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detail showing grainReview of DxO FilmPack V2

Very accurate recreation of film colour and grain.

I may not have used film for several years, but that doesn't mean I didn't like some of the 'look' that you could get from it.

Whilst many image processing software packages offer a 'grain effect' or various colour renditions, these are often quite generic.

At DxO they've spent some time measuring detailed characteristics of film types and looking at how these could be applied to digital images.

I've been looking at the DxO FilmPack software, and how I could make use of it. (Tested on a Mac, but works on both Mac & Windows)

The look of film

There are quite a lot of different processes in use (or that were in use) for creating images using film.

Our darkroom now houses printers and servers, and it's a few years since I shot a roll of film.

I'm aware that there are a lot of photographers who've never used film - why should they have?

Digital cameras can now produce cleaner images at higher resolution than were commonly available with film.

Sure, there are specialised uses (nuclear imaging for example) where chemical based approaches will rule for some time, but in general, people now choose to use film for artistic rather than genuine commercial reasons.

DxO FilmPack Version 2Some film 'looks' are completely lost. Only weeks before I wrote this article, the last rolls of Kodachrome were processed in Kansas. If you want to see what all the fuss was about, then you will need to process digital images now to see how Kodachrome represents a particular scene.

  • Note, when looking at a film 'look', try and separate the fact that it may be a great photo from the technology used to create it. It's not for nothing that camera manufacturers use really good looking photos to advertise their cameras. The fact that the picture could have been taken on any number of different makes/models is conveniently ignored.

Anyway, lets move beyond some of the old film vs. digital argument and see just what DxO's measurements of all those films has produced.

FilmPack 2 - What do you get?

The software can work in three ways.

At its most basic, there is a stand-alone application which allows you to open a JPEG file and apply the various film effects. This offers all the film effects and emulation options, but is limited to working with JPEG source images.

As a Photoshop plugin (currently 32 bit only) where the currently open (RGB) image is filtered, much as you would with any other image plugin. All the effects are available.

dxo filmpack installation

As part of DxO Optics Pro, extending preexisting capabilities, but working fully integrated into the normal DxO Optics Pro functionality. If you're not familiar with this RAW conversion and image processing software, we have full reviews of the current and earlier versions.

The installer is smart enough to work out what software you have installed and handle non standard installation locations. The default Photoshop installation only looks as far as CS4, so I did have to manually point it to my CS5 plug-ins folder.

Using DxO FilmPack

I'll show some examples from all three ways of running the software.

However, I'll not go through all the available options, just try and give a feel for what it can do. There is a free demo of the software available which gives a time limited, but fully functional version of the software.

First up, I've opened the application and just dropped colour JPEG file on it.

colour jpeg image opened up in filmpack application

The software initially defaults to assuming it's an image taken on 35mm film and sizes the scale of the grain accordingly.

I've changed the film type to Ilford HP5 from Kodak Tri-X

detail showing grain

The conversion to black and white is being based on the measured spectral responses of real films. Note that this assumes you've not done too much to the colour image you started off with.

Move your mouse over the image below to see the differences.

different film effects

colour rendition optionsThere are two basic aspects to the way the image is processed.

The first specifies how colour is to be altered.

Each film type has a range of real films available to choose from.

With many film makes and types that I'd never tried, it's worth going through all of them to get a feel for just what changes.

One other thing to note though is that the results are critically dependent on the colour image you work on.

different grain optionsWhen I first tested the software, I used a known good test image, such as the Datacolor one we have for download, which is one I like to use for initial print evaluation too.

The application of grain is entirely optional, and can even be applied to images on its own.

This turns out to be one of the more useful functions of the software for some of our large B/W prints, both of my own work and in some of Northlight's print services.

The other settings cover toning of images and also simulate the effects of using coloured filters at the time the photo was taken.

I've never been a fan of toned/tinted prints - most people trying to emulate the effect in their digital prints seem to turn the colour up too far.

Look at some examples of real toned prints to see the subtlety that can be applied. However, I've all too often seen toning applied as a way of trying to make a passable print into a good print - IMHO it rarely works.

colour filter optionstoning and tinting

There are fine tuning sliders for all of the effects, but the default values seem to work most times.

The example below shows a good test image to get a feel for what the adjustment settings actually do.

known good test image for testing

The next examples are taken from an image I'd opened in DxO Optics Pro, a piece of software I often use for processing RAW files for my large B/W prints.

You pick your film type in the normal film options, which are greatly expanded if you have the FilmPack installed

plugin in DxO Opticss pro

In this case, I've got some of the loss of detail I remember from using higher speed (yes 400 ISO) slide film

detail of colour grain

Then again, when I shot such film, I didn't have lenses of the quality of the Canon EF14mm 2.8L II that this shot of Southwold beach was taken with.

The example below shows good old ISO 50 Velvia - beloved of people who's visual memory has the colour controls turned up to eleven.

Move your mouse over the image to see the difference.

velvia type effect

Now back to the (real) F1 car parked outside of Holdenby House for an event I photographed.

I've opened the image in Photoshop and selected the plugin.

filmpack plugin for photoshop

As you can see, the interface is the same as with the standalone application, however you can also open 16 bit RGB images.

Greyscale images won't work, so if you want to just add grain, do a mode conversion to RGB first.

A few more colour examples.

Velvia again

more velvia look

I quite like this one, but of course, there can be a world of difference between an image that looks great on screen or projected, and the version that makes a good print

The Kodachrome look: 64 ISO is shown below - move your mouse over image to see the cooler 25 ISO look.

the kodachrome look

A bit more detail from that image, showing what the grain was like if you went to faster film speeds.

Mouse over image to see 400 ISO

grain detail on colour film

As I mentioned, you are not restricted to 35mm film.

In the shot below (a Deli in Longbeach, WA) I've the full range of BW films.

black and white conversion

I looked at Kodak T-Max 3200, a film I've never used, which has (for film) a really high speed.

As you'd expect, the grain is quite apparent - just as you'd get from 35mm film

If you move your mouse over the image you can see the smaller grain I'd see if I'd been using my medium format film camera (obviously with a longer focal length lens than I actually used for the shot with my 1Ds III)

grain with different film formats

Move your mouse over the image to see more details of just how you can alter the precise look of the grain.

grain alteration

Repairing film scans and keeping the grain

Looking at that grain, and how you could fine tune it, gave me an idea to make some aspects of image retouching a bit easier.

With film scans and large prints, I sometimes have to do quite a bit of work on the images, and the need to preserve grain limits many of the Photoshop tricks I'd use on digital images.

If you take your film scan, create a layer, fill it with a flat (or whatever) grey field, then add grain, you now have a cloning source with matching grain.

It may take a bit of experimenting if you don't know the film type, but I've already used this on one image I was working on and in a 30"x40" print I cant see which bits of background are original and which are 'DxO grain'

The example below shows real scanned FP4 film on the left, and DxO generated to the right.

real and simulated grain

Not a use I'd initially thought of for the software...

Conclusions

A few technical issues, such as lack of direct installation with CS5 and a limit to 32 bit operation suggest that the software is due for a minor update.

The range of film types supported is good, probably far beyond what even many experienced photographers have ever tried.

Simple and easy to use, with the available options clearly presented.

However one very big failure...

The display that you see in the Photoshop plugin is not properly colour managed.

This is what happened when I opened a version of the test image that had been saved in the large ProPhoto colour space.

colour management fault

No effects applied, but drastic changes typical of faulty colour management in the display part of the plugin code.

The good bit is that when I applied the filter, it worked as expected on the image - not that I could tell what was going to happen in advance from the plugin display.

Seems that if your image is sRGB then the display looks fine (although it could just be connected with the fact that when doing web work, this is my default workspace) If the image is in Adobe 98, then you can see slight differences, but as for ProPhoto... whoops.

Note - DxO have investigated this, and it seems to be a Mac only fault, and will be fixed for the next software release.

Why use the software...

OK, I'm impressed by the examples where I've compared some of my old film scans with DxO processed versions. It all looks very realistic, but there is that question as to why I'd bother?

Well, one use of film grain is to go from digital noise to 'grain noise' in high ISO shots - clean up the digital image, but then add grain to get rid of some of the rather regular looking noise/mush you can end up with with high ISO digital images - film grain is less intrusive. We are very good at spotting regularity in patterns and I've noticed that this is just more obvious in 'pure digital' images.

If I specifically want a film look for a particular client, then I'll use this software with the underlying clean image I'm getting out of my 21MP Canon 1Ds3. Commercially, there is no good reason for me to shoot real film (I'm still happy to do it, but charge more).

There is the added advantage that with some clients, they just get ideas about stuff like 'the essential natural look of film' or some such (IMHO) nonsense. However, they (or more likely, the people ultimately paying our invoice) can change their mind, so a range of options is rather useful.

What about print use? Whilst I like the cleaner look of digital images in most colour prints, black and white is another matter.

At 30"x40" for a print, the texture of a well chosen grain can help make a print feel more the way I want it to look. The grain may be relatively invisible at ten feet from the print, but at two feet it alters the whole feel, giving a sense of fine structure to the image that almost says 'This is as far as it gets' and inhibits any impression of further detail.

At two feet from a 30"x40" print, you are too close, but I know that real life prints get 'first sight' at all kinds of distances, and I like the way that the grain says 'move back'.

That's not for all of my prints, but it is nice to have the option.

For a roll of film, the choice is made when I load it into the camera - with this I get to finally decide later.

  • Note that I'm not saying that the ability to visualise what the end result will look like isn't an extremely useful skill, and well worth practicing. It's just that sometimes I have an even better idea later when looking at what I've captured, so the ability to change my mind or explore options later is appreciated.
Image repair/retouching

One use for the software that I'd not thought of beforehand, was in using it to repair scans of film. I do produce some very large prints from film scans for some clients, and often spend a lot of time cleaning up and retouching images for print.

  • Note - Our large bespoke B/W print service is quite specialised - you need to visit us first at Northlight, and I need to like your work -and- think that it's technically good enough for the print. It's not cheap either ;-)

With digitally captured images, the clean and low noise files are a lot easier to work on. With film scans, you need to be able to edit without damaging the grain structure - particularly for big prints. Knowing the film type and size allows you to make source images (such as a grey ramp or bulls-eye pattern) that can be used as sources for repair.

Trying it out

As I've mentioned, there is a free demo of the software available which gives a time limited, but fully functional version of the software.

The software can be purchased on-line or at a number of suppliers.

The precision and accuracy of this software may be far beyond what you want for creative effects, but I know that there is a market for film images. I suppose a lot depends on whether you are bothered if they are 'real' or not ;-)

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Summary

Very accurate reproduction of how an image would have looked if shot on film and processed in a particular manner.

Based on extensive measurements of real films rather than just applying random noise or simple coloured filtering.

Easy to use with Photoshop, within DxO Optics Pro, or as a standalone application. PS plugin has display problems when using source images in large colour spaces.

  • Article History: First published January 2011

System requirements

Software works as stand-alone program or a plugin for Adobe Photoshop. With DxO optics Pro, the full features are integrated into the program, extending preexisting functionality.

Macintosh
Windows

More Info

The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
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