Quick Take On VSCO

I mentioned that I have this compulsion to buy every single film emulator for digital that comes along. How could I resist VSCO when it came out along with rave reviews across the board like it was some sort of magic bullet? I happen to have all of them VSCO Film 01, VSCO Film 02, the Aperture 3 version etc. Why, why why would I buy them for ACR and Aperture 3?

Mostly to satisfy my own curiosity. Secondarily to see if there are any new ideas under the sun when it comes to making digital look less bad without a lot of futzing around. Less bad as in more like film - especially negative film. Before I start going off the rails with my critique I have to say that for the ACR 7.1 versions that the people who put this together did a credible job for the most part. The Aperture versions are another story. We'll get to that in a moment.

When I say credible job I meant that the film presets do a reasonable job - maybe as reasonable as can be done - at making OOC RAW files that are shot as they should be on digital have a facsimile of tonal relationships they way you would expect them to look on negative film. From a color perspective they also change the relationships between colors to somewhere in the direction of they way they look on certain films. Are they perfect? No. Are they even really close? No. Are they in the ballpark from a feeling point of view - probably. There is the good news. The bottom line is that they are a quick and dirty way to get a reasonably consistent look from your OOC RAW files that looks less like dog-do.

I wanted to be positive first - not too critical since I have been attempting this holy grail since the dawn of digital myself and understand a lot of the limitations. I have gone as far as creating ACR profiles attempting to "match" particular films color and tonal response without anything close to a semblance of success. They make different choices than I would have and I have in the past but I am not going to count that as a negative. Even if I consider some of them bizarre (especially for the B/W emulations) we'll chalk that up to taste, variations in processing labs, scanners, whatever.

So where does that leave us… I guess it leaves us with my criticisms. The first one that comes to mind are a few emulations that seem to be completely random. Let's take a look at VSCO Film 02 for some really special surprises as it seems to go off the rails far far more than the 01 version.

Here is what real Fujifilm Superia looks like.

Now let's try a couple of shots with VSCO Film O2 for ACR to reproduce what Superia looks like - ohh, I can't wait…

WTF? Oh I know what the problem is. I'm using the standard version. I must need the pro version w/ the custom special camera profile. Let's try that.

I don't know about you but I cannot tell which version is less like real Superia. Yea, yea, yea - I forked around with the white balance, exposure, the +, ++, -, etc. etc. This is as good as it gets without fixing it myself using curves and color tools - in which case why not just do it myself. Same room same kid, same time of day. Slightly different color temp of light if memory serves (WB should fix that right up) and a slightly different shooting angle but WTF. If you have no idea what the real stuff looks like or have maybe shot one roll of it with horrible results I am sure you will be really really please. Me - not so much - 90 bucks my ass.

Let's checkout the Portra 160VC simulation real quick. Maybe they were on glue with the Superia or something…

The real deal - Kodak Portra 160VC. I prolly should warm it up a bit considering it's skylight but the hell with it. We already know not within the realm of precision here right?

Okay now let try this again with VSCO as close as possible. Maybe I'll even cool off the digital to see if we can get the skin close.

Nope - but it is very similar to the same file run through AlienSkin Exposure 3 with the 160VC filter. I guess it's a better deal than Exposure 3. I am being a bit unfair here - well not unfair. Just critical to make a point - if you like the way film looks you pretty much have to shoot film at the moment. VSCO does get you somewhere in the ball park in simulating tonal relationships and to some degree color relationships which may be a bit more important than nailing the color response in an absolute sense or even close.

For quick and dirty results it's the best thing going assuming you can shoot digital consistently and produce the narrow band in which the presets are expecting as input but that is obviously not going to change anytime soon (the other reason I like to shoot film = more versatility in a broader range of real world lighting conditions as long as you don't shoot in the dark). My real gripe is the Aperture 3 version of the VSCO Film 01. Are these guys being paid to sabotage Aperture? Yea yea yea no camera profiles. Yea Aperture RAW conversion targets colors and gamma somewhat differently - no shit. These things are way down the list of considerations on how forked the Aperture 3 versions are.

Let's take a look at the Fuji 400H simulation from ACR using the "standard" version. I would have to bet this is probably the one they spent the most time perfecting.

Now let's take a look at the Aperture 3 version…

What the hell… You have to be kidding me really. Is this a camera to camera variation. Yes and no. Yes in a very minor way but no in that every single camera I have RAW files for is off in the same way and 400H is probably the closest - the others are totally unhinged. With 756 curves adjustments, 341 color adjustments, and a partridge in a pear tree why the hell wouldn't VSCO bother to normalize these in some reasonable way to ACR standard. Screw it why bother. Oh I get it all I have to do is add all my own shit to match Aperture 3 to ACR first and then the presets should look similar… Yea right I thought that was what I was paying you guys to do. What a crock.


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