DxO FilmPack 3.1 Review: Revisit the Look of Film
At a Glance
Digital cameras may be advanced, but by definition they're missing one key ingredient that has long given photographers lots of creative options and control: film. And that's exactly what DxO hopes to reintroduce into images with its FilmPack 3.1.
Photographers used to choose specific “emulsions” (types of film) for a particular grain, color response, contrast, or saturation, or to create a certain look or style. To take this even further, photographers knew they could intensify particular characteristics depending on how they processed the film. Sometimes, they’d even purposely use the wrong chemicals (cross-process) for an extra punch of unexpected colors.
With DxO’s $79 FilmPack, you can get all those effects, and that control over styling, without resorting to old-fashioned film. And with the new 3.1 version, FilmPack has added versatility, a better interface, and even more film effects. However, most of the advances that caught our attention are in the more expensive $129 Expert Edition.
FilmPack is a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop CS4 and CS5 (32-bit only), Adobe Lightroom 3, and Apple Aperture 3 (as well as DxO's own Optics Pro). And it has one purpose: to alter digital images so that they will emulate various films. To that end, the interface's organization is designed to let you easily test various “looks” on your image.
Below the selected photo, you'll see a panel of film presets, with several tabs: Color Positive Film, Color Negative Film, Black and White Film, Cross Processed Film, Creative Presets, and Custom Presets. (The latter two are available only in the Expert Edition.) Each tab has presets for several film brands, with their effects displayed on thumbnail previews of your own picture. So, for instance, under Color Positive Film, FilmPack provides presets to emulate Agfa Precia 100, Fuji Velvia 50, Kodak E-100 GX Ektachrome 100, and others. The Creative Presets tab offers styles, rather than specific films, such as Blue Tone, Grunge, Infrared, Lo-Fi, Photo 60’s and so forth.
One major improvement to the interface is that the preset panel is resizable, so that you can have much larger previews of the film effects on your picture. You can also set the selected image to display as a side-by-side before-and-after or split-screen view.
To the right of the screen sits the edit panel. You can collapse this panel out of view, if you prefer, but is the core of FilmPack’s power. This panel has two tabs: Color and Black & White. Using sliders and drop-down menus, you have full control over image definition parameters, such as the intensity of the film rendering, noise, film grain, vignetting, tonality, channel mixing, and of course many, but not all, of the various exposure and color parameters you’d expect (exposure, contrast, brightness, the HSL qualities--hue, saturation, and luminance--and so on). A major shortcoming, though, is that FilmPack has no curves or levels command for individually tweaking midtones, highlights, and shadows, though it does display a noninteractive histogram with channel views.
Film grain not only emulates the particular characteristics of specific films, but also the size of grain based on camera format (35mm, medium or large format, or custom format with a slider for grain size). The Black and White toning dropdown menu offers seven types of traditional duotone (such as sepia or selinium) and an intensity slider, but no sliders for adjusting the hue of the tone. If you like the look you’ve created (and if you are working in the Expert Edition), you can save it as a Custom Preset.
FilmPack is so intuitive to use that the manual is almost unnecessary. Now that the new version finally has Undo/Redo, the application enables a good level of creative experimentation with very good results. If you’re a traditional photographer who was raised on film, you’ll appreciate FilmPack’s ability to make your digital pictures look more like your film work.