Thursday, January 24, 2013

Film Emulation Part 2


Today I installed the free trial version of DxO FilmPack to determine just how effective real software film emulation is. I made several new files from my original JPEG. Software such as this could be very useful as quick one-click adjustments of colour curves and contrast. It is very "Instagram-like" in that previews of each effect are scroled across the bottom, and the change is viewed live as each preview is clicked - very nice! Also, there are not only various slide, negative and B&W films to choose from, but also some Cross-Processing options and generic filters. I cannot judge any of these for accuracy, as I am not at all familiar with how these various film s are supposed to look; rather, I just buy whatever I can get my hands on and say "I shoot film!" One minor issue is that the alterations enlarge the file sizes considerably, so I had to re-size them - here they are, with brief descriptions:

Agfa Ultracolor-100

The Agfa Ultracolor both cools and intensifies the reds very  heavily, and also introduces an overall bluish cast. It is eye-catching, if not accurate. I also notice a slight degradation to foreground textures which I don't like. I always want more texture, not less.

Fuji Provia-400

The Fuji Provia 400 does not change the colours much that I can see, but it does add a fair amount of film grain. In the real world, I've used Provia-400 in my Rolleiflex very recently, and did not notice any film grain at all.

Fuji Superia-200

I've also used Fuji Superia 200 in my Pentax Zoom 90. I thought it was a very nice film in real life, but here, it has pretty much eliminated all of my foreground texture - very bad!


"Infrared" is one of the generic filters available in FilmPack. It doesn't look like any Infrared that I've ever seen, but it does make a very nice black and white, adding just a little bit of grain and beautifully enhancing the foreground texture. On the down side, I think it turns the entire scene overly grey, but that can easily be adjusted with a bump in the curve, or with a bit of Channel Mixing. I just don't understand why they called this Infrared.

Kodachrome 200

The Kodachrome 200 is one of my favourites. It is free from grain, adds some warmth and almost a luminosity to the picture. Texture is preserved but not enhanced. Overall, very nice.

Kodak Elite Color 400

The Elite Color 400 is a bit like the Agfa Ultracolor 100, with an overall cooling, perhaps leaning toward Cyan instead of Blue. It is a lot less grainy than the Fuji 400, but does reduce my texture a bit, though not severely.

Kodak T-Max 100

The T-Max simulation does not work well with this picture at all. It might be good in other circumstances  but here, it seems to soften the picture overall. Do people like Kodak T-Max for it's softness? If so, it has a nice tonality which is not too grey, but is a real contrast, and texture killer.


This is something I don't need, as GIMP has several variations on the "nostalgia" theme built right in. It works OK, but overall, isn't this the kind of thing that's making everybody ga-ga for Instagram?

With this very brief trial of DxO's FilmPack, I've not seen anything yet that makes me want to buy it. I will certainly keep using it until the trial period expires in a couple of weeks - I might discover something about it that makes it worth the price. But so far, my experience tells me once again there is an inherent advantage to film that post-processing software such as this can never emulate. A film camera "catches light" in a very simple manner, whilst a digital camera is a complex machine that will always bends over backwards to "normalize light", and if it's unable to do so, it simply leaves you with blown highlights or noisy shadows. For an example of what I mean, you would never be able to point a digital camera into the sun, without a lens hood, and still be able to capture this:

Rolleiflex Automat, Fuji Provia 160, Direct Afternoon Sunlight Overhead

If I had used my digital camera in this way, there would be nothing left for post-processing software to emulate, as most of the sky would have simply been a whitish wash-out. If I had exposed for the sky, then everything below it would have been left in shadow. I often think that film does with light what vacuum tubes do with sound - when over-driven, they both distort gracefully, whereas digital electronics always want to keep things so clean and crisp, it turns distortion into noise, then self-adjusts to eliminate the noise. 

I think that true film emulation can be done, but it has to be in-camera, not in post-processing. When in-camera, the electronics can be programmed to respond to excessive light in the same way that certain films do, provided there is enough exposure range in the system to do so. Until somebody comes up with such a digital camera system, I'll be emulating film by using real film, I guess.


  1. Nice observations and quite a tasty "special sauce"!

    I think it's useful to think of film emulators as tools for expanding one's expressive palette. I do a lot of studio portrait work, shoot in RAW, and often don't achieve a skin tone that appeals to me straight out of the camera. With film emulation software I can tones and contrast the way I like it and establish a certain look for a given session. This approach, applied judiciously, has worked well for me using Alien Skin Exposure for colour film and Nik Software's Silver EFEX Pro 2.0 for black and white. Whether I use a black and white or colour filter I often drop the opacity to around 30-40 percent just to tweak skin tones and add a bit of contrast. One set of film emulators available in Alien Skin is my favourite, but I have not quite taken a liking to any of the options from Nik's Color EFEX Pro straight out of the box.

    I have also taken to running a black and white filter on colour images and keeping the opacity at 85-95% to allow just a hint of colour. This one is 85%:

  2. Thanks Tu - I agree it's nice to have tools like this at our disposal, as long as the limitations are realized.

  3. Wow, as a person who has printed all these films I am amazed at the accuracy. Especially the Agfa. Excellent article David.

    Allen Sutherland
    Atlantic Photo Supply


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