Simulating Film with Digital #1

Lafayette Cemetery - New Orleans, Louisiana

Lafayette Cemetery – New Orleans, Louisiana

Back in November, when I went to New Orleans, I brought a late 1960s Olympus Trip 35, along with my usual complement of digital cameras. I bought the camera a week before from Precision Camera and was testing it. The camera works but is metering a bit darker than I like. The result is thin and grainy photos. When exposed correctly, however, like you seen here, the pictures out of this 50 year-old-camera look great.

Throughout my trip, I shot scenes and would make similar compositions with my decidedly modern Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, a digital camera released 2-years-ago. And even if the film photos don’t look as good as I wanted, I took on the challenge of trying to simulate that look with digital post-processing. This is my first attempt.

The photo at the top is my film simulation, which I created with Capture One. It’s trying to simulate the look of the film photo, below. I know it’s not perfect. I found it very difficult to do — granted, I’m no post processing expert. For example, the film highlights have a warm and creamy pink tone while the mid and shadows are a muddy greenish-brown.

Lafayette Cemetery - New Orleans, Louisiana

I think, however, the overall feel of the digital simulation adequately mimics the film. Incidentally, I used Fujicolor Superia 400, which is an inexpensive film that I don’t particularly like, but my main objective was to test the camera. I suppose next time, I’ll shoot the 400 speed film at ASA 200, which should create better exposures. With negative film, it’s not bad to overexpose a stop.

Lafayette Cemetery - New Orleans, Louisiana

While there are disadvantages and inconveniences with film, one of its advantages is a richer, less clinical look compared to digital. Even in a picture that is not particularly well exposed, there is a warm richness, I think. Compare that with the out of camera RAW, which is rather cold.

The film simulation at the very top was created by manipulating this RAW file.

Lafayette Cemetery - New Orleans, Louisiana

This is the digital photo I created from the RAW, seasoned to taste. I like a warmer and brighter image, but softened a bit to take off the digital edge. I think with better exposure and using a different film, like Kodak Portra, it would look more like this.

Lafayette Cemetery - New Orleans, Louisiana

Finally, the same image converted to black and white, which is what I seem to be doing a lot more these days.

Of course the power of digital is the flexibility to create infinite different looks. It was rather fun trying my hand a film simulation, if only as an academic exercise. I don’t necessarily think film is better than digital, just different. I think of film as a technique to yield a particular look, which may help to evoke a different mood. It probably works well for some subjects, while digital works better for others.

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5 thoughts on “Simulating Film with Digital #1

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