
how will i get my cam to focus?
Nicholas Cooper 8 years ago
The camera should allow you to set the WB in manual focus. I have one of those over priced expodiscs and it should work the same way.
C_C_R 8 years ago
You dont really need to focus while doing the WB test. Well, thats what my camera manual says.
- Jason W Posted 8 years ago. Edited by - Jason W (member) 8 years ago
Yeah, doesn't have to be in focus. In fact, I think it's better if it isn't. Helps diffuse the light more and get that much more of a general idea of the overall light color.

On my Nikon, it's just a little switch on the lens, you flip to put it to manual focus so the camera will fire right away.

JSA2593: You've got it right. When I first made it, I didn't understand that about the expo disc, and almost gave up. I could never get the white balance data to read correctly when I was pointing it at where the subject would be. Then I dug deep enough on the internet to finally figure out what I was doing wrong, and that I should be pointing it toward the source of light... After that, it works every time.

Also keep in mind, although it can work for weird lighting conditions outside... generally speaking, outside there is one primary light source and it's one color so it's not so bad.

It's indoors where this is really helpful for those situations where you may have strange mixtures of different types of lights.

Even fluorescent lights are different colors. That compact fluorescent light in the example photo was a "daylight" model, which just blew my camera's mind. No setting was right except manual.

(deaf mute) 8 years ago
Since I don't have a spare UV, I suppose I could just drop a square sheet of coffee filter paper into my Cokin filter holder. :)

Amazingly enough, before I read this discussion, I'd never even tried setting the white balance on my bridge camera. I just left it on auto all the time. No wonder lots of my interior shots had a yellow cast! Doh!
Just pointing the lens at something grey and setting that as my "neutral" shade immediately made an improvement. Now I need to get some coffee filters so I can get into the habit of getting the WB correct as part of the process each time I click the ON switch. :)
C_C_R 8 years ago
or carry a few spare coffee filters and a rubber band. Just wrap the filter around the lens and slap a rubber band on it.
C_C_R Posted 8 years ago. Edited by C_C_R (member) 8 years ago
Auto WB
Home made expo disc test

Custom WB set with coffee filter DIY expo disc
Home made expo disc
the_mog 8 years ago
if you cant get hold of coffee filters then white cake cases (the small round white things that muffins come in) work as well
alan madrid 8 years ago
i just paid .97 for 200 filters, thanks for the great idea!
(deaf mute) 8 years ago
I dunno how many cameras you have, but be careful not to overdose on coffee! :)
JMartinezStudios.com 8 years ago
WOW i learned a lot just reading this about white balancing! thanks educators for your help, you all are all my money savers ferries ! dont ever let someone tell you that you havent did nothing nice today!
victor*f PRO 7 years ago
I use a homemade mini softbox as an alternative to an Expodisc or WB-card. Just hold it over the lens while taking the WB measurement:

DIY mini softbox (6/6)

Of course, if you're not shooting with flash then it's just another bit of extra kit to carry around.
Ralloh (Hawk-eye) [deleted] 7 years ago
Then there's the cheap guy's emergency kit ... I made one of these with a spare UV filter. Didn't do me one bit of good when I'm one place and the filter is at home. BUT I stopped by a quick mart and asked the lady in there if I could buy one filter she used on the store coffee machine. SHE GAVE ME ONE ... sweet lady. Cap it over the end of the lens ... use a rubber band to hold it in place ... ta da!
I've since stuck four coffee filters in my kit ... just in case! Takes zero room.
Nagarkatti 6 years ago
Check out the pictures I took of 2 paintings with Auto White Balance and with Generic Exposure Disc (imitation of ExpoDisc) costing $16 in Mumbai's famous Gola Street.
Roman Skrada 6 years ago
All this makes sense to me except for one thing; why not simply shoot in RAW format and adjust WB later when you process the picture? When I discovered how much control I get over my pictures when shooting RAW I never had to worry about white ballance again. Set it to what is the closest to your scene and adjust it later. A lot of posts over here mention using auto white ballance... Give up auto-anything if you want to take real pictures. Auto is for point and shoot people.
P^2 - Paul PRO Posted 6 years ago. Edited by P^2 - Paul (member) 6 years ago
It's all about workflow. Raw formats (RAW is not a format!) are great if you want to do a lot of post, including any kind of image analysis. For staged shoots, studio work, or high-value shots then it's the right choice.

But for shooting >1000 shots at a sporting or similar event? Forget it. Even with simultaneous jpg+raw saving and batch processing you'll kill yourself with the workload.

Right on the auto WB mode though: you can't do consistent corrections if the camera picks a new WB for every shot.
steveblackdog PRO 6 years ago
Not seen this mentioned before and it might come in handy in an emergency.
Emergency Expodisc
Just the top from a take out cup from Starbucks. Surprising what there is around that will do the job if you get caught out without one ;-)
AtlantaTerry Posted 6 years ago. Edited by AtlantaTerry (member) 6 years ago
Folks, your cost is NOT $0. You seem to be forgetting the cost of the UV filter. And your time.



I shoot everything RAW. Recently I was photographing high school sports: water polo and volleyball. Both were lit with what I *think* were mercury-vapor lights. I tried all sorts of in-camera color presets, none of which were correct. Close but not correct.

I certainly would not want to post-process hundreds or thousands of sports photos.

So I went to eBay and found what is billed as a Lens Cap / White Balance tool similar to ExpoDisc. It was available in several sizes so I chose 77mm - the largest filter size I use. The cost + shipping from Hong Kong to Atlanta, Georgia USA was only $7.95, the seller has sizes to 82mm.


timdesuyo 6 years ago
Terry, man. You gotta learn about batch processes.
lhatch5_OK PRO Posted 6 years ago. Edited by lhatch5_OK (member) 6 years ago
Buying one, and then losing it, is not near as much fun as paying $7.95 for a "Triple Venti Mocha + Apple Fritter AND a White Balance Filter" at Starbucks!
Chris_Judge PRO 6 years ago
You can set your white balance in the Raw Converter and save as a camera profile, then apply it to any selected image(s) or the whole file in PS.

Jesse Villa 6 years ago
yes, I tried it and it works great. Thanks
iamjoeymiller 6 years ago
timdesuyo, batch processing isn't a miracle worker. AtlantaTerry has a point. When it's hundreds or thousands of images, that batch still takes time. It takes significantly less time to just get it set right in camera first and save yourself all the trouble later. Workflow doesn't begin with post processing.

Bigger nightmare? Shooting sports at high shutter speeds under lights that color shift depending on where they are in the 60Hz AC cycle. I've shot a couple roller derby bouts where I could either correct for the green cast or the pink cast, but either way half of my images were going to be off. No Expodisc or whibal card or coffee filter is going to get that right at over 1/60. I learned my lesson early on and made speedlights my best friends.
Franaloi 5 years ago
Fantastic, thanks!
Myra Mains 4 years ago
A few years ago, I tested pretty much all the popular DIY white balance diffusers under controlled lighting conditions, using an ExpoDisc as the white balance reference. In the histograms I've posted, a diffuser is neutral if the red, green, and blue spikes align vertically. Judge for yourself.

White Balance tests by Myra Mains
rick stephens 4 years ago
so by your chart, expodisc is the best with a single coffee filter being the next best & a starbuck's lid is worst?
Myra Mains 4 years ago
@ rc56st: Actually, the Expodisc result is in there to show the variability in the test. Since I used the Expodisc for the initial calibration, the spikes would have lined up precisely under ideal conditions. I didn't do a numerical analysis, but there is is probably no statistical difference between the Expodisc and the coffee filter. I don't recall what the "white plastic" was from (could have been a starbucks lid,) but it was the worst. Subjectively, I found that the amount of blue tint didn't matter to me as much red-green balance. The Pringles lid, white plastic, and closed-cell foam produced horrendous skin tones.
Myra Mains 4 years ago
Found a Starbucks lid in the kitchen, and decided to test a couple of other things while I was at it. I don't know that the results are directly comparable to the previous test, since it's a different camera, raw processor, and different ExpoDisc. Even though the spikes look pretty well aligned, you can see the obvious color differences in the background. The outer frame is the Expodisc for reference.

White balance tests p.2 by Myra Mains
These are possibly even cheaper than doing it yourself -

Fffoootttooo 4 years ago
I found a set of white measuring cups at my local dollar store. I keep the 2 largest in my bag and use the others in the kitchen. They work great for both purposes.
Tim Rogan (formerly caprae) PRO Posted 4 years ago. Edited by Tim Rogan (formerly caprae) (member) 4 years ago
Definitely nice having the borders. I appreciate your work on this.

Because of the jpg artifacts it was hard to get an exact RGB reading from each one. I guess the lesson overall is that the expo disc, though calibrated and well made, has plenty of cheaper alternatives. I'll have to try this with my original PLM diffuser. Might have a side business here, though I'm sure the cloth will become soiled over time.

I'm guess the expo disc was the neutral version but wondering how far off the portrait version is.
ffotoffunster 4 years ago
Plain white coffee filters work well with my Canon Ixus, I stuff the camera inside the filter, point the lens at the light source and do custom WB. Filters give better results than plastic box tops in my sofa tests and can easily be folded & carried inside a pocket. They can also be used to diffuse flash light
Jack Andreasen [deleted] 4 years ago
Coffee filters didn't work for me. Pro Master is OK but these cheap Mennon caps work better for me. I have one for every lens that I own. Try one!

nd capture PRO 6 months ago
I know this is probably an expensive solution, but I use the nix sensor (nixsensor.com/?ref=3). It allows scanning the color, saving it, and then using it in photoshop.
akione7 Posted 6 months ago. Edited by akione7 (member) 6 months ago
I've been just wrapping the uncut filter over the front of the lens and do a CWB. And since I also do infrared I do a similar "trick" for CWB.
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