Replichrome – Film Emulation Lightroom Presets vs Real Film

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Film Emulation vs Real Film

In 2016 I wrote a post all about how I make my digital photos look as film-like as possible, in camera, and in that post I touch on the use of presets. Today I want to talk a little bit more about presets, specifically Replichrome film emulation presets, as those are the ones I have been using for the last three years, and I have been very happy with them. This is not a sponsored post, I just like their presets as a paying customer.

Film and digital are two different formats, and I like both of them for different reasons. Sometimes I like to go out with just my film camera (an OM2n or an SPII), as it is lighter than my DSLR (a Canon 5D2) and forces me to slow down, meaning that my composition is usually better. That said, for portraits I still prefer shooting digital as I worry too much about wasting film otherwise. Digital is also good in low light, so it’s what I reach for during the winter and if I know the light is going to be quite changeable.
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I like to use presets for my digital colour work as I find that they give me the most consistent results and make my collection of film and digital photographs sit well together. For me, it’s not about strict matching, although these photos show just how alike they can be. I came to the Replichrome presets in 2014 after spending three years teaching myself Lightroom, making my own presets, and never quite being satisfied with how certain colour channels look. The reason I love the Replichrome presets and think they stand out from other commercial options is that they are more complex than many other options, and include custom calibration profiles so that the presets work well with the cameras you use. Every digital camera renders colours slightly differently, so this is quite an important step. When you download the presets, you choose which cameras you would like to use the presets with and the calibration profiles you will need will be added to your Lightroom library for you. You can update them at any time if you change cameras.

I also love that Replichrome presets are simple, and remove the burden of choice. With many preset packs, you end up with 50 different options, each with a silly name that doesn’t really mean all that much. Replichrome presets come with film stock names for either Frontier or Noritsu scanners, and then options to push or pull according to preference, or opt for a ‘clean’ profile without grain, clarity, added contrast or tint. Other than correcting white balance and maybe cropping, I don’t do much else to my photos to get them to look how I want them to look. I own both the Icon and the Slide packs, having bought both at discount when they had a sale on, but with hindsight I probably should have just bought the Icon pack as those are the presets I use 95% of the time.

Back in October Ed and I spent a few days in the English Lake District, staying in Keswick and going walking on the fells. It was during half term and so the towns and villages were really busy, but one morning we got up early and walked down to Derwentwater for sunrise. Sunrise was at around 8am, so it wasn’t too much effort to get up and about. As is usual for us, we had a camera each. One was film, an Olympus OM2n loaded with Portra 400, and the other was the 5D2, shooting RAW. Ed and I alternate cameras as we take pictures, and got lots of pictures of each other, the boats, the mountains, and other little details. We seemed to be the only people interested in the boats though. All of the other photographers were landscape photographers on the bank by the park, taking long-exposures of the perfectly still reflections across the lake.
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As it’s winter and I’m not shooting as much film at the moment, I have only just got the roll back from the lab (AG Photographic in Birmingham) where it was scanned and developed. I believe they use a Noritsu scanner at AG. Meanwhile, I processed the digital photos in Lightroom using Replichrome presets. Although I am familiar with these presets and also the colours of Portra 400 and Portra 160, I was interested to see very similar images shot on both film and digital, as a side by side comparison. I don’t normally have photos of the exact same scenes shot on film and digital, so I thought it could be helpful for me to share them for other photographers who are considering investing in a professional preset pack.
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There are slight differences between them, as of course film and digital record light in different ways and film can’t be perfectly matched using digital presets. That said, they are so similar that I think most people would struggle to establish which was shot on film and which was shot on digital if they viewed the images individually and were none the wiser about which cameras or settings had been used. The digital photos are slightly sharper, and the film images are slightly muddier, but I think that’s more to do with the different lenses that we used than anything else. We were using a modern lens on the digital camera that morning, which could very well account for the higher contrast and sharpness.
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The digital images were edited using the ‘Portra 400: Noritsu’ preset, and then I adjusted them for white balance, exposure, minor composition adjustments (cropping) and applied the luminous++ curve from the Replichrome Tweak Kit. That’s all. No other magic or photoshop took place.
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I love these presets, and wholeheartedly recommend them to other photographers. Presets can’t make a bad picture good, but they can help to make a good picture really shine. I have made a few adjustments to the Replichrome presets that I use in certain situations, for example adjusting the colour channels for orange and reds when shooting with my 5D2. I also tend to adjust the greens ever so slightly, pushing them more towards the blue end of the spectrum than yellow, where they tend to fall. That’s just my personal preference. That said, with these images I didn’t make those adjustments. They are used ‘as is’.
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So, there you have it. A side by side comparison of digital and film. I bet that unless you really stop and take in each image, you probably can’t tell the difference at first glance. I’ll put the answer at the bottom of this post for the curious but I challenge you to make a guess about which ones were shot on film and which were shot on digital!
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The first three are digital, Portra 400 Noritsu preset. The last five were shot on Portra 400, Noritsu scanned.