I was reading a review today of the latest craze in film emulation software, VSCO Film, on Patrick La Roque’s excellent blog. It makes interesting reading, but the telling part is half way down the comments, where the one and only Robert Boyer can’t help but vent his spleen. To lift a quote:
It could be from this being the first tool of it’s type that I have acquired in a long time - they are all WAY WAY OFF in what the real films actually look like I wouldn’t say that they are more OFF than anybody else’s similar toolsets. They are in fact COMPLETELY different from every other film emulation tool on the same target film - actually every film emulator is completely different from each other - not even close - all of them being completely different from the actual film.
Patrick La Roque himself agrees that the named presets look nothing like the film they are supposed to emulate, so, leaving aside the didactic benefits of these particular Aperture presets, one really has to wonder what the point of it all is.
I’m not sure if Patrick uses VSCO a lot - I have the impression he rolls his own, mainly. Certainly his photos have a very strong identity, but they don’t look like “film” to me. And neither should they. The whole movement towards “film looks” seems to be very much weighted towards a particular type of film shots: mainly the ones that back in the days of film people would immediately bin. In the Years BD (Before Digital), strangely enough people did not, as a whole strive to produce washed out, over exposed, bleached, coffee-spill toned out of focus crap. Actually you could, believe it or not, take good photos on film. Yes, even colour slide film. Oh, and I’d say you still can.
Take the shot below. Now, it’s not exactly Galen Rowell. But ignoring the artistic limitations, there is a feel to this that I cannot get from digital. The silvery, luminous quality of the light here is something I can only capture on Ektachrome 100G. And this is a straight scan - as close to the original as Silverfast can get it, and that’s pretty damn close. There’s no software I know of that can “emulate” it. I have tried, as I mentioned a while back.
Film, unlike VCSO, Instagram et al is not just there to recapture your parents reject 1970s holiday snaps. Believe it or not it remains not only a viable alternative to digital, but something quite unique and special, which cannot be obtained by shoving a few sliders in whatever iPhone app is in favour this month. But for how much longer ? Black & white film will live on in its own little niche. Colour print film will carry on so long as there’s the still huge disposable camera market to back it up. Ektachrome was supposed to be saved by Hollywood, but Holly would, wouldn’t she ? And Fuji’s chrome lines seen under serious threat - it looks like Provia will be the last decent slide film standing. I foresee howls of anguish from the beards with the view cameras, but I’d put a reasonable bet (that I’d hope to lose) on there being no positive film of any format on the market in two years time.
VCSO doesn’t even condescend to try to imitate positive emulsions. At least Alien Skin & DXO do make the effort. But anyway, that’s not the point. As RB says, none of them get it right. And none of them can emulate the stunning effect of seeing a well exposed Ektachrome (or even Velvia, if you must) on a light box. Digital has nothing on that. Not even close.
Slide film is on it’s way out. You don’t care. But you’ll miss it when it’s gone.