If you’re an Adobe Lightroom (or ACR or Aperture, FWIW) user and you’re at all interested in achieving the look of popular colour and B&W negative film stocks, well then I’ve got two words for you: VSCO Film.
Holy crap! This is the Lightroom package I have been waiting for. VSCO seriously blows the doors off of anything I’ve been doing in LR. If you’ve been working – as I have – on tweaking your own film emulation presets, or collecting hundreds of presets from other sources, well you can stop right now. You’re not going to top what the guys from VSCO are doing with this package.
VSCO Film comes with presets for emulating various flavours of Kodak and Fuji negative film. On the Kodak side, you get Portra 160, 400, 800 colour negative film, and Tri-X and T-Max B&W negative film. For Fuji, you get 160C, 400H, 800Z colour films. You also get Ilford HP5 B&W film. But it doesn’t stop there. While VSCO Film will work with any camera with RAW files compatible with LR (or, as I mentioned, ACR or Aperture), if you shoot with a Canon or Nikon DSLR (virtually any model made in the last 8 years), you get custom camera profiles that go even further towards mimicking the film look.
Using the presets is super easy; it really is one-click operation. But unlike Photoshop actions or external editors like Alien Skin Exposure or Nik Color Efex, you’re working non-destructively, as you would with any other LR preset. So you can click around with impunity, and just hit undo if you don’t like the results. By staying 100% within Lightroom, you maintain all the benefits of working with RAW files (WB adjustment, highlight headroom, etc), and also avoid creating huge 16-bit TIFF files, which tend to clog up your hard drive.
In addition to the film stock presets themselves, VSCO Film also comes with a ‘Toolkit’, which allows for various split toning, curves adjustments, sharpening, and the like, which help to refine the final image. These can be used with the VSCO film stocks, but work equally well with any image in LR.
But for me, what really puts VSCO over the top is the grain profiles. In my experience, this is the area in which most film emulation packages fall flat. They all offer grain, of course, which is characteristic of film photography. But the grain always appears to be sitting ‘on top’ of the image, rather than being an integral component of the image. Well, I don’t know how they did it, but VSCO has the most accurate grain I’ve ever seen. Take a look at the image above: this is exactly how I remember Portra 800 looking.
I can’t say enough good things about VSCO Film. It does what it says on the tin. If you want your photos to look like they were shot on film (and you don’t want to shoot film), then VSCO Film will get you there. I’ve been so in love with Portra 800 (which was/is my favourite C41 film stock, anyway), that I’ve only just touched on the other emulations. But suffice it to say, if these emus aren’t perfect, they’re as close as you’re going to get without buying some cellulose.
Rumour has it that they’re working on adding various reversal (i.e. slide) films to the mix. Accurate Kodachrome 64 in Lightroom??? Swoon.