First photo is made on actual Portra 400, using a real film camera.


Second photo is made with the same lens, at the same aperture, on a digital body and manipulated using Exposure 7’s interpretation of Portra 400.


Third photo is the same shot, processed instead using a “professional” Portra 400 film preset (VSCO).

An unfair comparison, I realize, given that they are taken at different times and in different situations.ย  To me, however, this illustrates that “film emulation” presets are nothing more than special effects applied to files to make them less austere and digital-y.

Are they more like film?

Um, No…not really.

(Note: there is one final package that is supposedly “more realistic” [Mastin Labs] but at the time of writing, the particular camera in question is not officially ‘supported” by the software).

Anyway, I don’t think this comes as any great surprise to anyone here.


11 thoughts on “Experimentation

  1. Karim D. Ghantous says:

    The second one (Exposure 7) is not so nice. It’s kind of crappy, actually. The third (VSCO) is not too bad, considering.It has a certain richness which I appreciate. I don’t understand why I’d want grain in an image which didn’t have any before, though. Wank, wank!

  2. andygemmell says:

    I think VSCO have done a pretty good job all in all…..So i guess this means your selling all your film cameras (and deconstructing the lab) and going fully digital now? ๐Ÿ™‚


    • mewanchuk says:

      Thanks Gents.

      It is intriguing to me that the relative “precision” of digital can look so undesirable–the native file looks even more flat and “un-lifelike” compared to the first image.

      In regards to the grain–I think this the dead giveaway of these emulated files (apparently a LOT of wedding photographers are starting to use them–especially Mastin–for their clients who want the film “look” without the effort, uncertainty, and expense…) the grain is just much more “binary” compared to the randomness and granularity of the film images themselves. I’d like to try the Mastin presets one day, but they are written only for Canon and Nikon cameras at present.


  3. jkjod says:

    I’ve got to say the VSCO for sure looks better, but still nothing anywhere close to the real deal. I have something called Replichrome by Totally Rad, it is similar to VSCO but less expensive. I don’t think it gives better or worse results, just another option. In the end, I think you’ve nailed it on the head…if you want something to look like Portra, use Portra ๐Ÿ™‚

    • mewanchuk says:

      Hi Doc–Great to hear from you!

      It is not so much a comparison of the two media–I need and enjoy using both. My only point is that the film emulators certainly provide a different look, but are not really a true substitute for the films themselves.

      I hope you and your family are well!

      Best regards,

  4. mikeyjive says:

    I’d even go so far as to say the film image could also end up with a bunch of different final looks depending on the developing, scanning and color balance choices. In my opinion, the main differentiators between film & digital (aside from the shooting experience) are in the tones/range, especially in how highlights are handled. I’ve tried all the software mentioned and would say that the Mastin presets are the most limited but also the closest I’ve seen to matching the “wedding pastel/pro photo lab” look (admittedly not the only style out there for film). You really have to crank up the exposure for the Mastin Labs presets to come to life and begin to take on that look. But it seems to work. That said, it’s still not film. So I’ve given up trying to make the digital files look like the film scans. I’m now just looking for a nice photo. If each can be well exposed and have its own special character, I’m happy. A little happier, of course, if it’s a film photo… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. mikeyjive says:

    … I should add that the biggest surprise for me is that an ideal film photograph and an ideal digital photograph actually look quite similar.

    • mewanchuk says:

      Thanks MJ…

      I have to think about your last point a bit more; I’m not sure I agree right out of the gates…perhaps a concrete example from your standpoint?

      All the best,

  6. mikeyjive says:

    I’ve taken some very bad film photos… either by blowing the exposure or focus in-camera or producing not-so-great photos with my own attempts at home-developing and scanning. Same can be said for years of frequent digital malaise. Either way, it would be immediately apparent whether it was a subpar film photo or a wanna-be digital file. But now it seems I’m finally taking some photos I’d consider to be technically and aesthetically successful. And in a way it seems my digital files and film photos are converging on what I’d consider to be an ideal photograph. When I look at some of these photos now, I can forget, at first glance, what type of camera was used. I’m still able to spot the differences between film and digital, but it’s no longer the first thing I see. Either way, I’m still looking for a well-exposed photo with accurate & consistent color and a level of acceptable acuity. So though I still prefer film for the overall shooting experience and the nuances of the negatives, I realize the really good photos are more alike than different.

    Sorry – not very concrete. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I should also say that I’ve pretty much abandoned my home developing for color. Also, I’m mostly sticking to black-and-white film when I’m indoors. Those two changes alone have greatly increased my satisfaction in shooting film and led to much more consistent results. And interestingly, the film shooing has improved my digital photography.

    • mewanchuk says:


      I completely agree with everything you’ve said.

      As for the colour developing–sorry to hear! (But it certainly is a finicky and unforgiving process…) I definitely wouldn’t be doing it without a Pakon to scan.

      The B&W developing?

      …I am convinced that if I absolutely had to, I could give up all else, and just shoot B&W film.

      Thanks for the great insights,

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