In the small world of film emulation there’s an 800 pound gorilla standing in the corner: VSCO. I’ve never been shy about my use of VSCO Film on this blog and most of you probably know I’ve had an ongoing relationship with these guys for the past year or so, getting a chance at times to test some of their upcoming products. Here’s the thing: I really like what they do and I happen to think they do it extremely well. A success borne of quality IMHO. They’re also involved with the photographic community in ways that go beyond purely mercantile considerations which is all to their honor.
When I received an email about the new Replichrome film emulation product from the folks at Totally Rad, I admit my initial reaction was… Meh. Yet-another-film-emulation-preset-package taking on VSCO. The fact that their PR email was rather aggressive in directly attacking them didn’t exactly make me feel warm and fuzzy either: I prefer products to focus on their own strengths and individuality. But then this probably highlights how entrenched VSCO has become in this sector. Still, given the complimentary download they’d sent me I felt it was only fair to try it out. So I did.
The first and most obvious difference when compared to VSCO Film is the number of supported cameras: this thing supports everything under the sun — Over 386 cameras in all. There are no individual manufacturer profile folders and you get both the ACR and Lightroom compatible presets. The second important difference is that it is entirely profile based, which means raw and only raw; there are no variants to support jpeg files.
The chosen film stock is in the same vein as Film 01, with several emulations competing directly: Fuji 160–400–800, Kodak Portra, T-Max and Tri-X. Replichrome also adds Fuji Reala, Kodak Ektar and Plus-X. The process involved in creating the profiles is actually quite interesting: the variations within each film stock are based on two different scanners (Noritsu and Frontier), with + and - versions for over and under exposed film, as CEO Doug Boutwell explains in the press release:
All of this is evident in the product itself: for every colour film you get a choice of either Frontier or Noritsu. So how does it look? Pretty darn good. In fact it probably gives even more of an initial film “feeling” to files than does VSCO, although strangely I personally consider this to be a double edged sword… If you get a chance I strongly suggest you read Thomas Fitzgerald’s review of the product; I agree with pretty much everything he says. One of his points in particular sums up exactly how I feel: “To my eyes, VSCO film looks cleaner where as Replichrome seems to sometimes make your pictures look somewhat “old”. In some ways this is probably more accurate, and I think if you’re trying to accurately create the exact look of scanned film then Replichrome might be the better of the two. To me it looks like VSCO creates images that look like they could have been shot on medium format film, where as Replichrome has more of a 35mm look”
Bingo. Nailed it.
Above: Three states of an image - OOC & Fuji 400H in VSCO Film 01/Replichrome
In fact Replichrome has made me realize that I’m not at all into a purely realistic emulation of film. To be honest, these days I’m even feeling like I may have gone a bit too far in some of my processing over the summer. There’s a fragile balance to find between digital and analog and using Replichrome over the past week has made this even more aparent. All I’m after when I process my files is to break what I feel to be a certain frigidness in the digital pipeline. In Aperture I first managed this by working with curves and tint wheels. Then VSCO came along and my workflow changed to incorporate what it offered. With Lightroom I had a chance to use more of the film packs and base a lot of my starting points around those emulations. But I still tweak curves on every single pic — old habits die hard.
Beyond visual results the presets are also implemented in a very different way than what I’m used to with VSCO Film: they use the standard Lightroom Tone Curve panel and completely omit the new RGB curve option, something that threw me for a loop at first since I’m so used to tweaking my levels with the RGB curve (to this day I still find Lightroom’s standard curve interface slightly confusing — Aperture reflexes tend to kick in).
They also consistently add +10 to the Clarity slider. I don’t mind Clarity but I thought this was an odd choice on their part since its effectiveness very much depends on the initial image; I sometimes drop Clarity a few notches. This is combined with a much more aggressive use of the shadows and highlights sliders in the Basic panel, inserting strong negative highlights values along with strong positive shadows — it’s a recipe to add perceived crispness but it can sometimes become slightly unnatural depending on the subject. Of course, all of this can be easily altered.
Now for the million dollar question: is Replichrome better than VSCO Film 01? Totally subjective and depends on what you’re looking for. Better value? On paper you’re getting a bit more: the ACR and Lightroom versions in a single package could mean big savings if you use both. You get a much larger range of camera support in case your model isn’t currently supported and it includes a few more film emulations. Then again you can only use it on raw files - a very legitimate choice but one that lessens its value for me as a Fuji shooter converted to the fantastic jpeg output of those cameras (yes, I still shoot raw as well but I now consider I have a choice). With VSCO you also get the loyalty discount that can then be applied to the other Film packs. Is it as good? It is, but more importantly I’d say it’s different; while most emulations offer at least one version close to their VSCO counterpart, you can create images that look distinct from VSCO Film 01 which is certainly interesting. Whether that’s enough to justify adding this to your toolset will be for you to judge.
What I can say is that Replichrome is a very nice package, one that’s clearly a labour of love and it’ll be interesting to see how the product evolves over time. It easily adds that very organic, slightly sloppy feel we instantly associate with another era/medium without going overboard. In short, it does what it does extremely well.