A couple of thoughts on VSCO black and white presets, black and white in general, as well as approach to a particular project. You might think from a lot of the work that you see published on the web that VSCO black and white film looks are all attempting to look like horribly under exposed, badly developed, and poorly printed film at it's worst with blacks somewhere around dark gray. I don't want to be prejudicial towards that look specifically - not really my thing. Well at least so far for anything I have gone out and wanted to make. For the most part I think it looks like shit and it not appropriate for the subject matter. My black and white never looked like that unless I screwed up badly. I do have to say I have seen a few things where it seemed to fit and the whole body of work looked great done in that style - rare but I must admit that it exists.
On to the main point here. VSCO doesn't just do bad blacks it can do normal reasonably decent black and white that are far more similar to what my contact sheets looked like with exposure and development more along the lines of reasonable. Here are a couple of the recipes from film 01 and film 02 that I tend to use as a baseline for black and white projects. The image at the top is one of my go to black and white film looks. Fuji Neopan 1600- with blacks at 0. The default black levels are 25 - sometimes they work to and are not the reason for the grayish blacks - that happens with the curves the more you use the + versions.
Here is another one from film 02. Ilford Delta 3200- with blacks at 0. You can set the blacks manually or just use the "toolkit" preset, doesn't matter.
Generally all of the 02 presets are a bit more contrasty by default than film 01 including the black and white film emulations. Here is TRI-X- with blacks at 0.
Truth be told, I wish that VSCO didn't go with progressively grayer and grayer blacks with the "normal", +, or ++ versions. There are some other things that might be a bit more universally useful in terms of variations on how black and white film looks under various exposure and development conditions rather than more and more underexposed and thin negative looks with more and more grain. Here is another one from 01 - Kodak TMAX 3200P- with blacks at 0.
Just wanted to show a few variations of VSCO that were not the same faded light gray highlights, gray blacks, kind of stuff that seems to be where people's mind goes as soon as VSCO is mentioned. Sure that's a look but not what most decent black and white looked like with real film and definitely not the most appropriate treatment for every subject and every project. Sure these illustrations are subtle differences but that's not a bad thing. I didn't touch the OOC RAW files except for the preset recipe I listed. For me they are reasonable baselines with enough subtle differences to be meaningful.
The random image I chose for the samples here was actually shot with the intent of publishing it in color. Which is exactly how it's published for it's intended purpose. It's an illustration for my simulating sunlight field guide. That brings me to the last thought for this post - thinking old school. I do it by default but it might just be a tiny little thing you might want to try. Instead of trying out every preset or a bunch of various looks after you shoot images pick just one or for a big project two different looks and that's it. Similar to what would happen if you shot roll film for a project way back. You picked your film stocks - usually just one or two - either for different lighting conditions or one for color and one for black and white and just rolled with those. You also chose your development prior to seeing your images and they all got the same treatment.
By nature I am a project type of photographer. I am not after that one image of any particular subject. I am after a group of images that belong together and if I am lucky actually hang together as a story. I find picking one or two looks prior to shooting a particular project not only freeing but it actually produces much more cohesion than randomly starting from scratch aand treating each image as some separate endeavor with infinite choice on the back end. Sure change your mind and fine tune it for the project as a whole. If you don't already do this try it. Shoot with intent for a predetermined look. Go ahead try a bunch of looks on old images you have lying around as I did for this one as experiments and when you run across one that sparks an idea - figure out where it would work with a new project and go shoot it with that end result in mind.