Matching film with Mastin Labs vs VSCO

 
 

Ever since I discovered that I love the look of film above anything else I’ve looked for ways to emulate that look with my digital work. Presets have helped me a lot to do so and after downloading more presets than I should’ve, I narrowed it down to just 2 big players in the film emulation game.

For most of my work I use VSCOfilm presets because they are more agile to tweak in different situations. But because no digital preset will ever truly give you the look and feel of film, I decided to shoot more real film. This provided me with a new struggle, the one of the modern hybrid shooter. A hybrid photographer shoots film and digital alongside and blends it in one story. So now I’m not only trying to make my work look like film, but it needs to match my film images!

VSCO has been a great help for digital editing and was one of the first preset providers that gave a genuine film look and feel to my digital images. I’ve also tried RNI (Real nice Images) but they are way off from the look I’m going for. I also need to note that film has no fixated look and that depending on how you shoot and process your film it can look completely different. VSCO and Mastin Labs make presets that emulate the look of film when processed at a professional lab and scanned on either a Fuji Frontier scanner or a Noritsu. Mastin Labs comes highly praised as being the only preset that truly matches to film. VSCO on the other hand just created presets inspired by film although they also scanned and tested multiple images to create their VSCOfilm packages. These days you can still purchase them but it’s been very quiet regarding to new packages, updates or marketing.

I purchased Mastin Labs presets because I believed they would blow VSCO away with their emulation. But the truth is I’ve had a hard time using them or even liking them. I thought the problem was in my editing and searched for more comparisons between film and digital but could only find Mastin Labs videos and tutorials that didn’t match my style of film, so I felt the need to create this blog post comparing my digital work, my film work, Mastin Labs and VSCO presets to each other to close the debate… hopefully.

I did an awesome engagement session in Germany recently at Burg Eltz with the beautiful Ciska & Jimte. The weather wasn’t ideal: Cloudy, cold and we were shooting near sunset, so I was losing light fast!

 
 
 

Overlooking Burg Eltz in Germany

Let’s get a little technical to better understand the images I’m showing you. Here is my gear setup of the shoot:

Analog:
Canon EOS 1-N RS
Portra 400 35mm
Portra 400+1 35mm

Digital:
Canon 5D MK IV
RAW!

I’m not going in detail about pushing film or metering but it’s good to know I used corresponding presets to how I shot my film. Below is a list of what preset I used on each image:

SOOC
This is just my RAW file.
SOOC stands for “Straight Out Of Camera”

FILM
Portra 400 on “box speed”
scans edited to my preference.

Mastin Labs
Portra Original Pack
Portra 400

VSCO
VSCOfilm 01
Portra 400

I wanted to really try and match these images to my post edited scans but with as few tweaks possible. Both Mastin Labs and VSCO presets were adjusted in white balance, shadows and highlights, some saturation tweaks to match. Mastin Labs offers White Balans presets and tone profiles but I had to override them to get anything close of a match.

 

Part 1 : Portra 400


I’m actually surprised at how well these two match. There is a subtle difference but hardly noticeable. Both ML and VSCO are missing the color shifts in the blues and greens as you well can see on the roof panels of the castle. The is a greater color definition in film, something both presets fail to replicate. Other than that I could keep them apart in a complete shoot. I finished my first roll and realized I had to start pushing my ISO to keep shooting. So I rated my Portra 400 at ISO800 resulting in a +1 stop at the costs of higher contrast. To keep a fair game I also selected different presets to match:

SOOC
This is just my RAW file.
SOOC stands for “Straight Out Of Camera”

FILM
Portra 400 rated at ISO 800
scans edited to my preference.

Mastin Labs
Portra Pushed Pack
Portra 400+1

VSCO
VSCOfilm 06
Portra 400+1
Portra 400+1 Vibrant

 

Part 2 : Portra 400+1


The way film handles the cold greens and warm skin tones in this series was impossible to match with any preset. Even duo-toning didn’t give the same result. Raising or lowering the tint and white balance affects the entire image so you’ll have to aim for the skintones and accept any side effects.

For the stairwell images you can clearly see that again both presets fail to show cold tones and warm skin tones at the same time. But they both look very similar. Mastin Labs has lighter yellows and VSCO tends to show more magenta in the shadows and in the yellows. These color differences can appear also on film, so not sure which one to prefer here. But as it gets darker, it gets more interesting. My film scans retain the same amount of color and saturation as the evening falls whereas my digitals are losing a lot of information. To keep a match with the scans I selected Portra 400+1 Vibrant from VSCO and raised saturation for the Mastin Labs Portra 400+1 preset. It helped, but I still failed to match the duotone the film files as you can see in the images below.

When I shot this images the light had gone and as you can see from the SOOC files, this resulted in flat brown pictures. Amazingly my film scans uncovered a lot of different colors in a vibrant yest pleasing way. Skin tones are present and full of color whilst showing both reds and blues int the stone wall. I tweaked my white balance like crazy to get anything close but at the cost of having no information in the skintones. VSCO has the upperhand here in my opinion but it’s mainly thanks to the portra 400+1 Vibrant preset that bumps up the saturation.

 

conclusion


Film is something special, It has no logarithm made of 1’s and 0’s. Both Mastin Labs and VSCO do a fantastic job providing a starting point to edit from. So I guess It comes down to what you find more fitting with your style. In the end, the best choice is to shoot the real deal.

 
 
Mathias Hannes