#1280. Fake it until you film it.

By pascaljappy | How-To

Apr 18

Lying myself out of a medium-format film-camera obsession πŸ˜‰

Sometimes, sharpness and transparency are too much of a good thing, with modern digital cameras. Sometimes, the soul craves a little snap, crackle and pop from the turntable, a little halation on Ingrid Bergman’s distressed face (“Oh, Dev!”) in a movie, and slightly gentler manners from a photo camera.

Ok, maybe that’s just me πŸ˜‰

But here’s the latest instalment in my mad rush to achieve a medium format film look without doing the logical thing of … using a medium format film camera. My current recipe. I’ll let you decide whether it’s one for disaster. Below are pairs of before (digital, on the left) and after (simulated film, using said recipe, on the right). All images are clickable to display a larger one.


Here’s the recipe :

  1. Correct WB and exposure to taste in the digital file.
  2. Open the file in Photoshop (Cmd + E / Ctrl + E in LR)
  3. Duplicate the layer, setting the blend mode to ‘Screen’ (to brighten the highlights)
  4. Apply Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur to your top layer. I used 9% in the examples on this page. (*)
  5. Save and go to the TIFF file generated in Lightroom (**)
  6. Edit the tone curve of the image to lower the white point (-8 here) and lift the black point (+8 here), as film is never pure black or pure white. Dial in an S-curve if you want to increase contrast (I didn’t).
  7. Season WB, Calibration & HSL to tasten based on the filmstock you are trying to emulate. I just changed WB to +4 (temp) and +2 (tint) in the bottom example, used a provia preset on the middle pair and left the top one alone.
  8. Add some grain, to your taste. To simulate MF or LF film, you are better off adding a fair bit of grain but keeping its size small. I left roughness at 50%. Lower than that and it looks artificial. Higher values look, well, rough.
  9. Open a tin of chemicals to pretend you just developed those yourself.

That’s it.


My fave is the last pair, below. That’s why I kept if for last. The middle pair is my least fave, and I feel the film presets do not work well for me. But the result is still interesting. Now, to explain the stars :

(*) Film has internal reflections that diffuses the light a bit. On top of this, many film photographers use a diffusion filter in front of very sharp lenses, to get the edge off. The gaussian filter is probably too clean to correctly simulate the film difusion, but comes quite close to a diffusion filter.

(**) That’s PITA. Lightroom doesn’t have any “softening” options, which is so indicative of the market’s state of mind and obsession with ugly sharpness that makes super expensive medium format cameras look like smartphones. Ugh. So, to simulate film, we have to go into Photoshop and deal with huuuuge TIFF files. Ugh again.


Is it worth it?

Anything is worth not scanning negatives/slides. Even 400Mb Tiff files are worth it. The real question is whether this looks like film. Well, partly. As mentioned previously, the film-looks is a layer cake implying the use of a film-era lens. This wasn’t the case in those examples, but I will try again with one, and report.

So, no, you’re not quite done with my obssession, yet πŸ˜‰


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  • jean pierre guaron says:

    Chacun Γ  son goΓ»t, j’imagine.

    My neighbour would love the first shot – he’s a Porsche junkie, he has more of them than anyone else I know.

    For architecture, I go for “sharp”, rather than the soft blur of [some] film.

    And for the middle pair, I’d go with the one on the left – if I used the one on the right, I’d darken it a fair bit, to match more or less the tone of the first version. Not so much worried by the film blur here, and I don’t doubt you can find places where late afternoon give a rather pale, almost washed out look – but I’m not used to it, the so-called “harsh light” we’re supposed to have here doesn’t yield that kind of “pale”.

    That’s not a criticism, it’s just a point of difference in our habitats. Maybe someone further from the equator might be better placed to comment on it than I am.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Yes, our light gets very harsh as well. Although those photos were made in Nice, where the atmosphere gets a little bit more humid and softer.

      Part of what I like in film is the ability to overexpose and get very bright images that do not clip πŸ™‚

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Your opening suggested you want to talk yourself out of medium frame, to provide an entry for the theme that follows – mutating digi into “film”, and ending up with a softer image.

        Je ne le comprends pas. Pourquoi? You can burrow into the wardrobe and find a 20-26MP HF that’ll achieve the same result!

        • pascaljappy says:

          Well, if you look at the output of most 24Mp cameras on the market today, they look nothing like film. Medium format film, had huge resolving power (far greater than the current crop of MF digicams, at least in b&w) but a softer presentation. That’s what I’m going for πŸ™‚

          • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

            “huge resolving power (far greater than the current crop of MF digicams” – yes, I believe that’s true. And it’s structural, I believe. “Grain” in film is nothing like digi – nothing like the pixels in digi, nothing like the grain in digi.

            “a softer presentation” – your choice – you can make that same choice in film too – just go up or down the scale, with the ISO rating of the film. Through most of my film years, I carried several magazine backs with me, whenever I went on a shoot. Ranging from 40 ASA to 800 ASA, and the one in the middle was generally 100 ASA. Occasionally I’d make one 400 ASA.

            Which generated a wide range of “sharper” or “softer” presentations.

            Quite what it might have done with colour, I’ve no idea – I rarely used to shoot colour, and never carried that range of speed ratings in colour.

            All this stuff about pixels and sharpness and so on goes on and on and on. Lately there have been rave reviews of phone cameras, suggesting they’re way better than cameras – utter nonsense – cannot possibly be – because all they’ve done, by jumping pixel numbers through the ceiling in the attic, is to make the pixels microscopic – and then swing into action with AI to create a picture from detail that simply never got recorded in the first place. COULDN’T have been. Pats on the back, pass the champagne, we’ve got the camera industry on its knees!

            And in the next breath, someone’s talking up a new yet to be released camera that will have a 26 MP sensors, but be as good as 45 MP sensors. ?????

            And as if that’s not bad enough, next on the list is a possible soon to be released Nikon, apparently using Sony’s recently released 60 MP sensor, and it’s going to trounce the D850 and the Z7II, and almost run down the Z9. But at the same time, someone else is saying the new 60 MP sensor isn’t as sharp as the 45 MP in the D850 and the Z7II.

            All I am capable of thinking after all of that, is that it’s all a load of utter rubbish.

            • pascaljappy says:

              Aaah, I shouldn’t diss marketing, because I’m a marketing consultant. So I’ll just diss crappy marketing.

              The reality is that the rules of the photography game are very well understood. MTF, S/N ratio, and a few others tell you all you need to know. But that, as everything describing something worth talking about, is a little bit complex to work with, so crappy marketing simplifies it to one metric. The problem is everywhere, let’s not shout at camera manufacturers. In fact, they are probably more honest than most. But think of climate change : CO2. As if that could begin to describe the reality of the complex changes happening. It only allows governments to justify taxation and incentives based on a single metric that any dummy can understand. Think of democracy: every X years, you select a name from a list of 2 or 3 and shut up in the interval, until the next ballot. Think of the UK’s problems with the EU: all conflated into Leave or Remain (Remain being the single worst example of marketing I can think of). It’s everywhere. Whe are being force-fed “Life for Dummies”. Which is sad, considering the periods od Enlightenment we have built our societies upon.

              Oh well, I’ll continue to rant in my corner and add grain to my digital files πŸ˜‰ It’s my single metric for “warm and fuzzy” πŸ˜‰

              • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

                LMAO – well you’re certainly right about crappy marketing – that’s all we seem to have, on Australian commercial TV.

                The companies putting the adverts on must be paying heaps of money for them, but over 90% of them don’t even appear to tell you what the hell the product or service or whatever is, that they’re trying to get you to buy.

                And to add to my laughter – because I’m one of those weirdos that is constantly on the lookout for mistakes the “continuity editor” should have clipped – there’s an ad for a medical benefits insurance fund, which tells you they have the best medical benefits package in Australia – for 2022! Oh? – well isn’t that INTERESTING, then?

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    Hi Pascal,

    I can see the bug is biting you . I am almost tempted to wager you will end up with Fuji gear, even if its a second hand one of the low cost APS-C sensor models which has built in grain , with a cheap chinese vintage style lens and experimenting with the film style simulations just to see where it takes you down the filmic road. ( a good tip Paul might be looking to offload some gear cheap now that he has exhausted his insurance settlement πŸ™‚ )

    I have always found negative clarity, contrast and dehaze balanced with some positive texture in lightroom ‘softens’ an image ? Or am I imagining things ?

    It may never end up being 100% filmic but then when is close enough good enough to end your obsession ?



    • Leonard says:

      Hello Ian,

      I bought my first Fuji camera (the 40MP X-H2) a few weeks ago only to discover what Fugists knew all along — that these guys have kind of perfected in-camera film simulations. I have only just scratched the surface here.

      • Ian Varkevisser says:

        Welcome to the fuji ninja world πŸ™‚

        Are you shooting jpeg and using X-RAW studio to create and save recipes

        • Leonard says:

          JPEG + X-RAW Studio is still a little beyond me. My habit is to shoot RAW . . . that said, I am at this moment — and for the first time ever — adding jpeg to the capture so I can visit X-RAW Studio at some point. Thanks for the reminder, Ian.

          By the way, images shot with the 23mm f/1.4 R LM WR are stunning.

          • pascaljappy says:

            Stop it you two. The temptation is bad enough without this πŸ˜‰ I like the idea of creating recipes like that. It sounds easier than profiling.

            The only thing holding me back is that Fuji images tend to have a tonal curve that creates deeper shadows than I’d like. So my question may be heretical, but here it comes: have you tried to create a non-Fuji look using one of those recipes? ie something less “crunchy” and more ethereal?

            • Ian Varkevisser says:

              Hi Pascal,

              I will email you an example of an image taken in early afternoon light on the beach using an in camera ethereal type film simulation , with built in weak and small sized grain. It is a soft simulation achieved with negative sharpening and negative clarity.

              It will be an image with default in camera settings – you know that disparaging deep shadow crunchy look :). And then a second and third image recipe image with the third one being pushed 1/3 of a stop – just by way of an example.

              Bear in mind the light is subtly different in this part of the world.

              I have tried to use a recipe that comes close to the aesthetic you showed in the final set of in images above.

              Let us know in the comments what your opinion is.

              Feel free to add them to your post if you wish to see what the readers opinions and recommendations are – if you dare πŸ™‚



              • pascaljappy says:

                Hi Ian, the samples got here safely, thank you. And, yes, one of them is a lot closer to what I look for than the default Fuji vibe πŸ™‚

                I won’t add them to this post, as most readers won’t come back to it, but will include them in a future one. Because I have gone the opposite way and made some Hassy files more grungy through the use of clarity and dehaze, and it’s obvious there is a meeting point somewhere in the middle.


          • Ian Varkevisser says:

            Hi Leonard,

            Was just speaking with Pascal a day or two ago about a ‘hack’ I created for X-RAW Studio.

            Basically it needs to be connected to your camera and is a bit of a pain creating recipes as for every parameter you change it connects to your camera converts the image and send it back for viewing in X-RAW Studio. I pain in the ass delay.

            Long story short I created a computer program a few days ago to import recipes from the web and populate an X-RAW recipe file ready for use. As of today I have over 300 of the popular recipes imported and create the X-RAW recipe file for all at the push of a button. – At this stage for XTrans IV sensor cameras but should work with XTrans III with certain features left off the recipes.

            If you or any other Fuji user want to test this out and have the 300 plus recipes drop me a line in the comments and I will let you know what is required from my side.



            • Leonard says:

              Thanks, Ian –

              At this point, the idea of having to connect my camera to the computer in order to effect changes strikes me as a little nuts. But practically speaking, there really isn’t room on my desk for camera, display, hard drives and keyboard, so I will likely pass for the moment.

              Despite my decades doing photography, and achieving decent results along the way, I still feel like a novice working in the digital domain. The only thing I am certain of is that my results with the X-H2 are more filmic, less plastic than with the OM-1.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ian, I wouldn’t bet against it. I almost pulled the trigger on the GFX and am waiting to see what the next generation brings to the table (or whether current model prices plummet).

      Close enough … I’d say the bottom pic is about there. My quest is not a nostalgic one, and I’m not really interested in reproducing the exact look of a specific filmstock. It’s the soft shoulders and warmness that appeal to me πŸ™‚


  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Hi Pascal,
    Before my last eyes surgeries, when I was becoming nearly blind, I had developed a process to try to emulate the way I β€œsaw the world”; I could do this even with my bad vision because I would look at the results on a very large 8K screen at 100% luminosity πŸ™‚
    While following your film-like photo obsession, I looked back and found these photos quite β€œanalog-like”! Maybe I could send you one, and see if with your good eyes you agree or not? And if yes, publish some on DS to feed the debate? I know I could find back what I did with DxO and LR, but that will take me some time, hence the first steps… and maybe I’m totally β€œoff-mark”, my damaged cornea might totally invalidate my impressions…

  • Jon Maxim says:

    But Pascal…

    What if I like the originals better? πŸ™‚

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ah, Jon, you wouldn’t be the only one πŸ˜†
      It really is a matter of taste. I just happened to learn photography in the film era, and I think that look stuck. My most loved camera was my Mamiya 7, and I’ve been wanting to recapture that look ever since, without going to the trouble of chemicals ever again πŸ˜‰

      • Jon Maxim says:

        Yes. On a more serious note, I miss film too but for the opposite reason. I miss the processing, at least in B&W – colour, not so much. I hate post-processing digital Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One, and the rest of them. I get bored to tears.

        • pascaljappy says:

          Yeah, I get that, and used to enjoy it myself, when I had access to a good darkroom (I used to work at a university where the microelectronics lab gave up analog microscopes and photography for electronic microscopes. Their darkroom equipment was wonderful, and they basically gave me the key to the room to use when ever it caught my fancy). Now, at home, there is no room or truly dark place and I really don’t fancy doing it in poor conditions. But I still have all my notebooks with dodging diagrams, some test sheets, and more from that time. It was a great learning experience and a lot of fun.

  • Job Honig says:

    Now this was a truly thought-provoking article, and it came at exactly the right moment for me. Why? Because I just bought DxO’s PureRaw 3, after having tried it for almost a month. During that month I discovered that my ageing a7rII suddenly morphed into a Phase 1, sort of. Not only am I revisiting all those utterly noisy images taken at ISO 6400 or higher, I’m also trying it with less noisy images. The images look unbelievably clean, and more 3d than before. So clean, in fact, that I sometimes feel the urge to add some film-grain. And here we get into the territory of your article.

    Generally, I never tried to make a digital image look like film. Simply because it isn’t film. I feel that if I want to have a film-like look, I should use film. If only I still had that darkroom equipment. Alas, all that is no longer in my possession, and it’d be very very hard to start all over. But now, I am tempted. I wouldn’t try to emulate Tri-X, I think, that’s pretending something that it isn’t (to me, at least). But to make my images look like a low grain 6×6 or 6×7 image? Totally achievable. Not so when I just used LR. So where does this stop? Would I ever add a film strip or Polaroid border? Don’t think so. But who knows. But I think I will stop at the point where my images have the right *feel*, for *me*.

    One of the good things of modern digital is that we options, things to choose from. That means we have to think about what it is we’re looking for, instead of just hitting some buttons. It’s the work we used to do in the darkroom, choosing the paper, the gradation, the way of developing, etc etc. And this article, indeed, provides some food for further thought. I don’t think I would use or create presets, though. Every image needs its own treatment I feel. But obviously, my muscle memory also acts like a kind of preset… πŸ™‚

    So, great article. It’ll stay with me for quite a while.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you, Job πŸ™‚

      I agree, it’s not about replicating a specific filmstock, but getting the edge off digital files and reproducing the more organic look of film, in general. To me, ading a film border would be faking it, wherease editing out the “digitalness” is just PP. It’s a fine line, and everyone will have a different opinion on it, but I think the love of a “filmic” look is very widespead. But with people who have known and used film, but also with youngsters who spend their time in the digital realm and enjoy something more “natural”.

      BTW: I love the idea of muscle memory acting as a preset!

      • Job Honig says:

        I think the “organic” look is the same thing I strive for. Too clean, and it starts to look artificial. It’s a fine line indeed. Both film grain and sensor noise are artifacts of the chosen process. Is one better than the other? Usually (but not always) film grain looks more organic, but sometimes sensor noise also doesn’t look too bad. What I dislike though, is the white pixels that litter my images at high ISO. Those do not look organic AT ALL, and that is something that PureRaw seems to deal with once and for all. I am just getting used to it, and trying to find my own preference. Maybe in a few weeks I can mail you some examples.

        • pascaljappy says:

          That would be brilliant. And you are very welcome to post an article on the topic if you wish to!

          • Job Honig says:

            Thanks Pascal, I’ll think about it. Still learning to use the software properly. I do think, at this moment, that it’s a game changer for me. Half of my photos were taken in low light, often at ISO’s of up to 6400. But even if not shot at night, there will often be quite dark parts, which used to be noisy even at much lower ISOs.

            Mind you, I’m still using an a7rII, because I had hoped to switch to digital MF. The x2d appealed to me until I read about some usage issues (I would not buy ANY camera that doesn’t have a live histogram, to mention one thing). I’m also afraid it might have the PDAF banding that the Fuji’s are known for (I tend to torture my raw files to get the B&W look I prefer :-). So while I have a deep desire for better ergonomics, and thus a more pleasant shooting experience, I will stick to it, or get the most recent model.

            As for your suggestion: once I feel confident that my thoughts have some degree of alignment with reality, I will consider to write an illustrated article πŸ™‚

            • pascaljappy says:

              Thank you Job. I do look forward to that reality-aligned post πŸ˜‰

              Lack of live histogram is one of the reasons holding me back from the X2D. I can’t help thinking the X series is a studio camera with outdoors clothing. The lenses are fabulous but not that robust. Live histogram is not there, but tethering is, weather-sealing is not specified … So, in spite of undeniable qualities, the X2D still fails to capture my imagination. As for banding, I have seen it on the X1D (you need to seriously underexpose at high ISO, but it is there if you do) but cannot comment on the X2D. Maybe Paul Perton can chime in. I will ask him to run a few tests for us πŸ™‚


        • Ian Varkevisser says:

          Anyone tried the newly released LightRoom denoise ??

          • pascaljappy says:

            Not me, Ian. (not yet) Thanks for the link.

          • Job Honig says:

            Not yet, didn’t know. Always nice to have several options!

          • Job Honig says:

            I have tried it with a few images and found the DxO result still (much) cleaner, almost to the point that they are *too* clean. Whereas (in LR) I often used a bit of extra texture and sometimes clarity, I am learning to avoid doing so on the DxO raw files. It seems to me that DxO already increases texture and clarity itself

            To Pascal I would suggest to try the DxO demo, and use a tiny amount of negative clarity. To my eyes, the result quite looks like medium of large format film, with the right size and amount of grain.

            BTW: if you intend to use DxO to develop raw images that are going to be stitched, turn off the lens profile in DxO. It seems that LR does so implicitly when stitching, so it’s quite prone to stitching issues when the images have been corrected already.

            • Job Honig says:

              I have to correct myself. It seems that the “enhance” that I used 2 days ago is NOT the newest one. Only just now LR gave me the new AI noise reduction it seems. The same “enhance” now shows a new popup. I tried, and it seems even better than DxO. More testing needed (not only by me πŸ˜‰

              • pascaljappy says:

                Really? That would be quite a feat. DxO has a great reputation. It’s good news if LR offers tools of the same calibre. Looking forward to your findings.

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