Although I prefer Tri-X 400 on those rare occasions when I shoot with my ancient and battered Nikon F3, when I’m using Alien Skin Exposure 4 to process files from either the OMD or X20, I often start with Ilford Delta 100.
I normally tone down the grain for printing, but I left it on full strength here for this comparison. I didn’t adjust warm-cold balance or add any color filtering. A yellow or orange filter would help lighten up the shadows on the face a bit.
Overall, I usually like the 100 version better than 3200, but don’t mind the rougher grain for screen viewing. VSCO is the only product that has one ISO version (the 3200 rendition). There is a three-way comparison of the Ilford Delta 100 versions coming up, along with the “3200-” version from VSCO.
If you click on the galleries, you can go through to a full size version of each file. The grain and micro-scale contrast vary quite a bit from one to another, so take a close look.
The thing that I’ve always liked about Exposure 4 is the way its interface and slider controls function. I find them at least as useful as the equivalent ones in Photoshop. Alien Skin adds value as a Photoshop plugin that organizes your workflow in a different way, which leads you to visualize your photos in a different way.
The only thing that has kept me from upgrading from version 4 to 5 is that I can’t see much of a difference in output. The interface was changed, it is cross-platform compatible and works with Aperture now. So that is good, but not really necessary for me.
Next up is the DxO FilmPack conversion. I was surprised when I started comparing FilmPack to Exposure, and could not find films that looked very similar even though they had the same names for the presets.
I guess this shouldn’t be too much of surprise since there was probably quite a bit of artistic license involved in making the design choices. In any case, the DxO FilmPack looks more extreme than the Alien Skin product for most film settings. Not a bad thing. Choice is good.
Here’s a 100% screen grab of Exposure and DxO side-by-side.
I tend to think of the DxO renditions as a bit over the top, and would tone down the grain, contrast and color curves a bit before finalizing a photo. I think the grain in the Exposure version above looks a little more convincing in how it seems to be less obvious in the higher key and in focus areas. It seems to me that this is the way prints from B&W film on photo paper really look.
Since all these are from Photoshop plugins except the last version I’ll review, they automatically create a modified layer, and I could use the fill or opacity slider to mix in the effect with my original rather than having it at full strength. This matches my workflow nicely, and seems to be the most obvious way to fine tune the overall impact.
Interestingly, the first two Digital Film Stocks settings I tried after installing were so close to the equivalent Alien Skin versions that I thought I had made a mistake and picked the wrong layers when I was comparing them.
This DFT conversion should give you a feeling of deja vu if you remember what the Alien Skin version looked like. The grain is smoother at 100%, but the mapping of grayscale values from color seems identical to me. I find it hard to believe that the near perfect matches I found between some of the DFT and Alien Skin films are a coincidence.
I guess one possibility is that someone jumped ship and went to the other company. Another could be that both developers started with some of the same film scans, or maybe even shared whatever settings they came up with. At least in a couple of cases, the only difference I could see was that the grain had a different random seed involved or was overlaid from a different scan.
The main difference I saw between Film Stocks and Exposure was in the grain. The DFT grain is less intense at any given film ISO equivalent rendering. Here is the DFT Delta 3200 vs. the Exposure Delta 100 for comparison. The DFT 3200 looks almost identical to the Exposure 100, and the DFT Delta 100 (not shown) had even smoother texture.
All these are usable results, if you like this sort of thing, and since they are all Photoshop plugins, you can easily layer the effects to get just the look you want.
There is a big difference between the first three examples of CS5/6 plugins when compared to the next one. The VSCO presets are for ACR or LR. They work on the raw image file. This is advertised as being an advantage from the perspective of realistically simulating film with the most software control over how the image is manipulated and rendered from the original sensor data file.
The thing that frustrated me a bit was that the grain and sharpening need to be added up front, before going to CS6. Normally, I wouldn’t do the sharpening first or add the grain until the last step in my workflow. Also, I couldn’t mask particular areas for treatment with the VSCO presets. All the VSCO adjustments are added up front during raw import. This isn’t a bad thing, just different.
I did not have access to a camera on VSCO’s list of custom filters adopted for specific Nikon, Cannon, or Fuji cameras. So the following example utilized the standard Delta 3200- setting (S) with a Olympus .ORF file. Since their list includes the Fuji X10 and X100s, I thought the custom Fuji settings could possibly work with the X20’s .RAF files, but it didn’t seem to render as well as the S version (not shown). I guess it’s not supported.
The VSCO filters definitely look different from any of the others, especially in the + and ++ versions. Although I thought I knew what I would like when I went in, I really didn’t.
I like how the presets are categorized from subtle to extreme versions with -, normal, +, and ++. The toolkit presets are also really slick, and very usable as shortcuts to certain combinations of adjustments that normally take me a while to get right in ACR.
I put the Delta 100 versions from Alien Skin, DxO, and DFT in one gallery along with the VSCO 3200- import for comparison. There is no VSCO ISO 100 option for this film.
You could also modify the basic VSCO 3200- image with various toolkit actions to try to tone it down a notch or two more without too much work, and probably get an even closer match to the Delta 100 simulations, but I kind of like it as is.
Well, that’s it for the first set of comparisons. Color is up next.