It's ironic really that I'm posting about the VSCO FILM presets at a time when all I'm thinking about photographically is working harder to reduce the amount of processing I do to my own images. Putting those thoughts aside for the time being and despite the fact that VSCO FILM has been around for some time now it seemed like a good way to utilise some images that were cut from previous posts and at the same time have a bit of fun.
Firstly, I love film, it's art, it's organic, it's incredibly rewarding, there is no substitute for film in my opinion.........however, shooting film is not cheap, the results are not instant, especially if you're sending film away to be developed and worst of all, it can, on occasion go horribly wrong!! With all this in mind, it's easy to see why those photographers who long for the look of film without any of hassle would be drawn to film emulation presets. I've tried a couple in the past, I won't name them, but invariably I've been disappointed.
Not surprisingly the guy's at Visual Supply Co describe VSCO FILM as "the Gold Standard of Film Emulation" and to that end they offer four separate packages in the VSCO FILM range which it describes as follows
01 - MODERN FILMS - A Collection of Presets & Camera Profiles Emulating Current Professional Negative Films.
02 - CLASSIC FILMS - Classic Negative Film Emulations, Composed of Discontinued, Rare & Consumer Films.
03 - INSTANT FILMS - Present Day Film Stock & Expired Vintage Films Emulating Instant Film.
04 - SLIDE FILMS - Current & Discontinued Slide Film Emulations That Produce Rich & Vivid Tones.
Once I'd decided to give these a go I opted initially for the 01 - MODERN FILMSwhich at US$119.00 was a little pricy, there is simply no way I'd pay that for each pack and fortunately your initial purchase entitles you to 25% off any future purchases. Additionally VSCO do have special offers from time to time so when I received an email notification advising me that I could buy the02 - CLASSIC FILMSfor US$59.99 I was ultimately tempted, not just because of the price but because these effects actually do work very well.
I'm using the versions created for LR5 which have backwards compatibility with LR4. They are also available for LR3, Aperture 3, Adobe Camera Raw for CS5 and CS6.
The latest version of the film packs now included custom profiles for Canon/Nikon/Fuji/Leica/Sony & Olympus as well as Standard profiles for other camera makes, these Standard Profiles are described as being "not as accurate than the original versions" and while this is indeed true they are still infinitely useable. The list of supported cameras is extensive, I've used the Leica & Sony Profiles here.
For the purposes of this post I'll be looking at both the preset packages which include the following film types -
01 MODERN FILMS
Fuji 160C/ + / ++ / -
Fuji 400H/ + / ++ / -
Fuji 800Z/ + / ++ / -
Kodak Tri-X/ + / ++ / -
Kodak T-MAX 3200/ + / ++ / -
Ilford HP5/ + / ++ / -
Kodak Portra 160/ + / ++ / -
Kodak Portra 400/ + / ++ / -
Kodak Portra 800/ + / ++ / -
Kodak Portra 800 H
02 CLASSIC FILMS
Fuji Neopan 1600/ + / ++ / -
Fuji Superia 100/ + / ++ / -
Fuji Superia 400/ + / ++ / -
Fuji Superia 800/ + / ++ / -
Fuji Superia 1600/ + / ++ / -
Ilford Delta 3200/ + / ++ / -
Kodak Portra 160 NC/ + / ++ / -
Kodak Portra 160 VC/ + / ++ / -
Kodak Portra 400 NC/ + / ++ / -
Kodak Portra 400 VC/ + / ++ / -
I have to say whilst I have no issue with exporting to third party software it's always nice when I'm able to get the effect I'm after while keeping everything contained to LR5 and thats a big plus for the Presets.
VSCO advise that the profiles work at their optimum with RAW files however JPG Processing is also very good in the LR4/LR5 version.
Each film type has a baseline version which has been specifically designed around what is regarded as typical for the film, in addition to this and because there is a natural latitude to film we're given + / ++ and - versions also which enable to user to more easily achieve the desired look. To further demonstrate the latitude I'm referring to I've taken the same image below and applied each of the KODAK TMAX 3200 variants to it.
KODAK TMAX - 3200
There are no real rules here, ultimately what is right will depend on your eye and your taste. It's worth noting that with the exception of Exposure and White Balance any other adjustments you make will be reversed once the Preset is applied, therefore it makes sense to adjust the Exposure and WB prior to applying the Preset and get the image correct to your eye in this regard.
Already being familiar with LR5 the application of Presets is quick and easy and we also have the benefit of the VSCO FILM TOOLKIT which add's the ability to make more specific adjustments to your image. Grain, Shadows, Highlights, Contrast, Saturation to name but a few can all be tweaked easily here.
The more delicate processing techniques are also covered with the inclusion of numerous brush Presets which will allow you to fine tune the look of your image. The Toolkit and Brushes have been used on the images below but at the same time I've tried not to take them too far from the original Preset.
Open the image or hover over it to establish which preset version was used.
KODAK TRI -X- 400
FUJI SUPERIOR - 1600 - 800 - 400
FUJI Neopan 1600
Portra 800 - 400 - 160
FUJI Pro 400H & 800Z
You need only look briefly on the internet to see some stunning results from VSCO FILM, results from people who've clearly spent time and effort mastering the look and feel of the film's they love. There is much to like, you're in control, there's no developing cost and that little bit of fear that comes when you shoot film has gone, unfortunately so has that little bit of magic. That said, there is no doubt these presets can give you some very convincing film looks.
Ultimately I have mixed feeling about VSCO FILM. Those feelings have nothing to do with the Presets, they are the best film emulation presets I've tried to date. Sure some film types are more authentic than others, some look good regardless but here's where I personally struggle with this…….. The images may look like film but I know they aren't, it may not be entirely rational but it's really that simple. It's difficult to explain it but I'm somehow left feeling a little empty, shallow even, like I've pressed one button and created an Instagram image. I'm not disrespecting Instagram or the VSCO FILM Presets it's just a personal obstacle for me. There's a further irony in all this, it's most likely much easier to take a digital photograph and create an authentic looking film shot with VSCO FILM than it is to shoot that image on film in the first instance, that said it's nowhere near as satisfying.
When all's said and done the truth is that if you're a purist you'll most likely hate these presets, in saying that you probably wouldn't have bought them in the first place….. I'll continue to experiment, I'm sure there will be circumstances in which I'll revert to them.