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1600ISO colour negative filmReview of DxO FilmPack V3.2

Very accurate recreation of film colour and grain.

As both the availability and ability to process certain types of film vanishes, the whole 'look' of film becomes less well known.

In the past I've looked at a software tool from DxO that goes to great lengths to recreate the image characteristics of a variety of film types and processes.

The previous version (FilmPack 2) worked well, but had a few minor issues concerning its functionality.

There have been a lot of changes and I've been looking at the latest DxO FilmPack V3.2 software, and how I could make use of it. (Tested on a Mac, but works on both Mac & Windows)

There is a free demo of the software available which gives a time limited, but fully functional version of the software.

Available from Amazon US | Amazon UK

The look of film

dxo filmpack v3,2There was an incredible variety of film and processes - both colour and black and white.

I've not shot or processed any film for almost a decade, and films I used in the 1970's and 80's are pretty much gone for ever (see this about the last rolls of Kodachrome processed in Kansas)

From a technical point of view, my current digital images wipe the floor with anything I ever shot on film.

But - there is often more than just the technical capabilities of the camera in how we see and react to an image.

A good image can sometimes be enhanced through choices of processing and final reproduction.

I put the emphasis on sometimes in the sentence above, since sometimes a poor image is just a poor image, no matter what processing you try to apply (the so called 'HDR look' and heavy tinting/toning for B&W most readily spring to mind here)

I know that many people describe the 'look' of a film/lens/photographer in what I always find irritatingly vague and nebulous terms, but DxO have spent a lot of time making detailed physical measurements of just how films recorded images, and have extracted masses of information about just what a particular film choice or processing option does to an image.

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 3 - What do you get?

The software work as a standalone package or as a plugin for numerous common imaging programs.

Indeed, FilmPack is not just aimed at film users - it's perhaps best thought of as a creative image processing tool. aimed at those who want to experiment with different ways to process their images, as well as those wanting to recreate aspects of the past. These days, many photographer will have no direct experience of film other than from a historical point of view.

There are two version of the software Essential and Expert - the differences are listed in the summary, but in this review I'm using the full 'Expert' version.

The software fully supports 64 bit working.

As you can see, the software has found three workable versions of Photoshop on my computer during installation - I don't have aperture, Lightroom or Elements.

installing dxo filmpack

The standalone version will open both JPEG and TIFF files (16 bit supported for TIFF)

Using DxO FilmPack

I'll concentrate on using the software as a plugin for Photoshop, although I'd note that if you have DxO Optics Pro, then the full range of film types from FilmPack are available in DxO Optics Pro (see my review of the latest version)

The software is opened from the filters menu.

opening filmpack in photoshop

A very brief message flashes up before being covered by the main FilmPack window.

plugin message

A bit too brief IMHO - there was no way most people could read it, just leading to a natural concern that you've missed some important warning. This window should perhaps be moved in front of the working window before vanishing.

I've picked a quite striking image of this tower block in Leicester - it was taken on a very clear morning - the same day in fact that I later took many of the shots for a large panoramic print, that's on display in the city.

Blue Tower 4 - Leicester, UK

Exposing for this shot on a digital camera is very similar to transparency film, where you have to be very careful not to over-expose the highlights.

Whilst it's true that the hard clipping of highlights from digital sensors means that you lose the benefit of a softer 'shoulder' in film responses to over exposure, it should be remembered that you can pull detail out of the shadows in digital imaging data in a way that would be lost in noise with film.

The main FilmPack window opens up - in this case with a number of versions of the image underneath, and a set of fine adjustments and menus to the right (layout can be configured to your preferences)

The controls are easy to use and quite intuitive.

Here, I've just picked a Polaroid film from the thumbnails, and the main image changes to the chosen style.

opening screen for filmpack

In the view below, you can see the Kodachrome 25 version of the image.

Move your mouse over the image to see the more magenta tint of Kodachrome 64.

comparing Kodachrome types

Move your mouse over the image below to see a rendering of Kodak Portra 160 VC

detail in a negative colour film rendition

This next view shows a 100% crop of the Portra 160VC, with the grain clearly visible, if you move your mouse over the image.

detail of colour change and grain in portra 160 VC

adjustment menusSetting the film type, and many other adjustments, such as filters and toning are available via the menus to the right.

There are a lots of film stocks to choose from - most of which I've never actually used

different film types

Even long time film users would be hard put to describe the precise differences between this lot...

all the film types in the Expert version

Colour negative films, such as Superia HG 1600 (at 1600 ISO) were always going to give noisy results.

It's easy to forget the rather limited ranges of film speed (ISO) available in pre-digital days, or even with early digital cameras.

1600ISO colour negative film

There are infrared films, such as Kodak HIE, with filters.

Do remember that any infrared 'effect' is very much dependent on your image, and may look nothing like real IR.

IR effect simulation

colour mixer for B&W conversionIf you want to do your own colour to B&W conversion, then there is a full colour channel mixer.

Any fine tuning, or completely new settings you create, can always be saved as a custom preset, and will appear in the main effects type menu along the bottom, under 'Custom Presets'.

If your source images are a bit noisy, then you can include a bit of noise reduction in your process.

It's worth noting that the random nature of film grain often appears less intrusive than the more regular noise patterns found in digital images taken at high ISO or with small sensors (think phone pictures).

Film grain also gives a more notable - 'this is as far as the detail goes' limit as you move in to look at prints.

Do remember if you are not used to printing film derived images, that you often need to be much more careful with final print sharpening.

Sharpening functions that work well on a pure digital image may sharpen the grain by an excessive degree. You can always turn down the intensity of the grain effect if you know that you need to sharpen later.

A number of sample 'creative' presets are available to experiment with.

creative preset options

You can also 'cross-process' film types.

  • Cross processing was likely invented when some unfortunate worker at a lab, put the wrong film in the wrong developer, and was relieved that the 'creatives' at the end client loved it, even if the photographer initially thought the whole job was ruined ;-) Remember that this long predates Photoshop!

simulating the cross processiong of film stock and development

I'll show a few more example with this shot of beach huts at Southwold, on the Suffolk coast, taken in 2010

beach huts at Southwold

The Fuji Superia Reala 100 looks pretty good.

simulation of Fuji Superia Reala 100

The split view allows me to compare Kodachrome 25 and 64 - just as I would have used on holiday during the 1970's

Move your mouse over the image to see.

kodachrome 25 and 64 compared

Kodak Tri-X - another film I used a lot when I was at school in the 70's

tri-X showing grain

film grain detailIt's worth noting that you can adjust the size of the grain, to match the smaller grain size you'd see if I'd been using medium format film.

There are a number of toning effects available too.

toning effects

From the 'creative effects'

Here's the scene, at Southwold, in the late 19th century.

vintage look - Southwold in 1890

A view from the early 1900's

Southwold - circa 1905

What Southwold looked like in the 1960's (when I first visited it)

Southwold, in the early 60s

Yes... Southwold, on the Suffolk coast, really doesn't change much over the years ;-)

Repairing film scans and keeping the grain

One thing I've ended up using DxO FilmPack for, is repairing areas of scanned photographs.

The grain is derived from real recorded film grain. Just pick a film stock that looks like the grain in a photo you are working on, and use it as a source for cloning (I've covered this in more detail in the FilmPack 2 review).

using film grain for image repair

Conclusions

The software feels much more polished than the older version. Working at 64 bit means I can use it in my normal Photoshop based workflow.

The whole layout of the software has been refined to emphasise how it's meant as a creative tool. So much more than just a 'film look' tool.

Why use the software...

It looks great, and the only thing missing, when comparing results with my old film scans is the dust and muck that film picks up along the way.

I do use the grain features every so often, both to cover up intrusive digital noise, and to give a feel for the limit of detail in very large prints (a hint to 'move back' to a more reasonable viewing distance).

If I specifically needed 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 would charge quite a bit more).

I may personally be amused by some of the more 'arty' reasons for current day film use, but it's a good option to have, should a client succumb to such fashions.

Buying FilmPack 3.2

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Image repair/retouching

With digitally captured images, the clean and low noise files are a lot easier to work on.

With scanned film, 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

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 ;-)

You can make comments and ask questions about this review via our blog or via Google+.

  • Disclosure: Keith sometimes tests pre-release software for DxO, but has no direct business relationship with the company. Some of his commercial photos are included on the DxO web site, for which he receives no payment.

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.

  • Article History: First published May 2012

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System requirements

Software works as stand-alone program or a plugin for

FilmPack can handle images of up to 200Mpix, but to process images larger than 20Mpix, a 64-bit system with 4 GB of RAM is strongly recommended.

Macintosh
Windows

More Info

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