About two months ago I received an email from TotallyRad! Inc, a company known for awesome Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets. They asked me to review their new film presets for Adobe Lightroom – presets that allow photographers quickly and easily edit images so that the final product looks as if it were shot on different types of film.
I am a huge film photography aficionado – I shot film professionally for many years and even when I switched to digital for all of my commercial work I still shoot a ton of film for personal projects. When VSCO came out with Adobe Lightroom presets about two years ago, I was completely blown away. They did an amazing job of replicating all the wonderful tonal properties of different films and crossing the bridge between digital and analog images.
When TotallyRad! asked me to review their new presets, I was very hesitant – while I generally embrace change, I’ve been in love with VSCO film presets for so long, I did not want to try another product. A few weeks ago I finally got enough free time to sit down and play with Replichrome presets for a few hours. Let me tell you, they are pretty damn great.
While VSCO offers separate sets of Lightroom presets specifically calibrated for Nikon and Canon cameras, Replichrome presets are split based on commercial film scanners – Noritsu and Frontier.
I edited a single image using most presets by both VSCO and Replichrome. All Replichrome edits were done using Noritsu presets (since I prefer tonal qualities of that particular scanner). Each pair of images has a Replichrome edit at the top and a VSCO edit on the bottom. Even though both companies offer presets for simulating under- and over-exposure, I edited this image using standard exposure setting. The image was straight out of the camera and edited ONLY using the presets.
Fuji Reala 100 (Replichrome only)
Kodak BW 400CN (Replichrome only)
Kodak Portra 160
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 800
Kodak T-MAX 3200
Kodak Tri-X 400
I admit it. I am a film addict. I got my first camera in 1985 as a present for my 8th birthday and have been shooting ever since. My introduction to photography had one condition – my mom told me that I would get allowance money for film only if I learned to develop and print it on my own. I spent the next couple of years of my life begging, borrowing and, on one special occasion, stealing darkroom equipment and chemicals. By the time I was 11, I had a fully-stocked darkroom and would spend every free moment tinkering with an antique Soviet-made enlarger and inhaling toxic chemicals in a poorly-ventilated closet (which probably explains a lot about the way I turned out).
Around 2005 I made a jump to digital equipment for my commercial work – at the time I did a lot of product photography and burning through 50-60 rolls of film per shoot was just getting too cost-prohibitive.
Even though more than 90% of my work was shot with digital cameras, I never stopped shooting film. I sold my Hasselblads, but kept a few Mamiya 645 cameras, plus about 20 (that’s right, twenty) 35mm film cameras that I accumulated over the years.
For years I have tried to make my digital photographs look like film and have always failed. Commercially available Photoshop actions didn’t quite cut it – the results never looked like what I was used to with film. When I tried to tweak settings on my own, the results were abominable.
A few months ago my friend Jenny Karlsson told me about VSCO Film Lightroom Presets from the Visual Supply Company. At first I was skeptical – over the years I wasted hundreds of dollars on presents and actions that supposedly emulated film. I finally decided to give VSCO a shot. I was blown away. Being true to my geeky self, I ran a few tests. I shot a roll of medium format Fuji 400H, Ilford HP5, Kodak Portra 800 and Kodak T-Max 3200. Then I shot a bunch of digital frames, edited the raw files in Lightroom using corresponding VSCO film presets and compared the results side-by-side. Like I said before, I was blown away. I don’t want to publish a ton of test shots on my blog, but if you are a skeptic, try to tell me which of the photos below were shot with Mamiya 645 + Ilford HP5 and which ones were shot with Canon 5D Mark III and edited with VSCO film:
Over the last few years I must have received at least 20 emails from clients and aspiring photographers asking me about my equipment. So far I avoided posting my response to my blog. My equipment changes constantly, things break down, get replaced, get updated, get sold on Ebay. Yesterday I received 3 emails in one day asking this question, so for those of you who are interested, here is what’s in my bag. Or bags…
I am an event photographer, so most of my shoots take place on location. Some locations are great – it is as if they were created with photography in mind. Other locations, not so much… I can never use ugly locations, poor lighting, lack of power outlets and overly strict venue directors as excuses for crappy photos; what a location lacks in light, beauty or power outlets I have to compensate with my skills and equipment. I love using off-camera lighting – it gives me more control over light positions, light output, shadow placement, rations and about a dozen other lighting factors. For large, poorly-lit venues I prefer using my AlienBees studio lights. However, as those require access to power outlets, up until recently I often had to use clusters of off-camera hot-shoe flashes, wired together and triggered with PocketWizards. A few months ago I had to do a photoshoot at the Heinz History Center. The event I was covering had incredibly elaborate decorations and I was told by the planner that I would not be allowed to run extension cords to outlets to power my studio flashes. At first I was really upset. Anyone who’s ever photographed at the Heinz History Center knows how enormous the first floor really is and how there is absolutely nothing to bounce light off of. I could use an array of regular hot shoe flashes placed on light stands around the perimeter of the room, but I figured that I would need about 8-10 small flashes to achieve what I could do with just 2 or 3 studio lights. Besides, I really doubted that the planner would be happy if I stuck a bunch of light stands all over the room. I started searching around for alternative solutions. I never used battery packs with my studio flashes because I always found them to be really heavy, bulky and expensive. After some searching and reading a number of reviews, I decided to try a recently released AlienBees Vagabond Mini battery pack. The specs looked really impressive and the battery pack itself seemed really small and light. I gave AlienBees a call and had the Vagabond Mini battery pack in my hands a few days later. Being the geek that I am, I decided to do some serious testing right away. I charged the battery, set up one of my AlienBees B800 flashes, plugged everything in and began firing. Here are my test results: AlientBees B800 (on full power) 413 flashes on full battery charge ~1 second recycling time (time between flashes) AlientBees B800 (on 1/2 power) 532 flashes on full battery charge ~1 second recycling time (time between flashes) AlientBees B800 (on full power) + AlienBees B400 (on full power) 198 flashes on full battery charge ~3 seconds recycling time (time between flashes) A projector and a MacBook Pro laptop 59 minutes operation time ASUS ProArt Series 24-inch monitor and a MacBook Pro laptop 2 hours 47 minutes operation time As you can probably tell from my tests, I’ve used the Vagabond Mini for a few unintended things; in all cases it has performed admirably. The only negative thing that I can say about this particular battery pack is its lighting stand attachment clip. The Vagabond Mini comes with a plastic clip and a spring-loaded screw that can be used to attach the battery pack to a lighting stand. The plastic clip is only big enough to loop around the thinnest (upper-most) section of a lighting stand. Moreover, the spring itself is a huge hindrance. It is so tight that threading the attachment screw requires a significant amount of force and on one occasion I accidentally knocked over a lighting stand while trying to attach the battery pack. Also, as I said before, the attachment clip is plastic; while the battery pack is not that heavy (a little over three pounds), I always feel very conscious of that fact when moving lighting around. Overall, the Vagabond Mini is an excellent product and as far as battery packs go, it seems to be far better and less expensive than any similar product currently on the market. If you do a lot of on-location shooting, having this little battery pack in your lighting case is an absolute must.