What to look for in a preset system
I've spent years trying various preset systems, plug-ins, and Photoshop actions. My main concern was always the best possible finished product, but ease of use and versatility were also vital. With that said, I've done a comparison of 8 of the most popular presets out today, from VSCO, Tribe Archipelago, Mastin Labs, and Lightroom Zen (that's me)!
The photos below were taken on Nikon D750s and Canon 5dII and IIIs. These are all 1-click edits. No tweaking. Some presets may look better on some images with tweaking, but this is a straight up comparison, as any tweaks would be arbitrary and hard to fairly duplicate across the presets. The only adjustment made was a white balance tuning on the raw file before each preset was applied. I chose what seem to be some of the most popular presets from each system below, and applied them across a variety of portrait images for you to compare how they work in different lighting conditions and shooting styles.
Lightroom Zen 60 - LZ Collection - $49
Lightroom Zen 52 - LZ Collection - $49
VSCO Portra 160*1 - VSCO Film 06 - $59
VSCO N 400H*1 - VSCO Film 06 - $59
LXC 04 - Tribe Archipelago - $75
LXC 02 - Tribe Archipelago - $75
Mastin Labs Fuji Pro 160NS - Fuji Pro Set - $119
Mastin Labs Fuji Pro 400H - Fuji Pro Set - $119
CLICK THE IMAGES TO ENLARGE
WHICH PRESET SYSTEM IS BEST FOR YOUR STYLE?
VSCO offer a variety of film emulation preset packs that are based on famous film stocks from the golden era of analog photography. The film packs also include custom camera profiles to provide more accurate colors and fine tuning, which is unique to VSCO. The presets offer a great starting point but require a fair amount of tweaking in most cases to get to a final product I am happy with. Each film pack includes a select few film types in both color and b&w, but includes many different versions of each preset to give you plenty of options. I give VSCO high marks in quality and price, but they lose points for having some duds and requiring the custom profile for your camera to get the most out of the packs. They work best for wedding and portrait photography, especially packs 1, 2, 5, and 6.
LXC from Tribe Archipelago is the new set that a lot of people seem to be falling in love with. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to make the presets work well on my images. They are a very heavy handed edit that's very stylized, but I'm not sure they will hold up with time. They are also expensive, at $75 for only 6 presets (4 color, 2 b&w). I think the best thing about LXC is that they're trying something new and radical, and some people love the results they're getting with them. They work best for people looking for a very different style, maybe more of a darker or fine art look, or anyone that lives in the PNW.
Mastin Labs offer the most direct and accurate film emulations, but I think that holds it back from being a truly great system. The results are so flat and clean that I think they require too much tweaking to recommend them as a starting point. That said, if you shoot hybrid film and digital, these are probably the most accurate film emulation presets ever made and can save you a ton of time as well as help your work remain consistent. These work best for the niche market of hybrid film/digital shooters.
Lightroom Zen presets offer a ton of powerful editing options (85+ presets), and I'm proud to put them up against the best in the industry. My collection includes film styles, modern faded looks, and a lot more. These presets work best for photographers that are looking for powerful presets that don't require heavy tweaking and want versatile options. They are not held back by trying to emulate anything, they're created to be timeless. See more at the link below.
Thanks for stopping by. If you enjoyed what you saw here feel free to join the mailing list below or follow me on Youtube, and I would love to see you on Instagram sharing your edits with #lightroomzen.