VSCO FILM – USER REPORT

By February 1, 2014 Review, User Report 17 Comments
VSCO-Feature

Introduction

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 FILMSA 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 FILMSPresent Day Film Stock & Expired Vintage Films Emulating Instant Film. 
  • 04 – SLIDE FILMSCurrent & 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 FILMS which 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 the 02 – CLASSIC FILMS for 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

INCLUDED 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

INCLUDED 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/ + / ++ / -

The Theory

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

T-MAX-3200-

T-MAX-3200

T-MAX-3200-+

T-MAX-3200-++

In Practice

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

TRI-X-400-

TRI-X-400

TRI-X-400-+

FUJI SUPERIOR – 1600 – 800 – 400

Superior-1600

Superior-1600-b

Superior-800-

Superior-800-++-

Superior-400

Superior-400-+

FUJI Neopan 1600

Neopan-1600-

Neopan-1600

Neopan-1600-+

Neopan-1600-++

Portra 800 – 400 – 160

Portra-800-++

Portra-400

Portra-400-VC

Portra-400-NC

Portra-400-NC-++

7-Portra-400-+

Portra-160

Portra-160-VC

Feature

Ilford HP5

HP5-

HP5

HP5-+

FUJI Pro 400H & 800Z

FUJI-PRO-400H

FUJI-800Z

Delta 3200

Delta-3200-

Delta-3200

Delta-3200-++

In Summary

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.

Cheers, Jason.

17 Comments

  • John Lockwood says:

    There is something many of us miss about film Jason, the experience. The longing is hard to explain. It is visceral. Film was simple. F8 and be there. Shutter speed, aperture and manual focus. So simple.

    Sadly, film is a romantic notion today, wholly impractical. But film is not the problem, processing is. Expensive, time consuming and worst of all someone else is in control of our image. No one wants to give up the control we now weild editing pixels.

    After many years of shooting digitally, I still miss film. Then I shoot some.

    • janrzm says:

      I can relate to the joy’s of the experience for sure.

      It may be a romantic notion to a point and maybe I’m a romantic at heart, certainly one doesn’t shoot film because it’s cheap, fast and practical :-)

      With regards the processing I can see both sides, the need for tight control of the finished article if its a professional or paid assignment, certainly when shooting film for fun I’m happy to leave things a little to chance when it comes to developing.

  • Bitanphoto says:

    @John
    Film is wholly impractical? That’s a very broad statement that must not be allowed to pass without some context.

    As far as I can gather from friends living in Europe or Oceania (AUS/NZ), film cost and processing is prohibitive, making it a boutique luxury few want to reach for. However, even in the United States there are still quite a few places that will develop film for a reasonable price, and several highly professional operations like Blue Moon Camera and The Darkroom, as well as the very high-end Richard Photo Lab, offer mail order services and will develop film and tweak scans to customers’ specs.

    Out where I live and shoot, in Asia, whilst film prices keep creeping up, processing and printing is still quite affordable. In my city alone there are small operations tucked away in alleys that will process and scan a roll in a few hours, to large outfits serving professionals that specialize in the highest end printing. Meanwhile, the local Lomography shop will process, scan, and print a roll of 35mm negative film for around US$7.50. I’ve tried them all, and Lomo has the volume to support technicians that know what they’re doing and output blemish-free negatives, scans and prints, so lately that’s where I’ve been going quite a bit.

    I guess I’m lucky to be here and have my choice of decent labs. For us, certainly, film is not simply a romantic notion but a viable, very much alive option.

    At any rate, I liked the article and share similar mixed feelings about film emulation software. Looking through the sample images above, none of them really look like the films they’re named after, but I don’t think that really matters much if the photographer likes the results and enjoys the additional palate available.

    Sometimes when I mix film and digital on a job like a wedding I’ll use VSCO on the digital files to give them a more consistent look with the film. For colour I like the Fuji Pro Z 800 and Pro 400H emulations a lot, and some of the slide film ones add some good pop as well. Since I shoot a lot of black and white film at weddings, I like to make black and white conversions of some of the digital files to match the film output as well, which usually has me going to Nik’s Silver Efex Pro.

    Enjoy the blog. Keep up the wonderful work.

    • janrzm says:

      Hi David,

      Without a doubt geography can be prohibitive when it comes to the decision to shoot film, it’s certainly a luxury in AUS/NZ as you say.

      I’m pleased you enjoyed the article, I think people that don’t or haven’t shot film will find the software more acceptable, when you have experienced film and have a definite idea of a particular films characteristics then perhaps the differences are more apparent. I do feel that given time one would be able to more accurately match a film if they had a specific look in mind. I totally agree that what really matters with this kind of thing is being able to get a result you like from it regardless of the finer points.

      I can certainly see why this software is a favourite with many wedding togs, just being able to bridge that gap between the real film shots and digital files makes sense.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Cheers, Jason.

  • John Lockwood says:

    While broad, I stand by my statement. Painting with such a broad brush was not meant to incite the faithful. Just a concise commentary on reality, especially in professional circles. The rapid rise of digital, the bankruptcy of Kodak, the discontinuation of Fujifilm stocks all prove my point.

  • MJ0202 says:

    I’d always written-off the idea of developing my own color film since all I heard was that it was very difficult and should not be considered. Then I tried it. Not only was it economical with the Tetenal C-41 Press Kit (about $1 per roll and still using the same kit) but actually pretty easy. I’ve had to tweak my process a bit and have made some mistakes but now, about twenty three rolls into this kit, it’s actually the easy part of the process and takes about a half hour until the negatives are hanging to dry. The scanning (Epson V700) takes about forty five minutes to an hour for a roll (batch process) and I usually retouch/fine tune in Photoshop as the scanner finishes each. Couple hours out of my day. Results are even better than the local labs.

    But I guess my point is that it is possible and economical and actually sort of fun. I wish I’d tried it myself a long time ago instead of buying into the conventional wisdom that it was not possible.

    What I like about real film photography is that (scanning aside) it takes the computerization out of the photographic process. I don’t have to fiddle with electronic menus on the camera or waste time worrying about the merits of any sensor or whether the next camera model will be better. Rather than fuss with tweaking the images endlessly for a film-look, the film photos are just born with that organic personality we’re drawn to and often trying to recreate on the digital side.

    Still, digital is the way to go for some types of photos (the one-off snapshot under difficult lighting, product shots, sporting events, etc.). I do find, however, that since incorporating film photography into my repertoire, I don’t waste time endlessly fussing with the digital images anymore. They are what they are and can be quite good. But I no longer feel the need to tweak them and tweak them in pursuit of some elusive, never quite satisfactory film-look. So the unexpected bonus is that film has also liberated my digital photography from the whole filter/plug-in/emulation mess.

    • janrzm says:

      Hi,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences here, I’ve considered developing my own colour film but the kits you refer to were harder to obtain and more expensive here unfortunately. That said I will definitely give it a go at some point for the experience if nothing else.

      I absolutely share your enthusiasm for the the simplicity of shooting film and removing those digital elements from the process.

      Personally I’m sure I will always have and feel a requirement to shoot film and digital, I have never felt the need to choose between them and they both fulfil me in different ways. In terms of processing/plugins/presets well that really depends on the individual, certainly my thoughts and feelings around processing have and do evolve all the time, what I like today I may not like so much tomorrow and so on.

      I always enjoy hearing the views and thoughts of others so I thank you for sharing them here.

      Cheers, Jason.

  • Umberto says:

    Jason, thanks a lot for this article. Surely it has immediately arise a lot of interest amongst your readers and already many have shared their experience and their opinions with some clever and thoughtful posts. I must say that I have often played with film presets in Silver Efex: I have probably been satisfied by the result but I have never been convinced by the comparison (emulation) film preset/real film. I am too lazy to have a technical approach but my simplicistic convictions are the following (expecially with regard to B&W):
    - in general film images are more tridimensional;
    - it is unfair to compare a digital image to a scanned film image. You should always compare a digital file print with a film image printed in the darkroom.
    Everyone has his (maybe hidden) bias and should be really transparent what mine is but we all know that we can produce beatiful images both digitally and with film.
    I do not think that any software can be useful to emulate film even if I am sure that using it can be really enjoyable.
    Ciao.
    Umberto

    • janrzm says:

      Hi Umberto,

      I hope you are well. I did anticipate a little film/digital banter with this one I have to say.

      Funnily enough I have never used the film presets in Silver Efex Pro despite the fact that I use it extensively, the other film presets I’ve looked at are in Alien skin and DxO and more recently Analog Efex Pro.

      I agree, film images are perhaps even four dimensional!! That fourth dimension being that little bit of magic they contain :-)

      The comparison of a digital image to a scanned film image is unfair, I’ve read that statement a few times this week from various sources as it happens.

      We do all have our own preferences and bias based around our own experiences and thats only natural, I embrace both formats because as you rightly point out beautiful images are made in both. I think the emulations can be successful, in the right hands but mush depends on the final output, a small web based image could be convincing a large print would not be.

      Take care, Jason.

  • Don says:

    Hi Jason. Thanks for showing us these; its very useful to see some of the VSCO looks on the type of images I’m most interested in, particularly the landscape and architecture themes.

    I’ve been wavering over buying a VSCO pack for some time. One of the things that put me off was Robert Boyer’s account of the big differences between the same presets in Aperture 3 compared to Lightroom (eg: http://photo.rwboyer.com/2013/01/22/VSCO-update/). I’m an Aperture user at the moment. Having said that, Robert’s usual subject matter is a bit different to what I normally photograph!

    I’ve recently returned to shooting film after many years and find I am enjoying the results more than I expected to. Developing costs are pretty good at my local UK darkroom – its the scanning that seems rather expensive – 3 to 4 times the cost of the film development. I may have to invest in a mid-range scanner as I would like to keep shooting film, especially medium format. I’m not so concerned about trying to match up with my film scans but I have to say I really like your results for their own sake.

    Maybe I’ll bite the bullet and buy VSCO 1 before the scanner!

    • janrzm says:

      Hi Don,

      You’re welcome. I’ve not read Robert’s post until just now, thanks for pointing that out.

      I’m pleased to hear of your return to film, there is no substitute for the real thing but convenient alternatives suit some situations and I think that’s where VSCO FILM comes in. Scanning in one way or another will forever be the nemesis of shooting film, be it time, cost, quality you name it. The V700 or V750 is a good cost efficient option for MF film, there seem to be a few of us in photography circles currently looking at the OpticFilm 120 as an option, we’ll see.

      Another point about VSCO FILM, I thin in order to achieve the best possible results it helps if the user has a clear and concise idea of a specific films characteristics and an open mind….

      Cheers, Jason.

      • Don says:

        Thanks Jason,

        The OpticFilm 120 is nearly £1800 here, versus about £350 for the V700! The reality is I’ll probably never shoot enough film (or be a good enough photographer!!) to justify the bigger purchase, but a V700 would pay for itself pretty quickly through the money I’d save on lab scanning. MJ0202′s comment was really helpful there.

        I think you are right about having a specific look in mind with VSCO and I think I recall Robert Boyer making the same point. I’m particularly fond of the Fuji Velvia 50 look, which Fuji’s own cameras really don’t seem to succeed with, despite having a ‘Velvia’ jpeg mode.

        Plenty to think about!

  • Mark says:

    Jason,

    Gorgeous stuff, as always! Presets or not…you’ve certainly got an amazing eye (and some beautiful scenery, to boot!)

    Your post comes at an interesting time for me, as I have basically abandoned my digital bodies, and reverted entirely to film; However, the presets certainly remain an enticing option for their ease-of-use…At some point, I will likely give them a go!

    All the best,
    M.

    • janrzm says:

      Hey Mark,

      Thanks that’s very kind of you.

      I’m sure much better and more accurate film looks can be achieved with these and a bit more practice. Nothing beats the real thing though… ;-)

  • Origamy says:

    Hmm. None of these — on my monitor, at least — look like the films they are said to look like. Some look gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but they have their own looks.

    Besides, the “film look” is not just about the colour, saturation, etc — it’s also the different “look” and “feel” to the image depth. Use the same lenses on film and digital cameras and you’ll see what I mean. Mounted on film, lenses seem to have more depth and a certain roundedness to my eyes.

    • Origamy says:

      Even in terms of “3D snap”, the look between film and digital is different. I could use a 135mm Sonnar on my Pentax MX, and the same on the K5, and they’d both have that Zeiss 3D pop and snap. But the quality would be different. Digital gives a flatter rendition, to me, which is useful for some types of shots, but I far prefer the “look” from film.

    • janrzm says:

      Hey Origamy,

      I totally get what you’re saying. I think how you feel about these presets will ultimately be dictated by your film experiences and your perception of any given films characteristics. I do still believe these can be used to more accurately reflect film looks than I have achieved in this post. I did take a few shots on the M6 with Portra 400 that I duplicated digitally with a view of doing a more direct comparison, I will look at adding them to the post.

      Cheers, Jason.

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