*header image provided by Kyle Wilson of Hinterland Stills
The best of film presets from VSCO, Mastin Labs, and Lightroom Zen
Why Use Film Presets?
Film presets are hugely popular these days, as the photography community as a whole has largely moved away from the crazy vibrant HDR editing that was all the rage when DSLRs first came out. I think this is mainly due to people wanting to capture a timeless style similar to the classic film stocks, leading to the development of many preset systems that try to do just that. We tested 3 of the most popular film stocks from 3 systems so you can see for yourself how each one performs in a large variety of shooting scenarios.
Mastin Labs Fuji Pro Pack - $99 - Mastin Fuji 1c. Fuji 160NS
Mastin Labs Kodak Portra Pack - $99 - Kodak Portra 160
VSCO Film 01 - $59 - Fuji 160C, Kodak Portra 160
VSCO Film 05 - $59 - Kodak Gold 200
Lightroom Zen Film - $75 - Fuji Pro, Portra, Kodak Gold
The photos were taken with a variety of cameras, including Canon 5d I, 5d II, 5d III, NIkon d3200, d700, and d750. The RAW files were set to auto white balance and each preset was applied as a one click edit, no tweaking or adjusting. These are the basic presets applied, though each system offers a variety of adjustments or alternate versions of each film stock.
This purpose of this test is two-fold; to compare various options for consumers and give an unbiased look at the results, and to see how our own presets compare to the best in the business. We're proud of the work that went into creating them and hope that you like what you see.
Click Images to Enlarge
Thoughts and Reviews
These presets offer a very distinct look that some people consider the most accurate to their film counterparts. I've always found they look a little too clean for the film look I'm after. The colors are vibrant and exposures are often flat, needing a bump in contrast and a drop in saturation.
Fuji 160 is my favorite preset from Mastin, but I don't like the blues and red tint to skin tones. I often add a lot of contrast and tweak the HSL of these presets to get them closer to what I want, but the Fuji 160 is a great starting point for bright scenes and exposures.
Portra 160 is my least favorite preset from this set of comparisons. I find the images flat with a very basic color toning that reminds me of in-camera profiles. I don't recommend this preset, as it was my least favorite of the Portra's in every test.
Mastin Lab's presets are intricately crafted to recreate film stocks accurately. They are also expensive, at $99 per film type. But if they are the style you're looking for, they are a great choice for the consistency and bright tones. The Fuji set is my favorite, as it offers the best starting point for that style of editing.
VSCO is perhaps the best known film preset maker, thanks in part to their hugely popular mobile app (which is fantastic). The presets are very hit or miss though, but when you do find one that fits your images you can apply it universally with great results.
Fuji 160 from VSCO is a fantastic portrait preset, mainly for it's golden brown skin tones. It's especially favorable compared to the red tones that come through in the Mastin Fuji preset. My main gripe with VSCO's Fuji is the green tones, they are pretty basic and often needed heavy tweaking to finish a photo.
Portra 160 from VSCO is a very neutral but pleasant portrait preset. Portra is beloved by many wedding and portrait photographers, and I think a big part of that comes from it's versatility. It works in many circumstances, but the trade-off with the VSCO version is that it's pretty boring. It's a great starting point if you want the clean, bright, vibrant style, but just like the Mastin version, it will need an adjustment to the contrast and highlights as well.
Kodak Gold is my favorite film stock, and my favorite VSCO preset as well. Unfortunately, it is the worst suited for portrait work without heavy tweaking. The contrast and skin tones are all way too heavy and orange tinted. If you do landscape work though, this is a great one click edit thanks to it's vibrant but deep colors. If you want to tweak it for portraits, start with raising the luminance in the Orange channel to fix the skin tones and go from there.
VSCO offers a variety of film types in each of their 7 packs, priced at $59. This is a great value if you aren't sure about the style you're looking for, since you can try a variety. My favorite collection is 06, which features some of their most popular presets altered for a pushed and pulled film look.
LZ Fuji Pro was the first film emulation preset I created, and is probably my most commonly used preset now. It features an authentic grain with more toned greens and more contrast than either Mastin or VSCO's presets, which helps create a vintage film look. It tends to make images look warmer, so if you're not a fan of that turn down your white balance slightly.
LZ Portra was the most requested film stock in my surveys, so I tried to improve on what people love about it. It features the same neutral palette that works well in almost any setting, but with a more finished look that won't require heavy tweaking. Just set your white balance, adjust the exposure, and apply the preset and you're all set.
LZ Kodak Gold takes the beautiful colors of Kodak Gold film but adapts them to be more portrait geared. The skin tones are closer to Portra but still have the heavy saturation and depth that people love about Gold. It is also my go-to preset for landscapes or sunset scenes, as the preset really thrives with strong natural lighting.
Lightroom Zen presets offer a ton of powerful editing options (25 unique film presets + 15 adjustment presets for fine tuning), and I'm proud to put them up against the best in the industry. My collection includes film emulations as seen above, 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.